Savvy newspaperwoman, Helen Waterhouse (Ohio Press Women) beat the Washington correspondents to be the first to interview the new First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1933. Waterhouse had contacted the White House, hitched a plane ride for a Monday interview in D.C. and had the interview sent off to the Akron Beacon Journal and in print before the White House had given permission. For her efforts, the First Lady sent Waterhouse an orchid and in her note told her that all of the Washington correspondents were angry that Helen beat them to it.
How Waterhouse wangled her plane ride would not have been a surprise. She was an aviation enthusiast recognized for being the first woman aviation writer in the U.S. who flew into nearly every airport throughout the country. Her travels not only earned her the nickname “Flying Reporter,” the experiences garnered friendships with many early American pilots including Amelia Earhart, Eddie Rickenbacker, Col. Charles Lindbergh and Bain “Shorty” Fulton who she often collaborated with and together their work received many aviation awards.
Those relationships led Waterhouse to cover some of the most significant stories of the 1930s including the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the kidnap-slayer of aviator Lindbergh’s two-year old son. Waterhouse was the only reporter to be given an interview. Waterhouse had flown into the Lakehurst, N.J. naval station the night before the Hindenburg disaster occurred on May 6, 1937, where she provided a colorful first description of events that happened at the field broadcasting on the Columbia Broadcasting System. In 1939, Waterhouse would arrange to stay a week inside the Ohio State Reformatory for Women at Marysville with a woman convicted of murder. The story she wrote based on her experience was an award winner.
In addition to capturing her interview of Eleanor Roosevelt, Waterhouse’s extensive travels provided a wide range of opportunities for interviews and front page stories covering important dignitaries and topics of her day including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the heroism of American soldiers in World War II. After the war had ended, she reported on conditions from France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia for which her reporting earned her an invitation with Pope Pius XII at the Vatican. During their meeting, the Pope asked her about “reported persecutions of Catholic priests in Zagreb.”
Her fast career would take Waterhouse from Akron to Asia, Russia, the Middle East, and Latin America and in 1951, a special tour to Korea, for which it is noted she carried the names and addresses of more than 150 Akron servicemen. As she boarded the flight, Waterhouse had stated, “I’m making no promise, but am praying I’ll get to see some of the boys.” She had a tender softer side for her hometown and neighbors always helping those who sought her out, anytime of day, anywhere she happened to be. She was best known for her stories about them. Ben Maidenburg, publisher and executive editor of the Beacon during Waterhouse’s career at the newspaper said of her at the news of her death, “ If every man, woman or child whom she helped came to her funeral, there would not be a stadium in the United States large enough to seat them.” Waterhouse died in 1965 of a cerebral hemorrhage while driving to an appointment to discuss the Dr. Sam Sheppard murder case with his attorney, F. Lee Bailey. Waterhouse had become a friend of Sheppard while he was on trial for murdering his wife.
News reports and the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) archives describe Waterhouse as having been awarded “more writing achievements than any other newspaper woman in Ohio.” In 1950, she was chosen “Ohio Newspaper Women of the Year.” In 1957 and 1958, she was “Ohio Press Woman of Achievement.” NFPW honored her with their highest award, “Woman of Achievement” during the closing ceremony of a three-day 1963 conference held at the Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana. Upon hearing her name announced from the podium, Waterhouse, who had been escorted to the speaker’s table by her dinner companion, famed flier Roscoe Turner, proclaimed, “This is the most thrilling thing to happen to me.”
It was noted Waterhouse gave generously of herself to Ohio Press Women and NFPW, which had honored her with more than 100 awards. At the news of her passing, then NFPW president Hortense Myers wrote Waterhouse’s death “leaves an inconsolable gap in the ranks of the National Federation of Press Women. She was a longtime NFPW regional director and loyally helped newswomen everywhere.”
Waterhouse was the kind of female journalist known for possessing unique talent; she knew what made news, how to get a big story, how to uncover sources, acquire interviews, and of getting at the heart of a situation. Of her, NFPW wrote and remembered, “She was a sob sister-and proud of it. The tears she evoked, and shed, were real. About real people with real problems.”