In Memory: Joan Cook

Joan Cook and the Joan Cook Fellowship Fund

By Glenda Holste

The Joan Cook Fellowship Fund honors the extraordinary life of Joan Riddell Cook with grants to bring young women, particularly women of color, into JAWS at the annual fall camp. Cook, who died of breast cancer in 1995 in New York, was a founding director of JAWS, a journalist, a union leader, a moral leader and generous friend to three generations of people engaged in the work of making the world a more just place. She was one of seven named plaintiffs — and a moving force — in a class action sex discrimination suit against the New York Times filed in 1974.

In addition to her key role in organizing the Title VII sex discrimination lawsuit, Joan also served as head of the Times unit of the New York Newspaper Guild, only the second woman ever elected to the post, and as president of the Silurians, the oldest press club in New York.

She started her career at the Minneapolis Star-Journal and later worked at the New York Herald Tribune, then served for two years as women’s editor at the Detroit News, before returning to New York and joining the Times in 1959. She retired from the paper in 1991.

Joan first came to JAWS in 1989, and was a prime mover in that year’s intense discussions of race in the newsroom and in JAWS. She became a member of the first board, and her common sense helped direct many discussions of the organization’s structure. In her years with JAWS, Joan could usually be found huddling with young journalists and helping them think through professional problems they were meeting for the first time. At the 1993 JAWS, Carolyn G. Heilbrun stayed up late with the campers, and her exchanges with Joan initiated many young women into the varied answers to the question: “Can I have it all?”

After Joan died in February 1995, a gift from Gannett obtained by Betty Anne Williams, then president of JAWS, started the Joan Cook Fellowship Fund. Gifts from friends and co-workers built the fund; major contributions were made by the New York Times Foundation; 1199, the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Workers and by Sharon Rosenhause, who prepared a benefit Indian dinner in Oakland, Calif., before the 1995 camp. Many old friends contribute yearly. The capital now stands at $16,000, which is in a C.D. that produces one scholarship yearly. The original trustees of the fund are Joy Cook, Julia Kagan and Betsy Wade.

In 2003, the JAWS board of directors voted to designate one scholarship winner each year as the holder of the Joan Cook Fellowship.

Deadline for the Joan Cook Fellowship is usually in the spring.  Check the JAWS website for the latest deadline.

For more information contact Becky Day  

To contribute
JAWS welcomes contributions to the future of young women journalists in honor of a woman who opened doors for them and all of us who follow.

Without access to a matching gifts program: Send a check made out to JAWS, with the notation “Joan Cook Fund” on the memo line to fund trustee.

Joan Cook


Books that tell Joan Cook’s story:

“Our stories are written in sand,” Cook told Nan Robertson, author and former Timeswoman, of the women who challenged the status quo at the most influential newspaper in America. Robertson made sure of a more substantial witness for history.

Read about Cook’s career, accomplishments, courage and wit in:

“The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times” by Nan Robertson.
“A Place in the News: From the Women’s Pages to the Front Page” by Kay Mills.

Joan’s story goes on. Other sites important to life, work and values

Quotes about Joan:

“One time, Joan and I attended Newspaper Guild meetings up and down the Eastern Seaboard…We paid our own way because we loved to meet with union people. We loved to drink with them. We loved to learn about their contracts and, like Emma Goldman we also liked to dance on Saturday nights.” — Betsy Wade

“She folded you in so gently and gracefully you were almost unaware that it was happening.” — Julia Kagan, JAWS President

“Joan gave lie to every stupid stereotype of women as backbiters. She took pride in the women’s lawsuit and taught us to be unafraid in the pursuit of justice.” –Anna Quindlen, former New York Times Op-Ed columnist

“Joan looked, and was, as comfortable as an old sofa.” — Nan Robertson, author

“Joan Cook is a major figure in the history of women in journalism. Period.” — Kay Mills, author

“Her ear, her heart/ Her wisdom laced with laughter/ Were freely there/ For all who clutched or asked her/ To cheer, inform and counsel/ And now in grief we must stumble.” — Edith Evans Asbury, retired New York Times reporter, in a tribute to Cook after her death in February 1995.

The quotations Joan chose for the program at her memorial service:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke, English philospher

“When I feel most destroyed, I am about to grow.” — Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher

And regarding funerals: “An amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you the one day you can’t make it.” — From “The Big Chill”