Remembering Helen Thomas, Journalism Giant (and AAUW Member!)

A black-and-white photograph of a group of women, including Helen Thomas, sitting around a table.

Helen Thomas, far left, sits at the press table during the 1961 AAUW National Convention.

July 22, 2013

This past weekend, we learned that Helen Thomas, the intrepid reporter and bold trailblazer, died at her home in Washington, D.C. She was 92. Her death offers us a moment to pay tribute to her accomplishments and honor her as a role model for women and aspiring journalists.

Thomas leaves behind an inspirational legacy of firsts:

  • In the 1950s, a time when most women in journalism were assigned the society beat, Thomas covered federal agencies.
  • A few years later, she became the first woman covering the White House full time for a news service.
  • She was the first woman elected into some of Washington’s biggest boys’ clubs: the White House Correspondents’ Association, the National Press Club, and the Gridiron Club.
  • She was the only female print journalist to travel with President Richard Nixon on his China trip in 1972.
  • She was the first woman to become a White House bureau chief for a news service.

Perhaps better than the fact that Thomas shattered glass ceilings was the style in which she did it. In a culture that expected women to be quiet and docile Thomas demanded respect from everyone.

“Pity the poor WH press aide who would try to tell Helen, ‘You can’t stand there,’”  tweeted reporter Mark Knoller after Thomas’ death was announced.

“She covered every White House since President Kennedy’s, and during that time she never failed to keep presidents — myself included — on their toes,” President Barack Obama said in a statement reacting to the news. (You know you’ve made an impression when the president of the United States comments on your death.)

Here at AAUW, we are proud that Thomas was one of our members and a 1985 NCCWSL Woman of Distinction. Even more than that, we are grateful for her talents, tenacity, and spirit.

Rachel Wallace By:   |   July 22, 2013

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