I realize that this blog has been rather silent of late, but I hope that you'll forgive me as I've been trying to keep my head above water in a sea of job applications. That is a journey of a different sort than the ones that I usually write about, and could certainly be a blog on its own. And maybe it will be, who knows? But for now, I'd like to talk about one travel-related topic that is very near and dear to my heart and that I find incredibly inspiring.
It seems that this country has just woken up to the fact that half of its population is comprised of women, women with perspectives and opinions. You would almost think it was a novel concept. But women have been trying to establish a voice for themselves for centuries – the fight to be heard is not novel at all, and progress should not be confined to an election year. In light of the new focus on “women’s issues” recently, I want to share the story of one woman who dug her heels in and demanded to be heard in a time of intense and dominating masculinity.
Cecil Dorrian was born in New York City in 1882. A tomboy in a society still draped in the trappings of Victorianism, she became a star athlete at the all-women’s Barnard College. Perhaps utilizing the opportunity granted by her androgynous name, Dorrian went to work writing for magazines following her graduation from Barnard. First up was an auto magazine, a portent of the thrill that she felt in mobility. Then came travel. From then on Dorrian was hardly in the United States, and the articles that she writes from Italy are infused with her abiding love for getting to know a place and seeing what others do not.
In 1914 Dorrian was working as a theatre agent in London when she started sending descriptions of wartime London to the editors at The Newark Evening News, then the biggest newspaper in New Jersey. Here was something that the News did not have – a firsthand account of the Great War. True, they came from a woman, but the editors were willing to offer Dorrian a foothold as a correspondent. Her intrepid reporting gave her audience an all-access pass to Western Europe in wartime – she traveled to England and Belgium, spent time at the Italian front, and finally landed in France, where she met the tide of American reporters coming over to cover America’s 1917 entrance into the fighting.
Not willing to be swept aside by the influx of male reporters working for the War Office, Dorrian continued to seek out the places no one else was going – the overlooked Belgian front. A government munitions factory where the public was not allowed. Colonial training grounds near Marseilles. The American lines, where she was the first accredited woman reporter. By this time she was the European Correspondent for the News and its only writer to receive a by-line.
In a time before television and web coverage, readers in the United States hung on Dorrian’s every word to learn about the war – she was their eyes and ears. In her article detailing her visit to the ruined fortress of Verdun she implores readers to come with her so that they can see the shattered remains of Verdun and understand what the war means. Readers followed this woman into the war – she was their guide, their voice of authority. Dorrian stepped confidently into a man’s profession and demanded to be heard.
Dorrian continued to report from Europe after the war, but in 1926 she passed away from pneumonia, cutting her career short. Her legacy was cut short, too – she does not appear in any history books and today she is only remembered on dusty reels of microfilm.
But her story deserves to be told, and the incredible work that she did deserves to be recognized. So here’s to Dorrian, and to women like her – those who have been lost to history and those who fight to establish a voice for themselves.
Originally published on Spike the Watercooler.