POKIN AROUND: Female Newspaper Reporter Makes her Mark in the Queen City

SPRINGFIELD, Mo- Steve Pokin from the Springfield News-Leader is back with another "Pokin Around" story about a woman who paved the path for female reporters in Springfield. 

Back in the rough-and-tumble 1920s, school teacher Lucile Morris Upton dove headfirst into the male-dominated newspaper business as a reporter.

 

 

It was a time when many papers refused to hire women and - when they did -  often made them "retire" when they married. 

Lucile died in 1992 at the age of 94 after a remarkable 58-year newspaper career here in Springfield.

She was the first female reporter in Springfield to cover the courts.

I am writing about her today because it was not until Nov. 4 that I learned not only of her accomplishments as a trail-blazing female reporter but her lasting impact on the Ozarks, as well.

Have you ever been to Wilson's Creek Battlefield? She was instrumental in making it a national park.

She also was a driving force in making the Nathan Boone home in Ash Grove a state park. 

Later in life, Lucile served on the Springfield City Council 1967 to 1971, where she was a champion of historic conservation.

A stop in Denver

Lucile made the jump from teaching to news In 1923.

She was heading back to Missouri from Roswell, en route to Kansas City, where she had acquired her next teaching job.

Her travel route included a stop in Denver. 

While there, she heard that the Denver Express - which would become the Rocky Mountain News -had an opening and that the paper actually hired female reporters. 

She walked in the door and was hired her on the spot. 

Lucile's first job was writing an advice column for the lovelorn. 

She wrote it under the name "Cynthia Gray."

She longed for a real assignment.

She got one. She covered then-President Warren G. Harding's visit to Denver.

Something about the business infected her, says Jones. 

Also, Lucile knew she could write.

Lucile talked about that first job, "I was young and overwhelmed with joy at being a newspaper reporter."

London calling

From Denver, Lucile went to work as a reporter at the paper in El Paso, Texas. Her interview subjects included Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor. 

Her next job was to be with the International News Service in London. But life is filled with plot points where the narrative suddenly changes.

Before heading overseas, Lucile first stopped in the Ozarks to visit her mother. During that visit, her mother was stricken with appendicitis.

So Lucile stayed. She never went to London. 

In August of 1926, someone at the Leader had the good sense to hire her as a reporter.

She would spend the rest of her career and the rest of her life in Springfield, without regret.

An imposing figure

Lucile was a tall - 5 foot 9 - imposing figure, Kelly says. 

 

 

When Lucile was in her 20s, Kelly says, there were men who sought her hand in marriage. (She married Eugene Upton at age 38.)

"I asked her once why she never re-married after Eugene died," Kelly says. 

"Her answer was, 'I like men well enough.'"

"But basically it was that she didn't want to pick up anybody's socks." 

Kelly recalls when she and Lucile went to dinner at the Shady Inn, a former steak place with a piano bar that closed in 2001.

Kelly says she discovered that Lucile drank and that her preferred adult beverage was scotch.

Lucile made an attempt to smoke cigarettes. At the time, a fog of cigarette smoke filled the newsroom.

She wanted to fit in with her newsroom colleagues, Jones says.

"She told me, 'I tried, but I could not do it."
 


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