Before she died, Katharine Graham had the cheering experience of seeing her autobiography—Personal History—win a Pulitzer Prize. Writing her life story herself, without the assistance of a ghost writer, she covered the full span of her existence, providing details in a straightforward and down to earth manner.
While she was often referred to as the most powerful woman in Washington, D.C., she never thought of herself in those terms. True, she did head a major business enterprise in the field of journalism (The Washington Post Company) and entertained some of the country’s most influential politicians, business people and other celebrities at dinner parties in her Georgetown home. However, she seemed never to have let any of that go to her head.
In presenting her life story, she relates in an engaging manner how her parents met, how they raised her and her siblings (providing them with a life of privilege, even during the Great Depression), where she went to college, how she met and married her husband, how they came to be the owners of one of Washington, D.C. ‘s major newspapers (The Washington Post), how that newspaper played a leading investigative role in the Watergate scandal (which led to Richard Nixon’s resignation as president of the United States), and how she handed control of the business to her oldest son, Donald. Along the way, she makes references to familial ties she had with other prominent families in the United States
With remarkable equanimity she describes the effects that her husband’s deteriorating mental condition had on both their marriage and their business operations. It was she who found his body after he’d committed suicide in 1963.
Without a doubt, Katharine Graham had an extraordinary life. Probably the most defining moment of it took place when she decided, following her husband’s untimely death, to step in and assume direct control of their newspaper business. Admitting that she knew next to nothing about running it then, she managed to stand her ground and learn the ropes. Her account of her experiences in becoming an effective manager makes for worthwhile reading for any female seeking to “make it” in corporate America.
Her life story wouldn’t be complete without shedding light on how she handled herself as a parent. And Graham does own up to shortcomings in how she treated her four children.
However, all things considered, it’s readily apparent that Personal History deserved the Pulitzer Prize it garnered.