McCormick, Anne O'Hare (1880–1954)

views updated

McCormick, Anne O'Hare (1880–1954)

Foreign correspondent who was the world's most honored newspaperwoman of her day . Name variations: Anne O'Hare. Born Anne Elizabeth O'Hare on May 16, 1880, in Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; died in New York City on May 29, 1954; daughter of Thomas O'Hare (a life insurance employee) and Teresa Beatrice (Berry) O'Hare (a writer and poet); attendedSt. Mary of the Springs Academy; B.A., College of St. Mary of the Springs, Columbus, Ohio; married Francis J. McCormick (an engineer and importer), on September 14, 1910.

On staff at The New York Times (1922–35), on editorial board (1935–54).

Selected writings:

Hammer and the Scythe: Communist Russia Enters the Second Decade (NY: Knopf, 1928); (edited by Marion Turner Sheehan) The World at Home: Selections from the Writings of Anne O'Hare McCormick (NY: Knopf, 1956); (edited by Sheehan) Vatican Journal, 1921–1954 (NY: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1957).

In 1921, a 42-year-old woman, 5'2", with reddish hair and blue eyes, sent a brief note to Carr V. Van Anda, managing editor of The New York Times. She noted that as the wife of an engineer and exporter, she traveled frequently overseas. Was it possible, she asked with some timidity, to send him some dispatches from abroad? She would gladly serve as a freelance contributor, not in competition with regular foreign correspondents. Van Anda's reply was brief: "Try it."

By the time Anne O'Hare McCormick died in 1954, she had won practically every major award in the field of journalism, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for distinguished foreign correspondent. Equally important, in her role as Times writer and editor, she was one of the most influential opinion-makers in the American press.

Anne Elizabeth O'Hare was born on May 16, 1880, in Wakefield, Yorkshire, England, the daughter of Thomas O'Hare and Beatrice Berry O'Hare . The eldest of three children, she grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from the academy and college of the city's St. Mary of the Springs Academy. While she was still in high school, her father, a regional manager for Home Life Company of New York, deserted the family. To earn money, Anne's mother ran a dry-goods store and sold a book of her own poetry door-to-door.

After O'Hare's graduation from college, the family moved to Cleveland, where Anne served as an associate editor of the Catholic Universe Bulletin, a weekly. Her mother contributed poetry, wrote a column, and served as the women's page editor for the same journal. On September 14, 1910, O'Hare married Francis J. McCormick, eight years her senior, an engineer and importer whose work frequently took the couple to Europe. At first they lived in Dayton, where she wrote poetry for the Smart Set and Bookman; her work was included in the annual Braithwaite's Anthology of Magazine Verse. She also began contributing feature articles on a freelance basis. Eventually, she was published in the Atlantic Monthly, Catholic World, Reader Magazine, and The New York Times Magazine.

In 1921, McCormick was hired by The New York Times as a stringer, but within a year she carried a roving commission as regular correspondent. At first, she wrote so much that Times editors nicknamed her "Verbose Annie," but she gradually streamlined her prose so that it needed virtually no further work. She initially made her reputation by covering the rise of fascism in Italy. Very early she made contacts with dictator Benito Mussolini. Although other journalists were dismissing Il Duce as just "an upstart Milanese newspaper editor," McCormick correctly insisted that his was "the master voice" to which Italy was responding.

McCormick's initial interview with Mussolini was revealing of her journalistic technique. When Il Duce asked her what interested her the most in Italy, she replied, The Law of Corporations, a thick legal volume that she had read in the original Italian. Upon discovering that she had actually mastered it, he took her hand and said, "My congratulations; you and I are the only ones who have!"

McCormick was not only a strong Italophile; she genuinely admired Mussolini the man. The Italian dictator, she said, was not intoxicated but rather mellowed by power. In describing Italian fascism, she wrote approvingly of its "elan" and "vitality." Only during World War II did she drop her admiration, and even then she claimed that the Allies should back the nation's monarchy and the military.

After 1925, McCormick wrote almost exclusively for the Times. Her book Hammer and the Scythe: Communist Russia Enters the Second Decade (1928) was a firsthand account of the Soviet experiment, based upon her Times articles. Avoiding polemics usual to the topic, she wrote, "Nothing in Russia is fixed enough to hang a judgment on." In addition to covering events overseas, she reported on occurrences in the United States, including national political conventions, life in the modern South, and the hardships inflicted by the Great Depression.

