Cowles, Virginia (1912–1983)

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Cowles, Virginia (1912–1983)

American war correspondent. Born Virginia Spencer Cowles in Brattleboro, Vermont, on August 12, 1912; died in an automobile accident on September 17, 1983, near Bordeaux, France; daughter of Edward Spencer Cowles (an author and physician, as well as psychiatrist at the Bloodgood Cancer Foundation at Johns Hopkins and director of the Body and Mind Foundation) and Florence (Jaquith) Cowles; grew up in Massachusetts; educated at private schools.

A Boston debutante during the 1928–29 season, Virginia Cowles quickly rebelled against the lifestyle of her class and sought work as a journalist. After apprenticing with a column on the Boston Breeze, she moved to New York and found work for a fashion magazine, where she tried to "write awfully well," she said, "about absolutely nothing." Joining the Hearst syndicate, she traveled to Europe and the Far East, then arrived in Spain, a week after the battle of Guadalajara, in 1936. "The only way for a woman to cover a war," she wrote, "is to tell the paper of her choice that she is going anyway and would they like some stories." While in Spain, she latched on to fellow-correspondents Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, until a close brush with imprisonment as a spy hastened her return to Paris.

Cowles continued sending dispatches to the United States during her second trip to Spain in August 1937, accompanied by Tommy Thompson, an attaché of the British Embassy, and Rupert Belville, an English flyer with Franco's army. Hired by the London Sunday Times as a roving correspondent, Virginia traveled to Berlin and was given lessons on Hitler from his devotee, Unity Mitford Cowles was in Prague when Czechoslovakia was overrun with Germans. She then went to Moscow where she was soon disenchanted with Stalin's claims of gender equality: he allowed no interviews with female journalists. Cowles was in Finland when Russia invaded and interviewed Mussolini in Italy. She arrived in Paris only days before the occupation to find that everyone had fled; she hastily returned to England. Her book, Looking for Trouble (1941), a plea for the U.S. to aid Britain, was a bestseller and published before Pearl Harbor. In 1947, she was named to the Order of the British Empire (OBE).


Current Biography. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1942.