Confronting University policies and battles with former GW President Cloyd Heck Marvin marked the beginning of the ground-breaking journalism career of Eileen Shanahan. The 1944 GW alumna and former Hatchet editor in chief died Friday in her D.C. home at the age of 77.
Family members said Shanahan suffered from heart problems and a blood disorder.
Shanahan pioneered as a female economics reporter in a male-dominated profession and later became a news executive.
Shanahan’s daughter, Mary Beth Waits of Silver Spring, Md., described her mother as “a very alive person” and a “very passionate, very intense, very hard worker” who worked full time until she was 72.
“She put in 60 hour weeks well into her 60s,” said Waits, an assistant principal at a Montgomery County Public School.
A New York Times reporter for 15 years, Shanahan also worked for the St. Petersburg Times and served as an assistant managing editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Washington Star.
She was also a reporter for the United Press International, the Research Institute of America and the Journal of Commerce, a speechwriter for the Treasury Department in the Kennedy administration and assistant secretary for public affairs in the Health, Education and Welfare Department under the Jimmy Carter adminstration, according to The Washington Post.
Waits said economics reporting suited her mother well because she had a “very analytical mind.”
While Shanahan did not write with “sparkle,” Waits said, “she could take really complex ideas and explain them so lay people could understand.”
The first woman hired at the Times who wasn’t a social reporter, Shanahan also advocated women’s rights in the newsroom.
In the mid-1970s, she was one of seven plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit against the Times. Waits said the newspaper settled “on the courthouse steps” in 1978, after Shanahan had left the paper.
“The money wasn’t as important as the promise of greater equity in promotions and hiring,” Waits said.
Waits said Shanahan would tell young female journalists today to work hard to overcome discrimination.
“She would say the world has changed since I started, but it hasn’t changed enough,” Waits said.
Concerned with integrity and quality, Waits said Shanahan was criticized by the Times for being outspoken but she was fair in her reporting.
She recalled the time Shanahan, an “almost yellow-dog Democrat,” had to report on George McGovern’s tax plan in the 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon, exposing it as a fraud.
Waits said her mother did not want Nixon to get re-elected, but “this was what the facts were.”
“She came home in tears and said, ‘today was the day that I proved my belief in the First Amendment,'” Waits said.
Shanahan grew up in D.C. and studied political science in college, where she met husband John V. Waits Jr., another GW student. They were married in 1944, and he died in 1995.
Shanahan is survived by another daughter, Kathleen Waits of Tulsa, Okla., sister Kathleen Shanahan Cohen of Teaneck, N.J. and three grandchildren.
“She made an impact wherever she went,” Waits said. “She always was very, very active in mentoring young woman journalists and minority journalists. She was an inclusionary person and was very much against exclusionary practices.”