It didn't end with them: Cardinal women kept the paper running against all odds since WWII

Women’s leadership roles on the UW campus date back to the university’s founding, but during the Second World War, female students took on tasks far beyond their studies or campus jobs. Male enrollment dropped by two thirds during the war, and the women who had been working alongside them picked up their work. 

Including their work at the Cardinal. 

Many student newspapers either shut down or drastically reduced publishing during the war, which they viewed as a natural consequence of the male staffers leaving. The Cornell Daily Sun, the Harvard Crimson and many others shut their doors. At the Cardinal, the women simply stepped into place, doing everything from covering the war effort on campus to selling ads for the paper.

The Cardinal’s first female editor took over in 1942. Dorothy Browne grew up in Madison and started out as a copy desk girl, setting headlines and reading type. She typed up the handwritten announcements campus organizations brought in and took the typewritten pages to the linotype operators.  

Soon she found herself next in line for the top job at the paper. Browne's father ran a weekly newspaper on the east side of Madison, and had always encouraged her to enter the profession, regardless of any disadvantages her gender might confer. She took the post with confidence, thinking she would be nothing more than a "caretaker, keeping the business going."

The reaction to her appointment as editor surprised her.

"There was so much hoopla," she said. "The Milwaukee Journal ran my picture, with a headline, 'Woman takes over the Cardinal.' To me that was nothing. I mean, there was no reason a women couldn't do it just as well or better than a man."

The staff of fifty became a staff of fourteen, all female except for one freshman who’d been admitted early to the UW and was too young for the draft. Marilyn Johnson, the paper’s “military editor,” remembered working seven hours a day at the paper and another five at a part-time job to put herself through school, then walking home to do another half a dozen hours of coursework. 

“It didn’t seem simple at the time,” she said, “but it was.”

Their work paid off. At the end of 1944, near the end of the war, the Cardinal was rewarded with a prestigious award from the national Associate Collegiate Press, lauding the Cardinal’s campus news and war coverage, features and editorials, front page makeup and even sports coverage — short-handed staff and all.

There were six daily newspapers honored with the Associate Collegiate Press award in 1944.

The Daily Cardinal is the only one still publishing.

— Excerpted from It Doesn’t End With Us, The Story of the Daily Cardinal (Heritage Books, 2008)

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