“In an era of afternoon ten-cent newspapers and all-male newsrooms, Esther Clark, a former elementary school teacher who years later would dodge bullets in Vietnam, established her credentials in Arizona as a versatile and fearless reporter.” So says biographer Carol Cain Hughes about chalkboard champion and journalist Esther Hansen Clark.
Esther Hansen was born on September 9, 1910, in Denver, Colorado. As a young girl, she attended Manual Training High School. Upon her graduation, she enrolled in Greeley College, where future teachers were trained. This institution is now known as the University of Northern Colorado. Once her education there was completed, Esther accepted a position an an elementary school teacher in southeastern Colorado. In 1936 Esther married Frank Clark, and nine years later the couple moved to Phoenix, Arizona.
In Phoenix, Esther became employed as a journalist for the Phoenix Gazette, a post she held for nearly 30 years. During her tenure there, she published news stories about current events in Arizona, including dispatches detailing the Civil Rights Freedom Concert, American Indian affairs, military news, and the conflict in the Middle East. “Some of her achievements read like daredevil stunts,” says Hughes. “She was the first newswoman to fly in a T-33, a B-47 Stratojet bomber, and an F-100 Super Sabre jet that cracked the sonic barrier.” Other difficult assignments included simulating bailing out of a jet at 43,000 feet and traveling to Panama with the US Army to participate in rigorous jungle warfare training. But it was her 1966 stint as one of the first women reporters embedded on the front lines in the war-torn jungles of Viet Nam that have earned her the greatest acclaim. For her pioneering work in the field of journalism, Esther was profiled by Time magazine. She also garnered the coveted Dickey Chapelle Award in 1941. She was recognized with the Marine Corps League Awards for Notable Contributions to the Marine Corps and the Nation in 1971. Actor John Wayne was similarly honored that year.
Esther retired from the Gazette in 1973, and in 1986 she returned to her home state of Colorado. She passed away on August 1, 1990, in Grand Junction, Colorado. She was 79 years old.
For more about this amazing educator and journalist, you can read Hughes’ more detailed account in Skirting Traditions: Arizona Women Writers and Journalists 1912-2012.