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Joan McPartlin Mahoney, Harvard Crimson’s first female reporter, dies at 94

Ms. Mahoney held her Harvard Crimson press card from the late 1940s.

Disappointed that she wasn’t invited to the 100th anniversary celebration for The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, Joan McPartlin Mahoney wrote her own first-person account of the historic milestone.

After all, as the publication’s first Radcliffe College correspondent, Ms. Mahoney had played her own role in its history, breaking the gender barrier on the all-male staff.

“I still think of myself as the first girl reporter ever to have worked for the Crimson,” she wrote for The Boston Globe in January 1973 as part of the centennial coverage.

Already a year into her professional career as a Globe freelancer by the time she began writing for the Crimson in 1947, Ms. Mahoney went on to work as a full-time Globe reporter, and later was an in-house editor for engineering firms.


She was 94 when she died July 22 at home in Brimfield. Ms. Mahoney, whose health had been failing, previously had lived in Arlington, Chatham, and Hingham.

“If I had been invited, I’d have gone like a shot to that party and I’d have met a lot of old friends and big names there,” she wrote in 1973 about the 100th anniversary gathering. “Some of them would have been both.”

One of the most significant names to ever grace the Crimson’s masthead, and a former colleague of Ms. Mahoney’s on the student publication, had highlighted her achievement a quarter-century earlier, in the 75th anniversary history of the newspaper.

Anthony Lewis, managing editor of the Crimson in 1947 and a future Pulitzer Prize winner, recalled that the newspaper’s president decided to add “a Radcliffe correspondent to the staff” that fall.

“This miss, Joan McPartlin ‘49, proved so successful at the ‘Cliffe and other women’s hideouts that the Crimson seethed with discussion over the possibility of having females on the sacrosanct staff,” Lewis added.


By 1949, the year she graduated, four Radcliffe women were in a Crimson staff photo, Ms. Mahoney wrote in 1973 — “in those days they called us members of the Radcliffe Bureau.”

Nearly 20 years would pass before a woman became managing editor, in the late 1960s, she said.

Her arrival at the Crimson, however, launched a new era at the Crimson.

“The old feud was at an end,” she wrote. “The Crimson ceased treating Radcliffe girls as Hatfields and recognized them as the real McCoys.”

The oldest of three sisters, Joan McPartlin was born in Cambridge on May 1, 1928, and grew up there, a daughter of Raymond McPartlin and Gertrude Welch McPartlin.

Ms. Mahoney was 23 when her parents died within a few months of each other in 1951. Her mother, a graduate of Trinity College in Washington, D.C., had been admitted to the Massachusetts Bar Association, but did not practice law, according to her Globe obit.

Raymond F. McPartlin, Ms. Mahoney’s father, died at 52 after 28 years as an editor and reporter at the Globe, where his duties included writing the “TV Diary” column at a time when the medium was steadily becoming part of life in homes across the country.

“Even readers who did not have television sets read it and chuckled over his sparkling résumés of an evening’s programs, with clever quips and frank comments,” according to his obit.

Ms. Mahoney was just a few weeks past her 18th birthday when her first Globe byline appeared. Soon dispatched to Cape Cod, she wrote about high school and college students who worked summer jobs “as waitresses and clerks, chauffeurs and soda makers, phone operators and odd jobbers,” all while finding time for the beach.


Like her father, Ms. Mahoney could turn a phrase. “Even girls who, like Betty Dean, work all day in a store have a tan like the penny in your pocket,” she wrote in June 1946.

Her talent earned her a regular byline with the “Summer Semester” column that featured seasonal activities from the Cape to Kennebunk, Maine.

She went from writing features and covering Harvard news as a student to assignments that ranged from politics to reporting on dignitaries as a full-time reporter, including being sent to Washington, D.C., to cover a dinner attended by then-president Harry S. Truman and Princess Elizabeth, just months before she became queen of England.

Ms. Mahoney profiled harpist Olivia Luetcke, then the only woman in the Boston Symphony Orchestra; wrote about the proposed merger of Radcliffe and Harvard; and was part of the Globe’s press corps covering Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second inauguration.

She also was with Jacqueline Bouvier and John F. Kennedy in Hyannisport in 1953, during their first weekend as an engaged couple — before an engagement ring had made an appearance. “We just haven’t had time to pick one out yet,” Bouvier told Ms. Mahoney.

While working in the Globe’s newsroom, Ms. Mahoney met Gerald F. Mahoney Jr., a reporter who was known as Frank. They married in 1957.


Because of nepotism policies of that era, she left the full-time staff and raised their three children, but soon incorporated work outside the home, including freelancing for the Globe.

“During the ‘60s when we were kids, she was kind of the work-from-home mom before the phrase was coined,” said her son, Jim of Winthrop, a former longtime photographer and photo editor at the Boston Herald.

“She sold real estate, she freelanced for the Globe, she worked for the local Arlington newspaper, she was part of Welcome Wagon,” he said. “She always had her finger in a pie, and yet she was always there for us.”

He added that “she always had such high expectations for us and herself, but it was done in a manner that allowed us to grow. It was firm without being stern; it was done with great care and love. She was 100 percent supportive of whatever we got into.”

Her husband, who became known for reporting on fires while working the 2 to 10 p.m. shift during a 39-year Globe career, died in 1991, at 63.

Ms. Mahoney ended her career as an in-house editor for engineering firms and retired to Chatham, where she and her husband had spent vacations.

She later moved to the Linden Ponds senior community in Hingham, where she edited the newsletter, before going to live with her daughter Gail in Brimfield.

A private memorial gathering will be announced for Ms. Mahoney, who in addition to her children Jim and Gail leaves another daughter, Ellen of Belmont, and five grandchildren.


In the late 1940s, as Ms. Mahoney and other student staffers waited at a printing company for the Crimson to roll off the presses, “we used to sit on, and read, great stacks of uncut pages of a particularly macabre journal — a trade magazine for undertakers,” Ms. Mahoney wrote in 1973.

A quarter century after making history as the paper’s first female reporter, she wrote that her “memories are warm, and so is the feeling that we of the Crimson’s Radcliffe Bureau were a feisty, doughty bunch of pioneers.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at