Journalist Helen Thomas is named United Press International's White House Bureau Chief on March 6, 1974. At a press conference that day, President Nixon personally congratulates her on becoming the first woman to serve in the distinguished role. The moment marks the beginning of a boundary breaking career, in which Thomas becomes a fixture in the White House briefing room.
Helen Thomas moved to Washington, D.C. in 1942, as a recent college graduate hoping to make a career in media. By 1970, she was a White House correspondent for UPI. She established herself as a serious journalist in the Nixon era, and was the only print journalist to travel with Nixon on his historic trip to China.
Thomas achieved numerous firsts for women in journalism, including being the first woman to serve as White House Bureau Chief, and the first woman to gain membership to the (previously all male) Gridiron club in Washington, DC. She eventually became the club's president, as well as the president of the White House Correspondents' Association. Her career at UPI spanned 57 years, until she resigned from her position after the agency changed ownership in 2000. Even then, she remained in the White House briefing room, in her customary front row seat, as a columnist for Hearst newspapers. She was forced to retire in 2010 in the wake of controversial comments she made on the topic of Israel and Palestine.
Thomas was a famous face in American media for decades. Early in her career, she was often the only female face reporting on the presidency. As UPI's bureau chief, she always asked the first question at presidential press conferences, and always closed them with her signature phrase, "Thank you, Mr. President." Her style was blunt, fearless and at times combative. She was outspoken and opinionated, especially on American foreign policy in the Middle East. She earned the respect of American presidents from Kennedy to Obama, although they sometimes bemoaned her aggressive questioning. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell once remarked, "Isn't there a war somewhere we could send her to?" As one of her colleagues in the White House press corps observed, "She has great respect for the office of the presidency. But she is not intimidated by the person who temporarily inhabits the office."
Helen Thomas died in 2013 at the age of 92.