Sandra greets me with a welcoming smile. She is happy to share her story. Our get- together is not the first time it’s been told. A few years ago, she wrote Stairway to the Stars: John Travolta, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers… and me, an autobiographical account of her prolific career in journalism.
Sandy was a newspaperwoman at a time when the majority of females in the newsroom were relegated to typing for the male reporters. And long before anyone talked about work/life balance, Sandy negotiated job-sharing that let her do the work she loved and still be available when her children came home from school. I was fascinated to learn how she put the pieces together years before the Women’s Movement addressed time-sharing and gender inequality in the workplace.
Unlike most girls in 1948, Chicagoan Sandra always expected that she’d go to college. But unlike the few who also went, Sandy was truly there for the education.
“Most of the girls on campus were in search of an ‘MRS’ rather than a BA. I was there because I was raised with the understanding that I had to ‘find a tool to feed myself with.'”
Self-reliance was a concept that Sandy understood early in life. She was only nine when her mother died of cancer. The loss was profound but not immobilizing. Sandy was fortunate to have other adults in her life that offered her steady devotion and support.
First, there was her father. An architectural engineer, he expected both Sandy and her older brother to attend his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was in stark contrast to the plans of her girlfriends’ parents.
“Some of my friends got married right out of school. Concerned that I might head in that direction too, he said, ‘Take your time. You have your entire life to wash dishes.'”
Sandy also had the guidance of her beloved Aunt Rose, her mother’s young sister. A librarian, just as Sandy’s mother had been, Rose stepped into Sandy’s life when her mother became ill. Rose never married in an era that celebrated matrimony and stigmatized women who were single. A world traveler, she often said, “I’m a maiden by choice.” She told Sandy that while she watched her friends deal with the minutia of a housewife’s life, she would be packing for another trip to Europe. Sandy heard the message. There was more to pursue in life than a wedding ring.
Once Sandy arrived at the U of I, a friend suggested that she explore the university’s journalism school. It was perfect, and then her father died suddenly when she was 19. She went to her advisor and asked if she really would be able to feed herself with a journalism degree. He said he believed that she could – and he was right.
But finding a job in this field took longer than expected. It was highly unusual for women to be in the newsrooms unless they were secretaries.
“The managing editor of the City News Bureau, which was the training ground for Chicago’s newspapers, flatly told me that they didn’t hire women anymore. They had to during World War II and it didn’t work. According to him, the women were too distracting to the real [male] reporters.
Today, it’s hard for me to believe that I just nodded and agreed that, of course, I would distract the real reporters!”
In desperation, Sandy took a job as editorial assistant to the editor at World Book and stayed a month. Fortunately, a friend called to say she was marrying a doctor and leaving her job as a reporter for Chicago’s Radio and Community News Service, covering news of Chicago’s Loop. She arranged a meeting so that Sandy could meet her boss, and Sandy was hired.
This was the break that Sandy needed to enter the field that she loved. As you listen to her accounts, images of The Front Page and other Hollywood classics come to mind. Sandy reveled in the pace and excitement of working with newspapermen in the city and county pressrooms. Rather than feel intimidated stepping into a male-dominated arena, Sandy was exhilarated to find her place.
She flourished in the journalism field for over 40 years. Sandy worked for several Chicago publications, including the Chicago Daily News. She won many awards and was named to the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. Even after she and her late husband Hal had children, Sandy was able to work out a schedule that balanced her family’s needs and her professional growth. She loved it all: riding the commuter train, covering the important meetings, discovering unique angles for her stories, meeting the celebrities, and working side by side with Chicago’s legendary journalists
Now in her mid-80s, Sandy is very appreciative of the many blessings in her life – memories of a beautiful marriage, a comfortable home, her attentive children and grandchildren. She doesn’t dwell on what may be around the corner. At age nine, she was able to pick herself up when tragedy interrupted her childhood. Sandy understands more than most that life is unpredictable. But, she believes that she is strong enough to face it with grace.