Interviewee: Jessica Hatch
Interviewer: Louise Pettus
Date: June 10-11, 1977
Born in New York City and raised in Hollywood, California, Jessica Hatch was a resident of Beaufort, South Carolina at the time of the conference. Hatch was employed as a journalist and a consumer affairs columnist. Hatch’s husband was a military lawyer. Interview includes discussion of: Hatch’s experience trying to find work in Beaufort; Hatch’s success at the local newspaper with consumer affairs reporting; and Hatch’s experience of some resistance to women in the newspaper industry.
LP: Alright. What is your name and where are you from?
JH: My name is Jessica Hatch, and I come from Beaufort, South Carolina because my husband is a military lawyer at Parris Island, South Carolina.
LP: You say because your husband is. Would you explain further what that means?
JH: We probably would not have chosen South Carolina as our place of residence if a military transfer had not brought us here.
LP: Where are you from?
JH: I was born in New York City but was raised in Hollywood, California.
LP: So you were a national youngster then.
JH: Yes, I’ve lived in all four corners of the United States, but never in the middle. But we arrived in Beaufort, and it was my first experience with really settling in in a small town. While my husband deals mostly with military personnel because of his job and because of his day, I was through economic necessity, as well as by my own choice, I decided to try to find work within the community. So I started by going to the employment agency, and I must say I had rather a negative view of what I could do. I had taught for three years previously, and I had gotten into the teaching profession because there was nothing else that I felt a woman would be really accepted in doing. I did not care to go into nursing, and so I chose another profession that was traditionally that of women, and I soon realized that, for me, teaching was nothing more than a trap. I was forced not to mix, because there were very few other male teachers in the domain, and it just seemed to tie me down in terms of who I related to and how I related, and I found it very cramping.
Plus, I really didn’t care for the responsibility of taking care of other people’s children for that amount of time, so I decided when I got to South Carolina that I would not try to go back into teaching. They also had the teachers exam that I would have had to have passed, which I somewhat resented, having been certified in three other states. So I decided to opt for other work.
About the best thing that I could find in Beaufort was that of a receptionist. I would walk into an employment situation and ask to speak with the manager of the firm and be handed a job application. Now, I have never really done a study, let’s say, as to how men are treated going in for any kind of job, but I have a sneaking suspicion they would have gotten to see that manager, where I was handed a job application by an eighteen-year old behind a desk who smirked at me. I found job hunting very demeaning, but I suspect many people do.
I finally walked into the local newspaper, having an English background, and asked to speak with the editor. By that time I thought this is my final crack. I convinced him to give me a job as an assistant to the sports editor. Well, it worked out. Fortunately, I think I write and speak well enough that when an opportunity came along to become a consumer affairs person, an area in which I had expressed earlier interest, they considered me for the position and they began primarily as a money-making gimmick a consumer affairs column, a complaint column. And so I take care of that.
Now, that’s very satisfying to me. I find on the job I know I make – it’s minimal, but I know I make less than any of the men, my male counterparts there, at least five to ten dollars a week less. I know that. Because I enjoy the work, I have chosen not to make a big deal about this, because at this point I can’t think of anything more that I would enjoy doing. The people are great, but I have to consider where they are, too, and I think I have possibly made some inroads in changing their attitudes about women.
When I first got there the editor, who’s really a marvelous man, was writing certain human interest columns in which I felt he made very degrading references to women, and in particular to his wife, in a jesting kind of way. I continually pointed this out to him, especially when it came to November elections. He wrote some kind of column about women in the voting booth that I found absolutely – I was outraged, and I really let him know so. And I noticed that the frequency of his allusions, I mean they have all but disappeared, and it used to be a common thing.
So I think my presence there as being the only female on the editorial staff has made a difference. I also do features, and if it were not for my efforts, nothing would have gone in our newspaper, in our small local newspaper at circulation of about 5,000, on ERA, in terms of analysis. I wrote an editorial on ERA as well, and he published it. He was that open enough to publish it.
