Sun File Photo

Women’s editors’ stories were often be featured under a “Women’s Page” or “Women’s Note” section.

April 8, 2024

The Sun Reflects on Its Complex Gender History Through Defunct Women’s Editor and Women’s Advertising Manager Positions

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Since 1870, women have accessed academic opportunities at Cornell — the first Ivy League institution to admit female undergraduates. Yet many organizations limited women’s participation in activities, including at The Sun.

The Sun took a look into its complex history of women’s roles on the paper, speaking to a former Sun women’s editor and former Sun women’s advertising managers about their experiences in these now-defunct positions.

Until World War I — when institutions nationwide began embracing women’s contributions while men served in the military — The Sun did not include any women on its editorial board.

Female students were then permitted to join The Sun’s editorial board as “women’s editors.” Harriet Parsons 1919 and Alice Street 1919 took on the roles of women’s business manager and women’s editor, respectively. The women’s business manager oversaw advertising that appealed to women, while women’s editors’ stories would often be featured under a dedicated “Women’s Page” or “Women’s Note” section.

Women’s editorial positions were listed at the bottom of the masthead. (Sun File Photo)

The Sun examined previous issues of the newspaper housed at The Sun’s office in Ithaca Commons and the Keith R. Johnson ’56 digital archive

By the 1964-1965 editorial board, there was no women’s editor on the masthead, with Elizabeth Gordon ’65 serving as the last ever women’s editor at The Sun. By March of that year, only women’s advertising manager Penny Skitol ’65 was listed, and by the fall, The Sun no longer had women’s roles featured on the masthead. 

There was no written announcement of this decision. 

Despite numerous women assuming the role of women’s editor, it is noteworthy that, while rare, some women held non-gendered positions throughout the same period. The Sun broke a 63-year streak of male editors in chief with the promotion of Guinevere Griest ’44, who briefly served in this role during World War II.

Anne Morrissy Merick ’55, scorned during her term as a “lady sports editress” and a “sportswriting doll,” captured national media attention by triumphing over three male students to become The Sun’s first female sports editor in 1954.

A little less than a decade later, Elizabeth Bass ’72 was elected as editor in chief in 1971 and was deemed the “first female editor in chief” in the newspaper’s history. 

Bass was the first woman to be elected to the role of Sun editor in chief, though Griest had been promoted to the role during World War II. (Sun File Photo)

The Sun spoke to former students at Cornell who took on various roles within the women’s sections on The Sun as they reflected on their time as Sun employees and Cornell undergraduates. 

Elizabeth Gordon ’65: The Last Women’s Editor

For Elizabeth Gordon ’65, the last women’s editor at The Sun, serving on the editorial board was an “inevitable” decision due to her experience as an editor for both her elementary and high school papers.

“Even with the restrictions on my participation [at The Sun], I loved it,” Gordon wrote in an email to The Sun. 

During her time at the helm, Gordon, who also served as president of the Panhellenic Council, covered a variety of stories about women on campus while honing her journalistic expertise.

“The most memorable article for me was the opening of Helen Newman Hall — finally a women’s athletic facility close to the girls’ dorms,” Gordon said. “As someone who had to trek all the way from Teagle to Donlon my freshman year when I took [a course in] advanced life-saving, this was nothing short of life-changing.”

Gordon said the restrictions for women on campus made it so that she had no choice but to take on the women’s editor role. 

“Women had a curfew, and, therefore, could not be relied upon to cover certain stories and, most importantly, could not put the paper to bed,” Gordon wrote. 

Gordon recalled that during her freshman year, women were subject to a curfew of 9:30 p.m. on weeknights until Thanksgiving, after which it extended to 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Being a woman on campus was, in retrospect, difficult, though at the time I didn’t think so,” Gordon told The Sun. “There were curfews, and, until my senior year, we had to live in the dorms or sorority houses.”

On March 14, 1962, the Women’s Student Government Association voted to trial abolishing senior women’s curfews for one year. Subsequently, curfews for different years were gradually phased out until they were completely eliminated during the 1968-1969 school year.

“By my senior year, women had no curfew, so there was no limiting factor for women to have any position on The Sun,” Gordon said. 

Gordon covered women’s matters — including the gradual elimination of women’s curfews — during her tenure as women’s editor at The Sun. (Sun File Photo)

After graduating from Cornell, Gordon worked in editorial and publishing roles at various publications for most of her career then served as executive director of a national nonprofit that supported libraries. 

