Q&A with first female Editor-in-Chief of The Dartmouth Anne Bagamery ’78
Bagamery discussed her tenure in the newsroom and how to launch a career in journalism.
This article is featured in the 2021 Homecoming special issue.
Anne Bagamery ’78 currently serves as the Paris-based correspondent for Law.com International. She began her journalistic career at The Dartmouth, where she served as the paper’s first female Editor-in-Chief starting in 1977. The Dartmouth sat down with Bagamery to discuss her time at the College, her important role in The Dartmouth’s own history and her experience as a journalist.
You are a member of one of the first-ever official classes of female graduates from Dartmouth who entered as freshmen. What was the College’s attitude towards co-education like at that time? Did the attitude towards female students shift at all while you were still attending?
AB: I would have to say that in my four years, the attitudes did not shift significantly. And I’m not sure I or too many of my fellow female classmates knew what those attitudes were until we got to campus. I mean, we knew the place had just gone co-ed a couple of years earlier, we knew we were going to be, in some sense, pioneers — for a lot of us, that was the attraction of going to Dartmouth. But I didn’t really understand how early it was for Dartmouth to feel as though it was a co-educational institution. And I’m not sure how many years it really took them, but it certainly wasn’t the four years that I was there. I graduated from an all-male institution that had some women in it.
Part of the reason for that was the way that co-education was instituted. The way they added women, instead of simply going to gender-blind admissions, reducing the number of men and adding women, a goal was to keep the number of men fixed at what it was, which was 3000, and add women. And that created an atmosphere on campus that’s really hard to describe to people who are there now, when in some years, women outnumber men in the freshmen class and might even outnumber men on campus. That’s just mindblowing to someone who went during my years, because the number of men was fixed at 3000 and a thousand women were added. Imagine what that looks like on campus. You want to have a dance for the freshmen class of 750 men and 250 women, automatically there’s an imbalance. Word quickly spreads among the students that it was three men to one woman in the applicant pool. So does that mean that the women had to be three times as smart, or does it mean that there were different standards for men and for women? All of these attitudes created a very, very unequal, tense atmosphere on campus between men and women.
Some of the men on campus were very hostile to women. When I entered in 1974, the last all-male class was the Class of 1975. They joined an all-male institution and then the rules were changed on them with the co-education vote, so some of them resented that deeply. And since they were the seniors, they transmitted a lot of those attitudes to my class in the fraternities, the dorms, the activities and the sports teams. So there were a lot of men in my class who had never experienced an all-male Dartmouth, who didn’t apply to all-male Dartmouth and weren’t admitted to an all-male Dartmouth — they had no reason to expect an all-male Dartmouth. And yet, they had this nostalgia for an all-male Dartmouth that they never knew and were never going to know. It was very weird, and that didn’t change much in my four years there. I’m not saying that there weren’t people in the administration or faculty who didn’t try, but there’s only so much you can do to turn around that battleship.
When did you first become interested in journalism, and when did you realize that you wanted to pursue it as a career?
AB: I was in ninth grade — I was 14 years old, and my English teacher at my high school outside Detroit handed me back a paper with a good grade. And she said, “This is really very good, you should consider writing fiction.” And I said, “I don’t like making things up.” And she said, “Oh, well then you should be a journalist.” And for some reason that was just a flash of light, like yes, that’s what I should do. So starting at age 14, ninth grade, I just grabbed every opportunity I could to work on my high school paper. I went to a girls school that was coordinated with the boys school, and I not only worked on the newspaper at the girls school — I also worked on the newspaper at the boys school. I mean, I wanted to do it all and I wanted to do it fast. I worked for our local paper as the high school correspondent. And then, when I chose a university, I chose Dartmouth in part because of its reputation, its location, its beauty, good language programs — but also because it had a very good student newspaper that was independent of the College, so you raised your own money and you wrote what you wanted. I thought that’d be great training.
How did your time working at The Dartmouth prepare you for your subsequent career in journalism?
AB: Working on a college paper, a volunteer organization where nobody really has professional chops and there’s no real grownup in the room — it doesn’t really teach you the basics of being a good journalist or being a good reporter. You need to learn that from people who have decades of experience and can transmit that to you, and you need to learn it in a professional setting where mistakes have consequences and so you don’t ever want to make them. A college paper isn’t really the real world. But what it did teach me is that I like teamwork. I liked working with a group of people to do something rather than doing something purely individual. And that’s helpful in journalism — whether you’re a reporter or an editor or you work on a TV show or something, the best of it is group work.
