While community news and lifestyle pages have replaced the "Women's News" pages of past decades, many in the newspaper business recall the kind of news discussed in this presentation at a TPA convention 80 years ago.
"How to Develop an Interesting Women's Page," a presentation by Miss Laura Lane, society editor for the Vernon Daily Record, at the 60th annual convention of the Texas Press Association, June 8-10, 1939 in Lubbock.
In recent years, a school of writers has capitalized on the ego in us by writing self-improvement books. With advice from such sources, we have returned to religion, charcoal chewing gum and the Gibson Girl hair-do, but I cannot see wherein we have developed or that we are any more interesting people.
The same facts that are true with regard to the personality are true about women's pages. Your managing editor may have laughed that first day when you sat down at the typewriter, and if you astounded him, it was probably a light stroke of apoplexy. For if the women's page editor does not already have in her the capabilities for developing an interesting page, neither Dale Carnegie nor I can help her.
To present "The Dear Public" with an interesting account of the news, a women's page editor must be interested in people. By that I don't mean she must be a bee in the bonnet of society, for it's safe to assume she won't care to attend one-fourth of the affairs to which she is invited. But she can't be a recluse, and she can't be a misanthrope if she expects to develop news contacts.
We women's page editors have a heritage of stock-worn phrases that stereotype our kind of writing to the point of nausea. In articles covering important functions, we say such things as "games were played," "refreshments were served," "honoring a popular member of the younger set" and "a good time was had by all," along with other inanities. I am surprised we have any clientele left at all.
A women's page editor always has the right word for the wrong idea. At birth, our proud parents announce us. Later, we become attractive sub-debs. We are married in impressive ceremonies. And when die, we do so as prominent club women and church workers, thus completing the life cycle in our local communities.
As a society editor I have only one brag to make. I have written several hundred thousand words in the past three years, and I have never yet found it either necessary or expedient to use the words "lovely" or "dainty." But I am guilty of using other adjectives just as weary and twice as threadbare.
There is a happy medium in being original, however. Especially does the women's page editor feel the need for judicious editing when she finds on her desk submissions written by a local poet or some other person who fancies she has a flair for writing. I offer an example. Recently, a County Agricultural Agent and a nurseryman from a nearby town visited our city to speak to the Garden Club on subjects related to floriculture. While both of them were swell fellows, neither was a specimen of masculine pulchritude and both of them were of the Clark Gable, rather than the Casper Milquetoast, type. But our local poet in describing their appearance before the club tried to out-do herself and gave me this lead for the story:
"The fairies with magic baskets of beautiful ideas and helpful garden hints invaded the Garden Club's noon luncheon today."
And so on for three pages.
(I have experience, myself. Poor use of words nearly got me kicked out of college once for writing a headline which stated: "Juniors Entertain With Second Class Dance.")
I belong to the old-fashioned school of journalism which believes the more names on the women's pages, the better. Believe me, I wouldn't trade one local name, correctly spelled, for any amount of fame.
And while I am talking about names, I would like to do a little campaigning for a worthwhile organization of which I am a self-appointed director – the Benevolent Society for the Protection of Children Whose Parents Insist on Giving Them Double Names. I realize that when a child is called Alyss Margueritte it is generally not the father's fault.
It's long been a personal opinion of mine that we ought to have a name conservation program and plough under every third Betty Jo, Lila Pearl, Bobbie Lou, Margaret Sue and Gypsy Lee. These names are always spelled as ridiculously as possible with no hint of phonetics to aid a women's page editor who takes them over the telephone.
Back in the Texas State College for Women, where I was once a bright-eyed student, we heard a great deal about accuracy in journalism. Accuracy, I later learned on the women's news beat, is telling the truth, but not the whole truth. For example, some months ago an irate gentleman came into our inner sanctum waving a clipping from our newspaper that read to the effect that "Mr. and Mrs. Willie Swanson announce the birth of twins, Lila Mae and Twila Fay, Thursday morning in a local hospital." Saying that he was Mrs. Swanson's father, he insisted that the article be corrected to read: "Mrs. Willie Swanson announces the birth of twins, Lila Mae and Twila Fay, Thursday morning in a local hospital." I was naturally most apologetic and said in a subdued voice that I didn't know Mr. Swanson was deceased.
"Oh, he's not dead," responded my reader. "We just don't want him mentioned in the story. He's a disgrace to the family. Why, Willie's been in the penitentiary for more than a year."
It's an unwritten law to NOT tell the whole truth about weddings, whether two-bit, middle-aisle, or shot-gun types. About two years ago I went up to a neighboring village to cover a church wedding. Everything went smoothly until the time came for the bridegroom to kiss the bride. Well, he gave her the kind of kiss Rudolph Valentino used to give Theda Bara back in the silent film days when a kiss was good for 20 feet of celluloid.
The preacher hemmed and hawed, the bride's father broke out in a sweat, the audience tittered and still the bridegroom hung on. When the strain became unbearable, he relaxed his grasp and the bride's knees wilted. She collapsed to the floor in clouds of organdy ruffles like a balloon slowly deflated.
I didn't mention this incident in my account of the wedding. I told the truth, but not the whole truth, and my story was well in the realm of accuracy.
I have never believed that it should be taboo for a society editor to exhibit a sense of humor. In fact, it is most necessary. Our make-up man helped with that one time when he assisted me in producing this masterpiece: "Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Hall of Zacaquiesta Ranch announce the birth of a minor operation."
Our rural correspondents, too, are a big help in such matters. Recently one wrote me this note to run a correction from her previous report: "In the list of names of those attending the golden wedding anniversary celebration of Mr. and Mrs. A. W. Smith of Riverdale, it was stated last week that Mr. and Mrs. Don Johnson and children, Lorraine, Susie, and Denton, were from Tokyo, Japan. They are from Tahoka, Texas, instead of Tokyo, Japan."
For development of an interesting women's page, the democratic attitude must prevail. Catering to the Avalon Bridge Club, the Daughters of the Indian Wars, or the Child Guidance Circle of America over others will not make your page especially interesting. I am willing to concede, however, that some organizations are better news sources (more entertaining) than others, just as people are.
Probably I should go into a discussion of added features such as recipes and patterns, hints on needlecraft and tips on beauty but why should a women's page editor devote time and inches to canned material when she can print items of interest such as these gleanings from my patrons' copy ...
One of our rural correspondents wrote last fall: "Bob Smith and A. B. Jones have returned from a deer hunt in New Mexico. They came back with two bucks."
Only last week we had an account of a missionary society meeting in which two consecutive topics discussed were "Child Marriages" by Frances Webb and "How Girlhood May Show Appreciation for These Blessings" by Ollie McDonald.
I have another gem here which was placed on my copy hook in recent months. Just to give you an idea of what the women's page editor must be subjected to in her endeavor, I'll reproduce it. (This account was written by a man.)
"In the home of V. M. Havens Tuesday afternoon an unusual stork shower was witnessed for men only. The shower was given for Jack Kelly, well-known newlywed of Harrold.
"After refreshments of cake and coffee were served, those present were presented with pink and blue lollypops. A special song was rendered for the honoree entitled 'Who Is Sorry Now?' "
I may write a little better copy than this last piece, and what I say may conform more nearly to standard newspaper style, but I am confident that I can write no more interesting a story.
I do not advocate this type of journalism necessarily, but I think my readers would enjoy it more than a three-paragraph account of an all-day quilting and covered-dish luncheon.
If you have an interesting women's page in your paper, many of your patrons won't be willing to go to bed at night until they have read it. But as long as we women's page editors keep saying that "simplicity is the keynote" in wedding stories, our women's pages will be only another bed-time sedative.