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Betsy Wade, 1st Woman To Edit News At 'The New York Times,' Dies At 91


Betsy Wade believed in The New York Times long before she ever set foot in the newsroom.


BETSY WADE: When I was in high school, I was the high school representative for The New York Times, and I delivered The New York Times in the morning. I got to school and opened the bundles and took them around and delivered them. Them was hard times, Mary Marshall, because the Herald Tribune had just put in a daily crossword puzzle. And I was fighting uphill all the way to sell this rather dull-looking newspaper (laughter).


That's Wade speaking to the Washington Press Club Foundation in 1994. She would go on to break barrier after barrier in her 45 years at the Times. She started on Day 1 by becoming the first woman to edit news copy of the paper in 1956. Wade died yesterday in New York at the age of 91.

SHAPIRO: She had a love of words, a love that was encouraged by her father.


WADE: While I was in fifth grade, he would quiz me. And we started out with words unknown to 1% of the population, and we went up to words unknown to 95% of the population. And by the time I got there, I was the weirdest little wizard you ever ran across. I had words that nobody had ever heard of.

SHAPIRO: And like so many others who fall in love with words at an early age, Wade decided to go into journalism.

CORNISH: She also overcame discrimination. In the early 1950s, she was fired from her job at the New York Herald Tribune after her bosses learned she was pregnant.


WADE: I was fired on Labor Day. I - we'd left out the fact that I was married. It wasn't a matter of respectability. It was just a matter that they were damned if they were going to give me a leave of absence to have a baby.

SHAPIRO: In 1956, she joined the staff of The New York Times, and over the next decade and a half, she steadily moved up to more prestigious jobs and assignments. Wade played an instrumental role in prepping the classified Pentagon Papers, which ultimately earned the Times a Pulitzer Prize.

CORNISH: But as she looked around the company, there were few women in powerful roles, and they made far less money than men doing similar jobs. So in 1974, she joined a class action lawsuit demanding fair pay and better opportunities for women at the Times. She was the lead plaintiff. The company eventually settled. And for Wade, the victory went way beyond the walls of The New York Times. Here she is in 2017.


WADE: The other papers said, oh, my gosh. If the Times can't hold off a group of classified ad salespeople and 10 reporters, we better look at what we're doing.

SHAPIRO: That's journalism pioneer Betsy Wade, who broke barriers at America's paper of record. She died yesterday in New York at the age of 91.

(SOUNDBITE OF PANTHURR SONG, "WOOF, PT. 1") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.