Jane Grant, the daughter of Robert T. Grant, a miner, was born in Joplin, Missouri, on 29th May, 1892. The family moved to Girard, Kansas, but in 1908 she arrived in New York City where she was expected to develop a career in music teaching. She later recalled: "Although teaching voice was considered a cut above school teaching, I wanted no part of it. At an early age, I had decided against both teaching and marriage. In my secret heart I meant to remain in the East once I got there. I would be a singer - perhaps go on stage. But my secret must be carefully guarded, I knew, for no such idea would be tolerated by my mother’s religious family."
In 1912 Grant obtained an office job with Collier's Weekly. She rented a room from Florence Williams, who was a secretary to Carr Van Anda, the managing editor of the New York Times. With the help of her landlady she got a job in June 1914 as a stenographer to write notes for the society news section. She did this job so well that she was eventually employed as the first woman journalist on the newspaper.
Grant's biographer, Beverly G. Merrick, has argued: "Being the one and only female had its rewards. She said the male staff tended to make their way to her office while waiting for assignments. The late
night crowd would also linger after finishing their stories.... All was not positive in the working environment. She was often the butt of practical jokes, such as her male counterparts phoning in fake stories to her from a nearby desk, just to see her reaction."
Grant became a close friend of Alexander Woollcott, the newspaper's theatre critic. In 1917 Woollcott went to France to report the First World War. He arranged for Grant to become a singer with the YMCA Entertainment Corps. Samuel Hopkins Adams points out: "Presently he was talking marriage. It was mostly in a tone of banter, but at times he became earnest and seemed to be trying to persuade himself as well as the girl that they might make a go of it, for a time, anyway - and how about taking a chance? Not being certain how far he meant it, and, in any case, not being interested, she laughed it off. Some of his friends thought that she treated the whole affair in a spirit of levity and that Aleck was cruelly hurt."
After being promoted to the rank of sergeant Woollcott was assigned to the recently established Stars and Stripes, a weekly newspaper by enlisted men for enlisted men. Harold Ross was appointed editor. Aware of his great journalistic talent, Ross sent him to report on the men in the front-line trenches. It was claimed he "made his way fearlessly in and around the front, gathering material for the kinds of things the fighting men wanted to read: stories about rotten cooks, nosey dogs, leaky boots, and other common nuisances of life at the front." Woollcott introduced Grant to Ross and she later admitted she did the "sewing and mending" for all of the soldiers working on the newspaper.
After the war Grant began taking lunch with a group of writers in the dining room at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Murdock Pemberton later recalled that he owner of the hotel, Frank Case, did what he could to encourage this gathering: "From then on we met there nearly every day, sitting in the south-west corner of the room. If more than four or six came, tables could be slid along to take care of the newcomers. we sat in that corner for a good many months... Frank Case, always astute, moved us over to a round table in the middle of the room and supplied free hors d'oeuvre.... The table grew mainly because we then had common interests. We were all of the theatre or allied trades." Case admitted that he moved them to a central spot at a round table in the Rose Room, so others could watch them enjoy each other's company.
This group eventually became known as the Algonquin Round Table. Other regulars at these lunches included Robert E. Sherwood, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Harold Ross, Donald Ogden Stewart, Edna Ferber, Ruth Hale, Franklin Pierce Adams, Neysa McMein, Alice Duer Miller, Charles MacArthur, Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman, Beatrice Kaufman , Frank Crowninshield, Ben Hecht, John Peter Toohey, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt and Ina Claire.
Jane Grant became romantically involved with Harold Ross. Although she later commented: "No one, not even his prejudiced mother, could deny that his body was badly put together" she married him in 1920 in the Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan. However, she refused to be known as Mrs. Grant. She later recalled: "Never for a moment had I considered the possibility of losing my name." Grant said she and Ross agreed to give each other complete independence. She also insisted on retaining her job at the New York Times. At the time Ross was working for the American Legion Weekly .