So I think it’s a great place to be because I get to communicate on women’s issues, and because I can write in a human interest way I can also slant my material to a certain extent. I’m not limited to the reportorial point of view. So I suppose my story is a success story in a way. Certainly there’s a long way to go. I have nothing to really substantiate this view, but I feel strongly that if I had the opportunity to stay on at the paper even if I wanted an editorial position, which I don’t because I feel that you’re confined with administrative affairs. I would much rather write. But even should I want to aspire to that, I would never get such a position at that paper, because they are not into promoting from the bottom. The paper is owned by a larger paper in a metropolitan area in North Carolina, and I think they would send somebody down from that pool of labor to take over that position.
I’ve also met with some resistance when a regular reporter’s position was open, I want to continue in journalism and I want to get as much experience as possible and I evinced in the reporter’s position slot coming open. They have not filled that slot yet. They intend to do so in the future, but I was laughed at because there is a stereotype prevalent that whether they say it jokingly or not I think they believe it, that a reporter should be male and single. I think they feel that there’s a conflict there between home and profession that they don’t want to have to cope with.
Well, this is a male’s, I think, expression of concern rather than anything that says females are inferior. But I do think they may be a little bit threatened. I think maybe I have it better than so many other women. The pay is lousy, but the pay is lousy for everybody. I’m getting a little less than everybody, but nobody’s making great pay.
From here, what I would like to do, we only have about ten months left in Beaufort, I really would like to continue in journalism. I suspect where I feel inadequate now is that they’re very much interested in hiring people who have come out of journalism schools. I have not had that specific kind of training, so what I’m forced to do is compensate by way of experience, and so it helps me to get into these conferences, take my pictures, go back, put essays together, in other words, I have to get a job based on my work, not on specific training in a journalism school. And some editors want a specialty. I feel I can probably sell myself in terms of a consumer affairs person because it’s the most widely read thing in the paper. Nothing has been as successful as our consumer affairs column.
LP: And do you think that primarily these are women readers?
JH: No, it cuts across. I hear it from men and women. Now, it’s only been going on for a year, and so we have not done any kind of official survey of individuals to identify our readers by gender, by occupation, or by interest level at all. I’m told that within a year’s time, on the days in which we published, I recently asked for the statistic, that newspaper subscriptions off the rack have increased by 600 papers, with an overall increase of subscription rate over the past year of 10 percent, so that’s a significant figure.
LP: Is this an issue that it was a neglected area that people wanted (unintelligible at 9:09). It’s not controversial, that there is a lack, or is it –?
JH: It’s a little bit of both. I think the column is popular first because people are always curious about what others in the community are doing. We publish questions and we publish initials, people’s initials, but we also publish the names of offending businesses, businesses that are involved, and so I think if there’s any kind of (tape skips at 9:41) knowing what other people in the community and other businesses are doing and how people feel about business practices.
And secondly, I think people really want information. They’re dying for people to tell them to please read those warranties and what a warranty means, for instance. Also a third thing that I think has happened as a result of the column has been that – I know that people read it, for instance, because now they’re beginning to call in for preventive reasons. People will call me and say hey, a roof repair services just contacted me and they told me that they’ll re-roof my house for $3,500. Is this a reasonable price? And I don’t exactly answer their questions. I just question them as to how they know about the reputation of the firm and this kind of thing.
So, I really believe that we generate a lot of credibility in our service within the community, and it indicates to me that people are often very uncertain about whether they’re spending their money wisely or not. Besides that, I think there’d be a tremendous hue and cry if we ever stopped doing it. Now it generates its own kind of interest in what I was told was started as a money-making gimmick on the paper has achieved some kind of altruistic reason for existence.
Now, I’m going to leave it in a few months, and it gets very exhausting to constantly listen to people’s complaints about their experiences in the marketplace, and many of them are not legitimate. They have not acted with any kind of common sense, so it’s not always the merchant’s fault, so we’re there to mediate between consumer and merchant.
End of Interview