This article examines the work of Alma Whitaker—feminist, reporter, and columnist for the Los Angeles Times from 1910 to 1944. Widely known in her time but almost totally forgotten today, Whitaker’s work illustrates the formative role of newspaperwomen in the expansion of Los Angeles in the early twentieth century, and specifically in promoting a settler fantasy that redefined notions of white women’s selfhood in the frontier space of Los Angeles. Her popular articles and columns both bolstered the white settler campaign to create Los Angeles as a white settlement and challenged patriarchal norms. Situating Whitaker within the emergence of the mass-circulating urban newspaper industry and the colonization of Los Angeles, this article contributes to the fields of women/gender history, hegemonic feminism, borderlands/California, and recent scholarship on settler colonialism as a framework for understanding U.S. history.

Alma Whitaker, newspaperwoman, author, feminist, reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times from 1910 to 1944, championed women and all manner of women’s rights, from suffrage to economic independence; she encouraged women to bare their legs, wear pants, speak their minds, divorce, smoke, and ridicule stereotypes that held the “gentler sex” to be hysterical, overemotional, or lacking in intellect or ability equal to men (Figure 1).1 Having recently lost a great sum of money on the stock exchange, Alma and Harold Whitaker emigrated from London, England, to Los Angeles in 1907, along with their eight-month-old son, Colin. With an infant and ailing husband to support, Alma quickly went looking for work.2 She applied for a job at the Los Angeles Times, where she landed her first assignment covering a boxing match. This led to a steady string of assignments, ultimately including feature articles, regular appearances in the Times’ Sunday magazine, eight byline columns, two books, notoriety as a Hollywood star reporter, a loyal fan following, and, as a colleague put it, “more mail than the average movie star.”3

Figure 1.

Portrait of Alma Whitaker for the Los Angeles Times, 1939.

Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

Figure 1.

Portrait of Alma Whitaker for the Los Angeles Times, 1939.

Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

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Widely known in her time but nearly forgotten today, the career of Alma Fullford Whitaker Reynolds (1881–1956) illustrates the formative role of newspaperwomen in the expansion of Los Angeles in the early twentieth century, and specifically in the promotion of a settler fantasy that centered on women’s economic independence. This fantasy, furthered by Hollywood in the 1920s, drew tens of thousands of women to the region, making Los Angeles, by 1920, the only western U.S. city in which women outnumbered men. Nearly one in five women were divorced or widowed, and the city’s labor force included a significantly high number of women who worked past the age of twenty-five.4 Challenging traditional gender roles, Whitaker both spurred on and spun the regional boosterism led by the Los Angeles Times, bolstering the white settler campaign with the promise of greater social mobility for white women. Whitaker was one of many women journalists who had become essential to the urban dailies by the 1880s, and her story illustrates women’s leadership in promoting white settlement by redefining notions of white women’s selfhood in the frontier space of the U.S. West.

Indeed, Whitaker offers a compelling and unacknowledged example of the critical role that white newswomen and white feminism played in constructing the “settler fantasy” that propelled so many women to settle in Los Angeles. Scholar Kelly Lytle Hernández distinguishes settler colonialism from “other, more familiar systems of colonialism” by describing its pursuit of land on which “colonists envision building a new, permanent, reproductive, and racially exclusive society.” Settlers invade “in order to stay and reproduce,” while working “to remove, dominate, and ultimately, replace the Indigenous populations.” Although she posits that “targeted communities always fight back” and find ways to “elude elimination and undermine disappearance,” Hernández’s focus here is not “whether processes of native elimination and racial disappearance are consistent or ever achieved but, rather, how settler fantasies perpetually trend settler societies toward these ends.”5 Alma Whitaker’s forty years of writings illustrate both the formation and the potency of settler fantasies, and specifically how white feminists’ advocacy of women’s independence effectively naturalized womanhood as white—thereby “disappearing” the racial and ethnic diversity that characterized the U.S. West.

Historian Jessica Kim likewise suggests exploring Los Angeles as a settler-colonial project. But where Hernández posits a view of the city as “carceral capital” (leading the nation in mass incarceration of targeted populations, mostly Indigenous and nonwhite, as far back as the eighteenth century), Kim sees Los Angeles as a local nexus of empire building, a “city-empire.” She describes how city elites—including real estate investor Harry Chandler (1864–1944), who succeeded his father-in-law, Harrison Gray Otis, as publisher of the Times after the latter’s death in 1917—paved the way for the influx of Anglo settlers and displaced Californio landowners, aided by economic ambitions, a racist legal system, and a “booster design for conjuring cities out of manufactured real estate booms.”6 As promoted by early boosters, this design sold the city as an “Eden for the Saxon Homeseeker.”7

Integral to boosters’ aims was the construction of a Spanish Fantasy Past that would serve as a romanticized backdrop to white settlement of the region. Among other major English-language newspapers across California, the Los Angeles Times played a key role in this process, whitewashing and writing over the histories of Indigenous, Californio, Mexican, Spanish, African American, and Asian residents.8 Yet, even as the fantasy of the settlers and regional boosters relegated Hispanic and mestizo Californians to a distant, distorted, and—for white newcomers—usable “history,” the actual, contemporary presence of these populations made the state’s growth possible, and the communities of the displaced continued to grow, albeit increasingly restricted and segregated in the cultural landscape of ethnic enclaves and racialized zoning.9

Historians have noted the role of women, and especially of the women’s club movement, in the campaign to create a Spanish Fantasy Past. But newswomen like Whitaker added a liberative thrust to this settler fantasy narrative, carving out a distinct role for themselves as well-connected, independent white women. Whitaker’s narrative projects Los Angeles as a tabula rasa upon which she and women of her race and class imagined a woman-built social and cultural landscape that catered to their own needs and interests as women. Whitaker’s modern L.A. woman played golf, joined woman-led social, political, and reform organizations, hosted dinner parties, pursued careers, earned their own income, married on their own terms, divorced if they chose to, and, by the 1930s, mingled or worked in the Hollywood film industry. For the most part, Whitaker ignored the city’s ethnic and racial diversity. Like the newspaper that employed her, she wrote for a predominantly white, middle-class readership, whom she breezily described as “you know, our set” in a 1912 essay, white Angelenos “of the class and the stock…considered a stronghold of well-bred propriety, a bulwark of conservative respectability.”10 Settler-colonial tropes like these were common in Whitaker’s writings, which assumed white racial and cultural superiority while ignoring Angelenos of color.

Of course, this erasure of the ethnic and racial diversity of Los Angeles belied the cultural and economic contributions of the city’s nonwhite residents, particularly Mexican Americans, who comprised roughly 8 percent of the population in 1930, and whose presence long preceded American occupation and white settlement. During the tumultuous years of the Mexican Revolution, a period that coincided with Whitaker’s arrival, the Mexican population in Los Angeles grew quickly, from between 3,000 and 5,000 in 1910 to some 150,000 by 1930.11 As such, her writing’s inattention to Mexican Los Angeles is particularly glaring. The newspaper’s focus on white Angelenos hid from view a thriving Spanish-language press that, like the Mexican population, both preceded and coincided with the white-settler newspaper industry. At least nineteen Spanish-language newspapers were published in Los Angeles between 1854 and 1940, and at least seven of those were established after Whitaker launched her Times career in 1910.12

Well-connected, middle-class newswomen like Whitaker were part of local elites’ efforts to sell Los Angeles as a “white spot,” as Natalie Molina and others explain.13 While they lobbied for woman suffrage and (white) gender equality in the press, she and other white newswomen ignored California’s vast, diverse population of nonwhite working women. Like their peers in the women’s movement and the film industry, Whitaker and her colleagues participated in what scholar Chela Sandoval calls “hegemonic feminism,” a version of feminism that roots women’s rights in a neoliberal discourse of individualism in which sexism is viewed as the only or the most oppressive system of power. Whitaker’s feminist legacy is therefore limited in its scope, because it sought only to expand opportunities for white women. At the same time, Whitaker’s role in collaborating with other settler colonists to advance white privilege is expansive.14

This is not to say that only white women forged new selfhoods for women in the frontier space of Los Angeles. The Spanish-language press often entertained debates about la pelona, “the modern girl” of Mexican descent. Hispanic studies scholar Maria Montserrat Feu López finds that “satire about la pelona was everywhere: in the press, on the radio, at cinemas, tent theaters, social events, and workplaces.” Throughout the United States, members of the Spanish-language press—most of them male—used such terms as “chica moderna, girl, flapper, and pelona…interchangeably to refer to the Modern Girl and her self-indulgent lifestyle and immodesty.” These instruments of Mexican nationalism and patriarchal rhetoric warned readers that la pelona threated their cultural traditions. Mexico City–based Cube Bonifant and other women writers routinely challenged this view, as did countless young Mexicanas, yet fears about la chica moderna necessarily intersected with worries about assimilation, further complicating young Latinas’ quest for modernity. As Feu López argues, “while mainstream English-language media mocked flappers for their girly challenge to gender and sexual expectations, U.S. Hispanic media confronted women with gender norms that intersected with ethnic borders.”15

Black women writers staged their own battles against white settler colonialism. Journalist and civil rights activist Charlotta Bass published the California Eagle, the city’s oldest and largest-circulation African American paper, from 1912 to 1951. Bass’s editorship applied a justice-based approach that identified racism as the primary oppression faced by Black women and men, mapping a cultural geography of Los Angeles that centered African Americans and their interests.16 The Black press, along with Spanish-language newspapers and other ethnic media of the era, joined with the Times and other white newspapers in debates about modern womanhood. Yet the racism that shaped Los Angeles’s geographic and cultural growth meant that their discussions remained segregated, with Anglo, Mexican, and Asian communities living separate but parallel lives.17

