Life and ‘Times’ of A Court Reporter

Adams House once closed its doors to Linda Greenhouse; today, she’s honored at HLS

When Linda J. Greenhouse ’68 became the first female reporter sent to the Albany bureau by The New York Times, she was “quite shocked” to find that women could not attend the main social event on the calendar—a show in which correspondents from predominantly male newspapers dressed in drag and performed parodies about state politics.

“I protested, and it was quickly changed, but I still refused to be in the silly show,” writes Greenhouse, Harvard Law School’s 2006 Class Day speaker, in an e-mail.

It wasn’t the first time Greenhouse felt the sting of gender discrimination.

Greenhouse, who grew up in Hamden, Conn., and was editor of her high school newspaper, joined The Crimson in her freshman year of college. She was frequently barred from the surrounding all-male Houses’ dining halls—Adams, the House closest to the newspaper’s offices, only allowed women to enter a few nights each week, as Greenhouse recalled in a 1973 speech.

“I often ate dinner alone at a cheap place in the Square when I was working late at The Crimson because I couldn’t eat with the guys in Adams House and didn’t have time to go back to my dorm,” Greenhouse, who lived in North House—now Pforzheimer—writes in an e-mail.

She was one of three freshmen to be elected to The Crimson in 1964. She later rose to be the paper’s features editor and the editor of the Confidential Guide, a review of courses published by The Crimson.

But she was unable to gain admission to the Signet, the arts and letters society that included many Crimson editors at the time, and she says that fact “really rankled” her. The Signet first opened its doors to female members in 1970, two years after Greenhouse’s graduation.

Outside of the paper’s 14 Plympton Street offices, she was a government concentrator, a correspondent for the Radcliffe Quarterly, and a member of the Harvard Policy Committee. She was elected a class marshal her senior year.

As an undergraduate, Greenhouse also worked as a stringer for The Boston Herald, which ultimately refused to even interview her for a post-college job because she was a woman.

But in the face of gender bias, Greenhouse fought back. Her junior year, she helped lead a successful campaign to get Radcliffe students access to Lamont Library.

HER LIFE AND TIMES

Greenhouse’s long career at the Times began when, only a month after graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe, she became the first female clerk to renowned columnist James B. Reston.

“I think I owe my job to the war in Vietnam,” Greenhouse says. “The guys were not free to take jobs like that because they would be drafted.”

Greenhouse describes entering The New York Times’ headquarters for the first time as “stepping into the wilderness.” Without a female role model in the field of journalism, Greenhouse says her future was not at all clear. “I think I was very naïve,” she says. “I just was going to do what I was going to do.”

Greenhouse rose rapidly through the ranks. In 1969, the Times promoted Greenhouse to general assignment reporter. In 1970, Greenhouse became the Westchester County correspondent, a post she held for three years. Greenhouse then spent a short time as the night rewrite reporter, after which she was assigned to Albany to cover New York’s state government. After only two years in the state capital, she became bureau chief.

In 1978, following a year at Yale Law School, where she earned a master of studies in law degree on a Ford Foundation fellowship, Greenhouse was assigned to the Times’ Washington Bureau and became its Supreme Court correspondent. With the exception two years in the mid-80s during which she wrote on Congress, Greenhouse has covered the Supreme Court ever since. In 1998, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Court.

“She paved the way for other female journalists,” says Washington Post publisher and chief executive officer Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr. ’68, a good friend of Greenhouse who was president of The Crimson while she was features editor.

“Linda certainly was a groundbreaker,” says J. Anthony Lewis ’48, a former Crimson managing editor and Greenhouses’s predecessor as Supreme Court correspondent for the Times.

“Her career really marks the trajectory of her profession,” says Greenhouse’s husband, Eugene R. Fidell, a prominent attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968 and taught there as adjunct professor in 2004.

Last year, Greenhouse published her first book, “Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey” after she was the first print reporter to receive access to Blackmun’s papers and documents.

“It was a thrill to pick her up at the end of the workday and hear her say, ‘You won’t believe what I found today,’” says Fidell, who commutes to work with Greenhouse each day.

For her Class Day speech, Greenhouse says she will be drawing on her experience of covering the Supreme Court. “She has had a vantage point from which to observe the Supreme Court for many years,” Fidell says. “She has a perspective that students may not get from the faculty.”

Since 1980, Greenhouse has appeared regularly on the PBS program “Washington Week” analyzing significant legal events.

In 2002, Greenhouse and Lewis became the first non-lawyers to receive the Henry Friendly Medal for distinguished figures in the legal world from the American Law Institute.

But Greenhouse’s interests and involvement extend far beyond her profession.

“Linda has a very broad interest in public policy—in life,” Lewis says. “She’s acute on all subjects, not just the law.”

Greenhouse is a fellow and council member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, a member and former vice-president of the Women’s Forum of Washington, D.C., and council member of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute.

Several years ago, Greenhouse took part in the “Snore and Roar” program at the National Zoo, an event at which attendees camp out on a summer night and wake up with the animals.

“I did it with my neighbor because Gene didn’t want to come with me,” Greenhouse says with a laugh.

Greenhouse has a special interest in horses, and she has written several articles for the Times on equestrian topics. Greenhouse says her love for horses began in college when a group of Crimson editors became interested in horse-racing. At that time, the Radcliffe gym had a riding program, through which Greenhouse went to a stable in a suburb of Boston every Wednesday afternoon for three years. “I never got any good at it, and I never got over my fear of horses,” Greenhouse says.

Greenhouse also once had a five-foot-long pet iguana named Madonna.

“Linda is just a very nice, gentle person. It belies a very tough mind,” Jones says. “She’ll ask tough questions and cut to the core of things.

In addition to speaking at Class Day, She will also be awarded the Radcliffe Institute Medal on Radcliffe Day this Friday.

Recent Class Day speakers at HLS include CNN talk show host Larry King, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, now the U.S. attorney general, and former presidential adviser David Gergen, now a Kennedy School professor.

—Staff writer Johannah S. Cornblatt can be reached at jcornbl@fas.harvard.edu.