Gertrude Gordon, one of the first women journalists to earn a byline in a Pittsburgh newspaper, was fearless.
She was game to travel anywhere for a good story and once even entered a cage filled with circus lions for that purpose.
Her real named was Gertrude Kelley, but City Editor Harry M. Bitner christened her “Gertrude Gordon” soon after she joined The Pittsburgh Press in 1908. Her weekly salary was $12 while some of her male counterparts earned $20 a week.
One day, she got into a balloon with two men on Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park. The balloon went up at 4:05 p.m., reached an altitude of 2,250 feet and descended, more than an hour later, on the E.K. Speer Farm in McKees Rocks. The adventure made her the first woman in Pittsburgh to go up in a balloon. Ten years later, in 1919, Ms. Gordon made a daredevil hop in an airplane.
What prepared this adventurous, talented woman for a life measured in column inches? By the time she joined The Pittsburgh Press staff, she had worked in a department store, demonstrated food products at the old Pittsburgh Exposition building and been employed in a biscuit factory, a tin factory and glass house. She read constantly even as she held down various jobs, including stenographer, domestic, laundress and cosmetics demonstrator.
Born in Mill Creek, Pa. on Sept. 3, 1882, she moved to Pittsburgh with her family when she was very young. Ms. Gordon’s mother, Anna Kelley, was a widow who supported the family by working as a seamstress.
Ms. Gordon worked at The Pittsburgh Press from 1908 until May 1927 when she moved to New York City. In 1949, she recounted the highlights of her career in a series for The Pittsburgh Press called “It’s Never 12 O’Clock.”
Among the famous people she interviewed were Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, Billy Sunday, Sarah Bernhardt, Mary Pickford, Theodore Roosevelt, George M. Cohan, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Honus Wagner. She interviewed Mr. Wagner at his hen house in Carnegie, the only place he was hitting “fowls” in those days and cooking dinner for Gentleman Jim Corbett, the heavyweight champion.
She covered the Willie Whitla kidnapping, the Westinghouse strike, the Westmoreland coal strike and the Marianna mine disaster. She also toured the North Side brothels of the famous madam Nora Lee and took a great circle trip through the Panama Canal to California.
She was 72 when she died in New York in 1955. That same year, a fund was established in her honor at the request of her close friend, attorney Ben Paul Brasley. She rests next to her mother in Allegheny Cemetery. To this day, the Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh awards an annual scholarship in her name.