Doing her part to proliferate the settler fantasy, Alma Whitaker spoke to her peers’ desires for success as women, as writers, and as independent beings. Lured to Los Angeles by booster campaigns featuring sunshine and opportunity, she arrived in the wave of working- and middle-class women and men drawn to the city in the 1910s and ’20s. They came for good health and wealth, hoping to begin anew in the city’s ascendant industries: Hollywood, oil, real estate, and others. Whitaker’s tongue-in-cheek, sweetly irreverent tone blunted the sharpness of her often caustic critique of established hierarchies, especially those based on gender. She quickly achieved local celebrity as a satirical, witty, and “peppy” feminist and “an ever dependable and sharp-witted interviewer” who, as one colleague put it, “could unmask any phony she happened to encounter.”18

Whitaker’s race and class helped her secure employment at the Times, but her timing was impeccable as well. Whitaker was one of a sizable group of women writers who found both regular and irregular employment in mass-circulating U.S. magazines and newspapers. The number of female editors and reporters grew steadily, from just 35 women in 1870, to 888 in 1890, to 5,732 in 1920, to 11,924 in 1930.19 Between 1880 and 1930, the number of women journalists rose from just 2.3 percent to 23 percent of the journalism workforce as a whole, a workforce that editors and publishers depended on to sell papers.20 These figures likely undercount the actual numbers of working women journalists, since they include only full-time, salaried staff; many women, Whitaker included, were “stringers,” selling stories by the line and working for multiple magazines, newspapers, and other publications.21

Whitaker’s timing was opportune in another way: her arrival in Los Angeles coincided with its emergence as the center of U.S. filmmaking. As Hillary Hallet finds, “by 1920, the city produced 85 percent of American-made movies and two-thirds of those watched around the world.” Women in Hollywood achieved considerable success as actresses, writers, producers, and celebrity journalists. Such reporters did more than report on women in Hollywood: celebrity writers helped make their careers. In turn, Whitaker and her celebrity reporting peers were boosters. Their reportage sparked “westward migration,” argues Hallet, “and turned the process of creating Hollywood into an adventure story about just how far women’s emancipation could go.”22

Increasingly aware of the importance of women readers, publishers hired women to write about women’s interests. By the 1880s, most urban newspapers had at least two women on staff or writing regular columns. Publishers often confined women writers to the “Women’s Page,” with features on such topics as food, fashion, and beauty, and to giving what they saw as “the women’s angle” on current events. They also employed women to report gossip, news about social elites and women’s club activities, and human-interest stories, as was the case with Myra Nye, whose desk adjoined Whitaker’s in the newsroom, and Juana Neal Levy, both of whom served as Times society reporters. Yet Julie Golia argues that scholars should not shrug off “women’s pages” as frivolous non-news. These sections were immensely popular with readers, which meant that woman-directed content was important to advertisers, the lifeblood of publications. As a result, writes Golia, content written by women for women fundamentally affected newspaper content from 1895 to 1935.23

Alice Fahs argues that in newspaperwomen’s work, “we discover a world surprisingly different from that of either the ‘new Woman’ or the working girl” that populates histories of the early twentieth-century United States: “Newspaper women of this era emphasized new forms of selfhood centered around freedom and independence. They rejected much of the domain of privacy for women. Through their work they instead sought to live their lives in public—both the public spaces of the city and public spaces of print. In the process they created distinctive modes of modern selfhood.”24 These new forms of selfhood routinely challenged the “modern woman” and “flapper” personas depicted in the era’s most influential women’s magazines, including McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, and Good Housekeeping.25

Whitaker’s use of humor and satire fits squarely within the writing style popularized in such wide-circulation magazines of the 1920s and ’30s as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar. In her study of women writers at these publications, Catherine Keyser observes that they, like Whitaker, employed “wit, epigram and understatement as the modern lingua franca,” literary strategies that enabled women writers of the era to critique “gender roles, mass media and modernity,” and to do so as “modern women in the public eye.” In their widely circulated essays, Whitaker and her peers “reflected on their own personae in their work by investigating the growing publicity culture of which they were a part and symbol.”26

With few opportunities to report front-page news, Whitaker and her peers faced what Kathy Feely calls a “persistent paradox.” The primary venue available to the woman writer who wished to earn a living as a journalist was the society or women’s page, which stripped her of credibility as a serious journalist. Critics dismissed newspaperwomen as “newshens,” “sob sisters,” and “Hollywood vultures.” As was true for many newswomen in this era, Whitaker’s witty storytelling about independent, ambitious, and transgressive women made her popular and sold newspapers. She deliberately worked to remove sentimentality from her writing, and sometimes she herself used the term sob sister to criticize overly sentimental journalism, which did little to overthrow the paradox.27

Delving into Whitaker’s seemingly autobiographical musings about the United States, California, women, work, marriage, motherhood, and family reveals more than the outlines of an individual’s life and work. Her writings flesh out the concerns and interests of four decades of loyal Times-reading fans. Whitaker built a career out of “flipping the script,” as she put it, inverting traditional gender expectations to illustrate their absurdity.28 Her popularity over four decades confirms that Whitaker’s thoughts and observations resonated with readers. Her success as a journalist rested on crafting a distinct selfhood, one that alternated between British outsider and Hollywood insider, between middle-class wife and mother and independent, strong-minded, self-reliant modern woman.

Whitaker was already a professional writer when she arrived in Los Angeles in 1907, having written for British newspapers and magazines since she was seventeen. Her background may have convinced Times sports editor Harry Carr to send her to cover a prize fight through the lens of “an Englishwoman and a lorgnette.” Humorous and self-deprecating, Whitaker often reminisced about her dubious start at the Times, recalling that she arrived in Los Angeles “skinny, scared, badly dressed, full of funny little inhibitions and a bit of a prig into the bargain.” Somehow Carr, “with serious misgivings, let me write golf for the sports department at 15 cents an inch.” Although “the golfers weren’t at all sure that they liked it,” that first month Whitaker earned thirty-nine dollars “and kept out of debt too.”29

Whitaker’s Times byline began to appear regularly in country club and golf reports, as well as the occasional witty editorial. She spoke often from the vantage point of “an Englishwoman with a lorgnette,” a role that came naturally to her. Whitaker’s father had been a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in South Africa during the administration of Cecil Rhodes, whom Whitaker regarded as a close family friend.30 Whitaker’s outsider status served her well: readers appeared to view her as an objective bystander, while Times editors may have believed that her Britishness lent a touch of elegance to their women’s and society pages. Editors’ embrace of Whitaker stands in stark contrast to their hostility toward virtually all other immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Japan.31

Whitaker used her Englishness to good advantage, weaving it into her image as a widely traveled, well-connected authority on cosmopolitan life. She centered her Imperial British origins, for example, in a 1923 column that identified “one of the jolly things about the United States,” the “frank naturalness of its people.” In the United States, Whitaker wrote, “good manners were purely a matter of genuine feeling and considerations,” not slavish devotion to outdated social conventions. Fortunately, quipped Whitaker, Los Angeles held no equivalent to “the dear narrow, conventional, limited old darlings” who enforced the “trumpery rules of etiquette” in Great Britain. She heralded coming to a land where nice people “could associate with ‘nice people’ in every walk of life without embarrassment” as “escaping a great oppression.” She concluded by urging her readers to ignore those “wretched etiquette books” that were “trying to make these dear Americans all middle-class snobs.”32 Ironically, Whitaker used her status as a representative of British colonial rule to critique American social aspirations.

Whitaker’s faith in white settler colonialism appeared often, as in her 1912 “Our Ideal Country for People of Small Means.” In keeping with the Times’ relentless boosterism, Whitaker insisted that anyone might “come to Southern California” and succeed. The newcomer could “get established in a shorter time and on less capital” in Southern California “than anywhere else in the world.”33 Moreover, Los Angeles was the ideal destination for women, “who can get work at once in almost any position.” Even young families never need fear, as long as “the father is able bodied. At the worst he can always pick oranges or grapes or walnuts as the case may be—there is positively always some opening somewhere.” Nor should the newcomer consider manual labor degrading. Whitaker assured readers that “one of the most comfortable things about Southern California is that one can ‘stoop to conquer’ and take any sort of work without losing caste.”34 Left unsaid in Whitaker’s tribute to social mobility was its inaccessibility to African American, Japanese, and Mexican newcomers, for whom stooping would likely remain permanent.

Whitaker’s boosterism upheld the Times’ values, as did her opposition to left-leaning politics. In 1919, she wrote fearfully of the Russian Revolution, warning readers that Bolshevism was “a cult for low-minded male sex-perverts,” who longed for “no masters, no self-restraint, and women for sexual use and pleasure only.”35 When Whitaker visited Australia that same year, she wrote scathingly of its activist government’s tolerance for “trade unionism,” which had done little to strengthen that nation. Though she found few occasions to discuss trade unionism or socialism, Whitaker remained firmly opposed to both.36

With her consciously deployed identity as “an Englishwoman with a lorgnette,” Whitaker used her Times platform to build a successful career as a newswoman. Her writings from the 1910s through the ’20s covered a wide range of topics that editors believed interested women readers, from scandals and divorces to country club events to the latest activities of the Business and Women’s Professional Club and other local women’s clubs. A firm believer in sisterhood, Whitaker was a member of the Copy Cats, an informal group of local newswomen founded by writer Leslie Curtis Kitselman, who met for lunch and promised “no dues, no speeches, no officers—just gab,” a club Whitaker writes about affectionately.37

However, Whitaker never formally joined any of the recognized women’s clubs of the era, including the active women’s press clubs, preferring to remain at an observational distance. During World War I, Chandler made Whitaker the Women’s Club editor, an assignment she loved to complain about, calling it “thrilling” at first, then “distinctly choresome.” “As a good feminist,” she wrote, “I have respect for women’s clubs. They’re important, and even influential at times.” But by her fourth and last year, she begged her “dear, kind, understanding editor, couldn’t you please transfer me to another department?”38 Yet her relationship with the women’s clubs continued, as she was often called on to speak at club events, on topics ranging from “Women and Politics” to “Catering to the Female Intellect,” and to provide a bit of humor to the events.39 Newspapers, from downtown to Orange County to Riverside, confirmed the popularity of “this famous newspaper writer,” whose engagements drew high attendance for women’s club gatherings.40

Whitaker preferred an independent platform and assignments that included interviews with Hollywood luminaries like Charlie Chaplin, Norma Shearer, and Dolores del Río, as well as politicians, government officials, and prominent Angelenos like celebrity evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who had created the nation’s first megachurch and used the radio to spread her gospel. In 1924, Whitaker interviewed the famously private minister, then at the height of her popularity, giving Times readers a rare glimpse into Sister Aimee’s life outside of her church.41

Whitaker’s easy camaraderie with celebrities and powerful figures, as well as her continued popularity with readers, prompted the Times to publish her first book, Trousers and Skirts, in 1923 (Figure 2).42 The book’s title later served as the title of her syndicated column with McClure Syndicates.43 In its short, entertaining essays, Whitaker enlarged upon a frequent topic in her columns: explaining the modern woman to the modern man, and vice versa.

