7 Female Journalists Who Literally Changed History

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Journalism is, to this day, a male-dominated field. Men fill at least of 60.1 percent of roles in the sector, from editors to reports to photographers. 

Bearing in mind how difficult it still seems for women to break into the field, it’s even more incredible to consider the achievements of pioneering female journalists of the past and present. 

Covering everything from conflicts to civil rights, sex trafficking, to organized crime, these women changed history through their pursuit of the truth.

And, not to belittle anyone’s struggles to get noticed on YouTube, they overcame gender bias, racial segregation, death threats, and gun attacks to get their voices heard and report on the reality they witnessed.  

Prepare to get inspired by these women who changed the world. 

1. Ethel Payne (1911 – 1991)

Known as the ‘First lady of the Black Press’, Ethel Payne is one of the most famous black female journalists ever. She was also an activist and played an important role in chronicling the Civil Rights movements in the 1950s and 1960s. 

When CBS hired her in 1972, she made history when she became the first female African American commentator on a national network. On CBS, she reported on politics both at home and abroad. She earned a reputation as a tough-talking journalist who wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions. 

This includes asking President Eisenhower when he planned to ban segregation in interstate travel. He responded that he refused to support ‘special interests’. As a result, civil rights rose to even greater prominence as a key issue of national debate. 

2. Margaret Bourke-White (1904 – 1971)

Like many important women in history, photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White achieved many ‘firsts’ in her long career. She was America’s first accredited female photographer during WWII and the first to fly on a combat mission.

In 1941, she was also the only foreign photographer in Moscow when Germany broke its pact of non-aggression and invaded Russia. As a result, her photographs were some of the first images the world saw of the invasion. 

Bourke-White documented civil wars, national segregation, natural disasters, conflicts, and humanitarian crises. And, she was the last person to interview Mahatma Gandhi before his assassination. 

3. Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823 – 1893)

Although she was born a ‘free’ African American, when faced with the prospect of capture as part of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Mary Ann Shadd moved from the US to Windsor, Ontario. 

There, she opened a racially-integrated school. She also ran an influential newspaper called ‘The Provincial Freeman’. This made her the first black female publisher across the whole of North America and the first ever female publisher in Canada. 

As well as one of the most inspiring female journalists ever, she was also a strong advocate for full racial integration through education. Aged 60, she graduated with a law degree, making history again as only the second African-American woman to do so. 

4. Amber Lyon (1982 – present)

Following in the footsteps of these women, American investigative journalist Amber Lyon isn’t afraid to report on today’s tough news stories. These include human rights abuses, environmental issues, and police brutality. 

In 2010, she went to new depths as the first journalist to scuba dive under the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil spill while broadcasting live. That same year, she also helped expose the sex trafficking of minors on Craigslist. As a result, the online classified site shut down its Adult Services section. 

And in 2012, she even blew the whistle on CNN. She accused the network of controlling and blocking stories as a way to honor corrupt relationships with governments, including the Bahrain regime.  

5. Martha Gellhorn (1908 – 1998)

American journalist, novelist, and travel writer Martha Gellhorn is often considered one of the twentieth century’s most influential war correspondents. Throughout her 60-year career, she covered almost every major world conflict. And, as she herself stated, “I followed the war wherever I could reach it.”

These conflicts included the Spanish Civil War, Adolf Hitler’s rise, and the Vietnam War. She even covered the civil wars in Central America in the 1980s, despite being over 70 years old at the time. 

Inspiring female journalists everywhere, she also used covert tactics in the name of getting great content. Posing as a stretcher bearer, she gained access to the Normandy landings. And, in the process, she became one of the most famous women in history as the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day in 1944. 

6. Alice Allison Dunnigan (1906 – 1983)

Paving the way for other famous black female journalists and political correspondents, Alice Allison Dunnigan was the first African-American female reporter to receive White House credentials. She was also the first black female member of the US Senate and House of Representatives press galleries. 

During her early career, Dunnigan faced constant segregation. This included being barred from covering a speech by President Eisenhower in a whites-only theater. She also had to sit in the servant’s section to cover Senator Taft’s funeral.

But when given the chance, she wasn’t afraid to ask politicians difficult questions, often involving race issues. But, while President Eisenhower avoided calling on her, John F. Kennedy welcomed her tough questions. In fact, he named Dunnigan education consultant of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity when he came to power. 

7. Veronica Guerin (1958 – 1996)

Irish journalist Veronica Guerin was a fearless crime reporter for the ‘Sunday Independent’, Ireland’s best-selling newspaper. 

Her steadfast commitment to defending the public’s right to know led to death threats and several gun attacks. Despite this, she continued her mission to expose the drug lords and murderers of Dublin’s criminal underworld. 

In June 1996, her fight for the truth came to an end when she was shot dead at close range. But her death had a profound effect on Ireland, leading to the country’s largest criminal investigation and a crackdown on illegal gang activity. 

Inspiring Female Journalists Who Changed History

Our world would be a very different place if it weren’t for the fearlessness and devotion to the truth that these female journalists showed. 

And, while women face different issues when it comes to getting their voices heard, their stories offer no end of inspiration for anyone wanting to pursue a career in the media. 

Whether you want to report on today’s biggest stories or grow your viewing audience, contact us for more information on our studio spaces today. 

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