Journalist an Effective Voice for Women
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Vera Glaser thought the questions asked by her fellow reporters at President Nixon's February 1969 news conference were entirely too easy. Her colleagues asked about international affairs, cigarette advertising on television, school desegregation and an oil spill off the California coast.
"I had about seven questions in mind that he could be asked," the veteran journalist told a Penn State oral history project. "When he recognized me, I had to decide quickly what I was going to ask him."
She noted that of his 200 presidential appointments at that point, only three had gone to women. "Can we expect some more equitable recognition of women's abilities or are we going to remain the lost sex?" she asked.
Some of her colleagues chuckled, she noticed, and Nixon smiled and asked teasingly if she would like to come into the administration. "But he must have realized, 'I'm on television with 50 million people watching,' and he turned quite serious," Ms. Glaser said.
"Very seriously, I did not know that only three had gone to women, and I shall see that we correct that imbalance very promptly," he said, according to a transcript of the conference.
Catharine East, the Labor Department researcher whose work on women's employment inspired the National Organization for Women, saw the news conference and was delighted with Ms. Glaser's question.
"I thought, 'Here's a woman after my own heart,' " she told The Washington Post in 1983. East, who died in 1996, noted that the women's movement was not receiving any serious news coverage, and most of what was written was patronizing and the issues trivialized.
So East sent Ms. Glaser a letter. "I gather from the tone of your question, you might be interested in a few statistics," the researcher said. From that start, Ms. Glaser wrote her definitive work, a five-part syndicated newspaper series about discrimination against women in employment and government policy.
Ms. Glaser, 92, Washington bureau chief for the former North American Newspaper Alliance syndicate of 90 newspapers, and national correspondent and syndicated columnist for the old Knight Ridder newspaper chain, died Nov. 26 at Brighton Gardens at Friendship Heights in Chevy Chase. She had Parkinson's disease.
As a result of her question to Nixon, the first systematic program to recruit women into federal executive positions was set up.
"She made a significant difference in the coverage of the women's liberation movement," said Kimberly Wilmot Voss, a journalism historian at the University of Central Florida. Women like her "worked behind the scenes. Their names might not be well known, but they laid the groundwork, and she was on the forefront of writing about the women's movement."
Ms. Glaser's daughter agreed. "She felt she was a voice for women in journalism when it was an uphill fight," said the Rev. Carol Barriger of Redwood City, Calif. Survivors also include three grandchildren and a great-grandson.