Figure 2.

Whitaker’s first book, Trousers and Skirts, was published by the Times-Mirror Press in 1923. Highlighting Whitaker’s signature wit and satire, the book took aim at the social conventions of gender in a collection of short essays divided into four sections: “On Masculinity,” “Strictly Feminine,” “Matimony,” and “Pot-Pourri.” Whitaker later assigned the title of the book to a short-lived syndicated advice column.

Photo by author

Figure 2.

Whitaker’s first book, Trousers and Skirts, was published by the Times-Mirror Press in 1923. Highlighting Whitaker’s signature wit and satire, the book took aim at the social conventions of gender in a collection of short essays divided into four sections: “On Masculinity,” “Strictly Feminine,” “Matimony,” and “Pot-Pourri.” Whitaker later assigned the title of the book to a short-lived syndicated advice column.

Photo by author

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Whitaker used her personal celebrity to push the boundaries of her work at the Times. Through the 1920s and ’30s, she used her platform to delve into questions that interested her personally, such as the challenges facing wage-earning mothers, intimate musings on female sexuality, and reflections on marriage and divorce.

Although Whitaker abhorred a “sob sister,” her writings reveal an avid interest in Hollywood reportage. The popularity she gained in her early years at the Times gave her entrée into the city’s emergent film industry, making her one of many newspaper writers who found a comfortable home in celebrity journalism. In 1926, William Randolph Hearst hired Louella Parsons to write a syndicated Hollywood gossip column for the Los Angeles Examiner (the Times’ main competitor). Parsons wielded enormous influence in her coverage of Hollywood celebrities, essentially launching the celebrity gossip industry. In 1937, the Times hired actress-turned-celebrity columnist Hedda Hopper, hoping to challenge Parsons’s title as the “Queen of Hollywood.” But until then, Whitaker was the Times celebrity reporter upon whom readers depended for the latest Hollywood gossip and news.

In Whitaker’s hands, Hollywood reportage became a vehicle for promoting what was, throughout her career, Whitaker’s own most persistent argument: that all industries benefited from women’s contributions. This was no less true of Hollywood, where celebrity journalists (Whitaker included) ensured that film celebrities lived very public lives, both on and off screen. When critics in the 1920s pointed to Hollywood films as promoting licentiousness, that criticism spilled over onto Los Angeles. Some social commentators painted Hollywood’s independent women as both cause and effect of the immorality they saw in motion pictures, making the industry and, by extension, Los Angeles, easy scapegoats for all social ills. Whitaker’s Hollywood writings offered a counter-narrative, insisting that women in Hollywood were role models, not public warnings. Whitaker wrote positively of the actresses, writers, directors, and others in the film industry, reporting on their domestic lives (homes, relationships, lifestyles) along with their work as Hollywood professionals, the roles they played, and the stories their characters told. Whitaker’s articles idealized the women of Hollywood, certainly, but they also humanized these women and made them accessible to readers.

In a 1922 article, for example, Whitaker interviewed the mothers of major film stars, discovering that “many of our most successful and interesting motion-picture personalities have fond and capable mammas.” Many had been widowed or “had to be both father and mother, breadwinner and nurse, guide, philosopher and friend” to their talented Hollywood offspring. She offered as evidence Beatrice DeMille, widowed with two young children when her playwright husband died. She became a literary agent, selling the first plays of soon-to-be-famous writers Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood, as well as launching the playwriting careers of her sons Henry and Cecil. Whitaker also interviewed Charlotte Smith, Mary Pickford’s mother, widowed with three children, including five-year-old Mary, and caring for “an invalid mother.” Smith “embarked upon a theatrical career” with traveling road companies, with children in tow. When Mary became a star, Smith turned to managing her daughter’s career and, with her “remarkable skill for business,” relieved Mary “of all that side of her work.” Smith went daily to “the studio, signing checks, overseeing everything, and bossing most everybody but Mary.”44 Centering her report on Hollywood mothers, Whitaker emphasized both the women’s financial independence and their success as single mothers. She used their examples to counter “modern moralists” who argued that working mothers had a “baneful effect on children.” Far from it, Whitaker argued: Hollywood mothers “have made a corking good job of it.”45

Whitaker also explored the challenges facing women in Hollywood. In 1935, she noted that, with the advent of sound, female directors and scenario writers were beginning to “lose ground to men.” Screenwriter Agnes Johnston, she noted, was one of only a handful of women writers who still managed to find work.46

In addition to her celebrity reportage in the Times, Whitaker contributed to fan magazines in the 1920s and ’30s. With Upton Sinclair, Charlie Chaplin, and others, she published occasionally in Rob Wagner’s Script, a well-respected literary film magazine, founded on socialist principles by illustrator, writer, and director Rob Wagner. She participated in passionate debates over tabloid journalism and the challenges film journalists faced as movie studios began publishing their own fan magazines.47

Whitaker was unconcerned with Hollywood for Hollywood’s sake; her reportage focused on women in the industry, the necessity of women’s economic independence, and the benefits that accrue to society when cultural restraints on women are loosened. But Whitaker remained silent on the racism that permeated Hollywood, where studios denied roles to actresses of color and thus representation to all who were not part of what Whitaker called “our set.” In this silence, she and her newswomen peers reinforced the hegemonic feminism that naturalized women as white. Whitaker was not only complicit in this strand of L.A. settler-colonial fantasy; she was an active agent in its production.

Whitaker employed multiple personas in her four decades as a Times writer, switching easily between her identity as “Englishwoman with a lorgnette” and that of a modern American woman. The latter was one of Whitaker’s most frequent topics, and for good reason: it represented one of the great dualities in her own life, as a wife and working mother in an era that expected women of Whitaker’s race and class to content themselves with domesticity and, if absolutely necessary, a women’s club. The point of view in Whitaker’s columns alternated between her identities as modern working woman and dutiful wife and mother. Following her 1918 marriage to Jerome “Jerry” Reynolds, with whom she had a second child, the columnist remained “Alma Whitaker” in her print and public appearances but was “Mrs. Jerome Reynolds” everywhere else. This latter identity appeared often in the society pages, hobnobbing with local elites and celebrities, reassuring women readers that she understood their concerns and shared their values. In this guise, Whitaker called upon her own experiences to discuss the challenges facing working wives and mothers.

In her reportage, Whitaker seemed to explain to readers why women of “our set” worked at all. Writing in 1923, she acknowledged that “often necessity drives her,” but wages were only part of it. Equally important was a woman’s need to express her creativity, her “genius.” Women’s “right to work,” mused Whitaker, was not so much a freedom as it was a necessity for their fulfillment as human beings. But it was more than selfishness, she argued: working women made the world a better place.48

Whitaker used her Times platform to criticize the double standard that honored men for wage earning but shamed women for it. In her 1930 “Us Working Women” (Figure 3), Whitaker poked fun at “nice families” that shuddered “to have a working girl in the family.” Her own family, she admitted, had struggled to explain the newspaperwoman to friends and family, at last resorting to calling “dear Alma…a bit queer.” They were most embarrassed that others might think it was in “the least necessary for Alma to earn her living.” It bothered them even more that she earned a living in such a public way, her byline appearing regularly in the Times. A rich uncle, she confided, once “offered to provide” her “with pocket money” if only she would “give up this idiotic urge, which was disgracing the family.” This was the crux of her family’s problem: Whitaker’s status as a wage-earning woman endangered her family’s social standing. But, Whitaker explained, the price was too high. “I shudder to think what my life would have been if I had accepted Uncle Jack’s offer of charity money.” He would have conditioned his support on Whitaker’s obedience to his rules. In this telling, Whitaker was smart to refuse: in 1929, Uncle Jack lost “thirty thousand English pounds in the stock market.” At that point, Whitaker would “have had to go to work anyway…probably as an indifferent housemaid.” A touch smugly, Whitaker told readers that her cousins back in England were “on mighty short rations just now,” and maybe “even envying the American cousin they felt was disgracing all of them.”49 As late as 1930, Whitaker tells us, early-nineteenth-century gender ideals still demanded domesticity and dependence of women of Whitaker’s race and class, even as the global economic collapse of the 1930s overturned the traditional, male-breadwinner household.50

Figure 3.

Whitaker celebrated working women and the importance of women’s economic independence throughout her thirty-plus years at the Times. Articles like this one, published in 1930, challenged the stigma that working women faced—especially upper-class women like Whitaker herself, who found themselves widowed or single and the primary breadwinners for their family.

