I wanted to start a series of little biographies of amazing women I hear about. This likely won't be a regular feature--but in our quest for adventure, I think its important to look back at women who captured an inquisitive and enthusiastic spirit.
Aline Saarinen was a pioneer in her own right, a woman of education and influence. She was the daughter of two artists, traveled Europe to experience art and eventually became a Vassar girl, majoring in Art and English. She later told the New York Post, "Vassar taught you [that you] could have marriage, a career and children. It never occurred to me not to.”
She married her first husband and attended NYU's Master of Fine Arts program--and obtained a degree and two sons, Donald and Harry in the process. She went on to be the managing editor at Art News Magazine and in 1946 published her first book about art, 5000 Years of Art: A Pictorial History. The book was highly acclaimed and lauded by the New York literati--and actually lead to her next role as the Art and Culture Critic at the New York Times. It was in this role that she met the "love of her life" and the eventual cause she would spend a lifetime championing. She was sent to interview a young architect by the name of Eero Saarinen, who had just designed the innovative and monumental St. Louis Arch. The two had an intense and immediate attraction and were married several years later.
You may know Eero Saarinen more for his furniture design than his architectural design, but he was a pioneer in both. Eero designed the General Motors Technical Center in Detroit, the St. Louis Arch, Dulles International Airport, and the TWA building at JFK Airport--among many other noted projects. He was a visionary of the Mid-Century Modern design aesthetic.
Aline took herself to championing Eero Saarinen's name. She had gained a large following in the art community, and she made sure to advance his name, designs, and agenda at whatever juncture she could. She had high profile friends like Nelson Rockefeller who no doubt added to Saarinen's appeal. During her newspaper journalistic career she was awarded many honors and became known as an authority on art and culture.
Sadly, Eero passed away in 1961 a day after surgery for a brain tumor. Aline took a break from her journalistic career to mourn the loss of her beloved husband. After several months, she reappeared on the scene in a new and increasingly popular medium, television. She was interviewed about a Rembrandt piece at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Of course, since she was a mover and a shaker in the art community this led to many more television appearances. She catapulted that one chance interview into a full-fledged career in television. First, Aline focused mostly on arts and culture, as had been her niche previously. However, she quickly moved into commentating on other feminine topics such as etiquette, morals and manners.
Later, she covered the human side of the Vietnam war and the 1968 Presidential election. For three years in the late 1960's she had her own morning show called "For Women Only". This show focused on hard hitting and culturally relevant topics such as birth control, pesticides and other dangerous chemicals, emerging homosexuality, and the law, merit and dangers of abortion. She would moderate panel of experts and with her intellectual and brisk, expressive personality she would navigate this amazingly touchy and diverse array of subjects. When she left the show it was renamed "Not for Women Only" and was taken over by present day television icon Barbara Walters. The two became good friends as dynamic pioneers in the male dominated industry. You can read an article about the role of women in television as Saarinen was leaving her post in 1971. (The link is the whole issue of New York Magazine from March 15, 1971. The article begins on page 43.)
Saarinen's last major media achievement was as the first female head of a foreign news bureau. She sat at the helm of NBC New's Paris bureau. She sadly succumbed to the same disease that killed her husband and died only a year after her final post from brain cancer. Her life's work is summed up in her quote, "Twenty years ago an editor would never think of sending a reporter, especially a woman, half way around the world to cover the opening of an art museum. Now the American public is becoming interested in such things, largely because of television.”
I love learning about other fascinating women, and when I'm in need of some inspiration--these are women that I turn to. Women from our mother's and grandmother's generations, who pioneered the way to be able pursue an adventuresome and passionate life. While I may have more traditional values, it seems, than many notable female pioneers of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, I do believe it is hugely important for women to have a voice, if they choose, in the workplace, in legislation, and even in (especially?) highly-charged cultural topics. I love that I can choose to stay at home with my children, but that I am afforded many other opportunities to continue to learn and grow as a woman. I am equally intrigued by women like Amelia Earhart, Ruth Bell Graham, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Georgia O'Keefe, Marie Curie, and Sally Ride...too name just a few. It's obvious that I draw on inspiration from women who have come before me--so please look forward to learning about other women who inspire me. It's so fascinating!
The first image in the post and the last plus other fascinating portraits, snapshots, and personal correspondences can be found at the Smithsonian website, here.
The TWA image belongs to Mario Tama/Getty Images. The Saarinen table interior photo is from Reid Rolls. The Arch was photographed by Bob Arteaga. The source is unknown for the Dulles image. Information from this biography was obtained primarily from The Paley Center for Media.