Betty Miles James; One Of First Women at Star

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Betty Miles James, 84, one of the first female reporters at the Washington Star, died March 18 of congestive heart failure at Ingleside at Rock Creek, a Northwest retirement community.

Mrs. James was born in Mahanoy City, Pa., and graduated from Bucknell University in 1944. She joined the Washington Star toward the end of World War II, one of a handful of female reporters at the newspaper. She got the opportunity because so many men were in the service.

The Star kept her on after the war, and over the years she wrote many of the features that led thousands of Washingtonians to contribute to the newspaper's annual "Send a Kid to Camp" campaign. She later covered District welfare issues and wrote a monthly column about mystery books.

Roberta Hornig Draper, who started in the late 1950s as a "copy boy" in the women's department of the Star, recalled that Mrs. James was one of two people who invited her to lunch her first day at work. Mrs. James made a point of welcoming newcomers.

"People always gathered around her desk because she was funny," Draper said. "She had a tremendous sense of humor."

Myra McPherson, a feature writer who arrived at the Star from Detroit in 1960 and who later worked for The Washington Post, recalled that Mrs. James personally welcomed her as well.

"It was really tough on us broads back then," McPherson said. Mrs. James realized that her male colleagues were cool to the young McPherson, not only because she was female but also because she had not gotten her start taking dictation from reporters in the field or scurrying around the newsroom as a copy person.

McPherson described Mrs. James as "a superior reporter" and said, "She was slim, attractive and had a wonderful personality."

Bill Grigg, a former medical writer at the Star, recalled newsroom rumors that Mrs. James -- then Miss Miles -- remained unmarried because of a love lost in World War II. "But eventually she did marry, and quite well," Griggs said, "to a storyteller of note, an intellectual and sometime actor named Hibbard James.

"Some of us men in the newsroom were so fond of Betty that we took Hibbard aside and said he had better be good to her or he would answer to us."

Mrs. James's husband died in 1973. She retired when the Star folded in 1981.

She continued living in her Georgetown apartment until about two years ago, when she moved to Ingleside, where she enjoyed a book club and theater activities.

There are no immediate survivors.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company