Courtesy of Adelbert Bartlett papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

Figure 3.

Whitaker celebrated working women and the importance of women’s economic independence throughout her thirty-plus years at the Times. Articles like this one, published in 1930, challenged the stigma that working women faced—especially upper-class women like Whitaker herself, who found themselves widowed or single and the primary breadwinners for their family.

Courtesy of Adelbert Bartlett papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

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Whitaker wrote poignantly of the balancing act faced by the working mother. “A great many of us professional women,” she explained in 1923, have two treasures. The first was an “ambition to pursue our profession successfully, to shine in some chosen calling, to achieve worthy and profitable business attainment.” At the same time, working women treasured their “homes, husbands and babies.” The wage-earning mother felt torn on those days when “little Jerry looks up wistfully into mamma’s eyes” and begs her to stay home and play. “Mamma, remembering important engagements she must keep, contracts she must fill, wants to keep, wants to fill,” compels herself to say “not today.” The working mother compromised: she soothed her child, made time to play “a little game,” then rushed “to fill the demands of that other treasure, which [was] also whispering, ‘Don’t neglect me. I am important too.’”51 Readers might imagine Whitaker herself “trying to solve the problem, crowding her days and nights, making such a tremendous effort to interweave her duties and her treasures.” But balance was difficult to achieve. “One or the other so often gets neglected,” Whitaker concluded. “One or the other is always harassing her conscience.” She urged Angelenos to “not be too critical of this modern woman,” who has “undertaken a heart-straining job.” Despite the difficulty of balancing competing demands, Whitaker told her readers (and perhaps herself), the modern woman does it “remarkably well.”52

Whitaker used her credentials as working mother to encourage women to stand up for themselves. Soon after she began at the Times, she later reminisced, “I began to think that I was worth more than 15 cents an inch. So I asked for a raise on the grounds that I really needed more money to support Colin and myself.” Her pitch succeeded. Indeed, Whitaker’s high pay was a source of annoyance to colleagues who knew about it.53 Through such stories, Whitaker insisted that wage-earning women—even those, like herself, working in a man’s world—could dictate their own terms.

Of course, Whitaker’s race and class helped her in many ways, which she never acknowledged in print. When her first husband, Harold, died and she was left as the sole support of four-year-old Colin, Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis let her bring the child to work, an unusual concession for working mothers of the era. Otis, of course, benefited from the arrangement, for it meant that his popular columnist could continue to work late nights at the office.54 Such concessions helped Whitaker gauge her value in the marketplace and press her conservative employers for more—for example, in 1911, she convinced Otis to let her debate essayist Dora Oliphant Coe, whose anti-suffrage writings appeared in the Times. Whitaker also took liberties with her assignments. She wrote tongue-in-cheek spoofs of the society page, as when she “flipped the script” to announce “bridegrooms instead of brides” and to wax lyrical on the “husbands of society women.” She once devoted an entire society page to praising local bachelors, insisting that she was simply trying “to get the poor chaps off the shelf.”55 By inverting the typical society-page narrative, Whitaker winked at traditional gender roles, suggesting that bachelors were desperate to marry, that grooms were keen on nuptial arrangements, and that revelations about society husbands “could really prove very startling”56 (Figure 4).

Figure 4.

Whitaker built a career out of “flipping the script,” as she put it, inverting traditional gender expectations to illustrate their absurdity. In a piece titled “Should Men Be Educated?,” published in the Los Angeles Times on November 22, 1925, she writes: “Now taking these two conditions together—that women are now better educated than men, and that nearly all have jobs—and also considering our overcrowded high schools and colleges, and the fact that 90 per cent of our teachers are women anyway, is it not time that we seriously debated the question as to whether higher education is not wasted upon men?

Figure 4.

Whitaker built a career out of “flipping the script,” as she put it, inverting traditional gender expectations to illustrate their absurdity. In a piece titled “Should Men Be Educated?,” published in the Los Angeles Times on November 22, 1925, she writes: “Now taking these two conditions together—that women are now better educated than men, and that nearly all have jobs—and also considering our overcrowded high schools and colleges, and the fact that 90 per cent of our teachers are women anyway, is it not time that we seriously debated the question as to whether higher education is not wasted upon men?

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Unsurprisingly, Whitaker often discussed woman suffrage in the 1910s and ’20s. In a 1919 piece, she used humor to lampoon men who hid their opposition to the Nineteenth Amendment behind “the exceptional-woman idea.” This allowed the anti-suffragist to praise the intellect of his wife/daughter/friend without supporting her desire for suffrage. “You, my dear,” such men said, “are an exceptional woman. If all women were like you…I should not hesitate to vote for giving the sex every political privilege.”57 Whitaker heard this so often that she soon reached the “disconcerting suspicion that the United States in general and California in particular were just teeming with exceptional women, every bit as exceptional as my exceptional self.”58 Whitaker excelled at such lighthearted puncturing of masculine logic, untangling disingenuous arguments like these and arming her readers with snappy rejoinders. Again, though, Whitaker’s perspective was based in hegemonic feminism, casting sexism as the only form of oppression that women faced. Her writings about gender equality remained silent on the multiple inequalities facing women of color.

Whitaker typically used satire and humor to disguise her disdain for conventional gender roles, but not always. In April 1922, she used unequivocally clear language to reject every attribute that contemporary society considered “feminine.” “I want to be hard, steely, flinty,” she declared, “ironical, satirical, virile, keen.” She wanted “to be taut, with a stiff backbone and a stiff upper lip, a firm chin,” to “look at myself and the world appraisingly, critically,” “to be square, not round.” She hoped “to tell the truth, not to lie, no matter how sensitive the occasion,” not “to be tactful” or “diplomatic.” She hated “mere sentimental loyalties, the soft, sloppy loyalties that consider criticism a treachery,” and wished for herself “the callousness of the surgeon.” Surely some readers were shocked when Whitaker concluded that she was “only worthwhile” to herself when she was “shockingly honest.”59

Whitaker’s thoughts on marriage seemed to change over time. Her early essays demonstrated a conventional view of matrimony, in which husbands were dominant and wives submissive. Writing in August 1911, she asked, “Are American Husbands Slaves?” She contrasted American wives, whom she called the “natural boss” in their marriages, with English wives, who decidedly were not. Being the boss would be fine if American women were happy, but she believed they were not. “Instinctively,” opined Whitaker, they knew it was “an abnormal state of affairs”; in their secret hearts, American wives yearned “for real men and real masters.”60

Whitaker’s early writings on woman suffrage likewise demonstrated conservative views on marriage. In January 1912, soon after legislators approved woman suffrage in California, she expressed what many conservatives had feared: that women’s political equality would destabilize the family. It was “good for women to advance,” wrote Whitaker, and even “to think, but not if it means the retrogression of man.” Woman was meant to be man’s mate, “but never his master.”61

In those early writings about gender relations, though, Whitaker blamed fathers, not mothers, for men’s “Great Reversal” in status. Men “are deteriorating,” she argued in 1912, shrinking “in stature, physique and brain,” while women were “improving, developing, expanding in mind, body and estate.” Whitaker scolded: “Messieurs, ponder on these things. Make your sons real men. Stamp out effeminacy as you would the plague. It is essential for the good of the race, the good of the world that men should be thoroughly and absolutely masculine and six ounces of brain in advance of women. Then the progress of women will be a good thing.”62 While men were moving in reverse, she continued, women were advancing, becoming “doctors, lawyers, mayors…policemen, postmen, writers, scientists…artists, sculptors, gardeners, shoemakers…carpenters, builders, engineers, architects.” In each of these professions, wrote Whitaker, “women excel. The houses planned by women architects are more reasonable, more comfortable, more habitable.…In business, women are an extraordinary success. And women are natural and instinctive advertisers, the backbone of all business today.”63 This became a recurring theme in Whitaker’s writings: she celebrated women’s advancement, then urged men to keep up.

Whitaker used humor to criticize society’s insistence that women torture themselves to be beautiful. In 1912, less than a week after insisting that women yearned for “real men and real masters,” she wondered how women ever came to submit to the “tyranny of clothes.” “Some wise old statesman,” she decided, “with cunning foresight—one of those wily old empire-builders determined to keep government of the world in masculine hands—saw the enslaving possibilities” of women’s clothes. Her torment began when Whitaker begrudgingly agreed to let a friend take her shopping. She describes one indignity after another: a dressmaker advised a corset to slim her hips and “increase her bust,” a high collar to cover her thin neck, and a pricey hat to fit her too-small head. The dressmaker even mentioned Whitaker’s calamity in possessing “a double chin on a slender face.” “From a joyous, hopeful, self-confident and self-respecting individual,” she moaned, shopping thus transformed her “into a poor, humiliated, nervous wreck and robbed me of my best asset, my own good opinion.”64

More than the tyranny of clothes, Whitaker lamented society’s insistence that women be beautiful, as though brains and talent meant nothing. Her 1932 “Confessions of a Homely Woman” again retailed her own experiences, describing Whitaker’s lifelong efforts to change her appearance. Her family, she admitted, believed that her marriage prospects were limited because she was “so very plain”; her imperfect teeth prompted their advice to smile with her mouth closed. But Whitaker’s self-doubts eased “when my first stories began to appear” in print. When she realized that she was amusing, she began to “wax humorous” about her shortcomings: “This won me a reputation for ‘frankness,’ which gave me quite a cachet in a day when nice girls were the pink of demure propriety. I was considered ‘so daring.’ I knew enough to get a private chuckle out of this too. I deliberately cultivated a sort of bantering impudence with bright young men, always being careful to convey the impression that if I was clever, they were just a wee bit more clever.”65 With wit and self-deprecating humor, Whitaker told readers that—for the determined, if homely, woman—talent trumped physical beauty.

