Sutton, Carol (1933–1985)

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Sutton, Carol (1933–1985)

First woman to head the news staff of a major American daily newspaper (1974). Born June 29, 1933, in St. Louis, Missouri; died of cancer on February 19, 1985, in Louisville, Kentucky; graduated from University of Missouri School of Journalism (Columbia) in 1955; married Charles Whaley (a communications director); children: Carrie and Kate.

Hired as secretary at Courier-Journal in Kentucky (1955), and within a year promoted to reporter; named editor of women's section (1963); became managing editor (1974); promoted to assistant to the publisher of Courier-Journal and Louisville Times (1976); was senior editor of Courier-Journal and Louisville Times (1979–85).

Carol Sutton was born in 1933 in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up in the area. Upon her 1955 graduation from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism in Columbia, she applied for a job as a reporter at the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal. She was offered a secretarial position instead, but she accepted it and earned a promotion to reporter before she had been there a year.

Although most women reporters in the 1950s found themselves relegated to covering stories on fashion and society, Sutton distinguished herself in a wide range of challenging topics, including natural disasters and politics. An innovative editor of the Courier-Journal's women's section beginning in 1963, she renamed it "Today's Living" and included coverage of such crucial issues as poverty and abortion. When she was promoted to managing editor of the paper in 1974, she became the first woman in history to head the news staff of a major American daily, and Time magazine carried her photograph on its cover. In her new post, Sutton continued to demonstrate the intensity and integrity that had marked her successful stint as a reporter and section editor. In 1975, the Courier-Journal's photographic coverage of a school desegregation crisis won the Pulitzer Prize. She became assistant to the publisher of the jointly operated Courier-Journal and Louisville Times in 1976, ascending to the position of senior editor of these two newspapers' separate editorial staffs in 1979. In this post, Sutton was instrumental in attracting minority reporters to her papers and became a role model to the next generation of women journalists.

In addition to serving as chair of the Pulitzer Prize juries from 1975 to 1976, Sutton was a member of the selection committee of Harvard University's Nieman Fellows journalism award. She died of cancer in Louisville on February 19, 1985, age 51.


The New York Times Biographical Service. February 1985.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont