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The histories behind the Federation

Woman's Press Club of Indiana

By Marion Garmel

Woman’s Press Club of Indiana was founded Feb. 18, 1913 at a meeting of 13 women journalists and activists from throughout the state at Ayres Tea Room in Indianapolis. A second meeting in March added 15 women to the founding members. 

The women were in Indianapolis to support an education bill then before the State Legislature. They decided at the founding meeting that there was more power in numbers than individually. Over the years, they have been responsible, through their editorial powers, for the establishment of an Indiana State Park and of libraries and schools throughout the state. A member of WPCI was the first woman admitted to the garage area of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 500 Mile Race. Another was the Dean of Indiana Statehouse reporters while working for UPI. 

WPCI was a founding member of the National Federation of Press Women in Chicago in 1937. Our then President Vera Hall (1936-38) was NFPW’s first vice president (1937-39) and long-time historian Louise Eleanor Ross Kleinhenz was the first secretary (1937-39). 

purple jagged-edged circle with text 80 years in black and in white, around the edge above 80, dates of the orgnization.

Over the years WPCI has contributed three NFPW Presidents: Hortense Myers (1963-65); Noami Whitesell (1973-75) and Donna Penticuff (2003-2005); three vice presidents, three secretaries, three treasurers and one youth projects director (Ruth Marie Griggs, 1980-87). Our current High School Journalism Contest Director, Elizabeth Granger, currently is director of the NFPW High School Contest. 

Two WPCI Communicator of Achievement nominees have gone on to be named NFPW Communicators of Achievement: Hortense Myers in 1966 and Dorothy Steinmeier in 1990. 

WPCI has hosted three NFPW conventions: 1963, 1979 and the ill-fated 2001 convention that bravely soldiered on despite travel restrictions and diminished participation in the wake of 9/11. Vivien Sadowski was President and Jackie Davis, both now deceased, was convention chairwoman. 

From 1973 through 1984, Woman’s Press Club of Indiana co-hosted the Legislative Awareness Seminar with Women in Communications Inc. and Women in Radio and Television. WPCI’s Hortense Myers lit the spark behind the seminar as a means of keeping women abreast of what Indiana was doing in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. 

In the late 1970s WPCI established an On the Job with a Media Pro program in which members shared their jobs with a high school student for a couple of hours a day. Though it lapsed in the ‘80s it was reinstituted in 1996. 

Black and white historical image of some of the first leaders of the organization.
As a sidebar to this historical image there is an interesting legend. When Louise Eleanor Ross Kleinhenz, a WPCI member and NFPW's first secretary, was in a Chicago newsroom writing the story of the NFPW founding for immediate release, the Hindenburg blew up May 6, 1937, and there was no NFPW founding story the next day. That is a memory from one of our longtime historians, Joan Bey. She also remembers that when she joined in 1952, WPCI dues were $2.50 and NFPW dues were $7.50.

In 1988, under the Presidency of Julie Slaymaker, WPCI began a Prison Writing Contest open to prisoners in all of Indiana’s prisons. Small stipends are awarded to first place winners in three categories: Short stories, essays and poetry. The contest continues to this day with a high-water mark of 480 entries in 2017. 

In 1977, Hortense Myers became the first member of WPCI to be inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. Since then nine more members have been inducted including Mary Benedict, journalism educator, 1986; Hester Alverson Moffett, founding member and first president of WPCI, 1989; Esther Griffin White, longtime journalist and advocate for women’s rights in the first half of the 20th century, 1992, and Juliette V. Strauss, founding member of WPCI, longtime author of “A Country Contributor” column in Ladies Home Journal and the editorial writer credited with rescuing a part of her home county from the timber interests, allowing it to become Turkey Run State Park. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. 

Also Bettie Cadou, pioneer woman sportswriter, 2006; Kate Milner Rabb, longtime Indianapolis Star columnist and past WPCI president, 2012; Ruth Chin, Indiana’s first female Chinese-American photojournalist, still living and working in Muncie, IN, at age 92, 2014; Gene Slaymaker, veteran broadcaster and WPCI treasurer for many years, 2015; Diana Hadley, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association and long time director of WPCI’s high school journalism contest, 2016, and Ann Allen, WPCI President in 2004-5 and 2011 COA nominee, 2017. 

For its 100th anniversary in 2013, WPCI gathered many present and former members from around the state for a gala luncheon at Hollyhock Hill Restaurant in Indianapolis, site of many of our most recent May Awards Luncheons. These are the occasions for awarding WPCI’s two top awards: COA Nominee, who goes on to compete in the NFPW contest, and the Kate Milner Rabb Award, given for journalistic excellence and exceptional service to the organization. 

color photo of seven women standing in a group with two in the middle holding a plaque.
In 2013 WPCI received a special citation from the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in recognition of its "many achievements" and 100 years of operation. Accepting the award were (left to right) Marion Garmel, Jackie Davis, Julie Slaymaker, Gena Asher, Elizabeth Granger, Ann Allen and Donna Penticuff. Ann Allen, also a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, died in 2016. Donna Penticuff (right) is a past president of NFPW.

Also in 2013, the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame issued a special citation recognizing Woman’s Press of Indiana for its many achievements and for reaching 100 years as a working organization. 

WPCI still meets four times a year and the most successful meeting is the Education Fund Auction, in November, which raises some $2,000 for scholarships each year. WPCI gives three scholarships: The Hortense Myers Scholarship of $500 to a high school junior interested in continuing his or her studies in communications; the Louise Eleanor Ross Kleinhenz Scholarship of $500 to a mid-career woman interested in entering or updating skills in the field of journalism; and the Gene and Julie Slaymaker Service to Journalism Award of $500 honoring a male or female professional journalist or student who has provided significant service to journalism in the past year. 

Woman’s Press Club of Indiana celebrated its 104th birthday Feb. 18, 2017, and has elected new officers for the 2017-19 term. Our High School Journalism Contest remains one of the most vital in the state and last year WPCI had two national winners in the NFPW competition. The professional communications contest has produced a number of first place winners in the NFPW contest. While struggling with declining membership in an increasingly digital age, Woman’s Press Club of Indiana continues to make inroads into Indiana journalism history.