Working as a journalist for most of her life, Sandra Pesmen wrote about the women’s movement—and lived it.
Pesmen, a longtime Northbrook resident, will speak at the Newberry Library on Saturday, March 12, as part of a panel, “Pioneer Women Journalists of Chicago,” in celebration of Women’s History Month.
The event also marks the launch of her self-published book, “Stairway to the Stars: John Travolta, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers … and Me,” which recalls her celebrity interviews as well as her role as a “housewife-mother-reporter.”
“I ran like my hair was on fire,” Pesmen says of her frenetic career in journalism. She always worked—even once she became a wife and mother of two—and she attributes her independence to the fact that she was orphaned at age 19.
She learned to work in order to feed herself, and that lesson turned out to be a blessing. “I never got married until I wanted to. We chose each other, and we chose to stay,” she says of her marriage to her late husband, Hal, which lasted more than 50 years.
She started out as a reporter and features writer for Lerner Newspapers in the ‘50s, then joined the Chicago Daily News, and later became the first features editor for Crain’s Chicago Business. She wrote the monthly “Executive Woman” column for North Shore magazine for many years.
“Women were becoming a force to be reckoned with,” she recalls of starting the column in the late ‘70s. “There were so many exciting women coming up.”
Pesmen herself rode the wave of the women’s movement. She recalls taking the Metra train downtown with a small group of working moms in the ‘70s: “We went through the whole women’s movement on that train car, turning secretaries into administrative assistants, and I got a story a week from them.”
And now, the award-winning journalist, who turns 80 in March, is still working. She started a website called the Widow’s List, an online community for widows, where they can recommend resources, a la Angie’s List. She also gives talks about the celebrities she’s interviewed at local senior and community centers.
She’s glad to see that times have changed for women. “What’s wrong with him, that she has to work?” she recalls her neighbors asking years ago. “Now, for my daughter’s generation, it’s the opposite, and all I can say is, hooray for us!”