Katharine Graham

“To love what you do and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”

Katharine Graham, CEO and publisher of The Washington Post, 1917-2001

Once the most powerful woman in journalism, Katherine Graham was the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, the first female newspaper publisher in the US, and the first woman elected to the board of the Associated Press. Under her watch, The Washington Post became the most influential newspaper in Washington, and one of the most powerful in the country, with soaring stock prices and revenue growth of $1 Billion. Though it may have been in her DNA, she surprised herself as much as anyone with her business acumen. Born into an incredibly wealthy family and educated at Vassar and The University of Washington, she gave up a fledgling career as a reporter to marry and tend to her family, as was common at the time.

When her father bought The Washington Post, he appointed her husband, a lawyer, as publisher. Domestic life went well until her husband committed suicide (he had bipolar disorder) in 1963. Graham was catapulted from the kitchen to the boardroom in her mid-40s, taking the reigns as publisher during one of the most tumultuous times in American politics. She made her New York society debut on the arm of Truman Capote at his Black and White Ball in Manhattan, wearing this stunning beaded Balmain dress. Although plagued with imposters syndrome and anxiety (she is said to have rehearsed saying ‘Merry Christmas” for hours prior to hosting her first staff holiday party) she found her feet—and her voice. “Let’s publish!” was her rallying cry to the newsroom when faced with the threat of legal action over the leaked Pentagon Papers in ’71, and again in ’72 when the Watergate scandal broke.

The risky and bold moves paid off, as the paper went public and stocks soared. Although she had no female peers at the time, she was quoted as saying that power had no sex, and a friendship with Gloria Steinem helped develop her feminist stance. At a 2021 exhibit by the New-York Historical Society in which the Balmain gown was shown,  a 1988 memos written to her editor-in-chief asks that he was not to relegate women to the “Style” section, calling it “sexist” and asking “Shall we change this ancient attitude?” Steven Spielberg’s film The Press (in which she is played by Meryl Streep) and her Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Personal History, contribute to her legacy as a female powerhouse and the ultimate champion of freedom of the press. 


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