An underestimated woman

The New-York Historical Society celebrates the life and career of legendary Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, a woman often undervalued by others, including herself, who nonetheless persisted to preserve her family, her company and American democracy.

In March 2018 WAG, we wrote aboutthe remarkable life of Katharine “Kay” Graham, who took over the reins of The Washington Post when her publisher-husband Philip died by suicide in 1963 and then took on the Nixon White House to publish the Pentagon Papers and investigate Watergate. This in an era when there were few if any women in the boardroom.

Now The New-York Historical Society is celebrating the life (1917-2001) and career of a woman often underestimated by others, including herself, who nonetheless persisted to preserve her family, her company and American democracy.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which was a classified study of America’s disastrous involvement in the Vietnam War, “Cover Story: Katharine Graham, CEO” charts Graham’s trajectory from unsure widow to one of the most influential figures in 20th-century American journalism, business and politics. The monumental publishing decisions Graham made at the helm of The Post – helping to end a war and a corrupt presidency – are brought to life through a host of photographs, letters, costumes and objects on view Friday, May 21 through Oct. 3 in the society’s Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery. The exhibition explores how, as writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron once remarked, Graham’s “journey from daughter to wife to widow to woman parallels to a surprising degree the history of women in this century.” Featured items include stylish outfits and ephemera from writer Truman Capote’s legendary 1966 Black and White Ball, a masquerade party held in Graham’s honor at The Plaza Hotel and dubbed “the party of the century.”

“Though Katharine Graham is often associated with Washington, D.C., New York played an important role in her life,” says Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the historical society. “Not only was she born in the city and spent her formative years here, but the spectacular Black and White Ball at The Plaza launched her onto the national stage and provided her with relationships that lasted a lifetime.” (Graham’s New York connection extended to Westchester County, where she grew up on the family’s Georgian estate, Seven Springs, now owned by former President Donald J. Trump.)

“A free press advocate, the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirist and, in her own discreet way, a feminist – Graham truly was a trailblazer,” Mirrer continues, “and we are proud to celebrate her legacy as part of our deep commitment to women’s history.”

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 – Georgette Gouveia

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