Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bess Furman

Born this day in 1894: Bess Furman (1894–1969), early AP reporter who covered the FDR White House, especially Eleanor Roosevelt, and became one of the best-known women reporters of her day

Bess Furman, a Nebraska native, was daughter of the editor and publisher of her hometown newspaper. She worked in her father’s storefront office, setting type, from a young age. After graduating high school, however, she began  working as a teacher. She taught for several years while attending college at the Nebraska State Teachers College and was the first woman to edit the school’s newspaper. Furman graduated in 1918, but instead of continuing her teaching career, she pursued a career in journalism. Between 1920 and 1929 she wrote for various Nebraska publications. She was a staff write at the Kearney Daily Hub and a news feature writer and Sunday magazine writer for the Omaha Bee-News. In 1928 her award-winning a story on presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith caught the eye of the Associated Press. Furman, anxious to make a name for herself outside of Nebraska, joined the AP’s Washington bureau in 1929. She was the first woman to regularly cover the House of Representatives for a news agency. Her main assignments were to cover first ladies Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR’s campaign activities. Her writing was often angled toward women, covering not only the first lady, but also other women in politics and women’s rights. ER, her primary subject, would be a great influence on Furman’s career.  ER and Furman developed a close relationship over the years, and ER would become godmother to Furman’s daughter.
At the end of 1936 Furman, who had since married a fellow reporter, returned to Nebraska to give birth to twins. For several years she ran a publicity agency with her sister Lucile, working mostly for various women’s organizations. During World War II she worked in the Office of War Information as assistant chief of the  Magazine Division. From 1943 to 1961 she worked for the Washington bureau of the New York Times. Throughout this period she became increasingly interested in covering education, health, and science. In 1961 she began working in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and was made head of its Press Information Section the following year.
Furman’s autobiography, Washington By-Line, was published in 1949. She also wrote a social history of the White House called White House Profile in 1951. In 1946 she was elected president of the National Women’ s Press Club. In 1975 she was inducted into the Nebraska Newspaper Hall of Fame.

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