Whitaker remained consistent in her advocacy of (white) women’s equality with men and with other women. However, Whitaker’s views on gender, equality in marriage, and female sexuality seemed to evolve over her years at the Times. In her writings, Whitaker seemed to be working through her own questions about what it meant to be a modern woman. She explored how far a woman might stray from convention before losing the respect of others. Questions about marriage and female sexuality were central to these ruminations, which typically emerged through discussions with young women. Writing in 1912, for example, Whitaker related a conversation with “an innocent young thing” of twenty who planned to spend an evening “dining and moonlight autoing with a married man.” Whitaker advised her young friend against the plan as unsuitable in “you know, our set.” The young innocent called Whitaker a “dear old-fashioned silly-billy.” “Most of the nicest men were married,” she explained; if she waited, she might “grow old without ever having ‘had a good time.’” “But,” Whitaker “murmured weakly, ‘won’t it ruin your chances of happy marriage?’” “How that girl laughed. ‘Marriage,’ she said scornfully, ‘who cares about marriage nowadays. What has marriage to offer to a bright, healthy, brainy girl like me?’” Whitaker told her readers that the question had left her “wondering.”66

Whitaker’s thoughts on divorce also seemed to evolve over time. Writing in 1916, she was ambivalent, asking her readers, “Is love a failure?” The relaxing of divorce laws in the United States and England meant that “matrimonial vows” had “sunk into disrepute, mere scraps of paper to be torn up in cases of expediency.”67 Whitaker decried the casualness with which many women and men entered into marriage, scolding couples who did not take their wedding vows seriously. Lawmakers could cure the “divorce tragedy,” she believed, by making marriage harder to enter and harder to leave. Moreover, she blamed society for the gendered inequality of men’s and women’s roles in marriage. “Men have always arrogated to themselves the right to frankness,” wrote Whitaker, and so husbands blamed wives for failing to please them. “Women,” on the other hand, “have scarcely been in a position to exhibit indifference to the good opinion of their lords,” and so were “forever play-acting.”68 A patriarchal society allowed husbands to voice their likes and dislikes, while wives were expected to remain silent. The solution to the “divorce tragedy” was greater equality in marriage.

Whitaker often used humor to criticize the inequalities she saw in marriage. Her sly 1923 “Hubby Dear,” for example, blithely advised male readers to be “the perfect husband.” “Flipping the script,” as she put it, on W. L. George’s satirical “The Perfect Wife,” Whitaker urged that hubby “be beautiful, or sagacious enough to seem beautiful. A husband cannot think too much of the enhancement of his looks.” A man must not “be too loving” if, for instance, it means that he bothers his wife as she reads the paper. “What women really desire in a husband,” Whitaker continued, “is equality of intellect, coupled with inferiority of judgement.” This shortcoming would leave hubby “sufficiently unsure of himself” in his wife’s eyes to “crave her practical advice.”69 By humorously inverting conventional marital roles, Whitaker exposed the absurdity of the advice offered women by columnists, magazines, and guidebooks. Whitaker’s male readers might have chuckled at her ironic jabs at male prerogatives, but her female readers were in on the joke. When she attacked conventional gender relations, Whitaker and her readers punched small holes in the patriarchy and undermined the power of convention to restrict women’s freedom.

Whitaker was forthright in her critique of conventional marriage in her 1920 “Strangers Yet,” which rooted the “divorce evil” in marriage inequality. Women endured bad relationships with “weak” men, she wrote, because their social and economic security depended upon it. Marriages failed because couples were “strangers” to one another, largely owing to social arbiters’ insistence that wives suffer in silence.70 Speaking to “those syndicate writers who advise women” to “play their proper role” in marriage in order “to be happy,” Whitaker insisted that the key to being happy was in wives “being their natural selves.”71 She urged wives to speak their minds, be true to themselves, and worry less about “catching” a husband and more about choosing one wisely.

By 1921, Whitaker seemed to accept that divorce was sometimes a “necessary surgical operation.” She endorsed divorce law reform, especially alimony and child custody laws, and criticized women’s clubs for their silence on the topic. Whitaker urged “intelligent, well-balanced women to tackle this unpleasant subject in their clubs,” since the matter was relevant to all married women, from “the independent wage-earning wife” to “the parasite wife” to “the baby-and-home specializing wife.”72

Whitaker’s views on divorce seemed to come full circle following a 1922 exchange with readers on the question of whether it is really an evil. Whitaker reported an astonishing response from readers, “dozens of letters from women and one or two from men” who insisted that divorce was “a precious blessing” rather than an evil. Some letters she described as bitter, others as heartrending, but all agreed that divorce was “one of the few truly righteous and desirable dispensations of justice.” The real evil, Whitaker’s letter-writers insisted, would have occurred “if divorce had been impossible.” “After reading such letters,” Whitaker concluded that her former “convictions on the subject of the ‘divorce evil’ totter and become a storm of doubts.” If easy divorce made “a travesty of marriage,” then “difficult divorce must make of marriage a far greater travesty.” The institution of marriage as a whole was strengthened when individuals who chose poorly rectified their mistakes “with the divorce blessings.”73

By 1923, Whitaker was humorously using divorce to underscore the differences between the breezy modern Angeleno woman and those with stuffy, conventional views on marriage. In “A Distressed Mid-Victorian,” Whitaker described the culture shock of a visitor from a “secluded part of Massachusetts” who found herself at a Los Angeles women’s club luncheon. “Picture to yourself,” Whitaker wrote, “a lady restraining and preserving intact the most rigid and decorous ideas of the mid-Victorian era arriving innocent and unprotected in our midst. See her at a feminine luncheon party of eight socially secure dames. Someone has mentioned that Mrs. So-and-So has recently been divorced. And hear our guest remark rigidly in her best Bostonese: that she disapproved of divorce and that anyone in such condition should be ostracized.”74 The Bostonian’s comment was met with awkward silence until a “reckless voice” piped up, warning her that “you can scarcely avoid it here. You will probably meet divorced persons wherever you go.” “I myself,” she giggled softly, “divorced my husband only two months ago.” This was followed by a round of “and I too.”75 Whitaker flattered her Angeleno readers (at the expense of Bostonians) while observing that divorce was commonplace among women of their race and class, and therefore no longer a bar to their social acceptance.

In her writings, Whitaker seemed determined to expand the boundaries of acceptable female behavior without any sacrifice of respectability. As Gayle Gullett observes, Whitaker appealed to readers who wanted a “privilege pass,” a release from Victorian restrictions with no loss of respectability.76 Writing in 1912, Whitaker acknowledged this duality in the modern woman’s nature: she desired both adventure and respectability. She acted “with a stern heart and an eternal sense of duty, with a decorum that should call for nothing but the highest admiration,” while all the while she yearned “with unspeakable desire to kick over the traces, to be gloriously disreputable.”77 Whitaker knew that impulse well: she built a successful career on providing female readers with models of how they might embrace modernity without censure (Figure 5).

Figure 5.

Dustcover of Alma Whitaker, Bacchus Behave! The Lost Art of Polite Drinking (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1933). In her second book, published at the height of her popularity, Whitaker tells her readers: “Good liquor is spoiled by bad manners.” Applying her distinct brand of humor in a social etiquette guide that teaches “the complex and delightful phases of the fine art of fine drinking,” Whitaker celebrates the end of Prohibition and aims her advice at the “generation bred—and mostly ill bred—under Prohibition.” The back of the dustcover features an impressive collection of celebrity endorsements from Rupert Hughes, Clark Gable, Marie Dressler, Tom Mix, Charlie Chaplin, and Cecil B. DeMille.

Courtesy of Rachel Phillips/Burnside Rare Books

Figure 5.

Dustcover of Alma Whitaker, Bacchus Behave! The Lost Art of Polite Drinking (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1933). In her second book, published at the height of her popularity, Whitaker tells her readers: “Good liquor is spoiled by bad manners.” Applying her distinct brand of humor in a social etiquette guide that teaches “the complex and delightful phases of the fine art of fine drinking,” Whitaker celebrates the end of Prohibition and aims her advice at the “generation bred—and mostly ill bred—under Prohibition.” The back of the dustcover features an impressive collection of celebrity endorsements from Rupert Hughes, Clark Gable, Marie Dressler, Tom Mix, Charlie Chaplin, and Cecil B. DeMille.

Courtesy of Rachel Phillips/Burnside Rare Books

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Despite identifying herself in 1907 as “a bit of a prig,” Whitaker did not shy away from essays on female sexuality and “free love.” Whitaker wrote approvingly of The Freewoman in 1912, hooting at the “storm of masculine criticism” aimed at the British avant-garde feminist journal, known for its forthright discussions of sexuality and marriage and its tolerance of same-sex relationships and free love. The men who criticized this “exceedingly interesting journal” were hypocrites with disrespectful views on women, while some of the journal’s writers were “highly reputable clergy.”78 A 1915 essay that asked readers “Is Monogamy a Failure?” tackled free love from an economic perspective. Admitting that “free love sounds complicated,” she asked readers to imagine a society in which polygamy and polyandry were legal, “under certain specified conditions.” In such a society, “the world might come to realize” that men and women brought different capabilities to marriage; in an ideal world, “the one most capable of ruling and supporting the household should do so, regardless of sex. We know very well that some women are far more capable of earning a good living and managing a household than some men.” Sidestepping the household complications of polygamy or polyandry, Whitaker told her readers that “the law of efficiency almost demands” that those most capable of “earning a good living and managing a household…have their chances!”79 But society should abandon monogamy, she warned, only when women initiated the change. Otherwise, if men were in charge, a double standard would likely result.80

Whitaker discussed non-monogamous relationships again in her 1915 “The ‘Other Woman’s’ Viewpoint,” in which she defended mistresses. “The other woman” was hardly to blame, she argued, given that so few marriages were unions of love. French society saw fewer divorces because French spouses tolerated extramarital affairs. It “would take a brave soul” to recommend such tolerance in the United States, but if Americans really wanted to preserve marriage, then she saw “plenty of room for a reconsideration of our convictions.”81

Well into the 1930s, questions about marriage, divorce, sexuality, and gender relations took center stage in Whitaker’s columns. In “People and Their Troubles: The Last Word,” for example, she attends local divorce courts, paying particular attention to the reasons couples cite for their breakup. These become launching points for reflections on everything from the increasing popularity of twin beds to the “baffling” trend of women calling their lovers “daddy.”82

In a 1931 piece, Whitaker critiqued a lecture by an unnamed Viennese psychiatrist (presumably Sigmund Freud) for claiming that the “trouble with the modern woman” was that she used her sex appeal to gain advantage over men. With tongue firmly in cheek, Whitaker urged the modern woman to make even greater use of that “peculiarly useful lever,” which training should be “added to a college education.” Acknowledging “the matriarchal world toward which” all modern women were “instinctively striving,” Whitaker slyly turned the psychiatrist’s tools against the psychiatrist, arguing that sex attraction “submerged [or] suppressed…promptly limits all attainment.”83 Men unable to withstand the modern woman’s wiles could expect no sympathy from Whitaker.

