The White House Correspondents' Dinner went down Saturday night, and even though it's a reliable, annual event, it generated some notable excitement for at least one reason — this year's host, Saturday Night Live cast member and actress Cicely Strong. She's a delightfully entertaining performer, to be sure, and she strikes another blow for balance in regards to this particular hosting gig. So, how often has a woman hosted the White House Correspondents' Dinner?
It's a particularly worthwhile question because the dinner has a somewhat troubled history relating to women. In fact, women were officially not allowed to attend the event until 1962, a prime dispiriting example of an "old boys club" both in politics and news media. And we've got a very prominent woman of the Washington press corps to thank for getting that discriminatory ban knocked down in the first place — decades-long White House correspondent Helen Thomas.
Thomas protested the ban in 1961 and convinced then-President John F. Kennedy to demand it be changed before he'd attend the dinner. The power play paid off — gotta have the president there, after all — but it wasn't until 1992, a staggering 30 years later, that the dinner saw a solo female host take center stage.
There have been precisely five solo female hosts in the history of the White House Correspondents' Dinner — four comedians and one legendary vocal talent.
- In 1992, comedian Paula Poundstone made history by being the first woman to host the event on her own.
- The next year, 1993, marked the first (and only) time the dinner had two consecutive hosts who were women — Poundstone was followed up by fellow comedian Elayne Boosler.
- In 1999, Aretha Franklin helmed the show, notable in that the job usually goes to comedians, not people from a musical background. It's not unheard of — Frank Sinatra co-hosted back in the 50s, among others — but it's noteworthy all the same. Franklin was also the first black woman to host the show solo.
- In 2009, comedian Wanda Sykes hosted the dinner, becoming the second black woman to do so. Her routine is often overlooked (most of the hosts, frankly, live in the shadow of Stephen Colbert's roasting of President Bush in 2006), but it was pretty edgy in its own right. It even had Fox News wondering if it went too far, which is a pretty good sign of quality assurance.
And, of course, Strong makes No. 5 on Saturday night. Here's hoping we see these numbers start to trend toward welcoming more women into the fold. There are, after all, countless hilarious ladies who'd do great up on that stage.
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