Meet The Presses: Kay Meyer Graham

Each of the namesakes for our presses remind us that diligence and knowledge are the “metal” and force for change. These women have broadened the very definition of femininity. We look to them to help reinforce traditional and modern archetypes that should be available to everyone regardless of their gender.

In this blog series, we'll be sharing more information about each woman and the press that is named after them. Stay tuned for more! 

 


 

 

Kay Meyer Graham

About the namesake:

German Zeppelins were dropping bombs on Ramsgate, England, on June 16th, 1917, while an ocean away in New York City, Katharine “Kay” Meyer was being born into wealth. One of five children, Meyer’s childhood was divided between a castle on a large estate in Mount Kisco, New York, and a mansion in Washington, D.C. Although her surroundings were luxurious, her parents were largely absent, leaving the children in the care of staff.  

Her father bought the Washington Post in 1933 at a bankruptcy auction. Meyer started working for the paper in the editorial and circulation departments at the age of 21. Two years later, she married Philip Graham, who was at the time a clerk for a Supreme Court Justice. Her father eventually gave the Post to her husband, never for a moment considering his daughter to lead the publication. She was unsurprised by this, stating in her biography that she knew that her father would not regard her as an important person at the newspaper. 

The marriage between Kay and Philip was an unhappy one. Philip, who struggled with alcoholism and mental illness, believed that taking on the paper had ruined his political ambitions. He blamed Kay for his thwarted dream, treating her cruely in public as well as behind closed doors. Following an affair, Philip made moves to start dividing the couple’s assets in anticipation of leaving Kay and their four children. However, he would not live to complete the divorce, taking his own life following a nervous breakdown and several stays in a psychiatric ward.

After her husband’s death, Kay Meyer Graham, age 46, took over the Post. She did so somewhat reluctantly, unsure of her abilities, but wanting to keep the paper in the family. Graham was at the time the only woman to hold such a high place in publishing, and few in the industry, including her staff, took her seriously. The confidence she lacked at first was over time buoyed by perspicacity and the concurrent rise of the women’s movement. Graham settled into leadership, promoting gender equality within the company. She later wrote of her experience, “What I essentially did was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes and step off the ledge. The surprise was that I landed on my feet.”

As famously portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film The Post, Graham’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers changed the course of American history. Her belief in journalism’s role as truth teller and willingness to take on powerful men was instrumental in the eventual impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon. The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service for its Watergate reporting.

Graham was the first woman to head a Fortune 500 company and the first woman to serve as director of the Associated Press and of the American Newspaper Publishers Association. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her memoir, Personal History

At the age of 84, while still Chairman of the Executive Committee at the paper, Graham suffered an accidental head injury and died a few days later. Her funeral was held at the Washington National Cathedral. Graham was posthumously presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, the same year she was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame.

About the machine: Kay is an 8x12” Chandler and Price old-style platen press manufactured in 1909.

 


 

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