For a while Ross and Grant shared a house with the journalists, Heywood Broun and Ruth Hale. Whereas Broun was sympathetic to feminism, Ross was not. According to Howard Teichmann, Ross, particularly after drinking whiskey, told anyone who would listen, "I never had one damn meal at home at which the discussion wasn't of women's rights and the ruthlessness of men in trampling women. Grant and Ruth Hale had maiden-name phobias, and that was all they talked about, or damn near all."
In 1921 Grant and Hale established the Lucy Stone League. The first list of members included Heywood Broun, Neysa McMein, Beatrice Kaufman, Franklin Pierce Adams, Belle LaFollette, Freda Kirchwey, Anita Loos, Zona Gale, Janet Flanner and Fannie Hurst. Its principles were forcefully expressed in a booklet written by Hale: "We are repeatedly asked why we resent taking one man's name instead of another's why, in other words, we object to taking a husband's name, when all we have anyhow is a father's name. Perhaps the shortest answer to that is that in the time since it was our father's name it has become our own that between birth and marriage a human being has grown up, with all the emotions, thoughts, activities, etc., of any new person. Sometimes it is helpful to reserve an image we have too long looked on, as a painter might turn his canvas to a mirror to catch, by a new alignment, faults he might have overlooked from growing used to them. What would any man answer if told that he should change his name when he married, because his original name was, after all, only his father's? Even aside from the fact that I am more truly described by the name of my father, whose flesh and blood I am, than I would be by that of my husband, who is merely a co-worker with me however loving in a certain social enterprise, am I myself not to be counted for anything."
Grant’s first bylined article was an interview with Charlie Chaplin, which appeared in The New York Times Magazine on 18th September, 1921. Chaplin was interested in talking about his political views and told her: "Many people have called me a socialist. My radical views have been much misunderstood. I am not a socialist, nor am I looking for a new order to things. But I do believe that conditions can be much improved and that the lives of the working classes can be made far more pleasant than they now are."
Beverly G. Merrick, the author of Jane Grant (1999) has pointed out: "Grant was doing well at The Times. Ralph Graves had promoted her to the city staff itself, and she was assured by him she was the first woman reporter to work on the general staff. In the new job, she found a much broader sphere, but her special field was women in the news. She said sometimes that meant reporting on women behind the news, including the wives of presidents. The women reporters had a fascination with coverage of First Ladies. One time Grant and Ishbel Ross, the first woman reporter of the city staff at the New York Tribune, shadowed Mrs. Coolidge at an exhibit in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum."
Grant continued working for the New York Times but she along with Harold Ross she developed ideas about publishing their own magazine. In her book, Ross, The New Yorker and Me (1968) she argued: "Ross had great humility then. He assured me he'd try anything I decided upon, that he wanted to be anything I wanted him to be. I’m afraid I did a good deal of prodding. But I felt he really could accomplish what he set out to do - with his talent and his enormous drive - even though many people doubted his ability. He would have given up, I am sure, if I hadn’t encouraged him; fortunately I was able to influence him."
According to Beverly G. Merrick: "The couple agreed that they would attempt to live on her earnings, and save his salary of $10,000 for a magazine of his own invention. Grant said she persuaded Ross to put his ideas on paper. He reportedly had three in mind: a high-class tabloid, a shipping magazine and a weekly about life in Manhattan. Ross and Grant were opposites in the truest sense of the word. For instance, Ross was tone deaf and could not abide her dancing, singing or whistling around him. But as is often true in the case of opposites, it took that combination to make the magazine reach fruition. Grant had a good business sense. Ross had a unique sense of humor, the kind of humor that would come to characterize The New Yorker. Grant encouraged him to go with the third idea. She intuitively knew that it would best suit him, as well be a success in the marketplace. It apparently took them five years to raise the capital for the venture."
