Passersby in front of the bronze fountain outside the Seattle Post-Intelligencer building at 101 Elliott Avenue West on Seattle’s waterfront are likely unaware of what that sculpture represents. "Moon Song," created by George Tsutakawa, was dedicated in 1971 to Bobbi McCallum-a beautiful young reporter who was riding the second wave of the women’s movement when her life was cut short. A tragic accident prevented her from reaching her promising potential, but she made the most of a short career and in doing so paved the way for other women in Seattle to reach new heights of success in journalism.
In 1968, at age 25, Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Bobbi McCallum won the top national reporting award for women’s pages. Her five-part series about young pregnant women, "Unwed Mothers-The Price They Pay," examined the lives of women facing significant social stigma. She interviewed teens, hippies, career women, and African American women. She told warm yet probing stories of young women whose voices often went unheard. Her work demonstrated what was happening at newspapers across the country in the 1960s-women’s pages were changing. New topics captured women’s attention and their voices were being heard in a new way. For a young female journalist it was a great time to be a part of a progressive newspaper.
Barbara "Bobbi" McCallum was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 21, 1943, the only child of Dorothy Vaile McCallum and James McCallum, a retired navy captain who became a Boeing executive. Because her father’s naval career kept the family on the move, McCallum went to elementary schools in Illinois, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia. She started high school in California and ultimately graduated from George Mason High School in Falls Church, Virginia, in 1962. She was accepted at Northwestern and Stanford universities but ultimately chose Cornell.
McCallum worked at the student-run Cornell Daily Sun and wrote for the university’s monthly alumni magazine. In a column about her college years, McCallum noted: "My four years at Cornell have been the happiest I’ve ever spent." In 1965 she graduated from Cornell with honors-and an English degree-expecting to pursue a career in journalism. At that time, most women who sought careers in journalism rarely worked in the newsroom. Following the path of many would-be female journalists of the day, McCallum went to work that summer for the women’s department of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Women’s pages had long been a part of metropolitan newspapers, and women typically staffed these sections while men wrote the rest of the news. Until the early 1970s, the only exceptions had been wartime and Eleanor Roosevelt’s women’s-only press conferences. The content of women’s sections was largely based on the four F’s: family, fashion, food, and furnishings. This usually translated into a collection of clothing layouts, recipes, and bridal features. Yet sprinkled among the more traditional fare were stories about women’s changing roles in society. After all, it was typically the women’s pages-not the book sections-that reviewed Betty Friedan’s ground-breaking book, The Feminine Mystique, in 1963. While the book largely addressed homemakers, women on college campuses-McCallum among them-were also questioning the limitations placed on them in American society.
Women in the media were questioning their roles, too. Until the late 1960s or early 1970s, newspaper women were still working in the society pages. But the content in those sections was changing, giving women a voice and reflecting a different reaction to women’s liberation than the rest of the media, which was dominated by men. The traditional media mocked women’s roles. For example, the ABC evening news began its coverage of a peaceful women’s liberation march by quoting Spiro Agnew: "Three things have been difficult to tame. The ocean, fools, and women. We may soon be able to tame the ocean, but fools and women will take a little longer." On the CBS evening news, journalist Eric Sevareid commented, "The plain truth is, most American men are startled by the idea that American women generally are oppressed, and they read with relief the Gallup poll that two-thirds of women don’t think they’re oppressed either."
In the P-I’s women’s pages editor Sally Raleigh saw the women’s movement as significant and sent her reporters out on nontraditional assignments. Reporter Susan Paynter, who worked with McCallum in the late 1960s, described the situation thus: "While management’s eyes were diverted by ‘real news,’ I traded in my little black dress for a police press pass and a shot at the stories nice girls didn’t do." These stories includedabortion reform and the Equal Rights Amendment. But as journalism historian Kaay Mills noted in her book on women journalists, A Place in the News, "Enlightenment alone did not unlock newsroom doors. Legal action helped."
