Alice Allison Dunnigan blazed trials for future White House Correspondents like April D. Ryan when she became the first Black woman named in that role in 1948. Dunnigan is also the first Black woman reporter to gain credentials to the press galleries of the U.S. Congress, and also the first Black woman to be elected to the Women’s National Press Club.
She was born Alice Allison on April 27, 1906 in Russelville, Kentucky, to a sharecropper father and a mother who worked laundry. An avid reader, 13-year-old Allison began writing in a local newspaper but it’d be some time before she would embrace a journalism career.
After marrying young and completing teaching courses at what is now Kentucky State University, Allison divorced and threw herself into teaching and creating Kentucky black history facts ahead of marrying childhood friend Charles Dunnigan in 1932.
In the ’40’s, Dunnigan worked for papers such as The Chicago Defender but as one of the few women in her field after moving to Washington, she was paid less than half than her male counterparts. After taking night courses at Howard University and freelance assignments, Dunnigan willed herself into a position with the American Negro Press outlet covering politics and government. But her time at the ANP was wrought with the same sexism she faced since arriving in the nation’s capital.
Gaining Congress press credentials became her first true break in 1947, opening a new lane of coverage in her work. Despite her achievements, her race and gender placed her on the fringes, yet she gained a reputation for being a tough reporter that politicians and officials attempted to avoid.
In the ’60’s, Dunnigan began working with President John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity as an education consultant. She then worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson and found herself on the way out when President Richard Nixon took office in 1968. She retired from writing two years later.
Dunningan’s autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House, came out in 1974. Later, the collection of papers she amassed while teaching history in her home state became the book Great Black Kentuckians. She won over 50 journalism awards and while Dunningan achieved much as a U.S. official, journalism was what she found most rewarding.
Dunnigan died in 1983 at the age of 77.
PHOTO: Kentucky Commission On Human Rights (Fair use)
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