The queen of the pointed question

Journalist Edith Evans Asbury, bullied her way into mens newsrooms, got the interview and reminds us why were here.

Published March 14, 2006 7:16PM (EST)

Thanks to the New York Times' Dan Barry for his lovely profile Saturday of feisty, trail-blazing newspaper reporter Edith Evans Asbury -- whom he calls the "queen mother of the pointed question." The 95-year-old journalist retired 25 years ago after an envied career writing for the New York Post, the Associated Press, the World-Telegram and Sun and the New York Times.

"She was a newspaper reporter, after all, among the best in this city; a relentless investigator, an astute observer, a role model for women when newsrooms might as well have had MEN engraved on the doors," Barry writes.

At a time when we're busy bemoaning industry layoffs and the lack of female columnists and worrying about the fate of kidnapped freelance reporter Jill Carroll, it's nice to hear stories about amazing women who came before us and kicked up a lot of dust.

Here are a few reasons why Evans Asbury is so cool:

She interviewed Amelia Earhart and a Nazi spy. She once made Mayor John Lindsay so mad that he threw down his phone and broke it. She wears cat's-eye glasses and piles her braided white hair in a bun. She did not settle and married three different men, including Herbert Asbury, the author of "The Gangs of New York," who was her second husband and whose books she still keeps in her Greenwich Village apartment.

When she left her Knoxville, Tenn., paper to look for work in New York while on vacation, she sent a resignation telegram to her editor -- collect. It was during the Depression and she did not yet have a job. When she got hired at the Times in 1952, she did so only on the condition that she work in the city room -- not the women's department. And she took on the hard assignments, like investigating slumlords and documenting the trials of the poor. At the end of the day, she smoke and drank -- but boasts that she was not a "cusser." And she's proud that someone once said of her: "You're the kind of reporter who, when they slam the door, you knock on it."

We're proud, too. Because you knocked on all those doors, you made it a little easier for the rest of us to walk through them.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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