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Susan Anderson, former CBS 2 anchor and reporter, looks back at career that paved way for women journalists

Trailblazer, former CBS 2 anchor Susan Anderson on paving the way for female journalists
Trailblazer, former CBS 2 anchor Susan Anderson on paving the way for female journalists 05:14

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Susan Anderson began her career in 1972 as a general assignment reporter at CBS 2 – and went on to start the first TV consumer investigative unit in the country, and anchor the news.

Her career at CBS 2 spanned 25 years, well into the 1990s.

Many remember Anderson for her "Fact Finder" consumer investigative reports, which won numerous awards – and for which she was named the best consumer reporter in the country by the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. She is also remembered for her coverage of women's and family issues, for anchoring weekends alongside the late Mike Parker and also Lester Holt, and in later years, for her reports on the health beat.

For the occasion of Women's History Month, CBS 2 welcomed Anderson back on Thursday to talk about her career and experiences – which paved the way for all female television journalists.

Anderson started at a time when being a woman in the news business wasn't always easy. When she began in 1972, there were no other women reporters in the newsroom.

Susan Anderson reporting for CBS 2 in 1972. CBS 2

"There was a woman writer and a woman secretary to the news director. There had been a woman before me, but she had left the station," Anderson said. "So I was the only one there with like 150 men – and they didn't want a 'girl reporter.'"

Photographers would say they were afraid that they would have to open car doors for women reporters, or that they would be unable to protect a woman reporter in the event of a situation like a riot, Anderson said.

Anderson also experienced hazing on the job.

"I remember once when I went to get my mail out of my box, there were a bunch of dead roaches that I pulled out – and I never found out who put them there, actually," Anderson said, "and of course, there was the whole thing of workplace harassment – which wasn't illegal at the time. There was no HR recourse, it wasn't against the law – and at that time when I started, there was the feeling in society, you know, men did certain types of things, and women did other things."

But society was changing rapidly when Anderson began in 1972. It was also an intense time to be working in the news – with the start of the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

Also in 1972, the Eisenstadt v. Baird decision permitted women to obtain contraceptive pill prescriptions without being married. The following year, the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide.

Susan Anderson with meteorologist Harry Volkman in the old CBS 2 newsroom, 1979. CBS 2

At CBS 2 at the time, Anderson pushed to cover women's issues that were considered taboo.

"At the time, domestic violence – the police never took that seriously. They would show up at a house and say, 'Hey, you know, you shouldn't be knocking her around,'" Anderson said. "But there was a big push to really get to consider that rape was a real crime; that domestic violence was a real crime – and the first battered women's shelters started opening up."

Women were needed in the newsroom to report on and advocate for such stories, Anderson said – and many more women were hired after she herself was.

"The stations realized they had to hire women. The federal government was on them about it – you can't discriminate against women. And they realized that half the audience, at least, were women – and they needed to start reporting on those stories," Anderson said.

Susan Anderson anchoring a CBS 2 weekend newscast with Mike Parker, 1981. CBS 2

Anderson has noted that the most difficult part of her career at CBS 2 was being a working mother – a subject she wrote about in a March 1987 op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. Anderson wrote that when her daughter was born in 1983, she negotiated a new contract with CBS 2 under which she would anchor weekends and report one or two special interest stories during the week – which allowed her to spend more time at home.

But Anderson had to go to the hospital for a month before her son was born three years later. She wrote that when her contract was up for renewal again when her son was not year 1 old, she asked to work part-time – but station management demanded that she remain on full-time.

Feeling torn between her family and her career, Anderson decided to leave CBS 2. She later returned, working on the health beat, when CBS 2's first woman news director gave her the option to work part-time.

Susan Anderson reporting on the health beat for CBS 2, 1991. CBS 2

Anderson moved on from CBS 2 again in the 1990s. She founded a communications business, and also taught at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She retired four years ago.

And of course, much has changed since Anderson began – with women in many prominent positions in the news business.

"I am thrilled to see so many women in news organizations today – and of course, when I stopped working on news, which was back in the mid-90s, I mean, women had pretty much taken over the business in a lot of ways – and they do run a lot of the businesses these days, and there are more of us than there are of men," Anderson said. "It's amazing to see so many women in the business today, and I think it's thrilling."

Anderson lives in Chicago. She is the grandmother of five.

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