A Look Back At Pioneering Sports Writer Mary Garber
This month WFDD will be taking a look at the stories of pioneering leaders in our series, "Her Voice: Revolutionary North Carolina Women."
Today, we’re going back to the 1940s. It was a time when men were leaving for war, and women were taking on a more prominent in role in almost all aspects of society.
This is when you’d likely find Mary Garber, a petite woman, sitting in the bleachers at a high school football game, probably wearing her signature knit cap and banging away at her typewriter. Garber was the full-time sports reporter for the Twin City Sentinel, the afternoon newspaper published in Winston-Salem (it later became the Winston-Salem Journal). Garber was the only female sports writer in the region and one of just a few in the country.
WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke with author and filmmaker Anna Fields to learn more.
On Mary Garber's love of sports:
She claimed that she didn't become a sports editor and sportswriter because of her special ability in playing sports, but she always had a love for them whether she was playing them or watching them and she brought that love into her work. That's why she made a name for herself, not only being the first female sports writer, the first female sports editor, but she covered stories that nobody else wanted to cover, and that's how she really engendered the trust of the Winston-Salem community at a time when pretty intense segregation was happening in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
What Garber was doing that others were not:
She was covering things at the time that were relegated entirely to what was called the "colored page." She attended first high school and then college sports games at all African-American high schools and then Winston-Salem State University. And she went there when no other writers went there, men or women; they just weren't there at the time. Reporters didn't cover those things at all or if they were reported on, they were covered by African-American reporters. She was the only female and the only white reporter to attend those African-American football and basketball games at the time.
On being a female sports writer, and what her access to teams looked like:
She wasn't allowed in the locker room for 30 years. The first time she got into a locker room was in 1974. [At the games,] they made her sit with the wives because women and children were not allowed in the press box. Eventually her editors convinced the schools to let her into the press box but she didn't let them get away with that. She didn't let them forget that they discriminated against her. She wore a big tag on her lapel that said, 'women and children are not allowed in the press box' while sitting in the press box. But before then, yes, she had to sit with the player's wives and try and report from there. She couldn't get locker room access, but because she was so honest and because she was so persistent and she did it for so long and so consistently, eventually, especially at the African-American games, players started insisting that she get access, and because the players were insisting that she got access the coaches started insisting that she get access. And so that really changed things.
But I think that she was remarkable in that she was able to get interesting stories and portray these players in realistic and endearing lights even from so far away from them.
On Mary Garber's distinct writing style when it came to her reporting:
She liked to make it very personal and very intimate. She tried to portray the human sides of all the players rather than just reporting sort of the statistics and the plot points, for lack of a better term, of a game. She focused on the players and their backgrounds and their feelings. She humanized them and didn't necessarily empathize with them because she wasn't exactly in their shoes, but she certainly sympathized with them, especially in their times of losing a game.
On how Garber saw herself:
She never really described herself in her interviews as being 'the girl' or 'the woman.' She was always describing herself as being someone who was just there to get the story.
Listen every Thursday in March during Morning Edition and All Things Considered to hear Bethany and Anna with the series, "Her Voice: Revolutionary North Carolina Women."