Girl Reporter

Cathy Leonard Calling – written by Catherine Woolley, illustrated by Elizabeth Dauber
William Morrow & Company, 1961

Cathy Leonard, from A Room for Cathy, is back. This time she has a job. In the era before “Intern Nation” she actually gets paid.  Even grownup writers often don’t today.  Her salary may not be much, but it’s enough to take her family out for a day of entertainment in New York City.  Cathy is only in fifth grade.  This is a big step up from her excitement at having her room painted, or making a new friend whose mother is a children’s book writer.

Cathy had been inadvertently networking. When the society reporter for the local paper decides to take a trip to Florida, she needs a temporary placement, and she thinks of the girl who seemed to be in the know when the editor, Miss Hobway, would call local residents looking for stories.  She explains the rudiments of the job to Cathy, along with some fun journalism lingo, like the meaning of sending in a “string” of articles.  There is a warning from Cathy’s mother. She can’t let the job interfere with schoolwork. There’s also a crusty editor named Mr. Stark, whose off-putting last name communicates how he feels about child reporters.

Here is the best part about Cathy’s ambitions. She’s a mid-twentieth century-child growing up in a small town, straitjacketed by the gender norms of her time. She wants to be a journalist and she wants to get paid for her work, although she feels hesitant to even admit that: “To her the money part of the job was unimportant.”

          Writing was a thrilling, wonderful thing to do, Cathy thought, and it opened doors
          of the whole world to you.  She could not get over the miracle of having this opportunity
          to write fall into her lap.

The “money part” may be trivial, but when that paycheck arrives, Cathy is pretty excited. The accompanying picture shows her racing down the stairs in her pleated skirt, holding the letter in one hand and its envelope in the other.

          There was only a thin pink slip inside.  Slowly she drew it out, gazing at it with a puzzled
          frown.  Then suddenly Cathy gave a shrill squeal, headed for the door, and flew
          downstairs, waving the paper…
          ‘This is my pay!…’
          ‘It’s a check!’
          ‘I’m going straight upstairs and telephone some people and earn lost more money!’

The lots more money won’t happen for a while. Eventually, even as she saves an old woman’s life and becomes herself the subject of newspaper articles, Cathy concedes that her job is interfering with getting good “marks” in school. She voluntarily resigns.  I couldn’t help but wonder if, as an adult, maybe with a husband and family, she would indeed be allowed to pursue her dream. Might she start a job, only to be told that her duties were interfering with housework and childcare?  By then, the second wave feminist movement would be underway. Maybe she would be able to be a journalist, and maybe even earn “lots more money.” (unlikely)

Cathy Leonard has ambitions, as did her creator, Catherine Woolley.

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