War reporting was still in its formative stages as a profession well into WWI. During this time the explosion of print media – books, newspapers and magazines – combined with the rise of the independent “New Woman” – women who eschewed the domestic sphere and insisted on financial self-sufficiency and meaningful work. This new ethos created a pool of women with the confidence to break in to the quintessential male profession of war reporting.
The military, however, had its own goals. It used the accreditation process as its first line of control over war correspondents, and the War Department refused outright to accredit women. Nevertheless, several of these “New Woman” women, despite being untrained as journalists, were sent to Europe by editors to cover “the woman’s side of the war.” The Saturday Evening Post’s editor, whose main readership was two million middle-class women, believed that there was a woman’s point of view or “woman’s angle”. He also maintained that, “The big story of a war is never at the front. It is in the hospitals and in the homes.”
Women reporters such as Mary Roberts Rhinehart, Corra Harris, Inez Milholland, Mary Boyle O’Reilly, Alice Rohe, wanting an opportunity, were only too happy to oblige with stories about hospitals, wounded children and women, England’s Women’s Emergency Corps and Women’s Army Defense, famous restaurants turned into food kitchens, dressmaking shops making clothes for soldiers, etc.
While some women saw reporting the activities behind the frontlines as a moral duty, some were plagued with doubt that this was not the real story. Even women such as Harris who wrote stories about the toll of war on women and children, who saw war “as a male phenomenon,” and who observed that “Men’s sacrifice in war is at least recorded by history…while women’s story goes untold” recognized that “being banned from the front because of their sex proved to be the biggest obstacle to women journalists” for professional advancement. The cold reality was: professional standards in war reporting were measured by the industry-defined yardstick of being where the action was: with the soldiers or at the frontlines.