I am so grateful to have the job I have, so grateful that I can make my own schedule and stop work to participate in my kids' lives. And when you're grateful, the "thank you"s are easy to come by.
Today my "thank you" is for Evelyn Kanter.
I met Evelyn last summer while we were on a job together and I was immediately impressed by this diminutive dynamo. I cracked up at her wry "been there, done that" attitude and quickly discovered that it was completely justified–she had been there and done that. All of that, in fact.
To my amazement, I found that I had happened upon a hero. Or let me purposely choose the feminine, a heroine, for journalists, writers, bloggers, wives and mothers. I was in the company of the genuine multi-tasking article.
Evelyn Kanter was one of the first female broadcast journalists in New York in the late ‘60’s, writing five-minute “Rip and Read” newscasts for the Associated Press. The only women on the air at that time were the likes of Irene Cornell at WCBS Radio, Pauline Frederick (the first and only female network television correspondent, covering the United Nations for NBC), and Marlene Sanders, the very first female network news anchor, at ABC.
She later wrote Marlene’s newscast — which was called “News With The Woman’s Touch”, sponsored by Clorox, and on the air at 2:55pm “after some soap opera whose name I have forgotten or never cared about.” Kanter also wrote for Peter Jennings, “whose newscast was called ‘Nightly News’, not ‘News with the Man’s Touch’”.
Ms. Kanter later worked for NBC and CBS, writing and producing for such news icons as Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Ed Bradley.
After taking a few years off to be a stay-at-home mother, Evelyn returned to the newsroom as “Consumer Kanter” on Channel 7, the station’s first consumer reporter, reporting on good buys, dangerous products, and “Fraud of the Week”. How did this experienced writer become an on-air activist? “[I was] horrified by the artificial coloring and flavoring in baby food, so I called up Ralph Nader.” At “Eyewitness News”, she worked alongside trailblazers Roseanne Scamardella, Gloria Rojas, Anna Bond and Melba Tolliver.
“I overdosed on Brenda Starr when I was young—my parents told me I was nosy and wanted to know everything. And I was lucky enough to be in broadcast news when there was a passion—and a budget—to investigate and cover a story properly.”
A graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Ms. Kanter chose broadcast news because she “didn’t want to end up on the Food or Style page”. And the competition was brutal. In any newsroom, “one female [broadcaster] was a token, two were a battle—and it was a fight to the death.”
She had to deal with prejudice and poor treatment by men—“this was in the days before you could sue for sexual harassment”—and women. Ms. Kanter recalls being criticized by some “grandmotherly types” for breast-feeding her baby in a ladies room.
But Ms. Kanter’s already-remarkable life may have taken a different turn if not for one thing—after she’d left the newsroom to raise her two small children, her husband was diagnosed with MS.
Suddenly, she was not only a strong woman who already had overcome enormous odds to become a broadcast news journalist, she now was the sole supporter of her family. “I had to do it with small kids and a husband in a wheelchair. Only two people at the station knew about [his] condition. If you showed a sign of weakness, they’d eat you alive.” (Kanter’s husband died in 1989.)
Retaining her sanity (and a sense of humor) became her goal. She distinctly remembers receiving a call from Frank Perdue regarding additives in food while she was potty-training her son. They discussed whether marigold petals were natural coloring, as she shushed her little boy sitting on the toilet.
Ms. Kanter admits to a bit of jealousy regarding ‘mom bloggers’, laughing “I was doing reports on the sorry state of school lunches 30 years ago!” She adds, “I’m not looking for any gold stars, but I guess every generation feels they aren’t appreciated enough by the next generation”, and confesses to keeping a “thank you” message on her voicemail from her grown son.
We certainly have our challenges in this post-feminist age, trying to balance meaningful career choices with prioritizing family and relationships. But I hope we never forget to appreciate—and thank—the women who laid the foundation for us.
Evelyn, thank you. It may not be the caliber of a ‘thank you’ voicemail from the boy you once potty-trained while conducting business, but it is a genuine expression of appreciation from one who is benefitting from your strength and courage. Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value”, and you personify this for me.