She Was Determined to Write Books

Charlotte, Margaret, Emma and Agness, each a name on a list of women honored long ago. Like any current member of the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW), I’d travelled to a number of national conferences and always attended the Friday night award banquet. It wasn’t until I heard my own name being called to the podium that I began to wonder about those women who had once received the Federation’s highest honor the “Press Woman of Achievement Citation and Award” (renamed Communicator of Achievement in 1989). I didn’t know anything about them. But I wanted to.  I began to research the names in timeworn publications I’d collected as part of the archives for the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA). What I discovered, buried in NFPW and IWPA history, was a rich legacy of women I wish I had known. I couldn’t stop thinking about their stories. I wanted to understand their struggles, their successes, how they handled being women in an industry that has often failed to recognize and reward them. Each woman’s story provided insight on American women shaping the history of our country.

CHARLOTTE

She was determined to write books. Along the path to becoming a best-selling author of both fiction and non-fiction she had a big-city newspaper career that envied colleagues as much as it inspired other women. She was a journalist and freelance writer.  Charlotte Paul was also a “woman ahead of one’s time.”

With parents from New England, Charlotte attended Wellesley, where as a student she would win first prize in the 1937 Atlantic Monthly collegiate short story contest. She studied music in Germany, taught ballroom dancing, wrote ad copy and attended business school. After hearing about an open position for assistant foreign news editor at the Chicago Daily Times, she applied. “There were 110 people working in the city room, and three of them were women,” Charlotte shared in an interview with Mary Cooke, of the Honolulu Advertiser. “The boss said he couldn’t stand having a harem, but men were going into the military ranks and, after holding out for three weeks, he gave in and hired me.”

After taking the job, she’d worked her way up the news staff becoming a feature writer for the Times and for a year, its foreign news editor. It was also where she’d meet her first husband, Ed Groshell. At the paper, Groshell was a day news editor and night managing editor when the paper merged with the Chicago Sun. During an interview with Chicago’s Fanny Butcher (IWPA), Charlotte explained, it took them “two hours of concentrated conversation to decide they would never work for anyone else again – that they would work together, and in something that their two boys could have a part.”

By 1949, the couple would move to the then remote Snoqualmie Valley in Washington, where together they purchased and ran the Snoqualmie Valley Record, a weekly local newspaper.

The backdrop of the Pacific Northwest became the setting for many of her novels. Her first, Hear My Heart Speak appeared in 1950. But it was Charlotte’s non-fiction book Minding Our Own Business about her own trials and family tribulations of being a wife, working mother to two young sons, of child-raising which included a bout with polio, and writing, running and co-publishing a weekly newspaper for five years along with her husband that hit the best-seller lists in 1955. It was featured in the Reader’s Digest condensed books section and had been serialized for radio. The book’s reviews and articles on Charlotte and her boys appeared in publications from Maryland to Hawaii and all states in-between.  Gold Mountain and The Cup of Strength would follow and also become bestsellers in the 50’s. In 1956, NBC presented a telecast on newspapering starring Maureen Stapleton and Edward Andrews based on a script Charlotte had written.

Charlotte, during a 1941 press trip to Costa Rica

Throughout her career, Charlotte had been a member of the Washington Press Women, an affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW). In April, 1957, she attended the NFPW annual conference held that year in San Antonio, Texas. During the Friday night banquet, Charlotte had been honored as “Press Woman of Achievement,” making her the first recipient of the award recognizing her “noteworthy achievement in journalism, of character and of citizenship.” After accepting the prize she remarked, “Receiving the Woman of Achievement award made me as proud as any recognition I’ve ever received. It was heartwarming and inspiring.” Charlotte remained active within the Federation after winning the accolade and responded to the many request to “make a great many speeches to local writing groups.” Charlotte said, “I always found it tremendously helpful and stimulating to associate with women whose hopes and ambitions were close to mine. This was true with every NFPW group I ever encountered.”

During this same time, Charlotte’s newspaper writing on delinquency and corrections caught the attention of then Washington Gov. Albert D. Rosellini who offered her a decidedly different career path. The governor’s tenure would go on to be defined by his efforts to reform state prisons and modernize mental health institutions. Trading in her role as publisher, Charlotte accepted Rosellini’s appointed position to the State Council for Children and Youth leading her to serve for two years on the Washington State Board of Prison Terms and Paroles.

But by 1964, major life changes would again alter Charlotte’s life. In May, a fire at her home in North Bend destroyed her manuscripts; in June, she divorced her husband of 22 years, by December she had moved to the nation’s capital where President Lyndon B. Johnson had appointed her (the only woman) to the United States Board of Parole in Washington D.C.

It would be an absence of 15 busy years, which included a new marriage in 1966 to Robert Reese, of the U.S. Treasury Department, and the couple’s move to Lopez Island before Charlotte returned to book writing.   Phoenix Island published in 1976 sold more than 1 million copies.

Charlotte also penned A Child Is Missing, 1978; The Image, 1980; Wild Valley, 1981, and her final novel Seattle published in 1987, two years before her death.

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