240: The Self-Empowered Woman: Clare Hollingworth

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Dear Followers,

Last Wednesday, the first female war correspondent died in Hong Kong at the age of 105. Today, journalism is—for the most part—a relatively gender-free career, but it wasn’t always that way. Hollingworth, the most fearless of British women war writers, was born on October 10 th , 1911 in central England. Historians believe that the seeds of her future career were planted when—as a young girl she was able to visit historical British and French battlefield sites with her father (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Her parents forced her to enroll in a domestic science college in Leicester, and for a short while she was engaged to “A suitable young man.” But it soon became obvious that family life was not something that appealed to Hollingworth. In her words, “…my domestic science training caused me to hate having anything to do with housework.”

Hollingworth was determined to become a journalist, but when she told her parents they were scandalized because, to them, journalism was “frightfully low” (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream). She arrived in Poland as part of her work for the League of Nations Union, and it was there—in 1939—that she got what is considered in journalism circles to be “probably the greatest scoop of modern times.” It happened when a gust of wind lifted a tarp off of a roadside barrier in Germany—near the Polish border—and allowed her to see armored cars, field guns, tanks and troops assembled in a nearby valley.

Hollingworth raced back to Poland, and called the British Embassy where officials erroneously believed that the war was weeks away. She persuaded them that the Germans were ready to strike, and also broke the story of WWII beginning to her editor at London’s Daily Telegraph. In an era when only a handful of women were allowed to work as war correspondents, it was a remarkable “get” (8: Turning No Into Yes). Throughout her life, she was never happier than when traveling the world with a toothbrush, typewriter, and—if needed—a revolver. Hollingworth often had to sleep in trucks or trenches, and during cold desert nights she thought nothing of sleeping buried up to her neck with sand to keep her warm. While covering the war in Vietnam, a sniper’s bullet barely missed her head, and well into her 90s (at her home in Hong Kong) she slept on the floor because she didn’t want to “get soft” (12: Hard Times).

When she was almost 80, she was in Tienanmen Square, perched on a lamppost trying to get a better view. And on the eve of her 100th birthday—in 2011—she told The Telegraph that “I enjoy being in a war” (7: Magnificent Obsession). Her articles also appeared in The Guardian, The International Herald Tribune, and The Wall Street Journal. Throughout her career, she filed stories from dangerous areas of conflict including eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Greek and Algerian civil wars, Vietnam, and Palestine (11: This Addiction). She has been arrested and criticized by countless people who were in positions of power, but it never intimidated her (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest).

Her first husband divorced her after 15 years of marriage because of “desertion.” In 2004, she told The Guardian that “when I’m on a story, I’m on a story—to hell with husbands, family, and anyone else.” After being awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1982, she left Britain and settled down—for good—in Hong Kong (14: Selective Disassociations).

The author of four non-fiction books, the first person to interview the Shah of Iran, Hollingworth won numerous accolades and awards. She—up to the end of her very long life—slept with her passport and a pair of shoes within easy reach just in case she might have one more chance to work as a war correspondent.

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About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.