July 2015: Remembering the trailblazers

Her passion was contagious. Sitting on stage after the Washington, D.C., Feb. 14 screening of “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry,” Marlene Sanders recalled both the battles she had fought in newsrooms against sexism and the battles she covered on streets full of protesting feminists. She told us that it had been a constant struggle to convince her editors to cover the women’s movement, but she persisted and succeeded and talks about it in the film.

Marlene Sanders was a true pioneer. She died at age 84 on July 14.

As The New York Times reported, Marlene started her career with ABC and later worked for CBS. She was a “first” more than a few times throughout her career, a role model and inspiration for so many women broadcasters.

JAWS member Lynn Povich had this to share when asked about Marlene: “It’s just a small but meaningful thing,” she emailed me. “Although I had watched Marlene many times on television, I finally met Marlene when we were both picked for Matrix Awards in 1976 – she for excellence in television, me for magazines. The ceremony was held in the dingy Lexington Hotel on Lex and 49th with only our friends and family attending. Not the fancy event with celebrity presenters that it has become. Marlene and I continued a mutual admiration acquaintanceship. When I was writing my book, ‘The Good Girls Revolt,’ I interviewed her about what happened with the women at ABC after we sued Newsweek for sex discrimination in 1970. She said that because of our suit, ABC management got scared and came to them about grievances so they could push for change without a suit. I sat next to Marlene at the Veteran Feminists of America gala last year October where she was in fine form, as always. That was Marlene, who always supported and helped other women. I will miss her.”

JAWS member Janice Roshalle Littlejohn didn’t know Marlene, but said in an email that she studied her work. “About a year or two after my first JAWS CAMP in 1999, I came across a book about broadcast pioneers in which Barbara Walters mentioned Marlene Sanders having preceded her as the first woman broadcast anchor on network television. I went digging into anything I could find about her and uncovered all kinds of great, important stories and documentaries she’d done that involved women’s stories – and the Vietnam War! I was fascinated! I really didn’t know of any women who’d covered the war then, and she was one of the first! It was a history of women in journalism that’s not talked about or really shared much, and yet should be celebrated.”

When I heard Marlene speak at the “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” February screening (which JAWS co-sponsored), I was reminded of how much we owe to the women like Marlene who stood up to dismissive male editors and whose stellar reporting broke down so many doors. I also was reminded that all too often it is still a battle to advance women in newsrooms and to convince editors to cover women and other underrepresented voices. By continuing to wage that good fight, we honor Marlene and also the legacy of JAWS members like the late Kay Mills, Eileen Shanahan, Joan Cook and Dori Maynard.