Jill Abramson begins work as first female Executive Editor of New York Times

September 6, 2011

On September 6, 2011, 57-year-old Jill Abramson began work as the first woman in the top editorial post at the country’s most prestigious newspaper. A New York City native and Harvard graduate, Abramson had worked at the Times since 1997, including three years as Washington bureau chief in the early 2000s.

Not long before, women and minorities were second-class citizens at the Times. It was considered out of the question that a woman would ever be an editor. In a New Yorker profile of Abramson, Ken Auletta described a 1962 conversation between Eileen Shanahan, who went on to become a well-regarded economics reporter, and the assistant managing editor, Clifton Daniel. “All I ever want is to be a reporter on the best newspaper in the world,” Shanahan told him. “That’s good,” Daniel replied, “because I can assure you no woman will ever be an editor at the New York Times.

Jill Abramson’s appointment as Executive Editor represented a breakthrough for women but not for Jews. Of the previous five editors to lead the paper, three had been Jewish. In Abramson’s case, her background was the secular Judaism of New York’s Ethical Culture Society. Her parents were both from upper-middle class Jewish families, but they did not belong to a synagogue, and she quipped that “the Times substituted for religion” in her childhood home.

Although a Jewish family has owned The New York Times for over a century, until the early 1960s Jewish reporters and editors were encouraged to hide their ethnicity lest the paper be perceived as a “Jewish paper.” As the Daily Forward reported, “today, the Times is unabashed about the Jewishness of many of its most high-profile staffers and executives.” 

In 1994, Abramson and Jane Mayer co-authored Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, a thoroughly researched account of how much evidence against Thomas was concealed during his confirmation hearings. Her capacity for more personal writing was on display in The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout, a 2011 book based on a popular column she wrote for the Times website.

Sources: The Jewish Woman with Journalism’s Biggest Job, The Daily Forward; Ken Auletta's profile of Jill Abramson in the New Yorker.

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Jill Abramson at a 2012 panel discussion at Alice Tully Hall.

Courtesy of the US Department of Labor/Wikimedia Commons.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jill Abramson begins work as first female Executive Editor of New York Times." (Viewed on August 26, 2019) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/sep/06/2011/jill-abramson>.

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