Marguerite Gahagan was a pioneering journalist who in the 1930s and ‘40s blazed a path for women to report hard news. She also started a newspaper that would become a guiding light for Michigan’s environmental movement.
Gahagan began her career at the Toledo (Ohio) Morning Times in 1930. She was 23 and straight out of journalism school, but immediately showed the courage and drive for justice that would become hallmarks of her career. In her first assignment she went undercover to write an exposé about Toledo’s home for “derelict” women.
Gahagan was hired in 1934 as a staff writer and features editor at The Detroit News. In the early 1940s, she attempted to unionize the newsroom and was stripped of her byline and reassigned to cover courts and police. Gahagan said she believed her bosses thought she would quit. But they underestimated her.
She covered the beat with distinction for 12 years and her reporting resulted in the exoneration of two men convicted of murder during the Detroit race riot of 1943. Gahagan found evidence that Detroit Police had intimidated the accused and withheld information about a witness who could provide an exoneration.
In 1953, Gahagan moved to northern Michigan to start The North Woods Call, a weekly newspaper that helped raise the alarm about the impact DDT was having on the environment. The Call became the moral compass for Michigan’s growing environmental movement. In 1966, she was presented the Edward J. Meeman Award for distinguished newspaper writing on conservation. In 1967 she was presented the Outstanding Conservation Communication Award from the National Wildlife Federation.
In 1947, when Gahagan won the Newspaper Guild’s Heywood Broun Award, Detroit Mayor Edward Jeffries said she “always fights for what she believes in, and usually the thing she believes in is right.”