Katherine Graham: Katherine the Great

Becca Anderson (author of The Book of Awesome Women Writers) speaks of sheroism and Washington Post owner- Katherine Graham.

Although Katherine Graham was not a politician, she wielded enormous power in the political arena as owner of the Washington Post, still one of the most important and respected newspapers in the world today. Born Katherine Meyer, she was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, a brilliant French Jew who moved to America and attended Yale, made a fortune in banking and on the stock exchange, and retired a multimillionaire before he was thirty years old!

Katherine’s childhood is a classic silver spoon story, raised by domestic help while her parents maintained the lifestyle of the glittery successes they were. A staunch Republican, Eugene Meyer took on a second career as a public servant and served as an independent thinker, swung to the opposite pole on the left, and earned a degree in journalism. After a brief stint in San Francisco reporting for the now defunct News, Katherine accepted an offer of $29 a week to go and work for the paper Eugene Meyer had bought five years before—the Washington Post.

Katherine fell in love with the publisher of the Post, Philip Graham, and after they wed, they bought the paper from her father for a million dollars. Philip was brilliant and bipolar. He was keenly interested in building a publishing empire, and soon they added the magazine Newsweek to their holdings. Philip also dabbled in the high stakes game of politics and became involved in the very inner circles of power on Capitol Hill, convincing the young John Fitzgerald Kennedy to go with Lyndon Johnson from Texas as his running mate for the presidency. Then, in 1963, he committed suicide after a manic depressive episode. Katherine became a widow and responsible for both Newsweek and the Post in one day.

Katherine battled her shyness and rose to the occasion, becoming the publisher of the Post. Diving in feet first, she saw that the Post had been drifting along listlessly. It needed, Katherine believed, a charismatic editor to become a first-rate example of journalistic excellence. She found him in Ben Bradlee, a hard charging investigative reporter whom she quickly named managing editor.

In 1971, the Post received worldwide attention when President Richard Nixon slapped a restraining order on the paper for the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, revealing the United States government’s involvement in the political machinery of Southeast Asia. Graham refused to back down and later emerged the victor in the skirmish when the Supreme Court decided in the Post’s favor.

One year later, the Post took the spotlight again for breaking the story of the Watergate scandal. Graham financed the Watergate investigation and stood firmly behind her editor and reporters against the White House’s retaliatory measures. Her sheroism in the face of enormous pressure from friends and political players to back off from Watergate was simply astounding. She remained steadfast while the Post’s stock plummeted and so-called friends disappeared rather than be associated with the woman who challenged Richard Nixon and, ultimately, brought him and his house of cards down. When she retired in 1991, she was one of only two women heads of Fortune 500 companies.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


The Book of awesome women writers

Medieval Mystics, Pioneering Poets, Fierce Feminists and First Ladies of Literature (Feminist Book, Gift for Women, Gift for Writers)

This one-of-a-kind tome takes a tour with Sylvia Beach and other booksellers as well as librarians, editors, writers, bibliophiles, and celebrated book clubs. Join women’s studies scholar Anders as she takes you on a ribald ride through the pages of history. Chapter titles include “Prolific Pens” (including Joyce Carol Oates, author of over 100 books), “Mystics, Memoirists and Madwomen”, “Salons and Neosalons”, “Ink in Their Veins” (literary dynasties), and the titillating “Banned, Blacklisted, and Arrested.”