In the early 1970s, women everywhere were demanding equality in the workplace. When Jessica was hired at KYW-TV in 1972, the winds of change were at her back.
The Philadelphia chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) had launched a campaign for more women to appear on television in non-traditional roles, beginning with the local news. At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission had enacted new anti-discrimination regulations. NOW had federal law on its side, and local station managers knew it.
Jessica was already anchoring the weekend news, and had established herself as a solid local reporter. We knew she’d be perfect to represent the new face of feminism in the media, and we pushed hard for her to be promoted to a top anchor position, equal to the male anchors.
KYW-TV made history in the summer of 1974 when it announced that Jessica would be Philadelphia’s first female prime time news anchor. That day, the general manager said to me, “I want you to know that NOW played a big role in this. But Jessica wasn’t promoted because she is a woman. She was promoted because she is the best.”
In those early days of the Philadelphia women’s movement, Jessica was a hero to our local chapter. She was the first woman to crack the media glass ceiling in an era when women were treated as second-class citizens and their opinions and talents were largely ignored.
— Lillian Ciarrochi, Past President, NOW Philadelphia Chapter
KYW was a pioneer of the multi-part “news series” concept. They were reports that centered on a particular topic or issue that aired consecutively for several days, usually during a ratings period.
Jessica and the KYW documentary unit created three groundbreaking series, each of which focused on changing roles for women in society. Rape – The Ultimate Violation aired in 1974 when the subject was strictly taboo on television. The series is credited for prompting new legislation protecting the rights of rape victims and won a Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications.
Natural High showed viewers a new approach to childbirth, shunning anesthesia and involving the father in the process. The series included an actual birth, which, at the time, was considered too graphic for television.
Lady Law followed the first crop of female police officers in Philadelphia, probing the controversy over women’s fitness for duty. The series won awards from the Broadcast Media Conference and the Association for Women in Communications.
Jessica’s Final KYW Newscast, August 19, 1977