Penny Haitkin ’65: The Last Sun Women’s Advertising Manager 

Penny Haitkin ’65, the last listed women’s advertising manager, joined The Sun her freshman year because of a mutual friend. 

“My best friend from high school went to Syracuse and her roommate — this was freshman year — had a boyfriend who was business manager for The Sun,” Haitkin said. “I met him and he said ‘You should come see The Sun, it would be fun.’” 

Like Gordon, Haitkin said she remembered her curfews and how she needed permission from her parents to leave campus to go back home for breaks. These rules limited the number of women who could work across all departments of The Sun.

“[Although] there was a women’s advertising manager, I had no staff — it was just me,” Haitkin said. “There were no women photographers, there were no women in sports — this was before Title IX and there weren’t a lot of women’s sports anyway. I mean no one made to demean women in any way or make it harder, it was just, again, how things were.”  

Like Gordon, Haitkin said she saw the limited positions for women on The Sun as a consequence of the University’s restrictions on women. 

“We still had curfews and so [that was] one of the reasons women couldn’t be managers, especially in news,” Haitkin said. “The Sun was printed, at that time, by the Ithaca Journal, and if there were any problems the night when The Sun was printed, they could call one of the managers to come down and figure it out.” 

As women’s advertising manager, Haitkin explained that her primary responsibility involved sourcing advertisements targeted to female readers. Haitkin would drive to neighboring towns and visit stores like the Rothschild Bros’ Department Store, the main department store for women in Ithaca at the time, to inquire about advertising potential.

“If I went to Rothschilds I would try to give them some idea of what was going on on campus, something that they might be interested in [advertising for],” Haitkin said.

Haitkin said the gendered divide of leadership positions created disparities in pay. At the time, editors of The Sun got paid in terms of “stocks.” According to Haitkin, the amount of money an editor or manager got depended on their position on The Sun. Since women could not participate in higher leadership positions, they were not able to make as much as their male counterparts.

“My senior year, the editor in chief kept thanking me because he had enough stock, or money, to buy a used car. I certainly didn’t have that. I never got as much as the top three guys or anything like that,” Haitkin recalls. “I remember getting a couple hundred dollars, which I was happy to have, but it wasn’t comparable.”

Still, Haitkin described her experience on The Sun as a memorable and fulfilling journey.

“I loved it,” Haitkin said. “It was a terrific four years and I made a lot of good friends and met people in Ithaca that were interesting.” 

Cynthia Wolloch ’64: Sun Women’s Advertising Manager 

“I didn’t think it was odd [to have separate women’s sections],” Cynthia Wolloch ’64 said. “The fact that The Sun was advertising for women, it didn’t faze me. I thought, ‘Oh good, I can work on the paper.” 

Wolloch was a freshman studying government when she decided to join The Sun’s business board to meet interesting new people and explore places off-campus. 

Wolloch reflected on how the later elimination of the position mirrored the broader increases in women’s opportunities. 

“I remember one woman in my sorority was going to Harvard Law School — and I thought, ‘Women could go to law school?’” Wolloch said. “All this was new to me. You had to see it happen [to other women] before you realized it could happen to you.”

Wolloch acknowledged that these contrasting realities of both progress and pushback could co-exist.

“History happens in jumps and starts and is non-synchronous,” Wolloch said. “There were a lot of women who ended up going to grad school and getting Ph.D.s in their fields — those opportunities happened side by side with there being jobs like women’s advertising manager for The Sun.” 

Wolloch mentioned that the 1960s marked a significant turning point for social progress amid the civil rights and women’s rights movements. 

“When we entered in 1960, women had strict curfews, first-year women weren’t allowed in men’s apartments on pain of expulsion, we all had to live on campus, we couldn’t wear pants to class and had to wear stockings to Sunday lunch,” Wolloch said. “When we graduated, all of this was gone or going.” 

Wolloch said that norms for women looked very different by the time she left campus. 

“I lived in the Hasbrouck Apartments my senior year, with two other women, and we got away with shorts in late spring,” Wolloch said. “A few years later, everyone was reading Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir.”

Reflecting on her time at Cornell and her involvement with The Sun, Wolloch expressed pride at the transformation in opportunities for women that she has witnessed over the past six decades.

“I’m just so overwhelmed whenever I visit campus and I see all these young women,” Wolloch said. “[For example] the engineering school — I didn’t know a single woman in the engineering school back then. Not one.”

With the current opportunities available, both at The Sun and elsewhere, she urged undergraduate women to embrace every opportunity.

“There are no sort of formal barriers anymore. So just do what looks interesting — take advantage of it and try a million things,” Wolloch said.