Katharine Graham Is Newest in Distinguished Americans Series
WASHINGTON — A brilliant businessperson and publisher whose leadership helped elevate The Washington Post to national prominence, Katharine Graham today became the 17th honoree in the Distinguished Americans stamp series from the U.S. Postal Service.
Graham, who died in 2001, was often called the most powerful woman in America for the influential and shrewd decisions she made, starting in the turbulent 1960s until stepping down in the early 1990s.
“Katharine Graham was a trailblazer — the first woman to head a Fortune 500 company, and the first to serve as a director of The Associated Press,” said Donald Moak, a member of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors who served as dedicating official for the ceremony.
Moak also mentioned Graham’s legacy of strength amid the difficulties she faced by “refusing to bend to unprecedented political pressure in the midst of two critical chapters of history: the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.
Joining Moak in dedicating the stamp were Graham’s son Donald, who served as master of ceremonies; her younger son, Steven and daughter, Lally Weymouth, who both also spoke; Michael Beschloss, historian; and Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress.
The stamp features an oil portrait of Graham by Lynn Staley, based on a photograph taken during the peak of Graham’s influence as owner and president of The Washington Post Co. and publisher of its flagship newspaper. Art director Derry Noyes designed the stamp.
Graham’s name appears in red beneath the portrait. The word “PUBLISHER” is printed vertically downward from the top left and the words “TWO OUNCE” and “USA” are horizontally stacked at top right. These stamps will always be equal in value to the First-Class Mail 2-ounce price, ideal for additional postage needed for heavier First-Class letters. News of the stamp is being shared with the hashtag #KatharineGrahamStamp.
Born June 16, 1917, Katharine Meyer grew up in Washington with four siblings and attended the Madeira School in Virginia. She was 16 when her father purchased The Washington Post at a bankruptcy auction in 1933. The Post was then the least successful of the capital city’s five daily newspapers. After graduating from high school, she attended Vassar College and transferred to the University of Chicago, from which she graduated in 1938.
In 1940, she married Philip Graham, a young attorney who would become publisher of the newspaper in 1946. She focused on raising their four children until unexpectedly widowed in 1963. It was at that point when necessity forced reinvention. Although concerned about her limited experience, Graham felt she had no other choice but to assume leadership of the company. She would learn the business from every angle and find she truly loved it.
The era of her journalistic leadership was tumultuous. One of Graham’s great tests came in June 1971 with the leak of the Pentagon Papers, a classified government history of the Vietnam War. After The New York Times published several installments, a federal judge ordered The Times to cease publication. But The Washington Post also had acquired portions of the documents that were not included under the court’s edict. It was, however, a critical moment for the company.
The Washington Post Co. was on the eve of a public stock offering. If Graham approved the publishing of the documents, as the newspaper’s editors wanted, it could endanger the offering. Potentially more damaging: The government could revoke the company’s highly profitable television licenses. Caught between the editorial and the business interests of The Post, Graham decided to print the contents of the Pentagon Papers. The government sought — and was granted — an injunction that took the issue to the Supreme Court, which ruled against prior restraint and for press freedom.
One year later came the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate office building. The Post’s tenacious investigative reporting would ultimately lead to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Once again, Graham faced threats from the administration but decided to print the Watergate story while other media outlets stood by for months. These were heady years for journalists and those who led them, but they were not the most difficult time that Graham would face.
Her ultimate test of leadership began in October 1975 when a pressmen’s strike at The Post turned violent. Workers beat their foreman, assaulted others and set fire to printing presses. The strike lasted almost five months, which Graham would cite as the most stressful chapter of her career.
Her time in the executive suite brought enormous growth, influence and national prominence to The Washington Post Co. She became a savvy, pioneering businesswoman and a high-profile role model for women.
In 1991, Graham named her son Donald as CEO of The Washington Post Co. while she remained chairman of the board. In 1993, he became chairman of the board and she stayed on as chairman of the executive committee. She wrote and published her memoir, “Personal History,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998.
Professionally active until the end, Graham was attending a media conference in Sun Valley, ID, in 2001, when she fell. She died three days later. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2002.
These 2-ounce stamps will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 2-ounce price.
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