Katharine “Kay” Graham

Picture of Katharine "Kay" Graham

Who: Katharine “Kay” Graham, publisher and owner of The Washington Post and CEO of the Washington Post Company; first female publisher of a major newspaper

Why She Dazzles: Kay is the epitome of courage under fire. Her father, Eugene Meyer, bought The Washington Post in 1933, and her husband, Phil Graham, succeeded as its publisher in 1946 and transformed it into a national publication. Phil’s mental illness culminated in suicide in 1963, and Kay discovered her own strength to take charge and made the Post everything you know about it today (minus the Amazon purchase). Read her Pulitzer-prize winning autobiography, Personal History, for her gripping details of how she overcame grief and insecurity to become one of the most powerful women in the world and the most powerful woman in the world of media when it was dominated by men.

Why You Need to Know Her Today: Two reasons. 1. Meryl Streep is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Kay in Spielberg’s film The Post, a revealing film about Kay’s experience during one of the most crucial moments of her career. Kay’s character never appeared in the popular Watergate film All the President’s Men, so she’s finally getting the Hollywood attention she deserves. 2. With so many journalists and media outlets taking advantage of the truth, Kay’s story is a reminder of what great journalism can do to make a positive difference.

What She Would Say—Because She Wrote It Then: “The thing women must do to rise to power is to redefine their femininity. Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact, power has no sex.”

Picture of crystal-studded drop pendant earrings by Gucci
Kay met many fellow legendary women of her time, including Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Indira Gandhi.

 

What She Would Wear to the White House Tonight: Gucci bling. Kay spent many dinners at the most iconic house in the U.S. Not only were Kay’s parents friendly with presidents and leading politicians of their time, but Kay and her husband were super tight with Presidents JFK and Lyndon B. Johnson. Although she became estranged with President Nixon for obvious reasons—Watergate—her staff always provided equal coverage of presidential candidates in the Post, and she formed relationships with new presidents for the remainder of her life.

Picture of tennis racket stationery by Distinctive Stationery
Kay played tennis for many years and her companions included political and literary all-stars.

 

What She Would Send to Her Friend: Kay wrote many letters in her life—to her parents, her husband, her staff, and even subscribers to the Post. Several of these letters appeared in her autobiography, magnifying her fascinating life story even more. One of her dearest friends and letter companions was Warren Buffett, the person who helped her learn the Post’s business more than anyone.

Picture of the Plaza Hotel on Central Park in New York City
Kay said the Black and White Ball was “astounding—a very big event in my life, very important to me. I had just gone to work in ’63, and was not well known. Though I had never met most of those people before, many have stayed in my life since.”

 

Where She Would Instagram: The Plaza Hotel. Fun fact: Kay was a close friend of novelist Truman Capote. They were such good friends that he threw his glamorous Black and White Ball in Kay’s honor in New York City in 1966. In spite of her shyness, she said, “Though I obviously appreciated it and loved the role, I was terribly nervous. I felt like an ancient debutante! … Once I forgot all the excitement outside and the party really started, it became great fun.” The Black and White Ball became the event that, according to Vanity Fair, “heralded the emergence of another, more raucous one, devoted to publicity, celebrity, and big money.”

Tweet This: Katharine “Kay” Graham was the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and America’s first female Fortune 500 CEO #anewlady

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