Personal History by Katharine Graham
The Role of Woman in Society in an Autobiography Personal History by Katharine Graham
Katharine Graham is a well-known American publisher. She became the first woman to head a nationally-known newspaper in The United States of America, The Washington Post. She held her position for more than two decades. In 2000, she was honored as one of the symbols of courage in global journalism (World Press Freedom Heroes, 2012).
Her autobiography, Personal History, was published in 1997. Next year, it won the Pulitzer Prize in the category of biography/autobiography. The book received widespread critical approval for its frankness and honesty in dealing with the mental disease of Graham’s husband, who later committed suicide, and the ensuing difficulties she faced in making her career a reality.
Personal History describes the story of Graham’s life, beginning with her difficult relationship with her mother and ending with her leading an influential publishing company. Also, such topics as her growing interest in feminist issues, The Washington Post’s coverage of Watergate, her attitude towards the labor movement, her and her husband’s relationships with Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy, and the legal struggle for the Pentagon Papers are raised in the memoir.
One of the important subjects that Graham discusses in her memoirs is the role of woman in society and the challenges she faced in a male-dominated environment. Her thoughts about women’s rights and changes in herself as a result are definitely worthy to be examined in a detail.
Graham came of age before the feminist movement in the early 70’s. She was the timid daughter of a domineering mother, and their relations were strained. She eventually became a novice reporter, later the mother of four children and a devoted wife of a talented but manic-depressive newspaper executive. After his unexpected suicide, she decided to take the family business upon herself after playing the role of a housewife. As she writes in her memoirs, being the only woman who held such a high position at a respected publishing company, she felt a lack of confidence and doubted her knowledge. Her male colleagues did not take her seriously, and there were no female role models for her.
In the 1960’s, her role as a business-woman changed to a female politician in 70’s. Joining the women’s movement led to changes within Graham herself and allowed her to achieve gender equality within her company.
A former Post reporter, Chalmers Roberts, who had known Graham since 1933, told that she started her career at ground level at a time when women’s rights and opportunities were oppressed. “When she was done, she had done so much not just for the Post, but for women, for journalism’s reputation, for the profession itself” (Willing, 2001).
This book smoothly explores a woman’s evolution from a typical housewife to a chairman of an acknowledged newspaper. Also, it shows that the stereotype in regard to women only raising children and caring for the comfort in their home can be destroyed. The memoir convinces the reader that you can succeed in your career and become an important figure in society if you are a dedicated and persistent person.
According to Nora Ephron, Graham wrote an astonishing story of her life that directly corresponds to that of the women’s rights revolution : “Katharine Graham turns out to have had not two lives but four, and the story of her journey from daughter to wife to widow to woman parallels to a surprising degree the history of women in this century” (Ephron, 1997).
Personal History is a remarkable book of a remarkable woman. After reading these memoirs, it seems that it was a conversation with the author face-to-face – so sincerely and honestly it was written. Katharine Graham was a wise and strong woman who shared her regrets and mistakes as lessons for us. She is an inspiration and a role model for woman in business. Those who struggle to manage political, social, work and family obligations will find valuable information for themselves as well in this memoir.
List of References
“World Press Freedom Heroes: Symbols of Courage in Global Journalism”. International Press Institute, 2012.
Richard Willing: “’Washington Post’ Icon Katharine Graham, 84, Dies”, USA Today. July 18, 2001.
Nora Ephron: “Paper Route”, The New York Times, February 9, 1997.
Booknotes interview with Graham on Personal History, February 16, 1997.