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Margaret Rupli Woodward Reflects on Challenges of First Female Correspondents

In the early years of radio broadcasting in the United States, women were not hired as reporters. They were either entertainers or worked behind the scenes. But starting in World War II (1939-1945) that began to change. Five American women became the first female broadcast news correspondents, reporting from Europe about the war. Among them was Margaret Rupli Woodward who was stationed in Holland.

Margaret Rupli Woodward was in Holland in 1940, working for the NBC radio network. She was its first woman correspondent. She went on shortwave radio live, telling an American audience what was happening in Holland, just months before Nazi Germany invaded the country.

"This is Margaret Rupli speaking from Holland," Woodward announced. "The Dutch are anxiously watching spring developments in Europe for Holland has suffered almost as much in the war between the allies in Germany as the beligerants themselves."

Woodward was not a journalist when she was hired, but she was well educated and knew several languages. She was in Amsterdam with her husband, David Woodward, a British newspaper reporter. Now, at 99 years old, she remembers how lucky she was.

"They wanted an American voice, and I've got an American voice. They wanted somebody whose voice projected and mine does," she said. "And I think basically, they couldn't find a man and I was available."

In Amsterdam, she met Edward R. Morrow, an American broadcaster famous for his reporting on the war.

Murrow worked for CBS. He had hired photographer Mary Marvin Breckinridge as the network's first female correspondent. She broadcast from various locations in Europe. Even though Woodward worked for a rival network, Murrow gave her advice on how to write stories.

"Use understatement on everything you do," Woodward recalled. "It was good advice."

Woodward says NBC let her write whatever she wanted, but Dutch military censors had to approve her scripts. Her memories come back as she reads a story from March 10, 1940.

"All foreign planes will be forbidden to land at the Amsterdam airport after tomorrow and everywhere in front of the government buildings, newspaper offices and other key points there has been a guard on sentry," she read.

Germany invaded the country two months later. On the first day of the attack, a bomb exploded outside the building where Woodward did her broadcasts. She had hoped to air the story but was not able to get through. As Germany occupied Holland, it became too dangerous to stay. She and and her husband fled to England on a coal barge.

"I just turned off the chicken that was on the stove and left with a couple of pairs of socks for David, couple of toothbrushes for us, and what we had on," she said.

In London, Woodward reported her escape from Holland. It was one of the last broadcasts she did. She was a highly-praised reporter for six months. She left London, returned to the United States and asked NBC for a full-time reporting job.

"They just laughed at me," Woodward recalls. "I went down to the NBC studios and I said, 'Look, can you hire me?' and they said no."

After World War II, none of the four other American women correspondents were heard on the air again. And those who tried couldn't find other jobs in broadcasting.