In 1935, Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger appointed McCormick the first woman member of the editorial board, a position she held for the remainder of her life. Sulzberger urged her to be the "freedom editor: to stand up and shout whenever freedom is interfered with in any part of the world." From 1936 to 1954, she wrote three weekly columns, first called "In Europe," then "Affairs of Europe," then "Abroad," for the op-ed page, alternating with columns by Times Washington correspondent Arthur Krock. In addition, whenever she was not traveling, she wrote two unsigned editorials each week.

A strong believer in the League of Nations, McCormick wrote in 1935, "Nothing better or more stable can be established by more war but in the long view it is equally certain that there must be war—not all the sanctions in the world can stop it—unless there is a league not only to enforce but to create peace." But in June 1936, McCormick sensed "a world-wide storm" in the offing. She wrote:

The face of the world has changed. You walk familiar streets and they are strange. People everywhere are like houses with the shutters down, withdrawn and waiting, as if life were held in suspense; or they are quarreling within their houses, because long-drawn-out uncertainty has rasped their nerves to the breaking point.

Anticipating the bitter isolationist-interventionist debate of 1939–41 in America, she continued: "In another four years we may face a division on principles as fundamental as the issues of the Civil War."

Anne McCormick was an extraordinary reporter primarily because she was an extraordinary human being.

—James Reston

In 1939, over a five-month period, Anne O'Hare McCormick studied conditions in 13 countries. During her trip, she witnessed both the birth and death of a republic within 24 hours. This took place on March 14, at the time of the second partition of Czechoslovakia. She saw Father Augustin Voloshyn, head of the autonomous Ruthanian government, proclaim the independence of Ruthania, renaming it Carpatho-Ukraine. From its capital city, Huszt, McCormick cabled hourly reports. However, independence lasted only one day, for the Germans then authorized Hungary to annex the nation.

The Times correspondent had other good beats, so many that her colleagues accused her of having an uncanny knack of being where the news was "breaking." "Crises were popping all over Europe at the time," replied McCormick, "so it isn't strange that I bumped into a few." Be that as it may, in 1939 she was in Rome when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Mussolini and in the British Parliament when Chamberlain discarded his appeasement policy. When Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, McCormick went immediately to Rumania, to capture the odyssey of Polish refugees pouring over the border.

McCormick's greatest influence came during the 1940s. Her writings at the time reflected her belief in an unchanging moral order and conveyed her sober optimism. Her enthusiasm for the League spilled over to the new United Nations. Recalling the disillusion in the U.S. at the end of World War I, she warned that the Americans would again withdraw from the global scene, "if there are shabby compromises in the peace and the ordinary citizen sees the principles he is fighting for scuttled to serve the ambitions of the great powers."

Her account of the Greek civil war was something of a classic. In 1949, at age 69, McCormick was scrambling up mountains with soldiers less than half her age. After an inspection of refugee and prison camps, she wrote:

It is easy to say that the Greek war is an affair of daily raids in which armed bands … swoop down from the cracks and crevices of a mountain … to sack or burn villages and carry off able bodied men and girls to forced service in their armies. But the imagination cannot picture the desolation that this hit-and-run fighting leaves behind it…. Everywhere the atmosphere was heavy with suspense. In such fearful quiet must the early settlers in the West have waited for the descent of the Indians.

McCormick opposed the militancy of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's secretary of state John Foster Dulles. When Dulles announced his retaliation policy at a 1953 dinner of the Overseas Press Club, McCormick commented, "I've watched Dulles' performance at a number of international conferences, and in my opinion he's demonstrated a complete lack of sensitivity and understanding."

To McCormick, public opinion was most significant. Hence, in addition to interviewing leaders of a nation, she drove over the country, chatting with farmers, small shopkeepers, mechanics—people who could give her a cross-section of a nation's life. Her gift for catching small details was uncanny. In covering Berlin early in World War II, McCormick wrote, "Groping along the tunnel-like streets you almost never hear a voice. Other gropers are shadows and footsteps." A McCormick dispatch from liberated France described "the symbol and promise" of "the woman with a broom trying to clear away the debris that used to be her home." In her account of the Russian capture of Budapest, she noted the rows of empty food stores and cattle being driven down the street, thereby capturing the mood of an occupied city.