As noted earlier, Whitaker wrote from shifting positions, one day the Englishwoman with a lorgnette, the next a modern American woman with the Angeleno’s breezy dismissal of stuffy East Coast prejudices. Less easily did Whitaker drop her most persistent persona, that of the well-connected, middle-class, white-settler colonist. In 1919, for example, honeymooning with second husband Jerry Reynolds, the new bride posted travel reports from Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Canton, and Japan. Not surprising for a representative of Imperial Britain, her condescending comments emphasized what she called the “delightful” and “queer” customs of “the natives.” In Hong Kong, for example, Whitaker wrote that “I adore the Chinese,” whom she called the “most good-humored, happy, industrious people,” and although they “live in the streets, cook their meals on the sidewalks, do their washing at the public pumps,” and “the thousands of rickshaw men” seemed to “sleep right out on the sidewalk,” all were “apparently peaceful and content.”84

Despite employing nineteenth-century tropes to compare Eastern and Western cultures, Whitaker raised her lens as a modern American woman to discuss the signs of gender equality she observed in China and the Philippines. In China, she noted, women could vote, and upper-class Chinese wives “nag their husbands” and were just as spoiled and pampered as American wives. However, she noted, the Chinese did not divide work by gender: women worked alongside men in occupations that Americans would consider “heavy labor.” Yet Chinese women were “not downtrodden,” no matter what stereotypes Americans might apply to them.85 In her travel writings, Whitaker appeared to admire people of other lands, but she consistently presented them as the Other.

Whitaker also divided the races into “us” and “them” when writing closer to home. In 1923, for example, she took public exception to Reverend “Fightin’ Bob” Shuler using a sermon to publicly praise the Ku Klux Klan (part of her ire concerned Shuler’s simultaneous attack on “Newspapers, Jews and Catholics”).86 She also took exception to the anti-Asian sentiment indulged in by other Times writers. In a 1934 piece, Whitaker praised Haru Mogi, a member of the Copy Cats, as the “high mogul in chief of the Los Angeles branch of the Japanese-American.”87 Intriguingly, she indulged in just the kind of exceptionalism she excoriated when applied to women: Haru, she wrote, was “responsible for all of the Los Angeles news from prize fights and politics to society news,” as well as being her newspaper’s “advertising, circulation and business manager,” wielding authority over “route men, canvassers, interpreters and office help.”88 Unconscious racism allowed Whitaker to call Mogi “another of those exceptional Japanese girls”; she failed to see how doing so firmly positioned Mogi as an Other.89

Whitaker also maintained a racialized boundary between “us” and “them” when she mentioned the city’s Mexican population. In articles written before 1920, she praised the local “Americanization” efforts led by the women’s clubs. She called for “public action” in San Gabriel’s Mexican colonias, which she described as “one of the worst pest-holes in the County,” rampant with “filth, disease and poverty.”90 Reminiscent of her honeymoon writings, Whitaker’s 1923 report on the consecration of a new Mexican Presbyterian church highlighted its exoticism. She noted that the service preserved congregants’ “superstitions and traditions,” and commented on the parishioners’ skin tones, advising readers that “there were all kinds of Mexicans ranging from the darkest Indian type to the fair Spanish type.”91 Even when Whitaker spoke positively of the city’s Mexican and Mexican American residents, she did so to maintain the city’s racial and ethnic boundaries.

Although Whitaker held Mexican Angelenos at arm’s length in her writings, she was quick to criticize anti-Mexican sentiment when she saw it. Writing an advice column in 1940, Whitaker disparaged readers who sent her letters complaining about Mexicans.92 These letter-writers she denounced as “so unhappy” that they scapegoated “foreigners” for all of America’s ills, perhaps forgetting that Whitaker herself was born elsewhere. Whitaker publicly shamed them, noting “that aliens and Americans look all alike to God.”93 In this telling, Whitaker shared a letter of thanks she received from a woman born in Mexico. Although the woman had “lived here all her life,” she and her children took “a lot of snubs from uninformed Americans who think a Mexican is inferior.”94

Whitaker, like other white feminists of her day, acknowledged only those elements of patriarchy that oppressed white women like herself. The observations of feminist scholars Dreama G. Moon and Michelle A. Holling apply to Whitaker: her feminism ground itself ideologically “in a gendered victimology” that “masked its participation and functionality in white supremacy.” By looking past women of color, solely “positioning women as victims of white male hegemony,” Whitaker, like most feminists of her race and class, failed “to hold white women accountable for the production and reproduction of white supremacy.”95

However, as a Times writer, Whitaker wielded genuine social influence. As such, she actively participated in white Angelenos’ efforts to racialize the city’s Mexican and Mexican American residents in this era. Ironically, the Times and other elite white Angelenos were simultaneously leaning into the commercial possibilities of the Spanish Fantasy Past. Harry Chandler was instrumental in the April 1930 opening of Paseo de Los Angeles (now Olvera Street) to bring tourists to Los Angeles, as well as restoring the crumbling missions to their (imagined) glory and pushing Spanish Revival as Southern California’s signature architectural style.96

Whitaker was blind to her own participation in white supremacy, but she was capable of observing the racial stereotypes common among her friends and acquaintances. In her final honeymoon dispatch, written after her return to Los Angeles in 1919, Whitaker “flipped the script” to complain about how little Americans understood “The Orient.” Her friends’ only question, she complained, was “Is the Orient really so immoral?” Whitaker dutifully obliged them with lengthy descriptions of Chinese “flower boats” and Japanese “tea houses,” where visitors might indulge in various illicit activities, but she insisted that the brothels and floating gambling and opium barges were “peculiar to the big ports.” “We were credibly informed by old residents,” she wrote, “that the Chinese are less immoral than ourselves, that their family life in the hinterland is above reproach.” Her own “personal experience of the Chinese” convinced Whitaker, “most emphatically,” that outsiders were more corrupt than the Chinese.97

Nor could Americans assume moral superiority over the Japanese, Whitaker warned. The difference between Americans and Japanese was that the Japanese admitted when they were immoral. This made them “far less hypocritical” than Americans, who pretended to be morally pure. Indeed, the Japanese considered Americans immoral. Japanese observers found it “interesting,” for example, that visiting American businessmen often gave up trolley seats to young Japanese women, hoping it would gain them favor, but never did so for the elderly. Nor would the Japanese tolerate “our sex movies,” claimed Whitaker, perhaps thinking of the recently released silent film Almost Married, in which, for seventy-five minutes, a scantily clad May Allison hovered at the brink of moral disaster.98 Indeed, chided Whitaker, what the Japanese knew of Americans they learned from film, including “the rowdy dance-hall saloon scenes so prevalent in our pictures,” which they assumed were “typical of America.” “We have a lot to live down in the Orient,” Whitaker concluded, so much so that friends and family of “Japanese and Chinese travelers” to the United States were surely as curious “about our morals…as we have been regarding theirs.”99

Whitaker enjoyed tremendous freedom as a Times writer. This was remarkable, given the animosity that Times editor-in-chief L. D. Hotchkiss, described by Chandler biographers as a “bellicose, angry man, tyrannical with his staff,” felt toward her.100 Hotchkiss’s hostility boiled over after he agreed to Whitaker’s idea for a new column, “Let’s Talk It Over,” in 1939. Like a proto-listserv, the column tapped into Whitaker’s large fan base, offering women a support network to assist them in navigating a rapidly changing Los Angeles, as the United States inched toward entry into World War II. She used the column to share readers’ letters, which detailed a multitude of needs, from typewriters to sewing machines, from home nurses to boarders or roommates, from job openings to landlords willing to exchange rent in return for services, from companions for the recently widowed to ration books for food, to all manner of goods in short supply. “Let’s Talk It Over” illustrated the difficulties home-front women faced while their men served in the military and built an impressive network among women to address those needs.

