Photos: The Pioneering Newspaperwoman Who Covered The 'Grisliest' Crimes
Agness Underwood's years of reporting on the morbid and the disreputable would make her a pioneer—she would become the first woman to be city editor of a major American newspaper—but in the end she says she wanted to be a housewife.
"I am no feminist," she opens her 1949 memoir Newspaperwoman. "If I were asked what I regard as the woman's place, I'd probably give the old-fashioned answer: In the home."
"Aggie" took up a what was supposed to be a temporary job as a switchboard operator at the Los Angeles Record in 1926, looking to make extra money for a new pair of silk stockings. It soon turned into a career, sparked by the grisly murder of Marion Parker. "She realized then that she didn't want to be a bystander," says the Los Angeles Public Library, in their description for their photo exhibit honoring Underwood. "She wanted to be a reporter."
The First with the Latest! Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City is on display at the Central Library through January 10, and not only features rare photos of Underwood on the job, but also photos from sixteen of the crimes she reported on.
In her stints at the Los Angeles Record and eventually the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Underwood would cover murders and the untimely deaths of Hollywood stars (such as Thelma Todd and Jean Harlow). In 1947, while in the middle of reporting on the infamous Black Dahlia murder, she was promoted to city editor of the Herald-Express. She claims to know who committed the grisly murder, but took the killer's identity to the grave.
Underwood would hold the position—with a pistol and baseball bat at her desk—until her retirement in 1968. When she passed away in 1984, the Herald-Examiner wrote in their eulogy:
She was undeterred by the grisliest of crime scenes and had a knack for getting details that eluded other reporters. As editor, she knew the names and telephone numbers of numerous celebrities, in addition to all the bars her reporters frequented. She cultivated the day's best sources, ranging from gangsters and prostitutes to movie stars and government officials.
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