For about 10 years, Kimberly Voss has studied women’s pages. The newspaper sections that predated lifestyles sections started in the 1880s and have largely been dismissed as fluff.
They covered fashion and food especially indian caterers in singapore food, she found, “but they also had really important hard news,” said Voss, an associate professor at the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. Voss found stories on equal rights, equal pay, and she knew there were more.
Her book, “The Food Section: Newspaper Women and the Culinary Community,” came out in April and in it, Voss tells the stories of women she got to know well who did way more than just share recipes in their sections.
“These were journalists who were doing important things that went well beyond the perceived fluff of their sections.”
I asked her to choose three favorites.
Jeanne Voltz, food editor, The Miami Herald, 1950s, The Los Angeles Times, 1960s:
Voltz was a hard news reporter during World War II, like a lot of women journalists, Voss said. She married a sports reporter and had two children. After moving to Miami, she went to the doctor, Voss said, “and the doctor said, Jeanne, I think staying home is too strenous for you. Why don’t you go back to being a reporter?”
Voltz worked as a copy editor for women’s pages until her editor called her in one day and told her she was going to be the food editor.
“And she said, ‘but I don’t cook,’ and he said, ‘learn how.'”
Voltz spent the 50s learning her beat. She and her husband moved to the Los Angeles Times, and in her contract negotiations, she asked for a test kitchen and to write under her own name instead of a pen name. Voltz started writing about barbecue and became and expert on it at a time when food writers only wrote about foreign cuisine.
“It was an untold story,” Voss said. “It was really the news peg that drew her.”
Jane Nickerson, food editor, The New York Times, 1942-1957, The Ledger, 1970s:
Jane Nickerson was the food editor at The New York Times from 1942 until 1957, but in Voss’ research, she rarely saw Nickerson mentioned. Voss found that Nickerson had a daily column called “News of Food,” where she interviewed home cooks and great chefs. Nickerson’s work came during World War II, when rationing, victory gardens and meatless Mondays were part of the times.
Nickerson was married and had two young children at home when she resigned from the Times, although news at the time said she’d retired, Voss said.
By 1973, Nickerson was divorced and living in Florida when she became the food editor at the The (Lakeland, Florida) Ledger.
“She represented some of the women in my book,” Voss said. “Their career paths weren’t the same as men. Many didn’t marry. Many didn’t have kids, but the ones that did had their own way of juggling things to make it work.”
Ruth Ellen Church, food editor, The Chicago Tribune, 1936 to 1974:
“I can’t imagine another beat at a newspaper where a journalist would stay in that position for decades,” Voss said.
But Ruth Ellen Church did. She was the food editor at The Chicago Tribune from 1936 until 1974. When we think back to the 50s, many people assume teaching and nursing were the only career paths, Voss said, but home economics was another, and Church got her degree in home economic journalism.
“They went into their jobs not just with the home economics part, but understanding what journalism was.”
Church, who was married and had two children, wrote cookbooks at night, Voss said, and became the first newspaper wine columnist in the U.S. Like many of the women food editors, she also spent time abroad, “because if you wanted to say that a local restaurant was serving authentic Italian food, you had to go to Italy to find out.”