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A speech by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall at the Women in Journalism reception, London

Published on 7th February 2018

Ladies, and the odd Gentleman - there’s a couple over there....
I would like to begin by thanking you for inviting me here today.  I was trying to think what to provide for a group of female journalists and it occurred to me that the ideal thing would be a Royal story you may be unaware of…. Can I hear your pencils sharpening…?

My story concerns not a member of the Royal Family, but a woman called Anne Royall.  She would have been excellent company this evening as she was regarded by some as one of the first professional woman journalists.  She was born in America in 1769, the daughter of a penniless single mother.  This didn’t hold her back for she went on to be a hugely successful writer, newspaper owner and editor.  She travelled a great deal in the very young United States.  She wrote about her travels and also took notes about unscrupulous innkeepers who tried to take advantage of travellers – so, rather pleasingly, she was a sort of early Trip Advisor.

She was, by all accounts, a formidable woman.  The President at the time was John Quincy Adams.  He was in the habit of taking a naked swim each morning in the Potomac River.  The story is told that she caught him enjoying one such early bath and sat on his clothes on the river bank until he answered her questions about pensions for widows, thus making her the first woman to interview a U.S. President!  Now no-one knows if this story is true or not; I doubt it's the best way to get an interview today but it's a marvellous measure of female guile.
 Women have, of course, also been in British journalism for generations.  As far back as 1891, Rachel Beer was editor of 'The Observer' and two years later 'The Sunday Times', but as you know, it is not a smooth history.  No woman has edited either paper since.  In 1927 the first BBC News Service began.  It was overseen by Hilda Matheson.  It would not be until the next century that a woman would be in charge again.

A bold, thriving press is part of what makes Britain great, but it is vital that in stories from around the world we hear both male and female perspectives.  Research by your own organization shows that it is still not easy for women journalists, and in general stories about women are less likely to be told.  We should applaud the powerhouse forces in journalism who make sure no one is overlooked - from redoubtable veterans like Ann Leslie to the next generation of writers such as the columnist Lola Okolosie who was a winner in the 'Ending Violence against Women and Girls Media Awards' for writing about sexual harassment in schools.

My Royall story reminds us that we need to continue to take courage from great women of the past, but we also need to look to the future.  I am privileged to meet many amazing women in my travels around the world and I know how important it is that we hear their voices and their experiences.  Thank you for helping us to make sure we record the great women of today so we can inspire the young women of tomorrow.  Telling their stories is not just good for women, it's good for the world…

Thank you very much.