Katharine Graham: Newspaper Publisher, Watergate Figure

Portrait of publisher Katharine Graham, 1980

Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images

Known for: Katharine Graham (June 16, 1917 - July 17, 2001) was one of the most powerful women in America through her ownership of the Washington Post. She is known for her role in the Post's disclosures during the Watergate scandal

Early Years

Katharine Graham was born in 1917 as Katharine Meyer. Her mother, Agnes Ernst Meyer, was an educator and her father, Eugene Meyer, was a publisher. She was raised in New York and Washington, DC. She studied at The Madeira School, then Vassar College.  She finished up her study at the University of Chicago.

Washington Post

Eugene Meyer purchased The Washington Post in 1933 when it was in bankruptcy.  Katharine Meyer began working for the Post five years later, editing letters. 

She married Philip Graham in June, 1940.  He was a Supreme Court clerk working for Felix Frankfurter, and was a graduate of Harvard Law School. In 1945 Katherine Graham left the Post to raise her family.  They had a daughter and three sons.

In 1946, Philip Graham became publisher of the Post and bought out Eugene Meyer's voting stock. Katherine Graham later reflected on being troubled that her father had given his son-in-law, and not his daughter, control of the paper. During this time the Washington Post Company also acquired the Times-Herald and Newsweek magazine.

Philip Graham was also involved in politics, and helped talk John F. Kennedy into taking Lyndon B. Johnson as his vice presidential running mate in 1960.  Philip struggled with alcoholism and depression.

Inheriting Control of the Post

In 1963, Philip Graham committed suicide. Katharine Graham assumed control of the Washington Post Company, surprising many by her success when she had no experience. From 1969 to 1979 she was also publisher of the newspaper.  She did not marry again.

Pentagon Papers

Under Katharine Graham's leadership, The Washington Post became known for its hard-hitting investigations, including the publication of the secret Pentagon Papers against the advice of lawyers and against government directives. The Pentagon Papers were government documents about the Vietnam involvement of the United States, and the government did not want them released.  Graham decided it was a First Amendment issue. This led to a landmark Supreme Court decision.

Katharine Graham and Watergate

The next year, the Post's reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, investigated White House corruption in what was known as the Watergate scandal.

Between the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, Graham and the newspaper are sometimes credited with bringing about the fall of Richard Nixon, who resigned in the wake of the Watergate revelations.  The Post received a Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service for their its role in the Watergate investigations.


From 1973 to 1991 Katharine Graham, known to many as "Kay," was board chairman and chief executive officer of the Washington Post Company. She remained Chairman of the Executive Committee until her death.  In 1975, she opposed union demands from workers at the press, and hired workers to replace them, breaking the union.

In 1997, Katharine Graham published her memoirs as Personal History. The book was lauded for its honest portrayal of her husband's mental illness. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for this autobiography.

Katharine Graham was injured in a fall in Idaho in June of 2001 and died of her head injury on July 17 of that year. She certainly was, in the words of an ABC newscast, "one of the twentieth century's most powerful and interesting women."

Also known as: Kay Graham, Katharine Meyer, Katharine Meyer Graham, sometimes erroneously spelled Katherine Graham

Selected Katharine Graham Quotations

• To love what you do and feel that it matters — how could anything be more fun?

• So few grown women like their lives. (1974)

• The thing women must do to rise to power is to redefine their femininity. Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact power has no sex.

• If one is rich and one's a woman, one can be quite misunderstood.

• Some questions don't have answers, which is a terribly difficult lesson to learn.

• We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know, and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows. (1988)

• If we had failed to pursue the facts as far as they led, we would have denied the public any knowledge of an unprecedented scheme of political surveillance and sabotage. (on Watergate)

Also known as: Kay Graham, Katharine Meyer, Katharine Meyer Graham, sometimes erroneously spelled Katherine Graham

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Katharine Graham: Newspaper Publisher, Watergate Figure." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/katharine-graham-biography-3529436. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Katharine Graham: Newspaper Publisher, Watergate Figure. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/katharine-graham-biography-3529436 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Katharine Graham: Newspaper Publisher, Watergate Figure." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/katharine-graham-biography-3529436 (accessed June 9, 2023).