SMU’s First Female Sports Writer Shares Her Story

September 28, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Meghan Sikkel

A page from Crumpler’s scrapbook displays clips she wrote as an SMU sports writer in 1950. (Photo by Meghan Sikkel)

It was the fall of 1950, and 17-year-old Jeanette Howeth Crumpler was starting her sophomore year at SMU.

After attending North Texas State College for a year, the journalism major transferred to SMU to write for the university’s student newspaper, known at the time as The SMU Campus.

When she joined the newspaper staff, the independent blonde-haired, blue-eyed student knew exactly what she wanted to do: She wanted to write feature stories about “girly” topics, like gardening and fashion, and she wanted to write about women, their lives and their social breakthroughs.

So, when one of the newspaper’s editors, whom Crumpler remembers as “Buzz,” told her she was going to be writing about women’s sports, her reaction was not quite what he had hoped for.

“I laughed,” she said. “I didn’t want to write about sports.”

No matter how much Crumpler, now 78, begged to write about anything other than sports, Buzz refused to compromise.

Female sports were offered solely to intramural sorority teams and included golf, tennis and field hockey. The teams were new to SMU, and Buzz thought it would be “a unique thing” for a woman to write about them, Crumpler said.

So, with some words of encouragement from Buzz, who often reminded her that she was doing something “groundbreaking,” and a list of about 30 sporty verbs, like “trounced” and “swept,” which served as a reference for the less-than-experienced sports reporter, Crumpler became the first female sports writer at SMU.

“I didn’t know what in the world I was doing,” she said. “I just focused on learning those verbs.”

She wrote a weekly column called “Gals in Sports,” as well as a piece on SMU professors titled “Tops in My Book.” But then, family problems intervened, and Crumpler had to withdraw from SMU in December that same year. She left in part to take care of her 90-year-old grandmother, whom Crumpler said had “more or less raised” her.

She added that she was never able to finish her journalism degree. After her sophomore semester at SMU, Crumpler moved to Houston and married. She had two sons, who are both deceased.

Today, Crumpler sits in the delightfully cluttered living room of the Lakewood home she has lived in for the past 60 years. Flowers and brightly colored vases line the windows, books fill the overflowing bookshelves and historic photos of Dallas landmarks crowd the walls.

As she flips through a bursting scrapbook, loose magazine articles and newspaper clips, many of which are about the local “celebrity,” spill out onto the floor.

“For some reason, people keep writing about me,” Crumpler said. “I don’t think I’m interesting at all.”

A page from Crumpler’s scrapbook displays clips she wrote as an SMU sports writer in 1950. (Photo by Meghan Sikkel)

Some would beg to differ.

Dr. Camille Kraeplin, associate professor of journalism at SMU and researcher in female issues, said the journalism field has not always been so “female-friendly.”

According to Kraeplin, until the 1960s, old-time newsrooms had the reputation of being like old boys’ networks with very rough atmospheres, so it was difficult for women to break into any type of journalism, especially in sports.

However, as an interest in media and media-related occupations became increasingly prevalent among women, Kraeplin said females began to work their way into the “very male-dominated field.”

Greater accessibility to sports and, thus, increased female athletic participation, further propelled women into the world of sports journalism, Kraeplin said.

“There are some remarkable examples of women who have broken through the barriers,” she said.

Aside from holding the title of SMU’s first female sports writer, Crumpler is a history buff and gardening enthusiast and has worked as an author, a freelance writer, a publicist and an interpreter for the deaf. She has written six books, two church histories and countless articles on topics ranging from the history of Dallas to what kind of tomatoes grow best in the Dallas-Forth Worth area.

Crumpler, who served on the National Gardening Association Test Panel for several years, is perhaps best known today for her work as “The Tomato Lady,” a title she received for her vast knowledge of tomato growing.

After thumbing through pages of gardening articles and family photos, Crumpler finally finds the page she has been searching for.

In the middle of four newspaper clippings from The SMU Campus, a handwritten note says, “I was the first female sports writer at SMU 1950.”

According to Crumpler, female staff members were rare at that time, regardless of whether or not they were writing about sports. In fact, as far as Crumpler could tell, she was the only female on the entire staff.

“I’m supposing there surely would have been others [females] on the staff, but I never saw any,” Crumpler said. “It was such a fairly new field for females to be writing on the paper at all.”

Today, the situation is much different. Of the two sports editors for The Daily Campus, both of them are female.

SMU senior E’Lyn Taylor, sports editor for The Daily Campus, thinks it’s an “honor” and a “privilege” to hold the historically male-occupied title.

“The field of journalism is evolving,” Taylor said. “Women are starting to get the respect they deserve in this profession.”

Like Crumpler, Taylor has also broken a glass ceiling at SMU. She is the university’s first African American sports editor.

“We hear about women breaking barriers all the time,” she said. “I think it’s great and inspiring that barriers still can be broken in this century.”

While she believes there are still some barriers to be broken, Crumpler says it is “wonderful” to know women today have a better range than they did in the ‘50s.

“I’m big on personal rights, period, for everybody,” Crumpler said. “I believe it is wonderful to give people, anybody, those opportunities.”

Associate sports editor Erica Peñuñuri, a junior at SMU, said she doesn’t think twice about being a female sports writer.

“You either know your sports or you don’t,” Peñuñuri said. “It’s about who knows what, no matter the gender.”

Although sports journalism positions continue to be largely occupied by men, Peñuñuri said the number of female sports writers is increasing because, “like [in] most careers today, gender isn’t an issue.”

“I think the fact that both sports editors at SMU are females says a lot about the field of journalism today,” she said.

Sports anchor and host for Dallas-Fort Worth television station TXA21 Gina Miller shares that opinion.

“I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal to be a woman doing this job anymore,” Miller, who also co-hosts CBS 11 Sports’ pre- and post-game shows for the Dallas Mavericks, Cowboys and Stars, said.

When Miller, 37, began her sports reporting career in Guam 15 years ago, she was the island’s only female sports reporter. She was also the first woman in Knoxville, Tenn. to report on sports.

“It was really sort of an envelope-pushing thing,” she said.

Now, things are different, Miller said. Although she continues to be one of the few women in the locker room, she says the respect of her colleagues, as well as of athletes, demonstrates how far women have come in the sports journalism field.

“There has been such growth in this industry,” Miller said. “All the guys in this market know all of the women in the market. They know that we’re professional and that we are there to do our job.”

Although she no longer follows SMU sports, Crumpler was “delighted” to learn both sports editors for The Daily Campus are female.

“It’s high time,” she said.