Dickerson, Nancy (1927–1997)

views updated

Dickerson, Nancy (1927–1997)

American who was the first female correspondent for CBS News and the first woman to report from the floor of a national convention. Name variations: Nancy Hanschman. Born Nancy Conners Hanschman in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1927; died in New York City on October 18, 1997; awarded B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, 1948; took speech and drama classes at Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.; married C. Wyatt Dickerson, Jr., on February 24, 1962 (divorced 1983); married John C. Whitehead (a deputy secretary of state); children: (first marriage) five.

Nancy Dickerson, destined to become a pioneering woman in news television, taught school in Milwaukee for several years after college before moving East. Unable to find work in New York, she settled in Washington, D.C., where she took a clerical position at Georgetown University, then worked as a staff assistant to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1954, her growing interest in television led her to CBS, where she spent six years working off camera. In addition to producing the radio program "The Leading Question," she worked as the associate producer of "Face the Nation." Her knowledge of the Washington scene, as well as her friend-ships with many members of Congress, proved invaluable in obtaining stories for the show and won her the title "CBS' secret weapon."

Although CBS had yet to hire a woman for its news staff, Dickerson saw her chance in 1959 while in Europe to produce a story about the Women's Army Corps. Acting on her own initiative, she interviewed a number of European political leaders about Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the United States. Her stories proved of such superior quality that CBS aired them without hesitation. Six months later, she landed an exclusive interview with House Speaker Sam Rayburn, which was aired on the Douglas Edwards' news program. In 1960, as a result of these journalistic coups, Dickerson became the first woman correspondent for CBS and was also given a five-minute radio show called "One Woman's Washington." She was assigned to cover the civil-rights bill then in Congress as well as Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. That fall in Los Angeles, she became the first woman to cover the televised Democratic Convention.

With her marriage to C. Wyatt Dickerson, Jr., in 1962, Nancy stopped using her maiden name Hanschman. In 1963, she moved to NBC, where she appeared regularly on "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" and "The Today Show," in addition to anchoring her own daily news show. Dickerson covered many of the major events of the decade, including John F. Kennedy's funeral, the civil-rights marches on Washington, and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and the inaugurals of three presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, and Richard Nixon.

At the height of her career, during which she was the highest paid woman on television, Dickerson mothered five children. Leaving NBC in 1970 over a contract dispute, she gave political commentary for two syndicated television services and formed her own production company, Television Corporation of America, which produced news documentaries. A PBS interview with Nixon was yet another "first," and her documentary on Nixon's White House and Watergate, "784 Days that Changed America—From Watergate to Resignation," won several awards, including the Peabody. Dickerson also wrote of her 25 years in Washington in her book Among Those Present (1976).

In the late 1970s-early 1980s, Dickerson reported from Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East, scoring interviews with Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin for a 1980 special, "Nancy Dickerson, Special Assignment: The Middle East." From 1986 to 1991, she was a commentator for Fox TV News. Dickerson had a stroke in January 1996 from which she never recovered; she died in October 1997.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

More From encyclopedia.com