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‘A Tour De Force’: Joan McPartlin Mahoney, Pioneering Female Crimson Reporter, Dies at 94

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Joan McPartlin Mahoney ’49, The Harvard Crimson’s first female reporter, loved working in the paper’s newsroom at 14 Plympton St. But there was one thing she despised about the job: leaving.

Mahoney was forced to leave The Crimson by 9 p.m. because men and women were not allowed to be together unchaperoned past that time.

“She always hated it, because that’s when some of the really deep conversations about editorial work would go on,” Mahoney ’s daughter Ellen Mahoney said. “She’d be like, ‘Rats, we were just getting rolling.”

A career journalist who went on to report for the Boston Globe after serving as the first Radcliffe College correspondent for The Crimson, Joan Mahoney died at age 94 on July 22, at her home in Brimfield, Mass.

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Joan McPartlin was born in Cambridge on May 1, 1928. She graduated high school from Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, where she got her start in journalism writing for her high school newspaper and freelancing for the Globe.

‘It Was Time to Cover Radcliffe, Not Just Joke About It’

Mahoney became The Crimson’s first female reporter in 1947 after she spent the summer working alongside Crimson editors at the Globe and urging them to report on Radcliffe.

“In 1943, Harvard and Radcliffe had agreed on a system of joint education, which brought Radcliffe girls into Harvard classes for the first time in the colleges’ history,” Mahoney wrote in the Boston Globe in 1973. “It was time to cover Radcliffe, not just joke about it.”

Crimson President Raquel Coronell Uribe ’22-’23 wrote in an emailed statement that she is “deeply saddened by the loss of Joan McPartlin Mahoney.”

“As The Crimson’s first female reporter, she opened doors for generations of women not only at The Crimson but in journalism as a whole,” Coronell Uribe wrote. “Her work as a Radcliffe correspondent in 1947 led to the eventual full election of women to Crimson editors in 1958, our first woman managing editor in 1966, our first woman president in 1977, and our first woman business manager in 1983.”

Mahoney’s son, James “Jim” Mahoney, said his mother was “a tour de force.”

“She was so ahead of her time in terms of being such a progressive woman,” he said.

Susan D. Chira ’80, the second woman to serve as president of The Crimson, said she believes celebrating Mahoney’s life and reflecting on the barriers she faced before becoming The Crimson’s first female reporter is a “commemoration of the important role she played.”

“It is tribute to her that I and my friends could walk into 14 Plympton and not feel weird,” Chira said. “And feel like ‘OK, we belong here just like the guys.’”

Coronell Uribe wrote that The Crimson owes Joan Mahoney “a great deal of gratitude for paving the way for gender equity.”

“Joan faced hardships in fighting to be part of an organization that did not adequately value her,” she wrote. “Thanks to her trailblazing, The Crimson is now two-thirds female-identifying, a figure reflected among our masthead and leadership.”

Jim Mahoney said his mother took “immense pride” in being The Crimson’s first female reporter.

‘Crimson Leftovers’

But The Crimson did not always recognize Joan Mahoney’s legacy.

Mahoney did not receive an invitation to the 100th anniversary celebration of The Crimson, held in 1973. Robert W. Decherd ’73, The Crimson’s president at the time of the anniversary, said Mahoney and others didn’t receive an invitation because the newspaper “had no record of them.”

Mahoney criticized The Crimson for not extending her an invitation to the ceremony in an article published in the Boston Globe that year.

“Even after 25 years, the memories are warm and so is the feeling that we of the Crimson’s Radcliffe Bureau were a feisty, doughty bunch of pioneers,” Mahoney wrote in the Globe. “So I was put out at being left out of the party.”

Mahoney also criticized Decherd’s explanation at the time that The Crimson’s poor alumni records prevented her from receiving an initiation.

“But he gives me an idea,” she wrote. “How about it, all of us Crimson leftovers? How about a party just for us? Anyone feel like starting one?”

“If so, put me on the list and mark me ‘first Radcliffe correspondent,’” Mahoney wrote.

Decherd said “it’s very unfortunate and disappointing” that Mahoney and others were not added to The Crimson’s records prior to the centennial.

“But we made every effort afterwards — through Joan and others — to make sure that they were added to the to the list of people who had helped build The Crimson,” Decherd said.

Coronell Uribe said the newspaper intends to commemorate Mahoney at its 150th anniversary celebration in 2023.

‘I’m Sorry It’s You and Not Frank’

After graduating from Radcliffe College in 1949, Mahoney began working full-time as a reporter for the Boston Globe. She later met her husband, Gerald Francis “Frank” Mahoney, at the Globe, where he also worked as a journalist.

After they married, Ellen Mahoney said the Globe’s nepotism policies at the time led her mom to resign from the newspaper to allow Frank Mahoney to continue his career there.

“As she went to give her resignation, the editor at the time said, ‘You know, you are the better writer. I’m sorry it is you and not Frank,’” Ellen Mahoney said. “My father is the one that always told that story.”

While Mahoney ended her career as a full-time reporter to raise her three children — Jim, Ellen, and Gail — she did not fully quit journalism. When her kids were older, Mahoney worked as a freelancer, again for the Globe.

Jim Mahoney, who worked as a photojournalist at the Boston Herald for nearly four decades, said his mother always loved to have conversations about journalism and reporting.

“We could talk shop ’til the crows came out,” he said. “It was a blast to be able to throw around some of our experiences and swap stories about some of the really cool things that we did as journalists and some of the really nutty things you end up doing too.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, most parents hoped their children would stay as far away from Ground Zero as possible. But a full day after the attack, when Jim Mahoney finally gained enough cell phone service to call his mother from New York and tell her he was there photographing the destruction, she said: “Oh, my God, I was hoping you were down there,” he recalled.

She then “turned into a reporter” and started asking him questions about Ground Zero and to describe his surroundings to her, Jim Mahoney said.

“We fell back into almost a professional role as a reporter on scene or a photographer on scene, and there’s Ma back at the rewrite desk,” he said. “Taking the quotes, turning it into a story.”

“That sums up, in my mind, just all of Ma,” Jim Mahoney added. “Just into it to the end.”

Joan McPartlin Mahoney also remained a lifelong supporter of The Crimson.

She regularly donated to the newspaper’s financial aid program, which provides financial compensation to qualifying students. Mahoney most recently supported the program in 2021, attaching a note with her contribution that read: “First girl ever to cover Radcliffe for The Crimson (1947-1949).”

She was proud of her pioneering role at The Crimson, writing in the 1973 Globe article: “It’s still a pretty good title to have held.”

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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