Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.
When the Boston Globe donated its physical library to Northeastern several years ago, the university received a massive archival windfall that presents an opportunity to explore how women—who are often overlooked in media history—have shaped journalism and, by extension, civic life.
This project leverages the Globe collection to answer questions like these: How have women, especially those working in overlooked roles, influenced the Globe’s content, brand, and technological evolution? What influence, if any, have women working at the Globe exerted on the paper’s coverage of social movements such as those focused on suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, reproductive justice, and same-sex marriage? What archival silences exist, especially those that relate to queer women, Black women, trans women, Indigenous women, and women from other communities of color and marginalized groups? What can these findings tell us about the role major metropolitan newspapers like the Globe have played in U.S. history?
Our main source material thus far has been the collection’s byline series—boxes stuffed with clips organized by the journalists’ last names. Inventorying each box is slow going, but the work has already uncovered notable women journalists who have been all but erased from history. Our work plan going forward will follow two parallel paths. The first is focused on collecting oral histories from Globe women who are still alive. The second, meanwhile, aims to document the careers of women who have died and, if possible, contact surviving family members who may have memories (or personal papers) to share.
Our ultimate goal is to create a digital artifact—most likely a micro website—that will display highlights of the oral histories and, perhaps, a list of other notable women represented in the collection. In addition, we will donate hard copies of the oral histories and any related documents to Northeastern for inclusion in the Globe collection. We also anticipate multiple conference papers and articles in both scholarly journals and periodicals.
This work will contribute to the historical record, but it also has the potential to advance modern-day conversations about diversity in journalism, a field with well-documented problems that make it difficult for women, especially women of color, to advance. As we work toward a more equitable news ecosystem, it’s imperative that we understand the past as it relates to how news organizations like the Globe have both challenged and reinforced existing social norms. Documenting the ways women exerted and were denied power at the Globe throughout its history can help modern media leaders make more informed decisions about hiring, promotion, and news coverage.
Meg Heckman, Faculty, Journalism