Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Women of Wednesday - Peggy Hull: War Correspondent

Henrietta Goodnough wanted to be a reporter, so in 1905, at the age of sixteen, she walked into the offices of the Junction City Sentinel in Kansas and asked for a job.  They gave her one.  As a typesetter.  It wasn’t what she wanted, but at least it was a newspaper.  She could always work her way up. 

One day, a fire broke out in town and not one Sentinel reporter could be found. Henrietta was sent, and her life as a newspaper reporter began.  But Junction City was a small town, and not much happened there.  At least, not the kinds of things Henrietta wanted to write about.  After four years with the Sentinel, she left the small town for the big city, and somewhere along the line, she began calling herself Peggy.  A year later, she married a reporter named George Hull and Henrietta Goodnough became Peggy Hull.

For the next six years, she worked at newspapers all over the country, including Hawaii.  Unfortunately, she was often relegated to the women’s pages, writing about food and fashion, and offering up cleaning tips to housewives.  It wasn’t what she wanted, and she flitted from one newspaper to another, hoping for the chance to write news stories.  Big news stories.

Her big break came in 1916.  She and George had divorced and Pancho Villa, a Mexican general, was invading Columbus, New Mexico.  Peggy wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the time, and they sent her off to Texas to cover the Ohio National Guard as they patrolled the Texas-Mexican border.  While she sent off human interest stories to the Plain Dealer, she also wrote news stories for the El Paso Morning Times and the El Paso Herald.  And it was there in El Paso that she met General John J.  Pershing, the man sent to capture Pancho Villa.  Peggy and Pershing became friends and Peggy quickly said goodbye to the National Guard and joined Pershing in his quest for Pancho.  This was the kind of reporting she had always wanted to do.

A year later, Peggy was still in El Paso and working for the Morning Times.  Pancho Villa had become old news, and the new news was America’s entry into World War I.  Peggy asked her editor to send her to Europe.  He refused.  The battlefield was no place for a woman.  Peggy went anyway.  She got herself a uniform, paid her own way, and landed in France, only to run into her old friend, General Pershing.  He got her into an artillery training camp where she had an up-close-and-personal view of army life.  She marched with the men, ate what they ate, slept where they slept, and carried the same equipment.  She never asked for special treatment and the men liked and respected her for it.  She wrote stories about them and the war and sent them home to the Morning Times.

Her stories became so popular, other newspapers began carrying them, which didn’t thrill her male peers.  They began to complain.  Reporters needed a correspondent’s pass issued by the War Department to go to the front lines and Peggy didn’t have one.  Why was she allowed to go?  It worked.  She was sent back to Paris. 

Peggy wasn’t about to sit out the war in Paris.  She went home to El Paso, did some leg work, and headed to Washington DC determined to get her correspondent’s pass.  And now she ran into another old friend – General Peyton March – who she had met while at the artillery camp.  He spoke up for her at the War Department and helped her get her accreditation.  She was the first woman to do so.

But now she needed a new gig.  She got the Newspaper Enterprise Association to sponsor her and send her to Siberia where she covered the American Expeditionary Force as they protected American interests there during the Russian Revolution.  Peggy made friends easily and, while there, she became friends with a Japanese Admiral who didn’t think she should be anywhere near a battle.  Before he left Siberia, he gave her a short note written in Japanese.

After a year in Siberia, Peggy moved on to China, writing for the Shanghai Gazette.  In 1922, she married an English Sea Captain named John Kinley.  Because of the laws at that time, Peggy lost her US citizenship and had to fight for years to regain it.  The Kinleys moved to New York and Peggy, still keeping her first husband’s name, became a freelancer.

By 1932, her marriage to Kinley ended and she returned to Shanghai to cover the Japanese Invasion for the New York Daily News.  While there, she and her driver got caught in a bombing raid.  They ran from the car and ducked into a nearby bomb shelter, and as they peered out, they saw Japanese troops approaching.  The driver ran and was shot.  Peggy let her hair down and pinned a scrap of paper to her chest, then walked out of the shelter with her hands held high.

The Japanese saw she was a woman and didn’t shoot.  When they saw the paper pinned to her chest, written in Japanese, they took her away – to the Japanese Admiral who had given her the note over ten years ago. 

“If you do not give up your war corresponding, you will surely end your life on the battlefield,” he told her.  He let her go and she returned to Shanghai and continued writing about the Japanese invasion.

In 1933, she married her editor at the New York Daily News, Harvey Deuell.  He died of a heart attack six years later.  The year he died, Peggy helped found the Overseas Press Club, which has grown into a huge organization that supports journalists in all media and offers financial aid to students hoping to become foreign correspondents.

By the time World War II began, Peggy was fifty years old.  She wanted to cover the war in the Pacific but the War Department thought it would be too dangerous.  Peggy fought for the right to go but, in the end, she was only allowed to visit islands that had already been taken from the Japanese.  So that’s what she did.  She wrote about the native people and what they had seen and gone through.  When the war ended, she was awarded a Navy Commendation for her services.

Peggy reported on war for thirty-one years.  Her last war was with breast cancer which, sadly, defeated her in 1967. She died at the age of 78 at her home in Carmel Valley, California.


John Kroll said...

Thanks for reminding me of The Plain Dealer's link to Peggy Hull. You might like the illustration we ran in 1918 for a story we headlined "Cleveland Girl Reporter Tells How She Got to The War Zone."

I'm Jet . . . said...

Love this story, Barb. What an intrepid, modern woman. I admire her passion and stick-to-it-ness.

What a story about the note!

And, many thanks to John for the illustration.

Perhaps you can put it in the body of the post, B.

Good work!