Recently Processed Ann Cottrell Free Papers Expand Coverage of Women Journalists in the Manuscript Division

This post is coauthored with Nate Scheible, senior archives specialist in the Manuscript Division.

Photograph of Ann Cottrell interviewing refugees in China, the photograph is in black and white with Free wearing a long skirt and a what appears to be a beige top, 1948. Box 224, Ann Cottrell Free Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Photograph of Ann Cottrell interviewing refugees in China, 1948. Box 224, Ann Cottrell Free Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

In March 1933, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt began holding special press conferences exclusively for women reporters. These press conferences, which continued until April 1945, gave women journalists access to important news stories, ensured that they could compete for jobs in the field of journalism, and encouraged reporting on topics overlooked by male colleagues.[1] The Manuscript Division has several collections related to these women journalists, including the papers of Ruby A. Black, May Craig, Bess Furman, and Hope Ridings Miller, who were all members of “Mrs. Roosevelt’s Press Conference Association.” Recently the Manuscript Division processed the papers of Ann Cottrell Free, another member of the association (1941-1945) who became its “chairman” in 1945. Her papers include a detailed subject file, correspondence, and photographs, among other materials now described in a new online finding aid available for researchers.

Ann Cottrell’s “Mrs. Roosevelt’s Press Conference Association” membership card, circa 1945. Box 9, Ann Cottrell Free Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Ann Cottrell’s “Mrs. Roosevelt’s Press Conference Association” membership card, circa 1945. Box 9, Ann Cottrell Free Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Ann Cottrell Free (1916-2004) had a long career as a journalist, but she was also an author, environmentalist, and animal welfare advocate. Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1916, Free first entered journalism while working summers in 1936 for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She later became the first woman Washington correspondent for Newsweek, the Chicago Sun, and the New York Herald Tribune. In early 1941, she began attending Mrs. Roosevelt’s press conferences as a representative from Newsweek. She traveled to China in 1946, where she worked as a special correspondent for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and reported on the famine and reliefs efforts there. Free also traveled throughout Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and Europe writing articles about postwar conditions and other sociopolitical issues. These travels are documented in the collection not only through her writings, but also through extensive photographs taken by Free in 1947 and 1948, many of which feature images of women and children.

Cover of the Twelfth Annual Report of the Animal Welfare Institute, featuring a photograph of Ann Cottrell Free holding a beagle, a test subject of the Food and Drug Administration, 1963. Box 1, Ann Cottrell Free Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Cover of the Twelfth Annual Report of the Animal Welfare Institute, featuring a photograph of Ann Cottrell Free holding a beagle, a test subject of the Food and Drug Administration, 1963. Box 1, Ann Cottrell Free Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

After returning to the U.S., Free became a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and Washington Star, among other newspapers, where her reporting shifted from political and international affairs to special interests including animal welfare and environmental issues. Her reporting on the mistreatment of laboratory animals used in experiments by the Food and Drug Administration helped garner congressional support for the Humane Slaughter and Animal Welfare Acts. This work also earned her the Animal Welfare Institute’s Schweitzer Medal in 1963. Rachel Carson, renowned conservationist and author of Silent Spring, had received the medal the year before. Free, inspired and influenced by Carson’s work, began writing about ecology, conservation, and pesticide-based pollution. These stories led to a friendship with Carson, about whom she also wrote extensively. Free subsequently became involved with the Rachel Carson Council and was instrumental in the establishment of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine. These topics are well represented within Free’s papers in the form of correspondence, published and unpublished writings, and extensive subject files collected by Free for background and research. Throughout the rest of her life, Free continued to be an outspoken advocate for the environment and for animals.

Explore the papers of other women journalists via the Manuscript Division’s American Women Guide.

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[1] Maurine Beasley, ed., The White House Press Conferences of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1983), 1.

One Comment

  1. Elissa Free
    December 7, 2022 at 10:16 am

    Thank you for this wonderful write-up of my mother’s papers and for so carefully preserving and sharing her materials!

    Since it is Pearl Harbor Day, I thought I’d share a portion of one of her oral histories, where she describes covering the news from Washington on that Sunday, 81 years ago:

    “Where was I on December 7, 1941? I was in Washington, D.C., and I had been horseback riding with a Peruvian diplomat and I think he had his mind on a lot of other things besides political affairs!

    “But I didn’t, because I figured that something horrible was going to happen because of those two Japanese who had gone to see the Secretary of State the day before, something was happening, so I said ‘let’s turn on the radio.’

    “This is in the middle of the day, and my gosh that is when this man, I remember him saying, it was Upton Close, see we didn’t have any television then, and people didn’t even listen to radio much in the daytime because news wasn’t the way news is today.

    “And there it was. I said, ‘My God, I’ve got to get to the office.””

    The rest of her day is detailed in the transcript at this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XuvvF37_A8dW6qfXhJWYrIQAhK4RaCYV9TNmC1B4i3k/edit?usp=sharing

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