Katherine Graham (1917 – 2001)

Born    : June 16, 1917 in New York City

Died    : July 17, 2001 (age 84) in Idaho

Education        : University of Chicago & Vassar College

Occupation      : Publisher

Spouse(s)         : Philip Graham (1940-1963)

Children          : Lally Weymouth, Donald E. Graham, William Welsh Graham, Stephen Meyer Graham

At Katherine Graham’s 70th birthday celebrations in 1987, the famous columnist Art Buchwald told a gathering of most powerful people in Washington:”There is one word that brings us all together here tonight; and that word is ‘fear’! The audience erupted in laughter, but everyone present there knew that the high and mighty feared this lady because she was fearless.

Katherine Graham was the head of The Washington Post newspaper for more than two decades during the paper’s most famous period, the sensational Watergate coverage that ultimately brought President Richard Nixon down, and the publication of Pentagon Papers. (The Pentagon Papers is a 7,000-page top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War from 1945 to 1971, and the Watergate scandal was an American political scandal and constitutional crisis that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.)

Even more important than the fact of her success was how she achieved it. She had courage. She took risks. Of course, many business people take risks. But they take risks for growth and profits. Katharine Graham’s greatest risks – the Pentagon Papers and Watergate – were taken for principle, putting in peril not just growth and profits but possibly the very existence of The Washington Post Co. Everyone knew that a prepublication phone call to Graham would be of no avail. No fear or favoritism would get in the way of her principle.

She wrote her autobiography at 79 and won the Pulitzer Prize for it. Pulitzer Prize is a United States award regarded as the highest honor in print journalism. So, when someone wins the Pulitzer Prize, it is common to greet them with, “Now you know how the first line in your obituary will read.” That is only for ordinary folk. For Graham, it hardly makes the first paragraph. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal front page news digest did not even mention it when she died in July, 2001 at age 84. Instead it said,” She helped guard the integrity of journalism in the Watergate era.” This honor she achieved in an era when women faced a lot of disabilities and prejudices in a male-dominated society.

Her mother, Agnes Meyer, was an educator and her father, Eugene Meyer, was a publisher. He purchased The Washington Post in 1933, and Katharine Meyer began working for the Post five years later. She married Philip Graham in 1940, and in 1945 left the Post to raise her family. In the next few years Philip Graham became publisher of the Post and bought out Eugene Meyer’s voting stock. During this time the Washington Post Company also acquired the Times-Herald and Newsweek magazine.

In 1963, Philip Graham committed suicide and Katharine Graham assumed control of the Washington Post Company. From 1969 to 1979 she was also publisher’ of the newspaper.From 1973-1991 Graham, known to many as “Kay,” was board chairman and chief executive officer of the Washington Post Company, and remained Chairman of the Executive Committee until her death.

In 1997, she published her memoirs as Personal History. The book was lauded for its honest portrayal of her husband’s mental illness. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for this autobiography.

Under Katharine Graham’s leadership, The Washington Post became known for its hard-hitting investigations, including the publication of the secret Pentagon Papers against the advice of lawyers and against government directives, followed by the Woodward and Bernstein investigation of the Watergate scandal. For these reasons, she and the newspaper are sometimes credited with bringing about the fall of Richard Nixon.

Her remarkable ability to assume the publisher-ship of a major national newspaper, The Washington Post, and control of a Fortune 500 company, the Washington Post Co., was an incredible accomplishment for anyone, particularly a woman in the 1960s. She was injured in a fall in Idaho in June, 2001 and died July 17. She certainly was, in the words of an ABC newscast, “one of the twentieth century’s most powerful and interesting women.”

Katherine Graham (1917 – 2001)
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