Ross approached Raoul Fleischmann in 1925 about funding a new magazine, The New Yorker. Fleischmann later recalled: "I wasn't at all impressed with Ross' knowledge of publishing, I had no reason to doubt his skill as an editor, nor any reason to believe in it." Despite these comments he agreed to invest $45,000 in the magazine. The first edition appeared on 21st February, 1925. Marion Meade has pointed out: "Five months after its birth, the magazine's original capital was depleted and it seemed unlikely to survive the summer season, customarily a slow period even for prosperous publications. Raoul Fleischmann had been advised that the wisest course would be to suspend publication until the fall, but Harold Ross and Jane Grant were convinced that this would mean ruin for the magazine. They had begun to seek capital elsewhere. In the midst of Adams's nuptial festivities, Fleischmann arrived with a miraculous last minute reprieve and announced that he had persuaded his mother to invest $100,000, enough to assure the summer issues at least."
Initially the magazine concentrated on the social and cultural life of New York City but eventually widened its scope and developed a reputation for publishing some of the best short-stories, cartoons, biographical profiles, foreign reports and arts reviews. Its contributors included Dorothy Parker (poems and short-stories), Robert Benchley (theatre critic), Alexander Woollcott, James Thurber (cartoons and short-stories), Elwyn Brooks White, John McNulty, Joseph Mitchell, Katharine S. White (also fiction editor), Sidney J. Perelman, Janet Flanner (correspondent based in Paris), Wolcott Gibbs (theatre critic), St. Clair McKelway and John O'Hara (over 200 of his short-stories appeared in the magazine).
Jane Grant continued to write for the New York Times. On 10th January, 1926, she wrote: "Our records are filled with the accounts of women who ventured into this work or that, leaving the familiar path where women have become more or less formidable competitors of men.... Such a course sometimes carried with it hardships, tending to make the move seem foolhardy, but they have stuck courageously, an amazing number of them, until they could raise their flag and add another name to the list of torchbearers. These women have become bankers, lawyers, politicians, mechanics, soldiers - to name a few of the occupations that fifty years ago were solely within the reach of men. In fact, so searching has been women’s interest in the professions hitherto unknown to them, that there remains now only a few unchallenged for the pioneer spirit.
Jane Grant divorced from Ross in 1929. Over the next few years she spent most of her time as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. This included several visits to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This included an interview with Ernst Hanfstaengl, who agreed with her that Adolf Hitler had instituted sterilization acts, but said that Germany cannot afford to have "even a small percentage of deficient children." Her unfinished manuscript on 1930s Europe was called I Saw What I Could .
Grant married William B. Harris, an editor with Fortune Magazine in 1939. Grant and Harris moved from Manhattan to Litchfield, Connecticut where they established White Flower Farm. Harris called Grant "one of the first real women’s liberationists." In 1943 she wrote an article, Confession of a Feminist, for the American Mercury. The article began: "It must be true I’m a feminist, for all my friends say so." Once again she refused to take her husband's name: "Women can change their names as often as they change husbands, but let one of them want to keep her original name while making the husband-change-overs and she causes quite a stir. It comes as a complete surprise that she might have a deep attachment for the only thing she has worn continuously from birth.
Grant published a memoir about Harold Ross called Ross, The New Yorker and Me (1968). Some mutual friends objected to the harsh treatment of Ross. A critic for Harper’s Magazine argued: "In spite of the fact that Miss Grant made her living for many years by writing, there is very little literary quality - nor even perception".
Jane Grant died of cancer on 18th March, 1972. Upon his death in 1981, William B. Harris left a $3.5 million bequest in her name to the Center for Study of Women in Society at the University of Oregon.
Our records are filled with the accounts of women who ventured into this work or that, leaving the familiar path where women have become more or less formidable competitors of men.... Such a course sometimes carried with it hardships, tending to make the move seem foolhardy, but they have stuck courageously, an amazing number of them, until they could raise their flag and add another name to the list of torchbearers. These women have become bankers, lawyers, politicians, mechanics, soldiers - to name a few of the occupations that fifty years ago were solely within the reach of men. In fact, so searching has been women’s interest in the professions hitherto unknown to them, that there remains now only a few unchallenged for the pioneer spirit.
