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DENOUDEN: Celebrating ‘Angry Young Women’

“To read the section devoted to ‘Women’ in almost any newspaper would leave the impression that women are stupid and vain.”

That’s how Florence “Floss” Ronald, a former owner and publisher of The Daily Republic, expresses the thoughts of a group she describes as the “Angry Young Women” in a 1963 column about the changing landscape of newspapers — a landscape she helped to shape.

I discovered Ronald’s columns in a gem of a collection lent to me by Shirley Tanner, a volunteer at the Carnegie Resource Center. The collection is called “As I Was Saying,” also the title of Ronald’s weekly column, and includes sometimes serious, sometimes silly, always entertaining thoughts of a woman who was more than a little before her time.

When her husband, Malcolm, died in 1955, Floss took over as publisher — when newspapers were still dominated by men. But she helped lead the charge to change the business, and all businesses, just by being a part of it.

Floss and Malcolm had twins — a boy and a girl, Dick and Joyce. Joyce, who has graciously begun corresponding with me, offered some insight into what this transition period was like for Floss, whose husband suffered a debilitating stroke at just 50 years old. That stroke left Malcolm homebound for two years, unable to speak or walk. “No such thing as occupational therapy then,” Joyce noted in an email recently.

“Then mother decided to don a business suit and go to the DR (Daily Republic) and inhabit my father’s office,” she continued.

The second in command at that time was a nephew of Floss’ by the name of Ezra Brady. According to Joyce, he wasn’t fond of his aunt’s presence at first.

“He was not going to relinquish any power to her and made it very hard for her,” Joyce wrote. “But she persevered and stayed in the office, attended legislative sessions in Pierre, went to yearly editorial writers meetings, etc., etc. All the while she was writing bylined stories.”

Later, when Joyce and her husband were living in Rome, Italy, Floss visited Rome and covered the Vatican II meetings with Pope John XXIII.

“Then came the move to the new quarters and gradually she was very much respected and had more control,” Joyce concluded.

My, how times have changed.

These days, there are many things I take for granted.

Air conditioning, Christmas tinsel, toe socks, “Garfield and Friends” — I’ve never lived in a universe where these didn’t exist, for which I’m eternally grateful.

But being told I can’t do something — or anything — just because I’m a woman?

A college education wasn’t frowned upon; it was expected. Careers are encouraged. Independence is seen as a positive.

(Being single at 26 is still apparently a cardinal sin, but, you can only change so many things in a half-century, I suppose.)

March is National Women’s History Month, so it seems fitting to salute Floss, who died in 1989, and Joyce, and all the other women who made the thought of being marginalized just because of my gender seem far away, almost silly.

Using her newfound newspaper voice, Floss lauded the advancement of women in her own profession, and she did it ever so gracefully.

“The Angry Young Women want to make an important contribution with their women’s pages. They feel that they can actually upgrade the status of women by upgrading the women’s page,” Ronald wrote in “Angry Young Women.” “They are trained to think that women are interested in much more than societies and clubs.”

A woman of many talents — she had operatic vocal training at the University of Iowa and directed the choir at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church — Floss’ columns reflect someone who cared deeply about her family, her community, and yes, her career.

And, goodness, she was funny.

“Then he repeated over and over again a word which sounded like ‘banana, banana, banana,’ ” Floss says, describing the auctioneer in a 1960 column, “Livestock Auction,” which provides hilarious insight into how little sense the salebarn scene makes to outsiders.

Her story ends with, “After a while the auctioneer again said, ‘Banana, banana, banana, open the gate, I sold a cow,’ and he rang the dinger. And I left, really not much the wiser than when I came.”

Joyce seems to have inherited that sense of humor and independence, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn more about a family I now feel a deep sense of gratitude toward.

In many ways, this is still a man’s world, and we still haven’t reached true equality. But the gap is much, much narrower than it was in 1955, and I credit women like Floss Ronald — along with my own grandmother, my mother, my sisters and sister-in-law and all the other amazing, strong women I’ve grown up around — with continuing the work that pioneering spirits like Floss began.

As another of Floss’ columns states, “Women are here to stay.”

Yes, I do believe we are.