Katherine Meyer Graham is considered one of the world’s most powerful women, she was the publisher of the Washington Post when the Post defied the United States government to push the classified Pentagon Papers and when two reporters brought the Watergate scandal to light during Richard Nixon’s presidency. She also led her business to financial success becoming the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and in 1998 she won a Pulitzer Prize for her memoir Personal History.
Graham was the fourth of five children; she grew up wealthy with many luxuries but a distant relationship with her parent. She attended Vassar before transferring to the University of Chicago where she received an undergraduate degree in 1938, she then went to San Francisco to work as a reporter.
She was elected President of the Washington Post Company on September 20, 1963. After her husband passed, she knew taking charge of a business meant she could eventually pass it down to her children and leave them with a legacy. Graham felt very underprepared for her new role, she lacked training, but the Post had been in her family since her father bought the paper at a bankruptcy auction in 1933.
Eventually, she began hiring people herself instead of relying on her late husband’s connections as his time as a publisher. Her first hire was Ben Bradlee who later become the managing editor in 1965. She had to make the difficult decision, and in June of 1971, she published the classified Pentagon Papers, excerpts which delved into the history of the U.S involvement in Vietnam. New York Times, the first newspaper had been barred from further publication by court order, and Graham’s team feared the same consequences.
She was vindicated by a 603 Supreme Court ruling, issued on June 30, 1971, which supported freedom of the press and stated that the information in the Pentagon Papers didn’t place government security at risk. Her action elevated the national profile of the Post.
Katherine was often the only woman in a meeting, and her ability to contribute was almost always dismissed by men around her. She was raised to believe women were men’s intellectual inferiors, usually accepted. But thank goodness for her determination, because without her ability to fight past all the preconceived notions of women’s ability to do work, where would women in journalism be?