To Hotchkiss’s dismay, the popularity of “Let’s Talk It Over” led Whitaker to ask for a raise, as well as a secretary to help her manage the overwhelming number of letters received. Hotchkiss complained to Chandler, advising against the raise and claiming that Whitaker had turned what he envisioned as a lighthearted advice column into something quite different. “Soon she was appealing for this and that,” Hotchkiss grumbled, “seeking free medical advice” and in short “running a combined medical service-rummage sale-matrimonial agency-legal dispensary all in one.”101 Clearly, Hotchkiss missed the point. As for Whitaker, whose purposes the column served perfectly, she later admitted that, of all her work at the Times, she was proudest of “Let’s Talk It Over.”102

Hotchkiss’s complaints about Whitaker did not end there. She “prided herself on her cattiness,” he told Chandler, and even “boasted of her cynicism.” She already earned too much money, he groused, $350 per month writing “on space,” a sum that “far exceeded others” of “far more ability” who worked “on straight salary.” It also irked the editor that Whitaker “chose her own assignments” and “enjoyed privileges not accorded any other writer.”103

Hotchkiss failed to realize that, in January 1940, his days at the Times were numbered. As much as he resented Whitaker’s influence, the columnist enjoyed the protection of adoring readers as well as that of Harrison Gray Otis. More importantly, changes at the paper were favoring Whitaker. Norman Chandler succeeded his brother as publisher in 1945. His wife, Dorothy, who thought Hotchkiss “small time and second-rate,” later fired him. Dorothy Chandler’s influence at the paper is a measure of Whitaker’s dearest ambition across her years as a Times writer. Over a long and storied career, Whitaker had helped expand the power, possibilities, and influence of women like herself—white, middle class, and well connected—as the vanguard of Los Angeles’s settler-colonial fantasy.104

Although she often self-identified as an outlier, Whitaker was, in fact, no anomaly. All but forgotten today, she was widely read in her own time. She advanced a white feminist perspective that helped revise the script of American cultural norms. In Los Angeles, women in the media, the movies, and other industries were powerful boosters, drawing attention to the city, guiding its massive growth, and assisting in its rise to national influence. By their example, deliberate networking, and prolific writing, newswomen like Whitaker drew migrants to Los Angeles, female migrants in particular. They responded as much to the promise of endless sunshine as to Whitaker’s representations of what women would find there: independence, sisterhood, and a progressive culture with fluid gender expectations and a wider arc of opportunities than was possible elsewhere.

Alma Fullford Whitaker Reynolds’s story adds another layer to common portrayals of the Times as a bullhorn for conservative, antilabor, imperialist views that both promoted and profited from the rapid growth of Los Angeles. Publishers Harrison Gray Otis and his successor and son-in-law Harry Chandler stood at the helm of the paper and of the city’s turn-of-the-century rise.105 In the early years of the paper, Otis and Chandler advanced a ruthless agenda that wielded enormous influence in shaping the city’s rapid growth, from ranching town to modern metropolis to what Jessica Kim calls a “city-empire.”106 Certainly, the regional impact of the Times dynasty is well documented; the Otis-Chandler team used its pages, including the advertising draw of the women’s pages, to promote their business interests and increase the value of their investments. Yet a closer look at those who wrote for the Times women’s pages reveals another, underappreciated story. Whitaker’s writing shows that central to the expansion of Los Angeles was a cultural debate, led by women, that challenged traditional gender roles and created a space for dissent.

To study newspaperwomen like Whitaker is to study women’s social networks, the expansion of the public sphere, the growth of Los Angeles as a city with global reach, and the contests for power represented by the intersections of race, gender, and class in the city’s development. Over Whitaker’s career, we see her creating a space for herself and other white women to work in growing industries, including print media and motion pictures. Combining her story with those of her peers unveils the key roles that working women played as place makers, redefining and expanding the social and economic roles open to (white) women in Los Angeles.

Certain silences in Whitaker’s writing—on racism and the opportunities available to women of color, for example—reveal the limitations of her work. She ultimately supported, rather than sought to overturn, the patriarchy and the settler-colonial fantasy that upheld it. Her story speaks to the ongoing need to interrogate the success of white feminists in buttressing white supremacy. If the influence of Dorothy Chandler and the new generation of white women that rose to prominence in the post–World War II era can be credited to the newswomen who preceded them, then so can we hold them accountable for the exclusion of women of color from the same opportunities. Wrapped into the settler fantasy that boosted California, Whitaker contributed a narrative of modern womanhood that was simultaneously defiant and conventional. She was defiant in her stance against patriarchy, yet conventional in promoting Los Angeles as a white-settler empire while supporting the City’s active colonialization of city spaces, including the bulldozing of Indigenous sites and Californio landmarks that remained invisible in Whitaker’s conceptualization of Southern California.


Chapin Hall, “What Goes On?,” Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1940, A.


Lee Shippey, “The Lee Side o’ L.A: Personal Glimpses of Famous Southlanders,” Los Angeles Times, December 27, 1931, A4. There are conflicting accounts of the year the Whitakers arrived in Los Angeles, but it was sometime between 1906 and 1908.


Whitaker ghostwrote the column “The Lancer,” on and off, from 1910 to 1924 (Harry Carr bylined the column from 1924 to his passing in 1936). Whitaker wrote six bylined columns: “Women’s Work, Women’s Clubs,” November 1916–December 1918; “The Last Word,” alternately titled “People and Their Troubles, The Last Word,” 1921–1923; “Sugar and Spice,” 1926–1944; “Trousers and Skirts,” 1927–1928 (for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate and the Muncie Evening Press); “The Woman at the Wheel,” 1936–1937; and “Let’s Talk It Over,” 1938–1942. Whitaker published two books: Trousers and Skirts (Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Press, 1923) and Bacchus Behave! The Lost Art of Polite Drinking (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1933).


Hilary A. Hallett, Go West, Young Women! The Rise of Early Hollywood (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 13; U.S. Census Bureau, “1920 Census: Volume 2. Population, General Report and Analytical Tables,”,


Kelly Lytle Hernández, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 7–8.


Jessica Kim, Imperial Metropolis: Los Angeles, Mexico, and the Borderlands of American Empire, 1865–1941 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019).


Hernández, City of Inmates; Kim, Imperial Metropolis.


Some others include the Examiner, the Evening Express, the Evening Herald (the latter two merged in 1931), the San Francisco Call and Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner.


On the Spanish Fantasy Past, see Carey McWilliams, Southern California Country: An Island on the Land (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1946); Phoebe S. K. Young, California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); William F. Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). On the processes of restriction and segregation that aimed to marginalize and obscure communities of color in service to the settler project of creating Los Angeles as a “white spot,” see Natalia Molina, Fit to Be Citizens? Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879–1939 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe; Isabela Seong Leong Quintana, “Making Do, Making Home: Borders and the Worlds of Chinatown and Sonoratown in Early Twentieth-Century Los Angeles,” Journal of Urban History 41, no. 1 (2015).


Alma Whitaker, “Is Love a Myth?,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1912, II4.


Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe; Vicki L. Ruiz, “South by Southwest: Mexican Americans and Segregated Schooling, 1900–1950,” OAH Magazine of History 15, no. 2 (2001): 23–27; George J. Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).


Readex (Firm), Hispanic American Newspapers, 1808–1980,


Molina, Fit to Be Citizens?; Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe; Quintana, “Making Do, Making Home.”


Becky Thompson, “Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism,” Feminist Studies 28, no. 2 (2002): 337–360; Chela Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).


Maria Montserrat Feu López, “The U.S. Hispanic Flapper: Pelonas and Flapperismo in U.S. Spanish-Language Newspapers, 1920–1929,” Studies in American Humor 1, no. 2 (2015): 192–217; Vicki Ruíz, From out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America, 10th anniversary edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).


Regina Freer, “L.A. Race Woman: Charlotta Bass and the Complexities of Black Political Development in Los Angeles,” American Quarterly 56, no. 3 (September 2004): 607–632; John S. Portlock and Komozi Woodard, “In the ‘Fabled Land of Make-Believe’: Charlotta Bass and Jim Crow Los Angeles,” in Brian Purnell and Jeanne Theoharis (eds.), The Strange Careers of the Jim Crow North (New York: NYU Press, 2019), 67–88; Douglas Flamming, Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Charlotta Bass, Forty Years: Memoirs from the Pages of a Newspaper (Los Angeles: C.A. Bass, 1960).


Kathleen A. Cairns, Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920–1950 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003); Flamming, Bound for Freedom; Freer, “L.A. Race Woman.”


Edwin Schallert, “Alma Whitaker, Noted Writer, Marks Birthday: Former Member of Times Staff Recalls Early Career as Newspaper Reporter, Columnist,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1956, 3.


Alice Fahs, Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 17; Joseph A. Hill, Women in Gainful Occupations, 1870 to 1920: A Study of the Trend of Recent Changes in the Numbers, Occupational Distribution, and Family Relationship of Women Reported in the Census as Following a Gainful Occupation (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1929); “The Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Occupation Statistics, Table 3, 16,” n.d.


Hill, Women in Gainful Occupations, 182–183.


The following scholarship on women journalists has greatly informed my work: Cairns, Front-Page Women Journalists; Fahs, Out on Assignment; Jean Marie Lutes, Front Page Girls: Women Journalists in American Culture and Fiction, 1880–1930 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006); Lisa Botshon and Meredith Goldsmith, Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003); Julie A. Golia, “Courting Women, Courting Advertisers: The Woman’s Page and the Transformation of the American Newspaper, 1895–1935,” Journal of American History 103, no. 3 (December 1, 2016): 606–628; Catherine Keyser, Playing Smart: New York Women Writers and Modern Magazine Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010).


Hallett, Go West, Young Women!, 99–100.


Golia, “Courting Women.”


Fahs, Out on Assignment, 13–14.


“The Big Six”—including The Delineator, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, Good Housekeeping, and the Pictorial Review—refers to the leading mass-circulation magazines (all of them women’s magazines) that emerged after the Civil War as a result of innovations in print technologies, the advent of railroads and other transportation, and entrepreneurial publishers who aggressively sought advertising, thus driving down publication costs. Mary Ellen Zuckerman, A History of Popular Women’s Magazines in the United States, 1792–1995 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998).


Keyser, Playing Smart, 2–3.


