Note: Historian Wendy Plotkin has been combing the archives of Arkansas Press Women to dig into the history of some of Arkansas Press Women’s early members and digitize some of their efforts. The following is an article about Charlotte Tillar Schexnayder, using the name of a column she wrote.
In 1945, when the Arkansas Press Association invited 22-year old Charlotte Tillar to write a regular column entitled “Skirts…in the Front Office” for its monthly periodical, ARKANSAS PUBLISHER, Tillar was already a veteran journalist. At Tillar High School – named, like the town in which she lived, after an ancestor — she edited the high school’s THE EAGLE.
After graduating at age 16, she began studies at the Arkansas Agricultural and Mechanical College, where she published freelance articles in the MCGEHEE TIMES (at 10 cents per article) and worked in a variety of positions on A & M’s WEEVIL OUTLET.
Transferring to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1941 to complete a journalism degree, she reported for the BATON ROUTE MORNING ADVOCATE and (during the summer) on the MCGEHEE TIMES. On the basis of this experience, she was made editor of LSU’s student newspaper, the REVEILLE – leading to an invitation in August, 1944 from the MCGEHEE TIMES to become editor upon her graduation. In October, 1944, Tillar took up the position.
Although Tillar was preceded by other pioneering women editors of Arkansas newspapers, she early on established a reputation that led to many awards during a 50+ year career. Thus, it is not surprising that in January, 1945, the Association asked her to initiate its “Skirts…in the Front Office” column, providing a rare editorial voice for women in a mainstream publication focused on journalism. In COMMUNITY DIARIES: ARKANSAS NEWSPAPERING, 1819-2002, journalism professor Michael Dougan noted the ironic twist offered by the column’s title: “…[O]ne of the much-debated social issues of the day was the wearing of pants by women. ‘Slacks are definitely not for the streets,’ was the ruling of the GAZETTE’S fashion editor.’”
It is striking that, on many occasions during the three years in which Tillar authored this column, she used the platform to speak out on the state of journalism in general, rather than choosing to focus only on the issue of gender. In one of the 1945 columns, she even examined how American football was a metaphor for the practice of professional journalism!
As one of APW’s first ventures into sharing the riches from its own archives, and that of its founding sponsor, the Arkansas Press Association, with its members, we are publishing a “Skirts…in the Front Office” column that demonstrates the ease and elegance with which Tillar was able to handle writing of the challenges facing the Arkansas and national press in the post-World War II world. Published in September, 1945, the column reveals an ability that was recognized that same year by the Arkansas Press Association with its bestowal of its excellence award upon the MCGEHEE TIMES – only the first of many such awards it would make to the newspaper in the future.
This is also only one of many pieces by Tillar (who married Melvin Schexnayder in August, 1946) and other APW members that we will feature in newsletters to come.
Read Charlotte’s column by clicking on the word file below: