Helen Thomas

HELEN THOMAS, who died during the weekend, was a journalistic pioneer who served as dean of the White House press corps and was known for her probing questions during presidential press conference.

President Barack Obama described her as “a true pioneer, opening doors and breaking down barriers for generations of women in journalism. … she never failed to keep presidents – myself included – on their toes.”

Thomas, known as dean of the White House press corps, was the first female member of the White House Correspondents Association.

Her passion in getting the facts undoubtedly stemmed from her belief in the people’s right to know. She once said that she never worshipped “at the shrines of our public servants. They owe us the truth.”

Thomas, however, isn’t the only female who has made breakthroughs for women in journalism. Many people today aren’t familiar with Pauline Frederick, who was the “Voice of the United Nations” for 21 years. Frederick made strives in broadcast journalism prior to her years to work at the UN – it took years of struggle but she became the first woman to work full-time for a U.S. television network in 1949.

She was the first woman to moderate a presidential debate, the first female awarded the Paul White Award for her contributions to broadcast journalism and the first woman to receive the Peabody and DuPont Awards for news broadcasting.

OTHER women preceded these pioneers, but they didn’t make as much headway for other females in journalism.

There was Anne Royall, one of the nation’s earliest women journalists, who had the reputation of being the “widow with serpent’s tongue.”

Royall met every president from Washington to Lincoln and is often associated with John Quincy Adams. An often-repeated story is that Adams customarily took a nude early morning swim in the Potomac. Royall had been refused interviews with him time after time, so she went to the river and sat on his clothes until she had her interview.

Noting the story probably is apocryphal, Time magazine once reported that President Harry Truman liked to tell it.

POSSIBLY, when it comes to women in a male-dominated profession, one should remember Frederick’s words: “It is a question of being a human being, not a man or a woman.”