Betsy Wade

I think a successful career in journalism is to contribute something to the strengthening of democracy.

— Betsy Wade

Betsy Wade

As the first woman copy editor at The New York Times, Betsy Wade made journalism history in 1956. This was only the first step, however, in a distinguished career well known for its challenges to gender norms.

A native New Yorker, Betsy’s interest in journalism began as a seventh-grader writing for her school “newspaper” during World War II. Due to the scarcity of paper, one copy was posted to a school bulletin board.

She attended Carleton College in Minnesota and Barnard College in New York before pursuing her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. In 1952, she began working for the women’s news department at the New York Herald Tribune. She was let go the following year when she told the newspaper staff she was pregnant.

“They didn’t want to pay a maternity leave. So that was that,” Betsy said. “And I thought well, the world is over.”

Her loss at the time was journalism history’s gain. For two years, she worked for the Newspaper Enterprise Association. Then, in 1956, after extensive rounds of interviews, Betsy broke the gender barrier and joined The New York Times as a copy editor.

Betsy’s most celebrated legacy, however, occurred in the 1970s when she and fellow women co-workers filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the Times in pursuit of equal opportunity and pay. Today, she views this as “the most important thing we did in our careers.”

In 2001, Betsy accepted a buyout from the Times after a career of editing the nation’s biggest stories, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Pentagon Papers.

Betsy is a popular subject for oral histories and interviews as no discussion of women and journalism is complete without her. Her longtime association with JAWS, an organization she joined in 1989, also makes her a valuable resource. She graciously agreed to do another oral history for this project, and we met at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in December 2013.

( This interview was conducted by Teri Finneman )