June was a wonderful month for newspaper society editors
By Mary Louise Giblin Henderson
When daily newspapers spelled society with a capital “S,” the women’s page was often the liveliest spot in The Daily Sentinel.
And I, who started my newspaper writing career as a “society” — later “women’s” editor — in the mid-1940s, was in the midst of it.
While there were days when the page yawned with emptiness or doddered with boring stories of routine club meetings, the women’s page was often filled with exciting news about engagements, marriages and bridal and baby showers to keep the small city abreast of what was happening socially.
The holiday season and the month of June were an editor’s dream because, as surely as engagement rings were handed out with abandon at Christmas, a rush of summer weddings was bound to follow. There were also announcement teas or cocktail parties to let the public know that one less man was available and numerous showers to herald the approaching nuptials.
Weddings were lavish affairs, as each mother of the bride strove to outdo her friends. Stories got longer and longer until the final blow came when one wedding story (which another reporter had written) stretched more than a 21-inch column. Details included a description of the bride’s attire, that of her six bridesmaids, her mother and her soon-to-be mother-in-law, the names of the out-of-town guests and details of all the decorations in the church and at the reception following. That story resulted in an edict from above, and the women’s page writers became limited to 11 inches of type per wedding.
For several years, The Daily Sentinel had a special Sunday section devoted entirely to women’s events. In June through August and around the holidays, it often contained eight pages, most of it weddings and engagements. At one point, we became so self-important (and crowded with wedding stories) that we refused to use a picture of the bride if the event had happened more than a week earlier.
That section was one of the top draws in the Sunday paper because the women all read it. Many men somewhat guiltily admitted to me that not only did they never miss reading it, it was often the first section they read.
All those inches of copy were bound to be responsible for a few complaints.
There was the Monday morning when I got an early call from a mother of the bride, complaining about her daughter’s coverage the day before. Specifically, she said that a second bride had gotten a story that was one or two inches longer than her daughter’s, adding that the second bride’s story had been in a more prominent position.
With some minor sleuthing, I discovered that the second bride had married the first bride’s former beau, and there was some tongue-wagging among their friends about why both weddings occurred the same day.
Then there was the matronly bride who, accompanied by a woman friend, came into the office to tell me about her marriage. Nothing seemed amiss, so I published the story. The next day, I had a call from a third woman, telling me that the groom didn’t have his divorce yet and demanding that I recant the original story. So I published a correction, and the first “bride” called, saying the marriage had indeed happened, and there should be a retraction of the retraction.
The biblical story of King Solomon and his threat to sever a baby into two parts came to mind, so I issued a Solomon-like pronouncement, suggesting that the two “brides"get together, set up a time to meet with me and come into the office. I never heard from either one again, and to this day I have no idea which wife the man finally chose — or if he had a third would-be wife in waiting.
Another Monday, I picked up the phone to be greeted by one of the city’s more prominent male citizens. “Where did you get that story about my daughter’s engagement?” he asked brusquely. I told him that she had brought it in to me a few days before, asking that it be published Sunday. I learned that he wasn’t too fond of the intended groom, and his daughter had neglected to tell him that she was engaged. They did marry, although, if I remember correctly, they divorced after several years.
There were my errors, too, and they often rose up to haunt me. One Monday morning, a call came from a self-proclaimed social leader, who noted in an accusatory tone that I had omitted one of the guests from a bridal shower story. That guest was the groom’s mother, and since it was common knowledge that the society matron didn’t approve of the bridegroom, the bride’s mother feared that friends would think the omission was deliberate.
The mistake that sticks most in my memory was somewhat more embarrassing. The bride, who was a casual friend of mine, had been dating two men and gotten engaged to one of them. She brought in her engagement story with all the correct information. I barely knew either man, but for some reason which I never figured out, I “engaged” her to the wrong man.
When I went from being the women’s editor to writing politics, there were skeptics who said I wouldn’t be able to take the heat. My reply was that, once you have faced a cadre of mothers of the bride, taking on politicians is a piece of cake.
And it was.
Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter and society editor for The Daily Sentinel who now lives in California.