Recently, Tina suggested that I get to know Anne O’Hare McCormick.
When Tina drives up the hill at St. Mary of the Springs on her way to work at the Martin de Porres Center, she passes an Ohio Historical Marker that commemorates two significant aspects of the state’s past.
On one side, the marker describes St. Mary of the Springs Academy. In 1830, the Dominican Sisters founded a school for girls in Somerset, Ohio. When its buildings were destroyed by fire in 1866, Columbus businessman Theodore Leonard donated land and bricks to rebuild the school in Columbus. In 1868, St. Mary’s Academy was built on property which included natural springs, so “of the Springs” was added to its name. The school educated young women until it closed in 1966.
The other side of the marker proclaims the accomplishments of one of the Academy’s distinguished graduates: Anne O’Hare McCormick (1880-1954). In 1937, McCormick became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for foreign correspondence.
Tina included McCormick in a presentation she gave on the Pulitzer Prize to her fellow Sorosis members last month. Since this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winners were announced on April 16, it was timely to learn more about this woman who grew up in Columbus and was honored for her outstanding achievements in journalism.
An extracurricular research project like this always begins by checking the online databases and catalogs of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, OhioLINK and the Ohio Historical Society. J. Douglas Tarpley’s essay about McCormick in American Newspaper Journalists, 1925-1950 (Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 29) was an excellent introduction that I accessed through Gale’s Literature Resource Center. The World at Home: Selections from the Writings of Anne O’Hare McCormick, edited by Marion Turner Sheehan (Alfred A. Knopf, 1956) and Anne O’Hare McCormick: One Woman’s Path to the Pulitzer Prize, Wendy J. Hoskinson’s 2005 thesis for her master’s degree from Ohio University, helped me learn more about this accomplished journalist. I’ll look at McCormick’s St. Agnes Church, Cleveland, Ohio: An Interpretation (Martin Printing Company, 1920) the next time I volunteer at the Ohio History Center’s Archives/Library.
Anne Elizabeth O’Hare was born in Yorkshire, England to devout Catholic parents. Shortly after her birth, she and her family moved to Ohio. Growing up in Columbus, Anne lived at 216 22nd Street and attended St. Dominic Parochial School until 1893, when she became a student at St. Mary of the Springs Academy. When Anne’s father, a life insurance regional manager, deserted his family, her mother, Teresa, ran a dry goods store and lived with her three daughters at 1009 West Broad Street. Mrs. O’Hare also self-published a poetry book called Songs at Twilight (Columbus Printing Co., 1897), which was dedicated to Rt. Rev. Bishop John Watterson and includes a poem to him. You can find a copy of the book in the Genealogy, History and Travel Division of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library. In 1898, Anne graduated as the valedictorian from St. Mary of the Springs Academy. Later that year, she and her family moved to Cleveland and she began working for the Catholic Universe Bulletin. She continued working there until she married Francis J. McCormick of Dayton in 1910.
After her marriage, McCormick traveled extensively with her husband, an engineer and an importer of industrial equipment. She also wrote poetry, freelance magazine articles and a history of St. Agnes Parish, her parish church in Cleveland. In 1920, she not only sold the New York Times a sonnet for $3.50, but also pitched the idea of sending the Times some articles from abroad. After successfully giving it a try, McCormick became a foreign correspondent for the Times in 1922. Reporting from Europe, she interviewed Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. The dispatches and feature articles she filed from Europe in 1936 for the Times are what earned her the Pulitzer Prize.
When McCormick was the first woman to join the Times’s editorial board in 1936, she wrote unsigned editorials twice a week. The next year, she was assigned a regular column. “Abroad” appeared three times a week.
McCormick gained a reputation not only for her knowledge and insight about current events, but also for her compassionate nature and the curiosity that made her a life-long learner. Whether she was interviewing influential leaders or average citizens, she treated everyone the same. She was able to establish a rapport with people, to make them feel comfortable talking to her, and to be a good listener. She did not take notes during interviews, so she would not make her subjects feel uneasy. As a result, her writing was more like a conversation. These qualities are said to have prompted Franklin Delano Roosevelt to agree to several interviews with her. You can read many of this curious interviewer’s reports on her conversations with F.D.R. in The World at Home.
In his introduction to The World At Home, fellow Times journalist James B. Reston described McCormick as a reddish-haired, stylish and feminine woman who was quiet and kind, with the sparkling spirit of a lovely girl. McCormick’s modesty belied her influence as a recognized expert on current affairs who won several awards and honors in addition to her Pulitzer Prize. She loved being a reporter who covered the top stories of her day. She also derived great inspiration from her Catholic faith.
McCormick had a flair for journalistic storytelling. Read “Vast Tides That Stir the Capital,” from May 7, 1933, in The World At Home to get a sense of what an exciting place Washington must have been for new politicians working with great momentum to reconstruct the country.
During her career, McCormick kept in touch with two of her teachers at St. Mary of the Springs. She also sent a signed copy of her 1928 book, The Hammer and the Scythe: Communist Russia Enters the Second Decade, to the school, inscribing it “To St. Mary’s of the Springs from one of her grateful children.”
A November 19, 1928 note from McCormick to Mother Stephanie Mohun, O.P. preceded the book. Today, it’s tucked inside the book, which is housed in Ohio Dominican University Library’s Special Collections. McCormick begins her note, written from the Miami Hotel in Dayton, by saying:
“I am sending by the post a copy of the book on Russia I was working on last spring. It has just come from the publishers, and one of the first copies must go to St. Mary’s Library as one of the grandchildren of my old Alma Mater. It was in that library that I first learned that there was such a place as Russia and such a thing as a Revolution – so here’s one of the side effects of planting some seeds of knowledge!”
Ohio Dominican University Library’s Special Collections also contains the Anne O’Hare McCormick Collection. Over 60 books that once belonged to McCormick cover topics such as Christianity, democracy, foreign affairs, the environment, public opinion, the River Jordan, and women’s suffrage. This collection of McCormick’s books also includes Philip Dorf’s 1952 biography of Ezra Cornell, the founder of Western Union and Cornell University; A Catholic Looks at the World, by Francis E. McMahon, former foreign correspondent for the New York Post; An Experiment in Friendship, David Hinshaw’s book on Quaker relief work; The Foe We Face, by World War II war correspondent Pierre J. Huss; Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novel, The Great Tradition; Look Forward, Warrior, Ruth Bryan Owen’s proposal for ensuring world peace; and My India, My America, by Krishnalal Shridharani, with an introduction by fellow Ohio author Louis Bromfield.
After work today, I visited Ohio Dominican’s library to see these special items for myself. Outside, I admired Spirit of the Springs, an elegant sculpture that Alfred Tibor created in 2010 to honor the history of St. Mary of the Springs, which he dedicated to the school’s “alumnae and Dominican Sisters in celebration of the spirit they have carried into the world.” Inside, librarian Mary Ellen George took me to Special Collections, where I admired McCormick’s books and note.
McCormick’s papers, including correspondence, lectures, editorials and columns, are housed at the New York Public Library. If you’d like to see the Ohio Historical Marker commemorating McCormick and St. Mary of the Springs Academy, visit 2320 Airport Drive in Columbus.