The first woman to serve as editor in chief and publisher of a major US daily newspaper.
Born as Elinor Josephine Patterson, she later changed her name several times with the nickname Cissy becoming most associated with her.
She was born in Chicago and grew up in a 90-room mansion of her wealthy and influential family, which had strong ties to the US newspapers industry. Her grandfather was one of the founders of the Republican Party, editor, and owner of the Chicago Tribune.
Prior to joining the publishing business, she lived the life of a “socialite” – traveling with her diplomat uncle to Eastern Europe, having a short and infamous marriage to a Polish count, saving their daughter after he kidnapped her, and starring in gossip columns.
She entered journalism when she was 49 years old and studied the profession “on the job”. Thanks to her family ties, her first post was as the editor of the Washington Herald. She later bought the newspaper and merged it with the Washington Times. Shortly after her takeover, Washington Times-Herald was the most popular newspaper in the capital city.
She had a highly personal style of editing, expressing her political views unapologetically.
In addition to her scandalous personality, she was an innovative publisher who promoted female writers and advocated for social issues, such as hot lunch for schoolchildren.
In a famous incident, she dressed up as a street beggar for a story on inequality.
She was called “the most powerful woman in America”.
“The craziest woman in Washington, D.C.” – Gossip columnist Walter Winchell about her.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She was both a hunter and an environmental activist, especially attached to her horses and puddles.
- Her second marriage to Elmer Schlesinger left her as a widow.
- She objected to the US intervention in World War II and thought that the Holocaust was a lie. Later, when she saw documentation of concentration camps, she burst into tears.
- As Eleanor M. Gizycka she published two novels.
- She would arrive at work dressed in riding costumes and evening clothes.