How to Break a Few Glass Ceilings

As an avid student reporter in her senior year in high school, Barb Proctor Drake ’67 planned to study journalism in college. Hoping to defray some costs, she tried to apply for a scholarship from the Peoria Journal Star.

She was stunned at the newspaper’s response when she learned she was ineligible. The paper told her girls didn’t have journalism careers.

It was one of several episodes Drake encountered where her lifelong dream to become a journalist took a temporary hit due to her gender. But in almost every instance, a fortuitous next step or encouraging mentor kept her dream in focus.

Bradley University offered Drake a full scholarship. She flourished with excellent instruction from the university’s journalism professors and by gaining experience working for The Bradley Scout.

The most profound lessons she carried through her entire career came from Professor of Communication, Emeritus, Paul Snider. Accuracy reigned supreme in his class.

“Initially, you were allowed one mistake in your story, one factual error,” Drake recalled. “After a certain amount of time, if you even had one error, you got an automatic F.

“He was making his point very, very clear.”

She translated those skills into reporting and editing for The Scout, covering major campus stories like the aftermath of the devastating Bradley Hall fire in 1963. She was star-struck interviewing Johnny Mathis, one of several legendary performers who played at Bradley during her time there.

There were still roadblocks, however.  

After being denied entrance to a national collegiate journalism society Drake worked with Snider to establish a professional journalism society at Bradley for women. 

Though initially denying her a scholarship, the Peoria Journal Star did hire Drake after graduation. She became the first woman to serve as newspaper’s opinion page editor, a post she held from 1991 to 2005.

Drake pushed for retaining Peoria’s mass transit service after riding a city bus for an entire day and writing about her experiences. Her advocacy for affordable public health led to the establishment of Heartland Health Services. In total, she wrote or edited 147 editorials vouching for a multidisciplinary museum to anchor an overall transformation of the Peoria Riverfront. Voters passed the funding measure for the museum by a mere 410 votes.

Not bad for someone who was told not to pursue journalism. Now 77, she credits her path to Bradley propelling her to the career she always wanted.

“The journalism program was fabulous,” Drake said. “I was told I’d be a success — not just in the women’s pages — but in the full newspaper.”


— Thomas Bruch