At the same time, McCormick could use dramatic metaphors, as when in 1940 she wrote, "Daily it becomes plainer that the struggle in Europe is the Apocalypse of the long drawn-out fight of man to control the machine." Upon watching the founding of the U.N. in San Francisco, she said she was at the place "where the desperation of the peoples of the world beats upon the Golden Gate. For if the forum does not take the place of the battlefield this war is lost and the next begins." An unidentified French diplomat once commented: "She is more than a journalist, she is a historian writing history."

Not surprisingly, McCormick won many awards. In addition to receiving the Pulitzer, she was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Sciences, was made 1939 Woman of the Year by the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, and received 16 honorary degrees. Furthermore, in February 1942 she was named to the Advisory Committee on Post-War Foreign Policy, a 15-member blue-ribbon group that met secretly to engage in postwar planning. In 1946 and 1948, she was a delegate to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meetings.

McCormick did not believe journalists should become media personalities. Indeed, she was so reticent about self-promotion that for years she even refused to fill out a questionnaire from Who's Who in America. (Her secretary eventually did.) McCormick claimed that fame would interfere with "the kind of impersonal and uncolored reporting … on which the maintenance of a free press and therefore a free society depend." While O'Hare was covering postwar Berlin and Frankfurt at age 68, press colleagues contrasted her quiet personality with the egocentric style of the two female stars of the New York Herald Tribune,Dorothy Thompson and Marguerite Higgins .

Over the years, McCormick's reporting took on a definite pattern. She and her husband would leave New York every fall, traveling throughout Europe until spring. They never established a permanent residence, preferring the amenities of the Carlyle or Gotham hotels in New York, the Ritz or Crillon in Paris, and Claridge's in London. Whenever she was in Europe, no matter what the local hour, she called in her column to the Times so that it arrived at 9:30 pm, New York time.

During her long career, McCormick interviewed most of the prominent political leaders of her day. Joseph Stalin gave her an unprecedented six hours. Adolf Hitler, not on speaking terms with the press, was willing to talk to her. She was a particular favorite of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who felt so relaxed in her company that he often broke his own ban on individual interviews to give her three hours at a stretch. Other leaders included Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, and Harry S. Truman as well as Eamon de Valera of Ireland, Leon Blum of France, Eleutherios Venizelos of Greece, Gustav Stresemann of Germany, and Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt von Schuschnigg of Austria. While interviewing, she took no notes ("It makes people too cautious," she asserted), but rather relied on her superb memory. She sought no political statements since, she maintained, interviews were for revealing personality.

Two collections of her columns were published posthumously. The World at Home (1956), edited by Marion Turner Sheehan , included articles from 1925 to 1945 that centered on U.S. domestic life. In his introduction, Times editor James B. Reston stressed her "rare gift of sympathy for all sorts of people." Her Vatican Journal, 1921–1954 (1957), also edited by Sheehan, contained a preface by author Clare Boothe Luce , who called her "a rare combination of brilliance and goodness." Included in the anthology was material on the Lateran Treaty of 1929, conflict between church and state in Nazi Germany, the U.S. debate over President Truman's proposal to send a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and the position of the Roman Catholic Church in Spain.

Anne O'Hare McCormick died in New York City on May 29, 1954, at the age of 74; she was survived by her husband, who had suffered a stroke. In its tribute, the Times blackened the border of the "Abroad" column, and called her a "reporter in a rare sense. She understood politics and diplomacy but for her they were not the whole truth and no abstraction was ever the whole truth. The whole truth lay in people." It was an appropriate epitaph.


Belford, Barbara. Brilliant Bylines: A Biographical Anthology of Notable Newspaperwomen in America. NY: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Edwards, Julia. Women of the World: The Great Foreign Correspondents. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

suggested reading:

Sheehan, Marion Turner, ed. The World at Home: Selections from the Writings of Anne O'Hare McCormick. Introduction by James Reston. NY: Knopf, 1956.


The papers of Anne O'Hare McCormick, which include correspondence, are at the manuscripts collection of the New York Public Library.

Justus D. Doenecke , Professor of History, New College, University of South Florida, Sarasota, Florida

About this article

McCormick, Anne O'Hare (1880–1954)

Updated About content Print Article