The Post and Personal History – Katharine Graham

Katharine Graham’s book Personal History is a memoir of her life growing up with wealth and privilege, marrying young and becoming the first female newspaper publisher in the United States, when she was made president of The Washington Post Company.

In the book Graham describes her early life, including moving to Washington with her parents at the age of four, her relationship with her four siblings and the emotional detachment of her mother who she said had a ‘lack of interest’ in motherhood. She describes being raised largely by a governess, the resilience she developed as a result and how this stood her in great stead in later in life.

The book covers Graham’s marriage to Phil Graham – a confidant to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson – the birth of her four children and Phil’s decline into alcohol abuse and mental illness and his eventual suicide. Within a month of her husband’s death, Katharine Graham was elected as president of The Washington Post Company, a role which she admits was far bigger than she ever imagined.

The second half of a Personal History covers Graham’s career at the helm of The Washington Post Company, and covers the company’s acquisitions, the release of the Pentagon Papers on the heightened involvement of United States in the Vietnam War and the challenges of dealing with unions and workers through the pressmen’s strike. Watergate which was reported on over a two-year period by The Post is described by Graham as ‘the most important occurrence in my working life’. Her analysis and comment on Watergate including how it unfolded, the people who worked on it and how it changed journalism and the way journalists work provides deep insight. Watergate, says Graham, ‘underscored the crucial role of a free, able and energetic press.’

Personal History by Katharine Graham was a Pultizer Prize winner.

Graham K, Personal History, United States, Alfred a Knopf Inc, 1997. ISBN 978 0394585857

The film The Post is a political thriller directed and produced by Steven Spielberg about the first female publisher of The Washington Post, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) who race to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four US Presidents.

Watch the trailer here.

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