One on One with Midge Sherwood—A Testament of Courage (Part I)
Amelia Earhart once said, “The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune.” Midge Sherwood is such a person. Sherwood grew up in Ironton, Ohio and lived in a time when she was simply encouraged “to find a good husband and to produce sons.” Even so, she pursued her ambitions, and after winning an Edgar Allan Poe Award (in high-school), she began working on newspapers. Later she graduated from the Journalism School of the University of Missouri. Throughout Sherwood’s prolific career, she has defied convention, never losing touch with her passion to write. She was the only female in a hub of journalists to interview Amelia Earhart (just before her fatal plane crash). As a result, Earhart inspired the budding writer to enter the field of aviation journalism. Years later, Sherwood would become Public Relations Director for Western Airlines, the only woman in the nation to hold such a position.
In 1973, Sherwood shifted her interests to studying history, enrolling as a research scholar at the Huntington Library. After years immersed in research, she produced books on California history: San Marino Ranch to City, Days of Vintage Years of Vision (a three-volume series) and Frémont: Eagle of the West, published by Jackson Peak Publishers. She also writes a column, “History 101,” on the American frontier.
Sherwood is perhaps best described like the fearless explorers and adventurers she chronicles. She is, as she says of John Charles Frémont in Frémont: Eagle of the West, “an everlasting testament to the courage and determination with which he once carved a mountain pass through 20 feet of snow. Advised by both Indians and his guides that it was impossible, he replied, ‘That is not the question. The question is how.’” It is no wonder that Sherwood is attracted to our great pioneers, for she defies convention—setting forth groundbreaking changes and discovering new territories for women. Once again, she could be describing herself when she says of the California pathfinder Frémont, who possessed a “firmness of purpose, determination of character and confidence in his own powers, exercised under such extraordinary circumstances…”
Author, historian, journalist, publicist and poet, Sherwood has excelled in every career pursuit. It was a privilege to interview her at the Lakeside Country Club on a warm autumn afternoon. Sherwood is a petite woman with a razor-sharp wit. She loves to laugh and regaled me with stories from her past, sharing trade secrets along with her current goals and aspirations. She is an inspiration to all who long to write, to those who currently scribe and to everyone who dares to create their own destiny.
Adréana: Can you tell us about your experience with Amelia Earhart?
Midge: I interviewed her for The Missouri Student, my college newspaper. I almost lost out on the opportunity. I had to convince the editor, Bud Wiley, to send a woman. He was naturally going to send a male student journalist. “You’re going to send a male student to interview Amelia Earhart!” I protested. “What is she going to think?” So he said, “All right you can go.”
When I got to the press room, I was the only female in a group of journalists and the youngest one at that. There must have been close to a dozen journalists and they backed me up against the wall. When the interview ended she pointed at me and said, “You there. I want to talk to you.” And I thought, ‘What did I do wrong?’
Adréana: What did Amelia say to you?
Midge: I spoke with her in private. I was shocked that she was so interested in me. She actually interviewed me! She wanted to know if the university was treating female students fairly, giving them even breaks, and so on and so forth. And, of course, I told her the truth and gave her an excellent interview, telling her how great the University of Missouri was, especially the School of Journalism, and how I had been sent to interview her when it could have been a man.
Adréana: What was your impression of Amelia?
Midge: I respected so much that she wanted women to advance. And her life was devoted to that. She was very friendly, humble and approachable. I thought she was absolutely wonderful! I just loved her. She inspired me to go into aviation journalism.
Adréana: Can you tell me about your work in that field?
Midge: It was a glamorous and exciting time for travel with lots of aviation magazines. I interviewed pilots, engineers and celebrities. I wrote a column called “Logging the Coast” for Southern Flight. I eventually became the PR Director of TWA when Howard Hughes owned it. My first job was covering that horrible crash with Carole Lombard. I remember one day I was in the office and the phone rang and I answered. A man asked for me and said, “This is Howard Hughes.” I didn’t believe him. People were always joking on the phone and I replied, “Yes, and I’m Santa Claus.” And he said, “Yes, and you’re fired!” Well, it really was Howard Hughes! It all turned out fine in the end. He was awfully nice. He did later instruct all the employees, no matter who calls, even Santa Claus, to be respectful. [Sherwood laughs.]
Adréana: What was it like being the only female public relations director in the nation? Did you encounter any sexism or double standards?
Midge: I did. It first happened when I decided to move out of my hometown. That was before I became a PR director. I wanted to work as a journalist on a really large newspaper, so I got an appointment with the editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer and asked for a job. The city editor took his cigar from his mouth and peered out from under his green eyeshade and proceeded to deflate this youthful girl journalist’s enthusiasm. He led me into the city room where the journalists were busy answering phones and pounding out the day’s copy. He pointed to a remote corner of the room where a woman editorial worker (hair disheveled, circles under her eyes) sat toiling. “Do you want to look like that?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer he patted my shoulder and showed me the door, bachelor’s degree and all. [Midge chuckles.] She really did look terrible. She was all grim-faced. Cincinnati wasn’t the place for me.
Adréana: I’m surprised that the experience didn’t turn you off journalism for good. What happened after that?
Midge: I then decided to visit my brother, Ralph, who lived in California. The rest is history. I never left and began working in journalism and public relations. I also got married and raised my family in Southern California.
Midge Sherwood’s Event Calendar
- Jan. 10, 2010: Midge Sherwood’s one-act play, “Peace at Last,” that portrays the Treaty of Cahuenga signing between Frémont and Andres Pico, will be performed at the celebration of this very important event in the history of California. The event is free and open to the public and will be held at Campo de Cahuenga located at 3919 Lankershim, adjacent to the Universal City Metro. The festivities begin at 1 pm. You can get more information at the Web site: www.campodecahuenga.com.
Midge Sherwood’s publications are available at the Huntington Library Bookstore and by contacting Jackson Peak Publishers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms. Robbins is an author, journalist and the Public Relations Director for “The Tolucan Times.” She can be reached at email@example.com.
Read Part II Next Week.