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Number 1 Shimbun

In the Footsteps of Legends

THE FCCJ’S MAGGIE HIGGINS WOULD HAVE BEEN ‘MIGHTY’ IMPRESSED

 

07-1

Marguerite Higgins, her face and hands covered with Korean mud,
at work on the manuscript for her book
“War in Korea: The Report of A Woman Combat Correspondent”.
Photo by Carl Mydans.

 

MARY CORBETT

 

The FCCJ election in this, our 75th anniversary year, saw candidates come out in record numbers vying for positions on the Board. Three rounds of voting stretched over a month of trying to meet the majority vote threshold, challenges to the results. Many recounts later, we have a historic new Board with three women directors, one of them since elected our president, along with the Club's second female auditor. The very fact that this change has not felt as glass-ceiling-shattering as ABC News’ Mary Ann Maskery’s 1984 election to the Club’s very first woman Presidency in 1984 shows just how very far we have com.



Maggie Higgins

Maggie Higgins herself never spent enough time on the ground to sit on our Board, but Higgins already stood out in a club brimming with seasoned war correspondents some 70 years ago.

Some of you may recognize her from the iconic photo which graces the cover of Foreign Correspondents in Japan, the history commemorating the Club’s 50th anniversary, edited by Charles Pomeroy. This highly-recommended read of our evolution from gritty origins amidst the ruins of war-ravaged Tokyo shows how our transformation paralleled Japan’s own race back to the world stage.

Higgins arrived in Tokyo as the New York Herald Tribune bureau chief in 1950 having reported on the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in April 1945, covered the Nuremberg war trials and the Soviet blockade of Berlin.

War broke out in Korea barely weeks into Higgins’ new Japan posting, and she became one of the first reporters on the new front in East Asia, witnessing the Hangang Bridge bombing and barely escaping by raft to reach US military headquarters the next day.


MacArthur intervenes

Higgins found herself having to appeal to General Douglas MacArthur upon being ordered to leave Korea by General Walton Walker, of Walker Hill, Seoul, fame, who was intent on allowing no women on the war front.

MacArthur immediately wrote to the Herald Tribune to confirm his lifting of the ban on women correspondents, pointing out that, ‘Marguerite Higgins is held in highest professional esteem by everyone’.

But not everyone shared MacArthur’s opinion. Higgins went on to be the only woman recipient of the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the Korean War. Her senior colleague and fellow member of the FCCJ, Homer Bigart, was another Pulitzer winner. The two were well known for their rivalry, and at times clashed publicly. Bigart was known for his resentment of Higgins’s ‘foolish bravery’, making him feel obliged to ‘go out and get shot at occasionally’ himself. Maggie Higgins probably took that as a compliment.


Haru Matsukata Reischauer

Around the same time, in the far more peaceful setting of Maggie’s press club in Tokyo, another female FCCJ pioneer was grappling with an entirely different set of metrics. Bilingual, and comfortable in multi-cultural environments, Haru Matsukata was in growing demand amidst the internationalization of a new post-war Japan. Matsukata was already forging an impressive career as a correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post and the Christian Science Monitor, and was the first Japanese woman on the FCCJ board.

Granddaughter of the Meiji era Prime Minister and genro Masayoshi Matsukata, and her mother born to a wealthy Japanese merchant in New York, Haru attended the American School in Japan at her mother’s insistence, and went on to continue her education at a Christian college in the US. With unparalleled family connections and an exceptionally privileged international education, the postwar world should have been her oyster, yet she felt a stranger everywhere and wondered where life would take her.

 

07-2

Haru with American occupation officers, Tokyo, 1947.
Top and left photos taken from “Samurai and Silk: A Japanese and American Heritage” by Haru Matsukata Reischauer

 

07-3

Haru and Ed Reischauer in San Francisco, 1969

 

The FCCJ helped unleash the Matsukata’s potential to influence US–Japan relations beyond even her capacity as a much sought-after correspondent. The FCCJ had by the 1950s grown into one of the international set’s favorite watering holes, crowded with not only journalists, but celebrities from all walks of life, businessmen, ambassadors, and exotic spies.

On one occasion Matsukata was having lunch with her good friend James Michener, fresh off his Pulitzer prize for Tales From the South Pacific, a blockbuster on Broadway, and headed for Hollywood fame. Michener then spotted his friend, the recently widowed Edwin Reischauer, walking into the dining room and introduced him to Matsukata. Within months, Haru was starting her married life at Harvard where Reischauer was teaching, returning to Japan in 1961 when her husband was appointed ambassador by John F. Kennedy.

Reischauer, who had grown up in Japan, is still remembered by the Japanese as one of the best ambassadors in the history of US-Japan relations, and his wife Haru, Matsukata Reischauer, as First Lady of the US Embassy. At a time of considerable tension, it was the Reischauers who convinced JFK to send his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to Japan, and then coached the younger Kennedy on how to win over the public, a charm offensive that took the Japanese by surprise. The Reischauer’s place in Club lore as our premier power couple still looks unchallengeable.

 

07-4

Just back from Vietnam, 1966.
Photo taken from “Front Line” by Clare Hollingworth


Clare Hollingsworth

A respected trailblazer known to both Haru and Maggie in those days was that regular visitor to the Club and ‘undisputed doyenne of war correspondents’, Clare Hollingworth, who would often come through Tokyo between her globe-trotting assignments.

Clare would enthrall her many friends at FCCJ with a cornucopia of headline adventures. She made history within a week of starting work for London’s Daily Telegraph when she was posted to Poland in August 1939. Hollingsworth borrowed the British Consul-General’s car for a reconnaissance along the German border, immediately detecting a massive build-up of German troops and tanks facing Poland behind camouflage screens.

This scoop was promptly reported on her paper’s front page the next day. A few days later, Hollingsworth achieved her greatest scoop as the first to report the outbreak of WWII. Her eyewitness report to the British Embassy in Warsaw of the invasion, for which she had to put her phone outside her window so that the sound of tanks invading Poland could be heard by disbelieving diplomats, was the first news of the invasion received by the British Foreign Office. She was also the first to report the defection of Kim Philby to the Soviet Union.


Hong Kong days

In later life, Clare settled in Hong Kong, where she became a beloved fixture at the Foreign Correspondents Club, alongside Richard Hughes, whom she first came to know during his legendary years as a member of the FCCJ in Tokyo.

What a magnificent court they presided over. Hughes as chairman of Alcoholics Synonymous, Clare as the ‘Empress’, as some came to describe her in later years. She never officially retired. Approaching her eighth decade, the 4th June 1989 saw her scrambling for a bird’s eye view of the crackdown on Tiananmen Square. She lived to witness Hong Kong’s handover to China and many of the signs of its still-unfolding aftermath.

Clare continued to mentor and inspire many a young journalist, and never really stopped reporting until her death at the age of 105 in 2017. Though her days chasing wars and breaking news were long behind her when she passed away, close friends report that she never lost the habit of keeping her passport and work shoes by her bed ‘just in case.’


● Mary Corbett is a writer and documentary producer based in Tokyo and is a member of the FCCJ’s Board of Directors.

Published in: September 2020

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