Today’s post is by David Sager, Research Assistant in the Recorded Sound Research Center.
The Library of Congress’s Recorded Sound Collection grows from many sources. Collection items include copyright deposits, purchases and donations. Donations are often the result of someone who thinks the Library would be a good place for their parent’s or grandparent’s record collection. Then comes the task of deciding whether or not the offered items are already part of the collection, and if not, do they fit the Library’s collection policy.
However, sometimes a patron will appear with an item of uniqueness that the decision begs no question. Such was the case when Anne and Gray Coyner approached the Library’s Recorded Sound Research Center with an item they knew was significant and hoping to be of interest. They personally brought in a one-of-a-kind 16-inch pressing – in stunning blue – of a recording by Anne’s great aunt, Mayme Ober Peak, an Upperville native, who went on to national fame.
Although little remembered today, Mayme Ober Peak (1882-1948), a pioneering woman newspaper journalist, was a dignified presence at both the Washington Post and the Boston Globe newspapers. Her career in news journalism began in 1920 and continued through 1947, although she took several hiatuses during the 1930s and 40s, for reasons of health.
Peak covered social political news in Washington, D.C. during the Harding and Coolidge administrations. She also focused on the achievements of women in politics, with interviews with figures such as Mabel Boardman, Commissioner of the District of Columbia, and “Jedge” Clara Sears Taylor, the only woman on the Rent Commission at that time.
Notably, in June 1924, just prior to the Republican National Convention, Peak excoriated Senator T. Coleman Du Pont for vociferously denying women to serve on the G. O. P. National Committee. She concluded her piece with, “All we can add is that Mr. Du Pont and his fellow thinkers have started something. Does he think he is attending the conference in 1824? There will be another chapter to this story.”[i]
In 1926, the Boston Globe named her its Hollywood correspondent, making Peak one of the first women tasked with covering the film industry. Her reporting focused on film personalities from New England.
In late 1937 or early 1938, while living in Los Angeles, Peak made an audition recording for radio station KNX. From listening to the recording, we suspect that KNX saw her as a possible rival to Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the two most famous and notoriously ruthless gossip columnists of the day. But Peak never indulged in the sort of skullduggery that characterized Hopper and Parson’s work. Instead, her reporting is light, breezy and optimistic. A good portion of this audition is devoted to Peak’s visit with Sophie Tucker (a New Englander), while the latter was living in Hollywood, embarking on a hopeful film career. Although Peak’s optimism for Tucker’s success is evident, Tucker’s stay in California was brief.
Why Miss Peak never became a radio personality is a mystery. She speaks with a cultured, well-manicured tone of voice. However, Coyner divulges that Aunt Mayme was rather self-conscious about her southern accent, which she hid quite well for her KNX audition.
Peak, who became the first President of the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, was cited by the Hollywood Reporter magazine as the “Number One Outstanding Screen Critic” in 1940.
Parkinson’s disease slowed her down in the 1940s, but she carried on courageously, before retiring in 1947. She died in her childhood home in Upperville, Virginia, just days before her sixty-sixth birthday. This recording is the only known captured sample of Mayme Ober Peak’s voice, a voice that resounded in print.
Hear Maybe Ober Peak, along with many other recordings of woman journalists such as Dorothy Thompson, Pauline Frederick, Alma Kitchell, and Adelaide Hawley, at the Library’s Recorded Sound Research Center. For more information about this recording or recorded sound research in general, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Recorded Sound reference librarians.
[i] Du Pont, Mayme O. “G. O. P. Women Angry at Du Pont’s Threats.” Boston Globe. June 7, 1924. p 5.