Higgins, Marguerite

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1920-09-03
Death 1966-01-03
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Marguerite Higgins (1920-1966), pioneering newspaperwoman, columnist, and author, was best known for reporting from the front lines during the Korean War. Honored as the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of international affairs (1951), she had a long career with the New York Herald Tribune (1942-1963), and later, as a syndicated columnist for Newsday (1963-1965). She also wrote books on reporting, Korea, Russia and Vietnam, and contributed articles to several other newspapers and magazines including America, the Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Mademoiselle, and McCall’s . She made television appearances on shows such as "Meet the Press" and "Today." A frequently requested lecturer, she traveled as extensively inside the U.S. as abroad. She visited Vietnam several times, and while touring there in 1965 contracted leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease, which forced her to return to the U.S. where she died in Washington D.C. on January 3, 1966 at age 45. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Higgins was born in Hong Kong on September 3, 1920 to Lawrence Daniel Higgins, a WWI pilot, steamship freight manager, and businessman and Marguerite de Godard Higgins, a Frenchwoman and teacher. She grew up in Oakland, California and attended the prestigious Anna Head School in Berkeley. In 1941 she graduated cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley, after which she moved to New York City with the hopes of finding a newspaper job. Frustrated in her efforts, she applied for a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. While attending Columbia, she became a campus correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune and upon graduating in 1942, joined the city desk staff. She married Stanley Moore, a philosophy professor at Harvard, in 1942, but their union later ended in divorce.

In 1944, she was appointed to the Tribune ’s London bureau and in 1945, the Paris bureau. One of the first two Americans to reach Dachau, she was met by German SS troops who surrendered to her and a colleague just before the allied troops arrived. Her coverage of the liberation earned a New York Newspaperwomen’s Club award for Best Foreign Correspondent in 1945. She also reported the liberation of Buchenwald and the capture of Hitler’s home Berchtesgaden. After the war she covered the Marshal Henri Pétain and Nuremberg Trials. In 1947 she was named chief of the Berlin bureau and spent the next few years traveling throughout Eastern Europe covering the communist take over of Poland and Czechoslovakia, and the Berlin blockade.

In 1950, a few weeks before the Korean War began, she was assigned chief of the Tokyo bureau. She was in Seoul during the invasion and landed at Inchon with the marines. She and Homer Bigart, her colleague at the Tribune, competed for front-page coverage that resulted in both winning Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. In a much publicized effort to remain on the front lines, she persuaded General Douglas MacArthur, whom she had interviewed at the beginning of the war, to allow her return to the action after Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker had banned women reporters due to lack of proper "facilities." Her first book, War in Korea: Report of a Woman Combat Correspondent was published in 1951. And as her work in Korea became well known, her life-story was widely sought after by the major Hollywood studios and agents.

She returned to Vietnam in 1951 for the first time since childhood to interview Emperor Bao Dai. During this year she also interviewed world leaders such as the Shah of Iran, Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, Queen Frederika of Greece, Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain, Prime Minister Nehru of India, and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, among others.

From 1952-1954 she remained based in the Far East where she covered the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu. The first westerner to penetrate the Black Sea since WWII, Higgins’ travels throughout the USSR during 1954 and 1955 were used for the basis of her book, Red Plush and Black Bread .

In 1952 she married then Air Force Major General William E. Hall, a U.S. intelligence director, whom she met while bureau chief in Berlin. Their first daughter, born in 1953, died five days after a premature birth. In 1958 she gave birth to a son and in 1959, a daughter. Her autobiographical book on reporting, News is a Singular Thing, was published in 1955.

In addition to American presidents, politicians, and diplomats, she interviewed such international figures as: General MacArthur, General Gruenther, General Van Fleet, General Krulak, General Mohammed Naquib, Lord Ismay, Konrad Adenauer, Chiang Kai-Shek, Madame Kai-Shek, Syngman Rhee, Ngo Dinh Nhu and Madame Nhu, Ramon Magsaysay, Mohammed Mossadegh, and Prince Sihanouk.

She joined the Washington Bureau of the Tribune in 1956. As a diplomatic correspondent, she accompanied Nixon to Russia in 1959, Kennedy to Europe in 1961, and secured an interview with rebel leader Antoine Gizenga of the Belgian Congo, just as Indian planes arrived in Leopoldville. She interviewed Rose Kennedy after President Kennedy’s assassination. In 1962, her only children’s book, Jessie Benton Fremont, was published.

In November of 1963 she left the New York Herald Tribune to become a syndicated columnist for Newsday . Her column, "On the Spot," appeared three times a week in several newspapers. She also became a columnist for Die Welt (Hamburg), Die Welt am Sonntag (Hamburg), and the Evening Star (Washington, D.C.). She continued to write books, and in 1964, Overtime in Heaven: Adventures in the Foreign Service, which she co-authored with Peter Lisagor of the Chicago Daily News, was published. Vietnam consumed the final years of Higgins’ life. Her last book, Our Vietnam Nightmare, was published in 1965.

From the guide to the Marguerite Higgins Papers, 1920-1986, 1943-1965, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

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