‘I didn’t think about being first,’ says Pat Cranston, first woman professor in School of Journalism


On a crisp fall afternoon overlooking Elliott Bay, Pat Cranston sits on the couch sipping tea amongst Native American artwork covering the walls of her Queen Anne home that she has lived in for more than 50 years. An avid traveler since her retirement, she told me she is fascinated by the Native American’s “perseverance as a people” – which expressed to me that even 26 years after departing from the UW Department of Communication, she has never stopped learning.

“My father was a Scot,” Cranston said. “The Scots are great believers in education.”

Cranston’s father started working at a young age currying the horses and delivering milk. Peering down the hill, he promised himself that he would work hard enough to stay in the fancy nearby hotel someday. One of Cranston’s most treasured possessions is a leather bound book of English Literature. On the front cover, it says “Presented to George Cranston for perfect attendance.”

“At a young age I loved reading – I always did,” Cranston said. “I still remember the first book my mother gave me.”

Cranston said she also decided early on that it was important to write, so she printed out a little newspaper for her neighbors that she titled “The Timothy Turtle News” after her reptilian pet. While the rest of her family was musically gifted, Cranston would lay on her bed running the bow across the violin to “practice” as she read a book instead.

“I think how much you enjoy reading relates to how much you enjoy your education,” Cranston said.

Cranston chose to attend the University of Texas because it had a quality journalism program and a broadcast/radio operating hall. From her background as the manager’s daughter of one of the oldest radio stations in Texas to being a child actress on a radio soap opera called “Helen’s Home,” going into the media industry just made sense. Cranston grew up believing in broadcasting’s power to educate and inform.

After college, Cranston worked in Dallas for a short stint before heading to New York to pursue a career in television – that’s where the productions were happening. She worked for Kukla, Fran, and Ollie; the Jack Benny Program; and the Howdy Doody Show to name a few. But she missed nature.

Cranston returned to her hometown in Fort Worth, Texas and did a number of things: wrote a children’s television puppet show, produced a late-night radio poetry program, and was talked into teaching an evening class at Texas Christian University in its growing broadcast program. She earned her master’s degree at the University of Texas and there were two positions open for her consideration – one at the University of Georgia and the other at the University of Washington.

“I always loved the west coast, but I had never been to Seattle,” she said. “I came in 1954 and I’ve been here ever since; and I do love it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

In an era where women were not allowed at the Faculty Club, Cranston became the then-School of Journalism’s first tenure-track woman professors and one of the first to teach broadcast journalism at the UW. In a dual role as instructor and the news director of KUOW (which she helped start), she also played a role in creating KCTS, and became the first woman president of the Broadcast Education Association.

“I didn’t think about being the first woman [to accomplish these things],” she said. “My dad thought that you could do anything you set your mind to and it comes from his youth – he did go back to stay in that fancy hotel with my mother.”

And her mother always told her “if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way to do it” – even if it was to Cranston’s disappointment when wanting a sheepdog just like the one in her British version of the Peter Pan book.

One of Cranston’s favorite classes to teach was about documentary filmmaking. She showed cutting-edge videos before it was popular to do so, for instance about a drag queen competition in New York and women unionizing. One student was quoted in an article saying that she could “see people as people” after watching the documentaries.

“I’m seldom afraid,” Cranston said. “I feel that good documentaries can expand your world and show you things that in your day-to-day life you don’t encounter.”

Cranston invited her students over to her house at the end of each quarter for Texas-style chili. Years later she was still known for having the best chili in town. The students are what mattered most to her, and still do.

“I’m most proud of the fact that so many of my students have dropped a note to say that I helped them,” she said.

And when it comes to current students, she offers the advice to “do something you enjoy.”

“If you can’t find enjoyment in what you’re doing then you need to find something where you can,” Cranston said. “And do something that you feel is helpful – I think news can be helpful. Always try, if you’re a journalist, to get to the various aspects of a story. Don’t accept handouts and take them as the gospel because they’re not.”

Cranston has owned two sheepdogs in her lifetime – a testimony to her mother’s advice that if you set your mind to something, dreams really do come true.

Written by Erica Thompson, video by Evan Swope

The Pat Cranston Student Creativity Endowed Fund in Communication supports Communication students in their pursuit of professional opportunities for which a small amount of funding would make a huge difference. The goal is to support student creativity in many forms, so that students can take a chance on an idea. Support this fund>>

Cranston is also featured on a legacy page that honors former faculty and staff who have made a significant impact on the Department of Communication.