New York Times' First (and Feminist) Female Reporter

Cristen Conger

After less than three years on the job, The New York Times' first female executive editor, Jill Abramson, was abruptly fired on May 14, 2014. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. offered no direct reasoning for ousting the historic hire, other than a semi-vague memo to the staff that explained: "The reason - the only reason - for that decision was concerns I had about some aspects of Jill's management of our newsroom, which I had previously made clear to her, both face-to-face and in my annual assessment."

Many reporters dog-piling on the story suspect "the only reason" Sulzberger alluded to was Abramson's reported tendency to be "bossy," "pushy," and "brusque" in her newsroom management style and also, allegedly, in her pursuit of pay equitable to her male predecessor. Regardless of the reasoning, the deed is done, and in her place The New York Times has promoted its first African-American executive editor, Dean Baquet -- another historic milestone unfortunately drowned out by the media din surrounding Abramson's exit.

At the very least, Abramson is in good company of women trailblazers at The New York Times who've ruffled feathers due to their unladylike outspokenness. Sara Jane Lippincott, who wrote under the pen name Grace Greenwood, was the paper's first female reporter about whom women's historian Maggie Maclean wrote "she was often disliked for her strong opinions on women's rights and the abolition of slavery."

Born in 1823, Lippincott became one of the most prominent women writers of her day, garnering literary praise for her essays and poetry, as well as conservative consternation for her advocacy for racial and gender equality. Particularly after the Civil War, her activism focused on women's rights, including suffrage, the right to wear trousers and - reminiscent of Jill Abramson's alleged "pushy" workplace gender wage gap inquiries - equal pay for equal work.

Under the pseudonym Grace Greenwood, Lippincott's first big journalism gig happened in 1849 when she was hired as assistant editor at Godey's Lady's Book -- the lady mag of the era - but she got the boot soon after Southern readers pitched a fit about her public stance against slavery. But rather than get down and out, she moved onward and upward. Working at National Era in the early 1850s, she copy edited the serialized version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Then in 1852, The New York Times put her on an assignment in Europe, making Lippincott the first female reporter on its payrolls. Her articles from that 15-month assignment were later published in a 1854 collection charmingly titled "Haps and Mishaps of a Tour in Europe."

Lippincott's career firsts didn't stop there, either. In 1853, Lippincott and her husband launched America's first children's magazine, The Little Pilgrim, and in 1877 she became one of the first female journalist permitted into the Congressional press gallery, three years before it would officially be closed to women in 1880. When she died in 1907, The New York Times printed her obituary on the front page, an honor it will likely bestow on Jill Abramson as well, although only time will tell how the paper will frame the legacy of another one of its brilliantly difficult women.