A Life Less Ordinary: The First Female War Correspondents
By Alex Glynn
The changing face of war reporting for female journalists was the topic of conversation at the Frontline Club on Tuesday 11 February, with a special insight into two women who pioneered the trade – Clare Hollingworth and Gerda Taro.
Patrick Garrett, a former journalist and nephew to Hollingworth, told the audience of his aunt’s extraordinary daring and resolve, a subject he is exploring in a book about her life. After moving to Poland with the League of Nations, she almost fell into journalism, first working as the Polish correspondent for The Telegraph. Before long she was legendary, most famously breaking the news that WWII had started.
Garrett took the audience through Hollingworth’s journey as a foreign correspondent – with pictures of her in Africa, on the banks of the Suez, and as a 65-years-old reporting from China.
“At 70 she began writing as the first female defence correspondent for The Telegraph!”
At 102-years-old she is now living in Hong Kong, with her passport still by her bedside and shoes on the floor ready to go, just in case the newspaper calls.
But where one pioneering female correspondent’s long life is filled with stories, another’s was cut tragically short. Writer and filmmaker Jane Rogoyska revisits the late Gerda Taro in her new book Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa and told the audience the story of an incredible photojournalist who was killed at only 26-years-old in the Spanish Civil War.
Taro’s life changed when, in Paris, she met Endre Friedmann, a handsome Hungarian photographer who was struggling to establish himself.
“What he brought to her was photography, and she brought to him was intelligence, drive and business sense,” said Rogoyska. “As they struggled, they couldn’t make ends meet, they came up with the idea of inventing someone else – a wealthy American called Robert Capa.”
Together they decided to cover Spanish Civil War.
“She started as the pupil, but she started to feel overshadowed by this very enormous talent. They would always put their photographs under the name of Capa, then she came to the realisation that Capa was him, and where was she?” Rogoyska added.
She went solo, and at the age of 26 in 1937, at the Battle of Brunete, she became “too involved and stayed too long at the front”. She was killed accidentally by an out of control Republican tank.
“Since the first women correspondents, how far have we come?” an audience member asked. The Times’ first defence editor Deborah Haynes, who was chairing the event, responded saying: “I became the first female defence editor for The Times, which is a sign of how . . . there are still glass ceilings to break through.”
Award-winning photojournalist Kate Brooks added: “Now, there are many, many more female correspondents and war correspondents.”
“I was counting before how many women photographers who are well known for regularly covering conflict, over the last 30 years, and we are still talking about only a couple of dozen women. It’s a small circle and we all know each other.”
“But lots of things have changed, there was an article on TheAtlantic.com that pointed out that the bureau chiefs of NPR, Time Magazine and New York Times in Beirut are all women, married and have children, but very much focused on covering Syria. You wouldn’t have found that twenty years ago,” said Brooks.
Another audience member asked whether women brought anything different to the role than men, and Brooks pointed out that “working in the Muslim world, as a woman you get better access to cover stories about women”. When asked if this meant it was harder to cover men, she disagreed. “As a foreign woman, I’m almost a third gender,” she said.
Garrett told the audience about how Hollingworth’s gender helped her, even back in the day when women reporters were rare.
“When women were evacuated from Cairo to South Africa, because of the shortage of women, she was always being invited to balls and dances,” he said. “That gave her very good [military] contacts!”
You can listen to or watch the full discussion below: