NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— Typewriters, Rolodexes and old phones transformed an old airplane factory into a 1960s newsroom for journalist Lynn Povich.
“It was like walking back into Newsweek,” the New York City resident said from her second home in North Salem.
The renowned Newsweek writer and editor visited the Long Island set of the new Amazon Prime series, “Good Girls Revolt,” which is a fictional telling of her experience working at Newsweek, suing her bosses and changing the workplace for women.
“All the researchers were women and all the writers and editors were men, and mostly the reporters,” Povich, 73, said of Newsweek in the 1960s. “There were a few women reporters but not many.”
At the time the women of Newsweek accepted it as “just the way life is.” But, when Newsweek researcher Judy Gingold explained this to a friend who was a lawyer, they realized it wasn’t just wrong, it was illegal.
“And this was in 1969, so it’s five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and somehow we didn’t realize it applied to us,” she said.
Povich joined Gingold in a 46-woman sex discrimination lawsuit against Newsweek in 1970. The day they announced it, Newsweek’s cover story was on the women’s movement, titled “Women in Revolt.”
“Except they had no women to write it.. And so we realized, ‘oh my God, this is it, and we have to take advantage of this fact.’ It shocked them.”
In August 1970, Newsweek management signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to hire and promote women. When editors didn’t follow through on their promises, Povich and her co-workers sued again for sex discrimination, as well as breach of contract. This time they demanded a third of the writers and reporters be women and a third of researchers be men by the end of 1974.
“It was very important to integrate the research category and to show that it wasn’t a woman’s job, it was an entry-level job for whoever had the credentials,” Povich said.
Their final demand resulted in Povich making history when she became senior editor at Newsweek in 1975.
“We weren’t going to sign an agreement that didn’t have a woman in the meetings where all the decisions were going to be made,” she said.
Similar lawsuits would be filed against other publications in the following years. Povich said most women on the front lines of these lawsuits were frozen out or retaliated against, like Betsy Wade, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the New York Times.
“We knew we were doing a brave thing, but we also knew it was for the next generation,” she said.
The Washington D.C. native went on to have a long, successful career at Newsweek and, in 1996, moved on to MSNBC.com as its East Coast Managing Editor. In 2012, she published a book, “The Good Girls Revolt,” documenting the lawsuit against Newsweek.
“She feels very strongly about what happened at Newsweek and she feels very strongly about women’s issues right up until this day,” Povich’s husband, Stephen Shepard, 77, said.
While working on the book in 2010 Povich met young women at Newsweek who, she discovered, were facing some of the same obstacles she had – men getting better assignments, getting ahead faster, getting paid more.
“I think we had a lot of faith at the time [of the lawsuit] that if we just got the laws on the books and then enforced the laws, women who were talented enough would succeed based on merit,” she said. “I think what we didn’t anticipate, or couldn’t have maybe, is that so much of it is about the culture of a place and the attitudes of the people who are running it... And that’s a real problem and that’s harder to change than just the law and enforcing the law.”
Now, Povich hopes the Amazon series helps change those attitudes.
“I knew if it got made that it would reach not only a larger audience but a younger audience,” she said, adding, “In fact, that’s what’s happening. The people I’m hearing the most from are young women... who really identify with this.”
The series, which was released on Amazon Prime Oct. 28, stars Anna Camp, Genevieve Angelson and Erin Darke. While their characters are researchers at a news magazine, neither Povich nor any of her friends are part of the story.
“We were not famous,” Povich said. “We were not Norah Ephron. We were just a group of 20-something year old women who got together and decided to do this. That’s the whole point of the story.”
Shepard, who also worked at Newsweek from 1976 to 1981, said the series changed some things and got other things wrong, “but, it doesn’t matter because the larger arc of the story of what they did is there.”
“My feeling is if anyone wants to get the real story, read the book,” he said. “If you want to get the arc of the story and be entertained, the Amazon Prime series does that.”
What they got right blew both Povich and Shepard away.
“When we walked into the set of the newsroom when we went on set... it wasn’t the same shape, but, it was the same feel,” Povich said.
The couple, who met in the newsroom in 1976 and married in 1979, visited the set in Bethpage during the filming of the pilot episode, which Amazon released in 2015. The rest of the show was filmed in Los Angeles.
“The detail was extraordinary,” Shepard said. “Even the little 2-cent postcards on the desk and pictures on the walls from that era. We were just amazed and blown away, really.”
Povich hopes “Good Girls Revolt” keeps going with a second season.
“The young people I talk to are really interested in it and identify with it, and are learning a little bit about feminist history,” she said. “Not only about us in the media, but sort of about everything that happened at the time. So yeah, I’m really happy in the end that I decided to do it.”