McCallum’s strength as a writer lay in her people profiles. Her editor noticed McCallum’s news-gathering skills: "Her warmth and her very real interest in people-their experiences, their problems, their beliefs-led her straight to the hearts of most of those she interviewed." During McCallum’s career she wrote profiles of well-known figures and regular citizens. She wrote a profile about country music singer Faron Young featuring colorful quotes and anecdotes. She quoted her source on his experiences with enthusiastic fans. He said: "You would not believe how strong those 14-year-old girls are. They nearly ripped $300 suits right off me."
McCallum was a creative and descriptive writer. A profile of George Quimbly, director of the Thomas Burke Memorial Washington State Museum, began: "Say ‘anthropologist.’ Now sit back and let your brainwaves take over. Do you get a picture of a knobby-kneed excavator in British Bermudas and a pith helmet, digging around?" She told the readers they would be wrong and began describing a man who "prefers bow ties to pith helmets." She could make a potentially dry subject interesting.
McCallum profiled Ugandan nun Mary Vincent who had recently graduated from Seattle University. The nun was part of a program to educate women who would return to Uganda and help other women. In the article McCallum addressed gender inequality in the nun’s home country. She quoted Vincent: "There are still more men with better educations who get the jobs first."
In a profile related to fashion-one of her favorite subjects-McCallum wrote about fur expert Florence Balut. The story began: "The Master Furriers Guild of America’s ‘Man of the Year’ is a Dietrich-voiced, vivacious grandmother of five with a flair for fashion." The story goes on to note Balut’s interest in animal preservation, including working with the U.S. Department of the Interior. While Balut was a furrier, she also spoke out about balancing the needs of the animals. She described the environmental impact on a small Alaskan island, "We take just enough to keep the herd balanced. If we didn’t, the food on the island couldn’t support the herd and they’d all starve." This story went well beyond fashion fluff.
Another commonly overlooked topic for women’s pages was the arts. McCallum would have been aware of the counterculture movement and its impact on art when she wrote a story about visiting choreographer Deborah Hay. It began: "To a sensitive critic, Deborah Hay is ‘one of THE important avant-garde choreographers.’ To a sensitive friend, she’s ‘little magic girl.’" She then invited readers to a Seattle event to discover which was the real Hay. McCallum went on to explain that the choreographer’s role was to challenge the traditions of the dance community at a time when art was being redefined by a younger generation-her generation.
McCallum wrote a story about an a Japanese art exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. It began: "How do you picture hell? A sea of mud, swarming with human-hating, soul-stinging bees? A torture chamber, manned with fire-breathing demons? That’s how Twelfth Century Japanese saw it, according to the Hell Scenes they painted." She intermingled descriptions of the paintings with comments from local art experts.
In one story she covered a children’s educational program at A Contemporary Theater in which children improvised a play. She wrote about the children’s initial nervousness and how they were quickly swept up into the excitement: "Total theater took over and even shy violets couldn’t escape a little audience participation."
Several of McCallum’s stories involved traditional four F’s fare-particularly fashion. It was in this area that a woman could assume a voice of authority. According to the American Press Institute: "No aspect of news is further from the comprehension of the average male editor than fashion." McCallum learned about the world of fashion from her editor Sally Raleigh and soon developed her own style-both in her reporting and in her own clothing. Photos of McCallum show her in fashionable outfits, including a pantsuit accessorized with white feathers. She wrote about new local stores, focusing on youthful fashions. One of her stories began: "Memo to boutique buyers: take one bright idea, one bright girl-or three-and a flair for fashion. Combine the right location. The result? Two new treats to tempt boutique-hungry Seattle shoppers." She described the shop owners as career women and elevated the importance of fashion in her female readers’ lives.
In another article McCallum described the opening day event at Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door salon, which included a fashion show. Again she wrote about a topic women cared about in a way that did not dismiss fashion as frivolous. In a first-person story she explained to men the role of fashion in women’s lives-an indication that more men were beginning to read the women’s pages. She wrote: "Sometimes a man just doesn’t understand" when a woman with a closet full of clothes says she has nothing to wear. After mentioning that clothes can be a boost for morale, she concluded the article with, "Now you understand, don’t you?"
