Fort Worth

She was the Star-Telegram’s first female reporter. They called her a ‘sob sister’

How to use the Fort Worth Library’s digital Star-Telegram archive

Fort Worth librarian Jana Hill demonstrates how to find digital copies of the Star-Telegram. More than 120 years of the Texas paper are available online.
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Fort Worth librarian Jana Hill demonstrates how to find digital copies of the Star-Telegram. More than 120 years of the Texas paper are available online.

Fort Worth’s first female reporter went to work for the Star-Telegram at a time when women could not vote or drive in Texas.

She joined the paper at the age of 23 in February 1912 (not 1911 as later reported). In newspaper vernacular, she was a “sob sister,” a woman who covered society events and wrote human-interest stories, leaving the serious reporting up to the men. She was not even a college graduate yet. (Years later, she graduated from Kidd-Key College and Conservatory in Sherman, TX.)

For two years before Louis J. Wortham hired her at the Star-Telegram she worked for the San Antonio Express. Kitty Barry proudly described herself as a “suffragist” and newspaperwoman. Her male colleagues at the Star-Telegram weren’t impressed. They made fun of her – at least until she scooped them all with an interview of Lena Sneed, wife of accused murderer J.B. Sneed who had killed the father of her paramour, Al Boyce Sr., in one of the most sensational cases in Fort Worth history.

She was still writing copy for the society pages in the winter of 1912 when the Boyce-Sneed case came to trial. Lena Sneed was holed up in the Worth Hotel as the star witness for the defense. Her location was so hush-hush her name did not even appear on the hotel register, and she was accompanied by female relatives whenever she went out.

Barry, on her own initiative, managed to track her to the Worth and knocked on her second-floor door. Lena Sneed was so sure her presence in town was a secret that her first question upon opening the door was, “How did you find me?”

Barry asked for an interview to which Sneed said, “I can’t talk to newspaper reporters.” Undeterred, Barry appealed to her woman-to-woman, engaging her in conversation while they stood in the open doorway. It was not exactly an interview, but it was newsworthy enough to get on page one of the Star-Telegram the next day.

Not having a real interview to write up, Barry built her story around a description of the runaway wife (“a distinctively feminine woman”) that appealed to the newspaper’s male and female readers alike.

Thereafter, Barry was treated with more respect by her male colleagues. That summer she also became a charter member of the Free Ice and Milk Committee, formed to provide those two necessities for the city’s poor, particularly children and the ill. She became a director of the committee’s annual fund-raising campaign in the following years, the youngest woman on the committee and the only one who wasn’t herself a society grand dame. She remained a society reporter but now she had her own byline.

One of her colleagues at the Star-Telegram was Garfield Crawford who reported on farm and livestock matters. They fell in love and were married in 1913. Professional partners as well as husband-wife, they struck out on their own in 1915, launching The Critic, a weekly periodical of “art, music, politics, amusements, business, education, and humor.”

They shared the editorial duties and handled all the writing, too. Then Kitty Barry Crawford learned she had tuberculosis, also known as “consumption” and “the Great White Plague” and incurable at the time. They shut down The Critic, and she went into seclusion, but she went back to work for the Star-Telegram writing free-lance out of her home, in which capacity she wrote a series of articles in the summer of 1921 under the odd heading, “Counterpane Land” about tuberculosis sufferers. She used the forum to talk about “all the beautiful, tragical, ironical things I have seen and experienced.”

As she had done in her professional life, Barry Crawford beat the odds for tuberculosis and lived a long life. She and Garfield celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1963. He died in Arlington, TX, in 1970 after a long and distinguished career that included doing promotion for Fort Worth’s Diamond Jubilee (1923) and the Texas Centennial (1936).

Barry Crawford died at her Arlington home on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 1982, at the age of 93 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery beside Garfield.

In 1963 she had looked back on their early days with the Star-Telegram as her happiest years and “the best time” to be living in Fort Worth.

Seventy years after she broke the gender barrier at the Star-Telegram, she might have found it ironic that Garfield got much the bigger obituary, listing all his accomplishments, while hers simply noted her death and survivors. From pioneering journalist to forgotten woman, her life had come full circle.

Author-historian Richard Selcer is a Fort Worth native and proud graduate of Paschal High and TCU.

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