English and Journalism
Ruth Robertson (1905-1998)
By Bill Knight
Not just the first woman photojournalist for the Peoria Star
Ruth Robertson was not just the first woman photojournalist for Peoria’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. The Taylorville native became a trailblazer in journalism and exploration, achieving many firsts during her career and life—not all pertaining to her gender.
After starting at the Star in 1939, Robertson became:
- the first woman to shoot baseball games from Wrigley Field’s infield,
- the first woman to photograph football from the 50-yard line at a Notre Dame/Northwestern game,
- the only female photographer at the 1944 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and
- the first American woman photographer to get an overseas war assignment. She was the only female war correspondent in Alaska during World War II.
Besides Peoria, her journalism career included work in Chicago and New York, and she interviewed and photographed the likes of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and anthropologist Margaret Mead, future Hall of Fame ballplayer Stan Musial and oil firefighter Red Adair, and world-famous bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin and Nationalist China’s propahandist Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.
In the spring of 1949, however, Robertson made headlines around the world when she led an expedition into dense Venezuelan jungles to photograph and measure the remote Angel Falls, after four previous parties had failed. It’s the world’s tallest waterfall, she proved, with the first picture taken of the falls from the ground. National Geographic devoted 35 pages to her pictures and story, Life, Newsweek and other publications covered her, and President Harry Truman congratulated her achievement.
She later became an assistant managing editor at newspapers in Caracas, Venezuela, and Mexico City, and wrote a memoir of the 1949 adventure: Churun Meru, The Tallest Angel.
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