Joplin has been the birthplace of any number of notable women. One who made her mark in journalism and feminism was Jane Grant.

Yet the world of journalism was not in her sights when she grew up, nor was feminism, which she saw as being associated only with suffragists. As a co-founder of the New Yorker magazine with husband Harold Ross, she helped establish a magazine that continues today as a leader in news, style and culture.

Jeanette Cole “Jane” Grant was born in May 1892 in Joplin to Robert T. and Sophronia Persis (Cole) Grant. The family did not stay in Joplin long after Jane’s birth, but moved to Girard, Kansas. There Jane went to school and gained a reputation as a vocal soloist.

She aspired to be an opera singer. In 1908 at age 16, she was offered the opportunity to study with her former music teacher, Millie Warner. Warner had married, moved to New York City and offered Grant the chance to board with her as she trained. For Grant it the chance of a lifetime.

Warner died suddenly the next year, leaving Grant in the lurch. Despite the loss, she was determined to stay in the city. She sought work in musical venues such as churches, clubs and restaurants, eventually realizing that her voice was, as she described it, “sweet,” but not strong enough for opera.

Turns to journalism

With the help of her landlady, she was hired as a stenographer for the society department of the New York Times in 1912. In those days, the Times was extremely conservative and there were no women reporters, only telephone operators or stenographers. But the $10 weekly salary for answering phones gave her some security.

Grant’s restless eye saw opportunity where others might have seen drudgery.

She took it upon herself to write stories for the society page that would never run. She included observations of city life and personalities. In the meantime, her vivacious personality made her a favorite of reporters who humored her, gave her ideas and took her to plays, ballgames and concerts.

Her editor realized how determined she was, so he mentored her to write feature stories. She was a quick study and did ghostwriting for reporters on weddings, celebrities and society figures.

World War I changed everything. As Times reporters left the newsroom for the front, Grant decided she wanted to go to France too. With help from fellow reporter Alexander Woollcott, she got a place in the YMCA entertainment division. Plays and musical revues let her visit Europe while entertaining the troops.

There she met Harold Ross, a somewhat ungainly soldier from Colorado who edited the weekly Army newspaper for enlisted men, Stars and Stripes. He was smitten instantly, though the feeling was not mutual. She relished her freedom and the attention she received.

Ross was not deterred and continued to pursue her, though their personalities were strikingly different. He was conservative, quiet, tone deaf and not congenial to feminism, while she was vivacious, enjoyed making music and was becoming a feminist in attitude, if not yet in name. Still, both were skilled writers and stirred ideas in the other.

They lost contact in 1919. She made a final tour, then returned to her job at the Times. Ross mustered out and took a newspaper job in New York in order to pursue her.

He was persistent and finally asked her to marry him with two conditions: that he could support her and that they each remain faithful for six months. She replied that he could stash his salary for a future publishing dream, but “she wasn’t about to be tagged for future sale.” They married in March 1920, though she was adamant about keeping her name — she would not be Mrs. Ross.

Her insistence on keeping her name led to the founding of the Lucy Stone League with Ruth Hale in 1921. They worked to gain women the right to retain their maiden names for use on passports, real estate deeds, bank accounts, insurance policies, voter registration, copyrights, paychecks and even library cards.

Starting the New Yorker

Grant’s return to the Times was notable because she became the first “girl reporter” on the city desk. Her beat covered hotels — who stayed, performed, cooked or scandalized.

For five years, the couple thrashed out ideas for a new magazine that was a combination of Ross’ humor with Grant’s city life coverage. They saved his salary, lived on hers and sought investors. In 1925 they settled on a name, The New Yorker, and used the nest egg to start. She came up with ideas for him, though she still wrote for the Times.

They ran through their nest egg in months with bankruptcy imminent. Grant encouraged Ross to solicit help from their backer, Raoul Fleischmann, heir of the yeast business. While he did not invest more money, he convinced his mother to invest $100,000, which saved the day. The magazine survived its financial drought and caught the public eye.

The magazine became all-consuming for Ross, as Grant was busy trying to work her job, help him and do freelancing on the side. Eventually, neither wanted to compromise their careers and had grown apart. They divorced in 1929 without much animosity. He kept the magazine, she got alimony and they went their separate ways.

Foreign Correspondent

Grant freelanced even as she traveled the world as a foreign correspondent for the Times. She often visited her sister, Edith Mallory, in Joplin, and her father who still lived in Girard. Those visits were recorded in the Globe and News Herald society pages.

In 1939, she married the editor of Fortune magazine, William Harris. He was different than Ross. He fully supported her feminist advocacy. The couple purchased a Connecticut farm that grew into a landscape nursery, White Flower Farm.

Grant continued her writing. Her “Confessions of a Feminist,” written for the American Mercury in 1943, was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek account of her life as a feminist in the man-dominated world of journalism. She would not be conventional. She knew how to maneuver around obstacles — men — in order to achieve her goals and was not shy about it.

In 1968, she published her memoir, “Ross, The New Yorker and Me.” She had been overshadowed after their divorce, and the book gave her account of their life together. It received mixed reviews, depending on whose side the reviewer took.

But it was favorably reviewed by Mary Curtis Warten, president of the Joplin Council for the Arts, in the Globe in March 1968.

Grant died of cancer on in 1972 at her home in Litchfield, Connecticut. Harris donated to the University of Oregon for a center for research on women and gender studies in 1974. He gave Grant’s papers to the university in 1976 and in his will left it a $3.5 million bequest in her name to establish the Center for the Study of Women in Society in 1981.

Grant was fiercely independent. As Warten observed, “Jane never lost her feeling of challenge and exhilaration in just being there (New York City) and being a part of the most brilliant and colorful coterie of writers, artists, actors and musicians recorded in recent times. She was not just an observer of that lively scene, she helped to spark it.”

Bill Caldwell is the retired librarian at The Joplin Globe. If you have a question you’d like him to research, send an email to wcaldwell@joplinglobe.com or leave a message at 417-627-7261.

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