Secrets under the cap

Maryline White of Ashland never backs down from a challenge.

A quick glance at 86-year-old Maryline White of Ashland, with her zipper jacket, baseball cap and cane, tells you nothing about the rich past of her life.

One would never know by looking at this short woman, reading the sports page in a local restaurant, that she broke gender barriers that opened doors for future female journalists and never backed down from any challenge.

White said it never occured to her that being a woman would prevent her from doing what she loved &

writing and telling other peoples' stories.

She covered the historic National Women's Conference in Houston as a reporter for a Maine newspaper; spent a year in France and Germany with General Patton's Third Army for the American Red Cross; started and sold three successful businesses; and crisscrossed the U.S. several times in an Airstream trailer with her mate of 40 years, Louise Shangle.

And if anyone bothered to ask, she'd be more than happy to tell you her big break in the newspaper business began during an internship, schlepping coffee for reporters and editors at Pontiac Press in Michigan and later as an assistant to the military editor at the Cleaveland News during World War II.

When her family moved to New York City, she applied to a few newspapers, including the New York Times.

"They apparently didn't have any use for me," said White, who then went to work for Young Rubicam, an international public relations agency.

"I really wanted to get work with one of our international accounts, but they didn't want anything to do with a woman," she said. "However, the Red Cross did. But my father wouldn't permit me to going to work in another country."

White said her mother pulled her aside and told her to go ahead and accept the job, and that she'd take care of her father.

White met her husband in Europe during that time.

"He swept me off my feet, but three years later, we decided to divorce," she said, adding that divorces weren't as socially acceptable back in those days, so she and her husband went to Reno, Nev., to take care of things as quietly as possible.

"It was the only way a woman's reputation could stay intact," White said.

She was back in New York, working at Young Rubicam again, when she and Shangle met. But it was the company's Tampax account that opened her eyes to the glass ceiling that pushed her toward the ski slopes of Maine.

White said all the company's big accounts were handled by men. When she confronted her boss about the issue, he said, "Yeah, so what? What's your point?"

"I told him that the Tampax account was the one account I thought a woman should be handling," she said. "My boss wouldn't budge, so we decided it was time to head out on our own."

White and Shangle opened a bed and breakfast in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1961 and it became successful &

too successful, according to White, who said the two of them rarely got a day off.

"So we sold it and bought the Airstream," she said. "We headed west in search of ghost towns. Louise took up painting and I sought out people for interesting stories."

White said it wasn't too difficult being a woman with an "alternative lifestyle" back then. "Most people just thought Louise and I were sisters or teachers on summer vacations."

When they got invited to black tie affairs, they switched partners with a gay, male couple they knew to keep rumors at bay.

"It was a whole different world back then," she said.

White and Shangle opened two more eating establishments, including the Yankee Pantry in Carmel, Calif.

"We charged an arm and a leg for charbroiled cheeseburgers," she said.

The outrageous price? Eighty-five cents.

"Just like always, it got to be a great success &

so we wanted to get out," she said, adding that they sold the business for a small bag of collector coins. "People thought we were crazy, but we've sold those coins at Christie's and got a pretty nice price."

The two headed back to Maine and White started working as a reporter for the Portland Herald in Maine, where she received a second-place award from the Maine Press Association.

White described how her career predicting political outcomes ended on her first try.

"I was interviewing a man who was running for governor. He was an attorney, very well respected and very well liked. But I ended my article with, 'My considered opinion is that he should stick to lawyering and stay out of politics.' Well, do you know, that man turned out to be Sen. George Mitchell?"

White retired and Shangle developed lung cancer and passed away in 1996.

"While I was settling affairs after her death, I remembered my love affair with the west," she said, adding that she has relatives from San Diego to Bellingham, Wash.

"My niece Caroline in Ashland told me I should come here first &

so I did," said White, who's been here since 2005.

So if you see a little woman with white hair poking out from under her baseball cap, reading the sports page at an Ashland restaurant, you might stop and ask her a question or two about herself. But rest assured, in no time at all, she'll turn things around and start interviewing you.

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Maryline White in earlier years.

Submitted photos

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