By Monica Kast
If Lorena Hickok opened the door for female journalists in the White House, May Craig was the first one who ran through it.
Born in 1888, May Adams Craig would not enter the world of journalism until later in life. After she married Donald Craig, a journalist for the New York Herald, May Craig began writing features alongside him, according to the New England Historical Society. In 1923, after Donald was critically injured in an automobile accident, May began helping him write his column that appeared in the Gannett newspapers, according to “American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present.”
By 1931, May had earned her own byline in the Gannett papers and was becoming a recognizable name in the world of journalism, according to the New England Historical Society. When Donald died in 1936, “she was an established Washington journalist,” according to the New England Historical Society. Her daily column, “Inside in Washington,” would run until her retirement in 1965.
May Craig was one of the first female journalists to report on the president and was allowed to attend Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s press conferences, which had previously only been open to men. Aside from reporting on politics, she also made a name for herself as a war correspondent during World War II, according to the Library of Congress.
May Craig and Roosevelt seemingly had a friendly relationship. In 1941, at a press conference held two days after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, May Craig is recorded bantering with FDR about security measures for getting into the Oval Office and about outgoing U.S. Senator Fred Hale.
MISS MAY CRAIG: You’ve got a new system out there. (Referring to security at the entrance.)
THE PRESIDENT: What?
MISS MAY CRAIG: A new system out there. It’s going to take a long time to get in.
THE PRESIDENT: What’s that? What do you have to do? Have they frisked you? (Laughter)
MISS MAY CRAIG: Practically.
THE PRESIDENT: Now May, I don’t think that’s nice.
MISS MAY CRAIG: They did Fred Hale once.
THE PRESIDENT: I will have to hire a female Secret Service agent around here to do the frisking.
MISS MAY CRAIG: Remember the time they frisked Senator Hale at a reception?
THE PRESIDENT: Terribly funny.
MISS MAY CRAIG: He never got over it.
THE PRESIDENT: He never got over it.
MISS MAY CRAIG: The sacred Hale person.
THE PRESIDENT: He was here before you and I were born. (Pause here as newspapermen continue to file in.)
May Craig speaks her mind in front of the president, and the two joke together. There are also pictures taken at the time where she is the only female in the room.
Not only was she a political journalist and war correspondent, but May Craig worked to get rights for other women and journalists at the time. According to the Library of Congress, Craig had leadership roles in the Women’s National Press Club and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Press Conference Association, “two organizations founded to promote female journalists.”
“The former suffragist also spearheaded countless initiatives to raise the professional status of female news correspondents in the corridors of official power and the capital press corps,” according to the Library of Congress.
May Craig was well aware of the obstacles she faced solely because of her gender. The Library of Congress notes that Craig “singlehandedly overturned more than one military rule designed to keep women out of planes and off of ships,” but “even she could not always convince male officials that women could ‘rough’ it if required.” Craig once said that the word “facilities” would be written on her heart when she died, “so often it has been used to prevent me from doing what men reporters could do.”
Craig also covered John F. Kennedy’s presidency and some mocked her for it. As Ted Sorensen notes in “Kennedy”:
“questions asked by female correspondents invariably provided an element of entertainment, if not information. He knew that May Craig’s questions were more likely to be puzzling than weighty, but he always shared the television viewers’ curiosity about what her question would be, and he always called on her,” (326).
It seems that Craig was viewed as a source of entertainment during press conferences and not taken as seriously as her male counterparts. “I’d like to pass her by, but something always draws me to recognize her,” Sorensen records Kennedy once saying of Craig.
While Craig’s journey to covering the White House and to being allowed into the formerly all-male press conferences was not an easy one, she still made a name for herself as one of the first female journalists to cover the president himself. Though she still faced discrimination because of her gender, and was not taken as seriously as the men who were doing the same job as she was, Craig still became well known in the world of political journalism. Her column ran almost daily for nearly 50 years, an accomplishment that is to be recognized regardless of gender.