For decades, female journalists were relegated to soft news and local coverage, rarely allowed to cover the biggest, hard-hitting stories. Blackburn College alum Louise Hutchinson, however, broke that mold, along with numerous gender barriers.
In a twenty-one year career with the Chicago Tribune from 1952-73, Hutchinson reported on some of the most memorable events of the 20th century, including the Kennedy assassination and the 1972 Moscow summit. In 1971, she became the first woman to spend the night at the South Pole.
Those were some of the many highlights in a highly respected career for Hutchinson, who grew up on Chicago’s north side before enrolling in Blackburn. She earned her A.A. degree from Blackburn in 1945 and transferred to the University of Iowa, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1947.
After graduation, she worked for WHBF radio in Rock Island and for WRC in Washington before joining the staff of the Northwest Times, on Chicago’s Northwest Side. In 1952, she switched to the Chicago Tribune as a neighborhood news reporter.
Like many other women reporters, she handled the light news stories, including a 1961 piece on six porpoises at the Brookfield Zoo. Even in this role, however, she became a role model for other female journalists. One peer remembered that “all the women who were in neighborhood news looked up to (Hutchinson) because of the job she had and the way she carried herself.”
She kept working her way up, and covered an appearance by Elvis Presley at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre in 1957. In the early 1960s, she earned a promotion to the Tribune’s city room, giving her the chance to write some hard news pieces.
In November 1963, the Tribune sent Hutchinson to cover the Kennedy assassination, to emphasize the President’s widow, Jacqueline. Three years later, she was assigned to the paper’s Washington bureau, and established her residence in the nation’s capital. She eventually covered eight national political conventions.
In May 1972, she traveled to the Soviet Union to report on the visit of Richard Nixon in one of the key moments of the Cold War. The previous year, she had journeyed to Antarctica to write on its scientific research community, and became the first female to stay overnight at the South Pole.
In another scientific endeavor, Hutchinson overcame claustrophobia in 1967 to ride to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in a U.S. Navy midget submarine.
Hutchinson earned the Edward Scott Beck Award, the Tribune’s top staff honor, in 1966 for reporting on the wedding of Luci Baines Johnson, the President’s daughter.
Along the way, she became one of the nation’s most respected journalists. In 1970, she was elected President of the Women’s National Press Club, which that same year, chose to admit male journalists. The group renamed itself the Washington Press Club.
A former city editor remembered that Hutchinson’s “interviewing skills led Washington,” while another reporter recalled that “she was an elegant lady with a hearty laugh. And she was always so cheerful and encouraging, especially to young people.”
Hutchinson left the Tribune in 1973 and held jobs as a public information officer and spokesperson for the Department of Justice’s civil rights division. From 1985-91, she was the director of public information for the National Association of Children’s Hospitals in Alexandria, Va.
She finally settled in Williamsburg, Va. in 1993 and became active in several civic groups, including the League of Women Voters. She died of brain cancer there at the age of 90 on March 29, 2017.
On Feb. 27, 2018, the U.S. Senate presented Joint Resolution No. 199 to honor the life of Louise Hutchinson, calling her a “talented and pioneering journalist” and the resolution “an expression of the General Assembly’s respect for her memory.”
Tom Emery is a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or [email protected].