McCallum covered local fashion events, beginning one fashion show story with: "The Mother of the Mod, England’s Mary Quant, has moved on to other things in ’68. Anything goes with her feel for free movement in fashion-punchy polka-dot jumpsuits or long-line silhouettes in all-American colors." Another fashion show story featured clothing for older women. The article began: "Fashionably speaking, is a woman sunk in the September of her years?" She goes on to answer in the negative and offers tips based on the current style of "Indian Summer."
Family was another of the F’s McCallum tackled. In 1966, a time when the topic was not typically discussed, she wrote a series about infertility, featuring the views of several doctors on medical procedures then in development. Treatment for infertility was then controversial and under study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In another article, a marriage counselor addressed emotional problems related to infertility.
McCallum’s writing often explored the changing definition of family. She wrote a four-part series on adoption that was progressive for its time. The first article featured the story of Beth, a young woman who was giving a baby up for adoption. The second story was about a couple who had been unable to conceive children and decided to adopt. The next article focused on another controversial subject-adopting a child of a different race. The final article in the series continued the story of the mixed-race adoption, after the child had been placed. A month after that series ran, McCallum wrote a story about a foster family taking care of disabled children after having raised their own biological children.
Sally Raleigh, the P-I’s progressive women’s section editor, was willing to let her reporters "go for it." Women’s roles were changing dramatically at this point. This was especially so for young, middle-class women. McCallum graduated from college planning on a career and intended to continue that career, married or not. In an article on a computer dating service she had heard about on the radio McCallum revealed how she felt about being a single, working woman with a growing number of married friends:
You may call it career-girl curiosity. With birthday 25 looming large, I call it the Spinsterhood Syndrome. There is nothing sexy about spinsterhood. The little things begin to bug you. Like no more maiden names in your alumni newsletter. And invitations to another five baby showers. Or one more "terribly amusing bachelor" across a dinner table. Once the Syndrome sets in, it’s time for action.
She went on to describe a series of dates she set up through the dating service. McCallum, a blonde, rejected the first suitor after he said he preferred redheads. The second prospect was deemed an unsuitable
choice due to his conflicting horoscope. She quizzed the third bachelor, asking him what she described as a "loaded question": "Would you consider marrying a girl who couldn’t cook, clean, or keep house-only write?" He responded: "Certainly-if she could make enough to money writing to pay for a cook and housekeeper." It was a time when men were not taking on the housework themselves, equality in housekeeping being an unfamiliar concept.
McCallum spent five weeks during the summer of 1967 traveling through eight European countries and sending stories back to her newspaper. She described the art in Rome and a multilingual mass conducted by Pope Paul VI, concluding, "The magic of the moment belonged to the Pope." From Venice she wrote, "Take every Italian tale of romance, fact or fable, and multiply by 1,500 years of practice. That’s Venetian charm. The citizens never had much choice. They have to be romantic." She addressed social class in London-with a reference to civil rights struggles in her own country: "Equality. It’s the carrot minority group leaders are dangling before their disciples from Hyde Park to Volunteer Park. The worse the hunger, the hotter the pressure cooker. Sometimes the pressure builds to an explosion as loud and brutal as a Selma march or a Berkeley riot."
McCallum had written about racial issues in other stories. For example, in a profile of Margaret Braman, wife of Seattle mayor James Braman, McCallum noted the absence of race riots in the city. She quoted Braman in the language of the time: "I’ve always had a great love in my heart for the Negro."
The biggest project of McCallum’s journalism career was a five-part series on unwed mothers, which ran in the women’s section beginning on May 19, 1968. Unwanted pregnancy among unwed girls and women was not openly discussed. In fact, the stigma was so significant that many pregnant teens were sent away to homes until the baby was born and given up for adoption. The first story outlined the significance of the social issue: the growing number of pregnant, unwed teens. The article began descriptively: "KEEP THE BABY, FAITH! You see the button in high school corridors, on college campuses, at after-hours parties. It’s the popular pun, the symbol of a society so hip it can laugh off social problems-someone else’s. Last year, 300,000 girls weren’t laughing." McCallum interviewed a number of teens staying at Seattle’s Florence Crittenton Home, including a girl who had been a college-bound high school senior the previous September but who was now eight months pregnant. The point was that these were just average girls. McCallum quoted the teen: "When I came here, I felt like the lowest form of life. I was sure only tramps got pregnant out of wedlock. I found out how wrong I was. Most of these girls come from good homes." The home’s director noted that three out of five girls there had had access to birth control pills but failed to use them.
