Honoring Betsy Wade

2016_betsy_wadeStory and photo by Betty Medsger

Congratulations to Betsy Wade, a journalism hero.

This JAWS pioneer was given a lifetime achievement award on Nov. 16 by the Society of the Silurians, an organization of veteran journalists in New York. Many JAWS members were present to honor her.

What a life of service to the profession Betsy has led. Her achievements have benefited journalists throughout the country by leading the way in making it possible for women to be hired in greater numbers in the nation’s newsrooms. In 1974, she was the lead plaintiff in a class action suit filed by women at The New York Times, where she had been hired in 1956 as the paper’s first woman copy editor in the paper’s 105-year history.

At the dinner honoring her, Betsy introduced the surviving women who were plaintiffs with her in the 1974 case: Grace Gleuck and Nancy Davis, and their attorney at the time, Harriet Rabb. Bevilda Rosario, a plaintiff at the same time in a class action suit brought by people of color who claimed discrimination by the New York Times, also was introduced.

The case was settled in 1978 for minor cash and an affirmative action plan. It is widely recognized that the suit did little, if anything, to advance the careers of the women who filed it, but it did a great deal for the women who came after them. Other news organizations realized that if the Times could be vulnerable to such a lawsuit, so could they. Looking back, Betsy said, “We know that we opened doors for a new generation that may not know they were ever closed.”

The current publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., knows why those doors opened. His father Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, was publisher when the women sued the paper. Several days ago, the current publisher stopped by Betsy’s apartment building in New York, greeted her cordially, told her he regretted he couldn’t be present to see her receive the Silurians reward and gave her a hand-written note in which he acknowledged the power of her achievement all those years ago: “Congratulations and thank you for making The New York Times — and our world — a better place through all your effort.”