SOJ Insider | Gruine Robinson

Journalism pioneer

Robinson first female West Virginia AP reporter

By Briana Warner

Gruine Robinson (BSJ, 1948) always knew she wanted to be a reporter, but she never imagined she would be a pioneer.

“I think I was in grade school when I saw some movies that were centered on reporters and there were some women reporters in the movies, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to be – a reporter someday,’” said Robinson.

Robinson started her career by writing for the Maroon Wave, the student paper at Welch High School in southern West Virginia. She earned her first professional byline when famous aviator Amelia Earhart came to town.

“I knew she was staying at a hotel there in Welch, so I talked to the manager of the hotel about how I could see her because I was supposed to interview her for my high school paper,” said Robinson. “He said she was resting and didn’t want anyone to disturb her, but when she came out of the room, she’d be going to the theater where she’d be making her speech, and I should approach her then, which of course is what I did. And I got the interview while we walked together to the theater.”

The Amelia Earhart story led to Robinson’s first byline in the Welch Daily News where she went on to write after graduating from high school. While a reporter in Welch, Robinson covered a McDowell County mine explosion that killed almost 100 residents.

“I remember reporters coming in from various parts of the country,” said Robinson. “I enjoyed telling the news and being with the other reporters. It was only natural to feel the pain of the devastated families, but I had to tell the news.”

After attending WVU for one year from 1941 to 1942, Robinson took a writing job in Richmond, Va., at an Army Service Forces Depot. There, she produced press releases and a magazine and wrote speeches for the commander. Back in Charleston, W.Va., The Associated Press (AP) needed a wartime replacement reporter, and Robinson jumped at the opportunity. She became the first female AP writer in West Virginia.

Robinson has always claimed she was never treated any differently as a female reporter.

“There were no other female reporters at the bureau,” she said. “But I never felt discriminated against in my whole career. I was always treated like an equal.”

Robinson jokes that one reason she may have been treated well is that she passed on her wartime rations of cigarettes and whiskey to her male colleagues.

In 1945, Robinson returned to the School of Journalism to finish her degree. While in school, she worked part-time in the public relations office and wrote a column for The Daily Athenaeum.

After graduation, the sky was the limit.

“When I was getting ready to graduate, I decided I would like to go to New York, and I would like to work for Time magazine,” said Robinson. “So I wrote a letter to Time telling them of my experience and so forth. I got a nice letter back that said, ‘If you happen to be in New York, come by and we’d like to interview you.’ So, I managed to ‘happen’ to be in New York shortly after I got that letter, and I did go to see them.”

Robinson was offered a position but instead took a job with McGraw-Hill Publishing in their magazine department promoting articles to the media. As a “poor working girl,” she lived at the East End Hotel for Women for $10 per week while making $45 per week at McGraw-Hill.

“I loved everything about New York, my job, everything,” said Robinson.

During the next few years she worked in Albuquerque, N.M., for the AP bureau and later took a publicity job with the New Mexico Department of Health. She publicized events, attended meetings and even hosted a weekly radio program. Her boss at the health department encouraged her to enroll in Columbia University’s public health service program.

At the same time, Robinson was being recruited by the National Public Health Service in Washington, D.C.

“I said let me go get my master’s, and if you still have an opening when I’m done, I’ll stay in touch,” said Robinson. “So that’s what happened. When I was getting ready to graduate, I got a call.”

Robinson took a job writing news releases and promotional articles for the National Public Health Service in Washington and stayed there until her retirement in 1979.

Since retiring, Robinson has found joy in volunteering and teaching in the D.C. area.

Robinson said she doesn’t feel as though she has been a pioneer for female journalists and public relations professionals.

“There’s no comparison to how it was then versus now,” said Robinson. “I don’t think of myself as paving the way, but I’m happy to see we are on an equal basis with men now in the field.”

Assistant Professor Bonnie Stewart conducted the interview for this story.

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