The second story in the series explored the price unwed mothers paid-especially women in their 20s and 30s. The language used demonstrates the stigma of the time. The story began: "Most American women are cutting back on baby production. Unwed mothers aren’t. Legitimate births from 1960 to 1965 decreased 19.1 percent. Illegitimate births increased 65.8 percent." The story outlined a program for pregnant women who were no longer in their teens-the Washington Children’s Home Society. One of the staff members expressed a rather progressive view for the time when she said, "We’d like to counsel the fathers-the phrase should be unwed parents, not unwed mother-but we simply can’t."
The third article looked at the overall issue of sexuality in society and the impact on teen pregnancy. The article began with a quote from an expert: "Our society sells sex, not sexuality. Once, her culture encouraged a girl not to get pregnant. Now the need for sexual expression bombards her. Even toothpaste and deodorants have sex appeal." McCallum viewed the topic through a societal lens, looking at reasons for the increase in teen pregnancy in the "free love" era.
The fourth article addressed abortion and the "hippie" lifestyle. Quoting the director of Seattle’s Open Door Clinic: "This is not the place where unwed mothers can come for an abortion." Like other states across the country in the late 1960s, Washington was debating the topics of abortion and reproductive rights, but abortion was still illegal. Some women turned to underground abortion networks. This made the news in February 1967 when a 24-year-old Seattle woman, Raisa Trytiak, was found dead after a botched abortion. This tragedy and others like it, along with the work of psychologist Samuel Goldenberg, led to Referendum 20, which made it legal-with some restrictions-to obtain an abortion in the first four months of pregnancy. Voters passed the legislation on November 3, 1970, three years before the Supreme Court made the procedure legal nationally.
The final article addressed programs that allowed pregnant teens to earn their high school diplomas. It began with a description of the graduation ceremony, noting that the only thing missing was the valedictory speech-the valedictorian had gone into labor. The story pointed out that a pregnant teen still had a future after the birth of her baby.
Her series on unwed mothers made McCallum a nominee for the prestigious Penney-Missouri journalism award. The J. C. Penney Company partnered with the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1960 to create the Penney-Missouri Awards program, which honored the best work of women’s section editors and reporters. This award included a cash prize of $1,500 and a week-long workshop in which the winners described their approach to women’s news. Awards went to top women’s sections in different circulation groups. There was also an overall reporting/writing award-which went to McCallum. The P-I reran the series in the Northwest Today section on five consecutive Sundays.
The youngest recipient in the program’s first decade, McCallum was notified of her award by telegram on Christmas Day. The next day Lou Guzzo, the P-I’s managing editor, wrote a letter of appreciation to the director of the awards program in which he stated, "McCallum is a highly intelligent, vigorous and imaginative young reporter, who has performed exceptionally for us." In recognition of the honor the P-I reran one of the articles from the series.
The awards included workshops in Missouri in which recipients gave talks about their work. McCallum explained to her older audience how to report on young people: "It is necessary to go where they are, understand their environment and learn what they mean by the language they use." Photos from the workshops show her accepting her award in a fashionably elegant pant suit and attending sessions where she sat next to Penney-Missouri Award legend Marie Anderson of the Miami Herald.
The P-I assigned McCallum her own column-"Eye-to-Eye"-when she returned to Seattle. In one column she described taking a flying lesson: "One thing. Don’t forget to shout ‘Clear!’ before you rev up for take-off. That gives any poor soul in your propeller path a fighting chance to split from your taxi strip." In another column she wrote about an interview she conducted with a Mississippi women’s page editor about racial strife in the South. McCallum wrote, "She was a Southern editor talking Southern problems with a Southern accent. And trying to make a Western writer understand."
McCallum received other accolades. She was cited by the National Federation of Press Women for her article, "Teen-Agers Dig Young Life’s Bible Beat." She won several reporting awards from Sigma Delta Chi (which would later become the Society of Professional Journalists) and the Washington Press Women. McCallum had been voted into the Seattle chapter of the women’s professional journalism organization, Theta Sigma Phi (now called the Association for Women in Communications)-although she died before she learned of the honor. In her short career, she had reported from 49 states and 10 countries.
