1944's editorial staff, with then-editor-in-chief Eileen Martinson Lavine pictured holding the paper in the center.

Image By: Daily Cardinal archives

A conversation with an early female Cardinal leader

The Daily Cardinal's editorial staff over the past year was comprised of mostly women, an image uncommon for the majority of newsrooms across the country. 1944's staff looked similar — when the men left to fight in World War II, women took over. It's because of them the paper is still around today, with women at its helm. Our female news editors and management team spoke with Eileen Martinson Lavine, who served as the Cardinal's editor-in-chief during this time, the first woman to serve a full year's term. She touched on her memories of the Cardinal, and the legacy she left that sticks with us today: women can do whatever the men can do.

What is the mark you think you left on the Cardinal?

I was there during World War II. I was the first woman to hold the job for a full year. There were three other women who had it for three months at a time. The history book, the University of Wisconsin history, there's a volume three, and what they say then is that "... although the Cardinal was very liberal in its views, the paper had been very much a bastion of male supremacy." Even when I was there as a freshman in 1941... all the officers and editors were men. But then the war started, so the men left, and the women showed that women could do the job. We had a terrific newspaper, we published four days a week, we had problems with not having any advertising so the university agreed to put a daily calendar every day and pay us for it, so that helped. There were a few men, but it was a very different kind of a paper at that time — we covered world news, we had a special page in the Cardinal of the Navy. My main legacy was that we could show women could do the job as well as the men.

What were some challenges you faced as a woman leader on campus during your time as editor-in-chief?

The primary challenge was we had been so used to this kind of newspaper that had gone out before the war and we weren't sure how to go about it at first. We had to get cooperation from other students, we were actively working with the student government for example. In that day, it was a women's self-governance organization, everything was departmentalized. We published dating lists — before the war, sororities and fraternities would print in the Cardinal who was going to the prom with whom. Looking at it now, it's so ludicrous. We we cannot fail the future, that was a symbol we picked up. There were new buildings that were going to be needed after the war, new kinds of departments that were going to be developed. The challenge was looking ahead to the future and hoping we were going to get women in leadership positions. I finished as the editor, I was hoping my managing editor would become editor after me, but we had someone who was there my freshman year, John McNally, who was in the service and came back as a veteran with white hair! Who could compete with that? At the end of the war, women were not in top positions, but I think that over the years women did come back. 

Can you tell us what a typical day was like for you?

I went to classes — I pride myself on never having an eight o'clock class. I was in a sorority, but I didn't spend much time there because I spent all my time at the Cardinal. They used to have 10-cent taxis then, so I would take a taxi to up to Bascom Hill for my classes. After my classes I never went home, I went to the Cardinal, and sometimes I would go back to my sorority house for dinner, then back to the Cardinal. In those days, we didn't have the technology we have today. We were in a print shop on University Avenue, and the print shop was in the back office and our office was in the front of the storefront. We had to write our articles and then give them to the ___ type guy would set them. Then we would have them set and at 11 o'clock at night we would be in back with them making up the page. I work at a magazine now and the design is all on a computer. That was one of the biggest challenges was we needed to get the paper out late at night and then in one day you had to set the type which is very different from the way you do. I had homework to do, I had papers to write, I wrote all my papers in my office. I would shut my door and do homework in between. The business manager and the editor each had separate offices. 

What sorority were you in?

The Jewish Sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi. Actually, my second year, when I moved into the sorority house, next door, the fraternity house, turned over to the Army, and a lot of the other fraternity houses became turned over to the army, or to military students there on campus. And the Navy was there as well, and the Air Force. Our sorority had a very big house, all the sororities up and down Langdon, were all these sorority houses. I didn’t spend much time in the house because I was always in the Cardinal. 

Tell us a little bit more about the Cardinal then. 

When I was a freshman, several of the people were men. If you look at our picture in the 1941-'42 Badger, there are a couple of women scattered around, but there are a lot of men. The next year, it was all women. There were a few men we had, but it was mostly all women. It was a great opportunity for us. In 1942, we had our first female editor, but she graduated two months later, and then we had another woman, and she graduated two months later, and then another one, who got sick, so she turned it over to me. So, I actually served longer than the regular period. I started in January of ‘44 and continued until March of ‘45. 

What was the Cardinal Election process like?

The cardinal board, which was an elected group and we had two or three professors as advisors, elected the chief positions. I did not major in journalism. At that point, I decided I wanted to be a foreign correspondent or something so I majored in American Institutions. I decided it was a good bit of background. In those courses I was doing all the work and learning how to be a journalist on the Cardinal. 

Do you remember any Cardinal traditions?

I can’t think of any. We were in the office every night, and we did have a final dinner at the end of the term in March. And also, the Cardinal Editors spoke to incoming freshmen when they came. All the heads of the student organizations that they might be interested in. 

My freshman year, our biggest source of revenue was cigarette ads, and of course once the war starts, they couldn't get cigarettes, and that’s when we lost a whole bunch of our revenue. From time to time, the department stores would run adds. 

We were a very liberal paper. We wrote about the war, we wrote about social issues like discrimination. I wrote a column — a lot of people wrote columns — about things both national and international and local. 

What stories do you remember best from your time as EIC?

We didn’t do any really big research stories. There were a lot of stories about people who were elected to office and that type of thing. We didn’t do anything by way of big investigations. We had people collecting stamps for the war effort and once in a while we’d write stories about things happening in the war. So, I don't think we had anything in the way of that actually. We did not think in terms of doing some sort of intensive sort of story. We didn’t have that type of thing and we didn’t write those kinds of stories. It’s wonderful that you’re doing that. 

How else has journalism and the Cardinal evolved since you were editor?

I thought it was very interesting the way you’ve looked into issues like housing and food. Those are issues that we didn’t look into during our day. We were mostly concerned with news about student stuff and writing about what was happening on campus. That was the main consideration. I do not think we were sensitive to those things during those days to those types of issues. During the war, it was a very different situation. The whole atmosphere was very different. A number of people accelerated and got out in three years, instead of four — and some of friends did, that I remember. It was the whole atmosphere, the whole social atmosphere had all changed by then. An article came out recently questioning people who were on scholarships and can’t afford something, I didn’t realize such a large portion of students lived off-campus. In my day, you all lived on campus or out in one of these special homes, houses that they had. Now I counted, there were far enough dorms for everybody since freshman year. We were always on campus. It was more about getting the news and sharing it with campus — there were speakers, there were government issues, but we were mostly interested in that type of thing. 

Concerns like sexual assault — were those prevalent on campus? 

No, not at all. The campus was very small, I think about 5,000 civilian students. The campus was small at the borders and that was it. Any kinds of issues like that, you never knew about. I never knew about it. When I came to school in Wisconsin, I had came from an all-girls public school. And I was only 16 years old, I had never had much contact with boys. Classes were full of them. It was no serious feat, but the Cardinal really brought me out. I really developed much more at the Cardinal. 

Could you describe the climate on campus?

I think students just want to get through school. It wasn’t so much going into bars at night or drinking. The Rathskeller was a big center of life and the Union, all these sororities that help run social events. That was a big thing. We still had proms. The concern with most of us was get out of school, get it over. It changed so much my freshman year to my sophomore year, it was a really different in atmosphere. We spent so much time working on the Cardinal. We had to find women to work on the Cardinal and on the business staff, it was a very different kind of an attitude I think, but it was a great experience, I loved it. It’s been what, seventy years and I remember it to this day. 

What moments made you feel most proud of your staff?

When Roosevelt died, we sponsored a forum on the radio. Of course when the war ended it was my graduation year. We had to understand the war and what it meant for us and for our future. We thought about what the university was going be like after the war. That was our big challenge at that point.

Can you describe gender dynamics on campus or in the newsroom?

There weren’t that many men. Our sports editor was a man, but the women really ruled the newsroom. I think we got along well together pretty much. We would train first years and they learned very quickly. We would publish four times a week. We needed to train ourselves and learn the technicalities ourselves, but we learned. And I look back on the papers now and I think we did a good job writing the stories. Of course they were somewhat narrow stories about the university and what we were doing on campus. A lot of young people wanted to write columns. I remember I once wrote a column saying how could we imagine what it was like to be fighting a war and how could we imagine what the problems were. And I got a letter back from a soldier. Those were the moments I really enjoyed.

What is your advice for young journalists?

You have to be hard hitting. You have to keep at it. You have to really persist. It’s pretty hard today, I think because journalism is changing as a field. You have to look for new opportunities and new ideas. I just, you know, keep at it. 

Do you currently have female journalism role models?

In my day, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. I’m ninety-four, and I’m still volunteering as a senior editor of Moment Magazine, centered on Jewish thought, but also I deal with politics, I deal with so much. But we have so many young people on staff, and I love watching them. They are enthusiastic and they think up these big stories and then they go and interview people. I’m so inspired by all of them and I’m so inspired by all of you. I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing. I wish you the very best now and in the future. 

 Eileen Martinson Lavine

Eileen Martinson Lavine                               

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