The term sob sisters stems from the coverage of the Henry Thaw murder trials of 1907–1908. See Kathleen A. Feeley, “‘The Great and Important Thing in Her Life’: Depicting Female Labor and Ambition in 1920s and 1930s US Movie Magazines,” in Daniel Biltereyst and Lies Van de Vijer (eds.), Mapping Movie Magazines: Digitization, Periodicals and Cinema History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020); Fahs, Out on Assignment; Keyser, Playing Smart; Golia, “Courting Women.”


Alma Whitaker, “People and Their Troubles: The Last Word: Hubby Dear,” Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1923, III18.


“Alma Whitaker, Retired Times Columnist, Dies,” B1; Whitaker, “Us Working Women,” K2.


Schallert, “Alma Whitaker, Noted Writer, Marks Birthday,” 3. Alma Whitaker, “Elucidating on Education: Alma Whitaker Again,” Los Angeles Times (1923–1995), April 22, 1934, H7.


Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019); John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats, Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (New York: Verso, 2014); Molina, Fit to Be Citizens?; Natalia Molina, How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014); Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe.


Alma Whitaker, “People and Their Troubles: The Last Word: Merely ‘Common’,” Los Angeles Times (1923–1995), April 16, 1923, II9.


Whitaker arrived at the Times shortly after an infamous 1910 bombing that killed twenty-one people. The MacNamara brothers, socialist anarchists who had targeted the Times for its staunch anti-union efforts, were found guilty and jailed. In the wake of the bombing, Otis and Chandler waged a vitriolic retaliatory campaign against all socialists and labor “agitators.” Whitaker writes cryptically that the culprits ought to “just quietly disappear from humankind.” In a follow-up article, she responds to criticism that she had advocated lynching or murder, saying that the “agitators” were to be “removed” by legal means. “An Anonymous Coward,” Los Angeles Times (1886–1922), February 15, 1912, II4; Alma Whitaker, “Syndicalism: Where Brains Come In,” Los Angeles Times (1886–1922), May 1, 1912, II4.


Alma Whitaker, “Our Ideal Country for People of Small Means,” Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1912, VI163.


Alma Whitaker, “Madame Bolshevik,” Los Angeles Times (1886–1922), July 27, 1919, III36; Alma Whitaker, “Australia in the Limelight,” Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1919, II4.


Whitaker, “Australia in the Limelight,” II4; Whitaker, “Madame Bolshevik,” III36; Alma Whitaker, “The Australian Experiments,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1919, II4.


“Meeting of ‘Copy Cats’ (Southern California Women’s Press Club), 1933,” Covina Argus,; Alma Whitaker, “Sugar and Spice by Alma Whitaker,” Los Angeles Times (1923–1995), November 2, 1930, B19; “Gift Conveys Subtle Hint: ‘Copy Cats’ Given Pause by Donation of Cemetery Lot to Organization,” Los Angeles Times, August 29, 1933, A5.


Alma Whitaker, “Sugar and Spice,” Los Angeles Times (1923–1995), March 11, 1944, A5.


“Alma Whitaker to Speak,” Los Angeles Herald, November 14, 1921, California Digital Newspaper Collection.


“Women’s Twentieth Century Club Notes,” Eagle Rock Sentinel, May 31, 1929, California Digital Newspaper Collection.


Alma Whitaker, “Aimee Turns Feminist,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1936, A6; Alma Whitaker, “Reveals Intimate Charm of Angelus Temple Head: Alma Whitaker, in Interview, Finds Reason for Huge Following of Aimee Semple McPherson,” Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1924, A5; Alma Whitaker, “Righteous Raiment,” Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1929, F5; Alma Whitaker, “Hobnobbing with the Big Ones,” Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1931, K7; Daniel Mark Epstein, Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson (San Diego: Mariner Books, 1994), 266, 273, 275.


Whitaker, Trousers and Skirts.


Muncie Evening Press, 1927–1928; “Third Annual Directory of Press Features Shows Record Syndicate Development,” Editor & Publisher 59, no. 2 (June 5, 1926): 57.


Alma Whitaker, “When Genius of Stars Was Young: A Glimpse into the Past of Famous Picture People,” Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1922, III33.




Alma Whitaker, “Women Lose Ground to Men in Film Work: Not Only Do Male Stars Rank above Female, but in Directorial and Writing Fields the Girls Have Slipped a Lot,” Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1935, A1.


Biltereyst and Van de Vijver, Mapping Movie Magazines.


Alma Whitaker, “People and Their Troubles: The Last Word: Treasure,” Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1923, II6.




On married American women losing their jobs in the Great Depression, see Alice Kessler-Harris, “In the Nation’s Image: The Gendered Limits of Social Citizenship in the Depression Era,” Journal of American History 86, no. 3 (December 1999), 1251–1279.


Whitaker, “Treasure,” II6.




L. D. Hotchkiss to Harry Chandler, January 18, 1940, Los Angeles Times Records, 1869–2002, box 486, folder 1, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


Schallert, “Alma Whitaker, Noted Writer, Marks Birthday.”


Whitaker, “Sugar and Spice,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1935, A7; “Alma Whitaker, Retired Times Columnist,” B1.


Whitaker, “Sugar and Spice,” A7.


Alma Whitaker, “Exceptional Women,” Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1919, II4.




Alma Whitaker, “Softening,” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1922, II4.


Alma Whitaker, “Are American Husbands Slaves?,” Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1911.


Alma Whitaker, “The Great Reversal,” Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1912, II4.


Ibid.; “The Imperfect Ablutionist: Alma Whitaker,” January 28, 1912, II4; Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).


Whitaker, “Great Reversal,” II4.


Alma Whitaker, “The Tyranny of Clothes,” Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1912, II4.


Alma Whitaker, “Confessions of a Homely Woman,” Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1932, K3.


Alma Whitaker, “Is Love a Myth?,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1912, II4.


Alma Whitaker, “Les Divorcons,” Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1916, II4.




Alma Whitaker, “People and Their Troubles: The Last Word: Hubby Dear,” Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1923, III18.


Alma Whitaker, “Strangers Yet,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1920, II4.




Alma Whitaker, “Les Divorcons,” Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1921, II4.


Alma Whitaker, “Divorce Evil: Is It an Evil?,” Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1922, II4.


Alma Whitaker, “People and Their Troubles: The Last Word: A Distressed Mid-Victorian,” Los Angeles Times, February 15, 1923, II6.


Whitaker, “Distressed Mid-Victorian,” II6.


Gayle Ann Gullett, “Modernity for ‘Our Set’ in 1910s Los Angeles: Alma Whitaker, a Modern Woman Journalist, and the Los Angeles Times,” delivered at the annual meeting of the Western Association of Women Historians, May 2014, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California.


Alma Whitaker, “Deap [sic] Disreputability,” Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1912, II4.


Whitaker, “Is Love a Myth?,” II4.


Alma Whitaker, “Is Monogamy a Failure?,” Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1915, II4.




Alma Whitaker, “The ‘Other Woman’s’ Viewpoint,” Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1915, III19.


Alma Whitaker, “The Last Word,” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1922, II18; Alma Whitaker, “Sex-Appeal,” Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1922, A4.


Whitaker, “Sex-Appeal,” A4; Whitaker, “Last Word,” II18.


Alma Whitaker, “Alma Whitaker’s Honeymoon,” Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1919, III26.




Alma Whitaker, “Dr. Bob Shuler Lauds Ku Klux: Says Country Is Poisoned with Putrid Judges; Lambasts Newspapers, Jews and Catholics; Asks Magazine Subscriptions after Tirade in Church,” Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1923, I4. See also Maxwell Johnson, “‘Truth Is the Keenest Weapon Ever Drawn’: ‘Fighting Bob’ Shuler’s Crusade to Expose Los Angeles’s Sins,” California History 98, no. 2 (2021): 50–73.


Whitaker wrote the “Sugar and Spice” column from 1926 to1944.


Whitaker, “Sugar and Spice,” November 7, 1934, A5.




Alma Whitaker, “Filth, Disease, and Poverty Rampant at Old San Gabriel; Social Butterflies Start Settlement and Clinic Work There Expecting a Lark, and Now Stand Aghast at Conditions—Slums Outdone; the Worst Pest-Holes in the County,” Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1917, II6; Alma Whitaker, “Abuse of Immigrants Cited as Foe Breeder; Clubwomen’s Convention Startled by Alleged Vicious Treatment of Aliens—President of State Board of Education Urges That School Boys and Girls Garner Crops—Lawyers Should Turn Farmers; Immigrants Abused,” Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1917.


Alma Whitaker, “Mexicans Plan Church Edifice: Prove Ardent Converts of Presbyterians; Consecrate Ground for New Building; Prayers of Ten Years Ago Are Answered,” Los Angeles Times (1923–1995), September 24, 1923, II18.


Alma Whitaker, “Let’s Talk It Over,” Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1940, A5.


Alma Whitaker, “Let’s Talk It Over! With Alma Whitaker,” Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1939, A6.


Whitaker, “Let’s Talk It Over,” A5.


Dreama G. Moon and Michelle A. Holling, “‘White Supremacy in Heels’: (White) Feminism, White Supremacy, and Discursive Violence,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 17, no. 2 (April 2, 2020): 253–260.


Kim, Imperial Metropolis.


Alma Whitaker, “Morals and Manners,” Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1919, II4.


Almost Married, directed by Charles Swickard (Metro Pictures, released June 2, 1919).


Whitaker, “Morals and Manners,” II4.


David Halberstam, The Powers That Be (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000); Dennis McDougal, Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2002).


Hotchkiss to Chandler, January 18, 1940.


Schallert, “Alma Whitaker, Noted Writer, Marks Birthday,” 3.


Hotchkiss to Chandler, January 18, 1940.


Halberstam, Powers That Be, 267–281; see Andrea Thabet, “Culture as Urban Renewal: Postwar Los Angeles and the Remaking of Public Space” (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2013).


Halberstam, Powers That Be; Kim, Imperial Metropolis.


Kim, Imperial Metropolis, 8–20.