On June 3, 1969, McCallum began undergoing minor facial surgery in a doctor’s office to remove acne scars. She had been in a minor car accident a few minutes prior to the appointment but had no observable physical injuries. About 25 minutes into the surgery she went into convulsions in reaction to the anesthesia and was dead an hour later. Her death was a shock for the P-I staff. Her photo and a story about her death ran on the front page the next day, a month shy of her fourth anniversary with the newspaper. In an accompanying article Lou Guzzo wrote: "She was one of the most promising reporters I’ve ever met. I am shocked beyond belief."
On June 6, 1969, Sally Raleigh wrote in a tribute to McCallum, "Bobbi was exceptionally pretty and was ‘well brought up.’ That showed in small courtesies, in consideration for others, even in the way she answered the telephone. Unimportant in this age? No. More important." McCallum had taped a guest appearance for the KOMO-TV Good Morning Show on May 18, 1969. With her parents’ approval, the segment aired on June 12, 1969.
On June 29, 1969, the National Federation of Press Women announced that McCallum was the overall national winner for her award-winning articles. These included two series on unwed mothers and a fashion article. Said to have "earned national rank in every category entered," she was honored posthumously with a trophy during the organization’s national convention in Billings, Montana.
Paul Myhre, director of the Penney-Missouri Awards, wrote to McCallum’s parents to express condolences. Raleigh had earlier called Myhre with the bad news. He noted, "We were impressed by her poise, her charm and her friendliness. And not least, with her sincerity and her pride in her journalistic accomplishments, which were outstanding for one so young." Her parents responded to Myhre with a note of appreciation and their hope of establishing a "sparkling fountain" in their daughter’s name, "which will to a degree capture Bobbi’s spirit and be an inspiration to us all." A note appeared on the P-I’s editorial page announcing a memorial fund. McCallum’s parents issued a statement: "The Post-Intelligencer has done a beautiful thing in establishing the Bobbi McCallum Memorial Fund. We have experienced nothing but love all around us."
Work on the memorial did not move fast enough for Raleigh. She wrote in a letter of her frustration that progress on the memorial was so slow, "The P-I is moving like molasses and no two people like the same ideas submitted by architects." She also noted, "Our publisher very carefully doesn’t discuss it with me because he knows I’d speak up and too loudly!" Ultimately, the memorial reached completion in the form of a fountain created by Seattle artist and sculptor George Tsutakawa. It was named "Moon Song" in reference to a nickname McCallum’s parents gave her-Moon Child-after the first man to walk on the moon did so on what would have been her 26th birthday. Governor Dan Evans dedicated the memorial in 1971. The fountain still stands at the P-I building’s main entrance.
Dr. Walter Scott Brown, who was operating on McCallum when she died, established a scholarship fund in her name, which is still awarded annually to a promising female journalism student in Washington. The fact that Brown funded the scholarship was not made public until after his death. Others also contributed to the fund. Questions have been raised about the cause of McCallum’s death. A review of the June 1969 Seattle Post-Intelligencer does not reveal the results of her autopsy. Her death certificate lists cause of death as acute anaphylactic shock resulting from a reaction to local anesthesia.
McCallum’s career, though short, illustrates the changing role of women journalists in Seattle and across the country in the 1960s. Women’s pages had been slowly changing following World War II when many women returned to the society pages after spending time on the news side during the war. These women began adding more progressive content alongside the four F’s, a change that was recognized with the creation of the Penney-Missouri Awards in 1960. Progressive women’s page editors laid the groundwork for young female journalists like McCallum, who was able to tackle topics like teen pregnancy and interracial adoptions. Only her early death prevented her from taking full advantage of the gains women journalists had achieved and furthering their progress in the ensuing decades.
Kimberly Wilmot Voss is assistant professor of journalism at the Nicholson School of Communication, University of Central Florida. The author thanks the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s former assistant managing editor Janet Grimley for her feedback and information and graduate student Kristin Gustafson for her help collecting McCallum’s articles.