Female reporters were often excluded in good ol’ boy days of politics

In the days when women complained about discrimination but nobody did much about it, a female competing in a “man’s world” quite often got reminded that she was a second-class citizen.

I have never forgotten three occasions during the 1970s and 1980s when I was forcibly informed that there were certain places where women didn’t belong.

The first one came at the end of the Colorado legislative session. Some of the lobbyists hosted the working press at the Bert Hanna Memorial Lunch, named for a former Capitol reporter. As the only woman covering the Legislature that year, I didn’t receive an invitation. When reporters for both major wire services discovered I hadn’t been invited, they protested, but were told that I wasn’t welcome to attend.

The Associated Press reporter Gordon Gauss assured me that it was just as well. He said the jokes were so raw that even he was embarrassed, and everybody drank too much.

As if to prove the truth of Gauss’ explanation, a Rocky Mountain News reporter came back from the lunch one year and wrote a story that the Legislature had adjourned. His only problem was that it hadn’t adjourned and didn’t do so until the following day.

Another year, a Denver Post reporter standing in back of the chamber began to sing loudly “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while the House was in session. I didn’t have to worry about such gaffes. I never was invited to the lunch.

A few years later, a male lobbyist invited several western Colorado male legislators to the most stylish restaurant in the Brown Palace Hotel and asked me to join them. I hadn’t even looked at the menu when a waiter came over and said I would have to leave, as Wednesday afternoons were “male only.” My lobbyist protagonist argued that legislative business was to be discussed, and that I was attending as a reporter and not as a woman.

The waiter’s comment was “tough luck,” or something similar, and I was told I had to leave. I debated whether to slink out as though I had been caught purloining the table silver or to swagger a bit, as though I had been thrown out of classier joints than that. I opted to make a dignified exit, although it was hard to act dignified when I was obviously being shown the door and all the (male) eyes were focused on me.

That was not the end of the story.  I returned to the Capitol pressroom and casually mentioned to my reporter friend, Sue O’Brien, what had happened. Sue, who later became a valued member of the Denver Post’s editorial page team, was a firebrand who then reported for Denver Television Channel 4. She was also the mother of current Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, although that is not germane to this story.

I had my 15 minutes of television fame through Sue. She reported on both the late-afternoon and evening news segments that I had been kicked out of the swanky restaurant because I was a woman.

It would be interesting to report that those stories resulted in allowing women in the restaurant on Wednesday afternoons, but it didn’t happen. Nothing changed during my years covering the Legislature from 1967 through 1985.

The third event I recall took place in Grand Junction, when my then-city editor, Gaylord Kirkham, asked me to call a local company and get some information on uranium production.

The man he had asked me to call refused to answer my questions and, after a few minutes of futility, I said to him: “Is this because I am a woman?”

“Yes,” he said and ended that conversation.

Angered and humiliated, I reported the incident to Kirkham. As I remember, he called and got his answers in five minutes.

How did the women of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s cope with discrimination? I was tempted a few months later, when I was introduced to the same man at a social gathering, to proclaim in a loud voice: “Oh yes, you are the jerk who wouldn’t give me the time of day because I was a woman.” But I didn’t.

Instead, I remembered with admiration the rationalization offered by another longtime Daily Sentinel reporter, the late Alice Wright. We were discussing discrimination one day, and she said: “I was always so busy reporting and trying to get it right that I didn’t have time to worry about whether I was being discriminated against or not.”

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter for The Daily Sentinel. She now lives in California.


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