In her award-winning journalism career, Melissa Ludtke reported at Sports Illustrated, was a correspondent at Time, and the editor of Nieman Reports at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Her lifelong engagement with issues revolving around girls and women’s lives led her to write two books, "On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America," and "Touching Home in China: in search of missing girlhoods."  In "Locker Room Talk: A Woman's Struggle to Get Inside," her upcoming memoir, Melissa revisits her federal lawsuit, Ludtke v. Kuhn, which in 1978 secured equal access for women sports reporters. This meant women could interview players, coaches and the manager in the locker room, as male reporters had done for decades. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and lives in Cambridge, MA with her college-aged daughter, Maya.

Melissa advanced women's equality when she was a baseball reporter for Sports Illustrated. After Commissioner Bowie Kuhn denied her access to interview ballplayers in team locker rooms, Time Inc., the company that owned Sports Illustrated, filed a federal lawsuit, Ludtke v. Kuhn, in which Melissa was its plaintiff. The lawsuit claimed that Major League Baseball’s media policy separating men and women reporters in performing their jobs resulted in unequal treatment and gender discrimination, since women were put at a disadvantage. Judge Constance Baker Motley's decision rested on the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, and her September 1978 ruling secured equal access for women reporters.

For nearly a year in the late 1970s, Melissa's successful legal case captured international attention with memorable newspaper headlines such as “Babes in Boyland,” “‘Battle of the Sexes’ Invades Sports’ Locker Rooms,” “How Far Does Equality Go?,” and “Grab your towel, Mean Joe Green.” The American Journalism Review, writing years later about her case, declared, “No single action resonated with female journalists more than the 1978 federal court ruling granting equal access for women covering sports.” The1977 press pass, below,  authorized Melissa's clubhouse/locker room access, but Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned her from the clubhouse based solely on her gender. She archived her papers relating to her groundbreaking suit at Radcliffe Institute's Schlesinger Library, as well as interviews she did for her book "On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America." A comprehensive oral history of Melissa's life and her legal case is preserved as part of the Washington Press Club Foundation’s Women in Journalism oral history project and in the Herstory project through JAWS.


Denied Access

Melissa's press credential, left, is similar to the badges that accredited journalists at the 1977 World Series received. It gave them access to areas where interviews take place, including the clubhouse/locker room. One of her 1977 badges is on permanent display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and a 1978 World Series press pass belonging to Melissa is in the museum at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

As a domestic correspondent, Melissa reported in the New York, Los Angeles, and Boston bureaus for Time. In 1984, she was assigned to the Summer Olympics – writing Time's cover story on four-gold-medal winner Carl Lewis – and covered the presidential campaign. Still, her primary focus at Time became social issues as they affected children, families, girls and women. In numerous cover stories, Melissa reported on challenging issues including the rising rate of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, especially among teens, the quality of and access to affordable child care and health care, how babies learn, homeless initiatives, “crack babies," and a wide range of education issues. In 1988, her 18-page cover story “Through the Eyes of Children” portrayed the lives of children in whose homes she'd lived while reporting; the five children she profiled grew in circumstances characteristic of how many American children lived. At this time children’s issues were starting to gain some political traction, so Melissa's narrative illumination of children's lives offered readers ways to see from children’s points of view what being an American kid was like in late 1980s America.

During the time she was writing her book "On Own Own," Melissa worked as a media/policy consultant with the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families organizing conferences for journalists who report on children about topics such as welfare reform, children’s health, and early childhood development. She was a consultant on federal education legislation on the National Urban Reform Network Project at the Boston-based Community Training and Assistance Center and worked on local education policy issues for the Boston Plan for Excellence in the Public Schools. She was co-director of the Schott Foundation’s media training for child care advocates and providers in Massachusetts. At the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she partnered with academics to research and write about children’s issues for its Initiatives for Children Project. At Radcliffe’s Public Policy Institute, she directed the EMMA awards presented by the college in partnership with the National Women’s Political Caucus to recognize excellence in coverage of women’s issues. 

Melissa led several study groups at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics at Harvard University and taught the introductory journalism class at Emerson University as an adjunct professor.  In the mid-1980s, she was granted a leave from Time to serve as Joe Kennedy II’s issues director during his first campaign for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Awards & Honors

The Yankee Quill Award for Lifetime Achievement is described as “the highest individual honor bestowed on journalists in New England." In 2010, Melissa received this award. The selection committee lauded Melissa for her “distinguished history of fighting for equal opportunities for women sportswriters, deft editing of one of America’s most thoughtful journalism publications, and conscientious involvement with children’s and other social organizations.” While a reporter at Sports Illustrated, the Newswomen’s Club of New York presented her with its Front Page Award for her TV/Radio column about the networks' hiring of women sports broadcasters. The Association of Women in Sports Media presented her with its annual Mary Garber Pioneer Award, as well as its Friend of AWSM Award. She was a co-winner of the Unity Award in Media for her reporting on politics for Time.

Melissa was awarded a prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, where she pursued coursework related to family, women and children issues. She studied poverty policy with David Ellwood at the Kennedy School, adolescent psychology with Carol Gilligan at the Graduate School of Education, and family law with Elizabeth Bartholet at Harvard Law School. While researching and writing "On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America," Melissa received appointments as a Fellow at Radcliffe’s Public Policy Institute and as a Visiting Scholar at Radcliffe’s Henry R. Murray Center, then the college’s center for longitudinal studies in the social sciences. She also received the Prudential Fellowship in the Coverage of Children at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.