The other thing it taught me was the amount of time and energy it takes to do it well. I’m not saying we always did it well at The Daily D, but the time and energy commitment definitely had to be there because at the end of the day, there’s a deadline. If your story isn’t in, or if it’s in badly, there are consequences for that: there’s an empty hole on the page or there’s something awful with your name on it that’s out in the world for all to read. So you better get it done, you’d better be committed to it, better put in the time.
You occupy a very important place in the history of The Dartmouth. At the time, did you realize the impact that your work would have for future generations of student journalists at the College? How do you think that your tenure as editor in chief changed the paper?
AB: I think at the time — just the very fact of being the first woman — people made a big deal out of it. I was just really happy to get the job, I didn’t think of it so much as something I would do with the fact that I was the first woman doing it foremost in my mind. I just wanted to get the job done. And it was very, very consuming — it’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of responsibility, and you’re managing people who used to be your peers and are now sort of working for you. That's a challenge. And then there were some elements on campus — I recall resentful comments that I would get sometimes. But there were other elements of the campus that were excited about me being the editor, in part because they thought they might get more attention for certain kinds of issues. Female administrators would sometimes pressure me to include their point of view or give publicity to their projects, but I never saw myself as covering things in a different way because I was a woman.
There were quite a few other top editors of the paper who were women in those days, so it was a very mixed group. One of the things that was really nice about working on The D at that time was that — on a campus that was so conscious of gender issues — The D was one of the rare places on campus where if you wanted to work hard and you were talented, gender didn’t come into it. You had a role to play and people expected you to do that. It was very relaxed, friendly — I don’t know if the word “non-threatening” is correct, but we checked all of that insanity around the gender balance at the door. I think of the people I worked on the paper with as brothers and sisters, and I still do.
How has the experience of being a woman in journalism changed over the course of your career? Are there any significant changes that we still need to see in the newsroom?
AB: I think journalism and newsrooms in general — even though they are definitely co-educational environments, the overwhelming ethos is still pretty rough and tumble. You joke around a lot. People are smart and funny and they try to outdo each other. And the newsrooms I’ve worked in are really fun places to be, but if I had to give them a gender character, they’re more male than female. On the other hand, there’s a female side of it, which is that they’re very cooperative places. People really do work together to put out the final product. They’re not macho places in that sense, and I understand that they used to be very, very, very macho places. By the time I got to the International Herald Tribune in 1994, there were an awful lot of women there and the feeling was really more like The D than anything else. It didn’t matter whether you were a man or woman — what mattered was your talent.
I think one element that is unfortunate is that there are not enough women in newsroom leadership. And I think that that is a problem, not just for journalism, but for many other professions. What I do now primarily is cover the law. And there’s an awful lot of talk about how many women enter the profession and that very few make it to the top. Part of that is because of the demands of the work — the time demands, especially, are not conducive to having a full family life and many women, given the choice, will not give up the family life in order to have a stellar law career. And I think that that’s often the case in journalism — the demands of the work hours are not something that lends itself to work-life balance. So more could be done there. I know that it’s easier in France with a good social safety net, but more could be done everywhere to make it easier and better for men and women to have a work life and a family life. I mean, men long for that too.
What advice do you have for current Dartmouth students, especially female students, who are considering a career in journalism?
AB: First of all, you’re presented with such a wonderful smorgasbord of courses to take with the Dartmouth liberal arts experience. Eat your fill — dabble here, there and everywhere, study whatever strikes your fancy. So start there. The building blocks of journalism are not necessarily knowledge, but curiosity and the ability to learn for the rest of your life. So learn to do that. And one way to do that is to just get out there and do it, pick something that you love to study and do it well. You’ll probably do it well, and you’ll probably do it quickly, which means you have more time to work on the paper. If you want a journalism career, you have to get out there and do it, not just because Dartmouth doesn’t have a journalism program, but because the best way to learn is by doing it and learning from your peers or superiors. It might be by messing up and being corrected and doing it over and over and over and over and over again, until finally, it becomes instinctive to do things the right way. And the only way you learn that is to go out and do it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.