How can an aspiring reporter land a job in journalism?
In 1941, Marguerite “Maggie” Higgins’ approach was, at age 20, to move to New York City and walk into the first newspaper she laid her eyes on. While few career counselors are likely to recommend this today, this was how Higgins advanced from her role as night editor at The Daily Californian to a position at the New York Herald Tribune — where she would work for 21 years. She eventually assumed the role of Tokyo bureau chief and made history as the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.
Higgins began her reporting career at the Daily Cal, where she covered topics ranging from theater to the Mexican Revolution to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC and worked as an editor in the night department. She also celebrated the accomplishments of women on campus by kick-starting her own column, “What About the Women?”
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in French, Higgins moved to New York, determined to land a newspaper job within the year. When she walked into the office of the New York Herald Tribune with her clips from the Daily Cal, she met with then-city editor L.L. “Engel” Engelking. He told her to come back in a month.
Frustrated with the job search, Higgins sent in a last-minute application to Columbia University’s School of Journalism. While completing her master’s degree, Higgins began working for the New York Herald Tribune as a campus correspondent, and upon graduating, was promoted to a position with the newspaper’s city desk.
Born in Hong Kong to a French teacher and a World War I pilot, Higgins had a global curiosity and thirst for adventure running through her veins. In her autobiography, she wrote, “I have known since childhood that if there was to be a war I wanted to be there to know for myself what force cuts so deep into the hearts of men.”
With World War II raging on, she soon had the opportunity, and in 1944, moved to London and then Paris to cover the war as one of the Tribune’s foreign correspondents.
Before long, she was at the front lines. In 1945, Higgins was one of the first two Americans to reach Dachau, arriving before Allied troops on their way to liberate the camp. Higgins went on to report on the liberation of Buchenwald, the capture of Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden and later the Nuremberg trials.
She stayed in Europe after the war, moving to Berlin to serve as the Tribune’s bureau chief, where she covered the expansion of the Soviet bloc and the Berlin Blockade. In 1950, Higgins was appointed to serve as chief of the Tribune’s Tokyo bureau, where she would win the Pulitzer Prize for her Korean War coverage.
After long periods abroad in Europe and Asia, Higgins returned to the United States and lived in Washington, D.C. She remained a prolific writer — in 1963, she left the Tribune to become a columnist for Newsday and published books on Korea, Russia and Vietnam, as well as her own biography, “News is a Singular Thing.” Overseas adventure spanned her life from beginning to end; while touring Vietnam in 1965, Higgins contracted leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that tragically led to her death.
Higgins’ legacy lives on in her reporting, where she brought wartime news back home to American readers. She is remembered for the ambition and persistence that she harnessed to cover the wars of the 20th century. In addition, she is remembered for overcoming biases toward female reporters and making history at the frontlines, on deadline.