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A brief history of Life at the Charleston Daily Mail



for the daily mail

Contrary to popular belief, I was not working at the Charleston Daily Mail when the very first edition rolled off the press 100 years ago in April, 1914.

True, I lived in the newsroom a very long time -- 53 years -- going from being drafted as a wedding and engagement writer in the late ‘40s to Life Editor until retirement in 2002. During that time life outside the newsroom went through a tsunami of changes that were immediately reflected in the way the Daily Mail made its daily appearance.

And so begins this impromptu history lesson. Anything supposedly of interest to female readers was found on a page (not a section) labeled SOCIETY. Joining the engagement notices and wedding accounts were personal mention items such as who among the upper crust were hosting houseguests or which lucky people were enjoying a mid-winter cruise or a summer in the mountains (any potential house robbers probably loved that info). Part of my job on Saturday mornings was to call a long list of such fortunate families and produce all these socialite tidbits for the Sunday edition, which at that time was alive and well at the Daily Mail.

Writing weddings was time consuming. We provided brides-to-be with a two-page form to be filled out with such fascinating details ranging from the bridal gown (Chantilly lace and seed pearls were always predictable) to church decorations (my favorite was one bride’s proud reference to “candle lobbers”). There was a place for names of all the attendants from maid of honor and best man down to the flower girl and ring bearer (and descriptions of their outfits), the bride’s going-away ensemble and honeymoon destination. Also included were complete backgrounds on the bride and groom from schools and club affiliations to family history.

Feel free to brag on Big Daddy’s title and names of the grandparents, especially if a street in Charleston carried the family name. And never mind mother, she was probably just a housewife, although we were interested in her choice of wedding apparel. We even encouraged mention of pre-wedding showers.

Also, the strict rule was that only weddings which took place on Friday or Saturday of that same week were eligible for the Sunday paper. I have never understood the current practice of waiting a year to place the announcement.

Somewhere along the way we got with it, exchanging SOCIETY for a more modern moniker WOMEN -- and broadened our coverage to include women’s and garden clubs and civic service groups. This rapidly got out of hand because our space was littered with notices of upcoming meetings and follow-up accounts of what went on at said meetings. And still we had the weddings and the Sunday paper.

We occupied our handsome building on the corner of Virginia and McFarland streets where retail and classified advertising were on the first floor, newsroom and head honchos plus circulation on second and composing room on third. The press room faced the Virginia Street side. And then we got new roommates -- the Charleston Gazette staff, which had been housed in a crazy-quilt collection of offices on Hale Street. The story went that the merge was a great idea because the Daily Mail had the facility and the Gazette a greater circulation. The building was expanded and rearranged, but that’s another story.

Thankfully somebody decided that we were more than just WOMEN, we represented a new look in LIFESTYLES. So we were given several section fronts a week to express ourselves in interesting features, food and fashion coverage which we produced on a remarkable invention called the computer. This added a definite excitement to our existence in the ‘70s, especially when the whole system crashed just at deadline.

By that time I was Lifestyles Editor and also became Queen of the Special Sections. Bridal was the first and it took me several years to convince management that while June was a still a popular month for weddings, planning them was best done in January. An annual biggie was Superstyle, an innovative fashion section for which talented writer Ann Griffith chose the clothes, models and settings and I put it all together. Other localized themes were Career Women, Our Favorite Recipes submitted by readers, Swim Suits for Real People and Spring Car Care. I learned a lot about imports and pumping gas.

The Daily Mail’s Sunday edition bit the dust soon after the merge, the reasoning being that the morning paper always assumed publication because it was, after all, Sunday morning. This left me trying to explain that weddings could be run in either both daily papers or the Sunday paper.

Guess which most brides chose?

From LIFESTYLES emerged a breezier version, LIFE, and if it seems I am taking credit for all of this, please understand that I had the great fortune to work with some exceptional people -- from bosses to photographers to journalists. You must be acquainted with the work of such creative writers as Therese Cox, Cheryl Caswell, Kay Michael, Whitney Clay, Terry Winefordner, Monica Orosz and the only one of us still filling the pages with an uncanny ability to get the story -- Charlotte Ferrell Smith.

Readers are now served under the capable and enthusiastic direction of Life Editor Zack Harold.

Thanks for the fresh approach, Zack, and enjoy the ride. I did.

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