Jane Grant married Ross, and was back at her old job of society reporter on the New York Times. This quartet, with John Peter Toohey, augmented by Hawley Truax, another Stars and Striper, became daily frequenters of a corner table. By 1920 the expansion of the group had caused Case to reserve for its members the big round table at the rear of the larger dining room, which, because its habitues enjoyed one another's company so much, soon provoked envy and often malicious slander among outsiders who could not tolerate its gaiety. By 1921 the fellowship of the Round Table had burst into full flower. Its members, besides those already named, included: Brock Pemberton, about to produce the brilliant comedy Enter Madame; Murdock, his brother; beautiful Peggy Wood, whose voice was making her internationally known in musical plays; John V. A. Weaver, the poet, whom Peggy later married; Margaret Leech, fresh from Vassar, soon to be collaborating with Heywood Broun on their biography of Anthony Comstock; Kate Sproehnle, an attractive freelance journalist; Frank Sullivan, the humorist, and Ruth Hale.
Ruth Hale was a tireless champion of lost causes. The good writing with which she trumpeted Arthur Hopkins' plays revealed a lively, highly intelligent mind. In her private world she was an ardent feminist. She founded the Lucy Stone League dedicated to the protection of woman's individuality. Among its insistences were that married women be permitted to retain their maiden names. Jane Grant, Janet Flanner, Fola LaFollette, and Freda Kirchwey were among those who became resolute members. "A rolling stone gathers no boss," said George Kaufman. Heywood Broun heartily agreed with Ruth's principles. When anyone addressed her as "Mrs. Broun" after they were married he or she was emphatically told that that was not her name. For years Ruth conducted a one-woman war with the State Department, which, because of her marital status, refused to issue a passport to Ruth Hale. Eventually she was told that she could have a passport issued to "Mrs. Heywood Broun (known as Ruth Hale.)" She continued to forgo leaving the United States. When her young son, Heywood Hale Broun, was recuperating from an illness in a school in California, Ruth decided to assure herself of his recovery by visiting him. Expecting Ruth to telephone him in New York about the boy's progress, Heywood was concerned when after five days he had not heard from her. He telephoned the school but was told that she had not arrived. The next day he received a telegram from her from Kansas City. Ruth's devotion to justice for her sex had caused her to interrupt her dash westward on the "Chief". She had involved herself in a local murder trial and telegraphed: "Mrs. Clavering Must Not Hang!"
After World War I, she (Jane Grant) returned as a reporter to The Times. She was assigned by Ralph Graves, then city editor, to write hotel news, with a small raise. During Grant’s first day back, Woollcott stuck his head in the door and said he would take her to a new luncheon place if she would pay for her
own meal. The new place was the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel, where Woollcott talked about his experiences at Stars and Stripes and discussed issues of the day with the likes of Murdock Pemberton, John Toohey and Dorothy Parker. The group met in the long room there, called the Pergola, because Woollcott wanted to feast upon the adjacent pastry presided over by Sarah the cook. He often invited press agents to the gathering....
Grant was doing well at The Times. Graves had promoted her to the city staff itself, and she was assured by him she was the first woman reporter to work on the general staff. In the new job, she found a much broader sphere, but her special field was women in the news. She said sometimes that meant reporting on women behind the news, including the wives of presidents. The women reporters had a fascination with coverage of First Ladies. One time Grant and Ishbel Ross, the first woman reporter of the city staff at the New York Tribune, shadowed Mrs. Coolidge at an exhibit in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum. However, the special teas held by Eleanor Roosevelt, which elevated the status of many newspaper women, came after Grant’s days as a reporter, even though Grant and Roosevelt often met in social settings of the New York Newswomen’s Club.
© John Simkin, April, 2013