Katherine Graham led the Washington Post, published by her family’s company, for nearly three decades, taking the helm after the death of her husband, Phil Graham, in 1963. During her tenure, she met challenges, seized opportunities, and transformed the paper—and, at times, the U.S. political landscape.
In 1971, Graham made the difficult decision to publish the “Pentagon Papers”—a leaked, classified history of early U.S. involvement in Vietnam—despite threats from the U.S. attorney general. This could have jeopardized her company’s initial public stock offering, which had been planned for that week. Moreover, it risked government confiscation of the company’s profitable television licenses.
One year later, burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Young Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein tenaciously pursued the break-in investigation right to the Oval Office. For months the Post was virtually alone in its coverage of Watergate. Ultimately the scandal led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
Personal History, Graham’s candid memoir, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997. In 2002, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom