Recently, WVFC asked Amy Hill Hearth—author of  Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years—this question: “What makes a woman important?”

We meant, “What makes an editor decide that a woman is important?” Twenty years ago, when Ms. Hearth was writing  Having Our Say, she was hit with a tide of negativity—indeed, ridicule—from her journalistic colleagues. No one would read her book, the naysayers maintained, because the centenarian Delany sisters, who had led quiet and respectable lives, were not “important enough.”

Well, what DOES make a woman important? Hearth posed the question to three veteran woman editors. Lucinda Moore, Editor No. 1, believes that critera haven’t changed much in 20 years (see part 1, “A Contrarian’s View.”) Happily, Editor No. 2, Kathy Kelly, has a more heartening take.

Kelly, 64,  is assistant managing editor for the metro section of the Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal. She is also the co-author of a nonfiction book, I Would Find a Girl Walking.

Kelly notes the iconic stature of a few women in history—“the likes of Betsy Ross, Marie Curie, and Eleanor Roosevelt.”  Their achievements have been told and retold. But Kelly believes that “it is women like the Delany sisters, whose stories remained untold for years, from whom we can learn so much. Just as important as the scientist, the first lady, the astronaut, these women played an integral part in making inroads, breaking down barriers.”

Her newspaper, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, made what seems an unlikely choice last month in profiling Joyce Ebbets, widow of Charlie Ebbets, a famous photographer. He was an adventure hunter, fisherman, one-time actor, auto racer, wrestler, pilot, and photographer who was hired to chronicle Rockefeller Center’s construction during the Depression era. His photo of 11 construction workers taking a lunch break, dangling their legs over a beam 800 feet in the air as they built Rockefeller Center, first appeared in the New York Herald Tribune in 1932.

Why is the News-Journals profile of Joyce unusual? Because Charlie Ebbets had all the profile-worthy credentials. Still, Kelly’s newspaper found it noteworthy that his widow and their daughter Tami had fought hard to prove that he was the taker of the iconic photo (chosen for the cover of Time’s 2012 publication 100 Greatest Images: History’s Most Influential Photographs). For 70 years, the photographer who made that famous shot had been unknown.

“She and her daughter fought hard in 2003 to document the facts so that he could be honored for his life’s work by one of the world’s most respected photo licensing companies, Corbis,” Kelly noted. “Ebbets was at her husband’s side throughout their marriage and the raising of their family. Her work has been critical in seeing that he is recognized for his pioneering achievements in the field of photography. She has her own story to tell, just as the Delany Sisters did.”

The News-Journal was impressed by the patience and dedication Joyce and her daughter devoted to proving that Charlie Ebbets was the taker of that photo. In 2003, Corbis, founded by Bill Gates, acknowledged ownership of 17 photos taken by Charlie Ebbets. The steel-beam photo needed documentation, and it was Joyce’s job to go through boxes of records—even glass negatives—and thousands of photos to come up with proof that he had indeed taken it. She knew his material: From the beginning of their marriage on she had meticulously filed his slides and tearsheets. Tami quit her job as a nurse to sift through the photographs and to work on a book and a documentary on her father.

 

Ebbets with some of her husband's images. (Photo: Sean McNeil)

“Joyce’s dedication to her husband’s work proved invaluable, since she was able to provide detailed records proving he was on the other side of the lens documenting life in America. She is also a photographer and writer,” Kelly declared.

“It is critical for editors to let these stories be told, to fill in the gaps of history so long dominated by men,” she continued. “There is an audience to be inspired by their place in history.”

Next: an editor from New England tells us that at her newspaper, “interesting” trumps “important.”

 

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.