Melissa Ludtke

I am writing a memoir about the 1970s. And I think the passion that’s driving that is that I have a 17 year-old daughter. And I feel like I owe it to her to tell this story. Because I owe it to her in the sense that I think as women of that generation, which was an extraordinary time to be a young woman, we have an obligation if we played some role in that history to tell those stories.

— Melissa Ludtke

Melissa Ludtke

As a longtime national journalist, Melissa Ludtke has had numerous experiences in everything from politics to family issues stories. However, one of her biggest impacts is in sports journalism. When Melissa was reporting for Sports Illustrated in the 1970s, she was the plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, Ludtke v. Kuhn, which secured equal access for women reporters to interview athletes in locker rooms. This case has since enabled numerous women to enter sports media.

The daughter of two professors, Melissa obtained her degree in art history from Wellesley College. Her first taste of journalism came in 1973 when Frank Gifford, a former player for the New York Giants and sports broadcaster for ABC Sports, was impressed by her sports knowledge and introduced her to a number of people at the network. Shortly after she began freelancing for them. “Moving into sports media . . . I went there without any clips or without any experience or without any courses,” Melissa said. “But it was clearly a passion, and it was one that I was just bent on pursuing.”

Within a year, she had obtained an entry-level job as a fact checker at Sports Illustrated. In 1979, Melissa moved to CBS News. Following this, worked at Time magazine where she was co-winner of a Unity Award in Media for reporting on politics in 1991. The following year she was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1992. From 1995 to 1996 she was a Prudential Fellow in the Coverage of Children at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. In 1997 her book, “On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America” was published by Random House. Then from 1998 to 2011, Melissa was the editor of Nieman Reports, a quarterly magazine about journalism published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Currently, Melissa is working on a multi-platform digital project and iBook called “Touching Home in China: In Search of Missing Girlhoods.” It tells the story of the 2013 journey that her teen-aged adopted daughter and her orphanage crib neighbor took back to the towns in China where each had been abandoned as a newborn girl to discover what it means to grow up as a girl there.

Melissa first got involved with JAWS a couple years ago after longtime friend Kay Mills recruited her. Since then, Melissa has participated in various camps and other networking opportunities such as the listserv which provides “vigorous and wonderful discussion” on a wide range of topics.

“I always feel like even when it’s not camp time that you’re kind of part of a larger camp,” Melissa said. “You’re not sitting around the campfire, but the embers are still kind of burning . . . even at your home. It’s never been something that I’ve gotten in the same way [at other organizations].”

The oral history with Melissa took place at the JAWS camp in Essex, Vermont on October 27, 2013.

( This interview was conducted by Yong Volz )