Julia Edwards: fierce advocate for female war correspondents
Soon after Julia Edwards landed her first reporting job in 1946 at Stars and Stripes, she learned female journalists were afforded “special treatment.” Male colleagues, she noted, "gossiped outrageously" about them. Military officials, who had often barred them from the front lines during the fighting, remained dismissive.
The women persevered anyway. They circumvented, challenged and ignored sexist rules and attitudes to create impressive work, though it was rarely acknowledged. "With as much stamina and more persistence than the challenge demanded of men, women have reported all the great and catastrophic events of the past 140 years," Edwards wrote in "Women of the World: The Great Foreign Correspondents," published in 1988.
"But in the history of their profession women have been relegated to the footnotes or at best resurrected for amusing sidebars — anecdotes about how one posed in the nude and another slept with a general to get her story."
Edwards was best-known for the well-received book, which paid tribute to correspondents such as Margaret Fuller, who reported from Europe in 1848; Dorothy Thompson, who covered Nazi Germany in the 1930s; Ann Stringer, who covered World War II; and Marguerite Higgins, who covered World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Higgins became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for combat reporting. Stringer broke the story that the Soviets and Americans had linked forces at the River Elbe in Torgau, Germany.
Edwards, a Louisville, Ky., native and graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University, decided to be a foreign correspondent after being discouraged from becoming a criminal lawyer like her father. No one would hire a female lawyer, they told her.
She made a successful career that spanned 25 years reporting from 125 countries, including as a war correspondent in Korea and Vietnam. One of her most dramatic assignments, she said, was covering the French Foreign Legion in 1953 in the First Indochina War.
Edwards was a prolific reporter for Stars and Stripes, covering the formation of the new, western Germany, a return of German prisoners of war by the Soviets, the plight of displaced people, the Berlin Airlift and other issues.
In February 1947, she wrote a story about the lone surviving Jewish child among 8,000 sent from Berlin to Auschwitz being reunited with his mother. He was 3 when his family was sent to the death camp, and his father died in the gas chambers. He and his mother were kept together in the section of the camp used for human experimentation. She handed him over to a Czech couple before an ordered death march in 1945. She later searched for him for nearly two years; the Red Cross identified him by the Nazi tattoo on his arm.
Edwards told the story matter-of-factly.
"Peter cannot talk to his mother. He forgot his German during two years in Czechoslovakia, two years during which she did not know whether he was alive," Edwards wrote. "When his mother met him at the border, he failed to recognize her. But he remembered Auschwitz. Thinking she was someone come to take him back to camp, he started to cry."
Edwards died in 2000. She was 79.