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News > Alumnae > Old Queens Series: Andrée Aelion Brooks

Old Queens Series: Andrée Aelion Brooks

Andrée's journey to writing over 1000 articles for the NY Times started from the lessons learnt at Queen's. She has published books on the lesser-known aspects of Jewish history and this is her story.
12 Jul 2021
Written by Afiyah Alim
Alumnae

Having been fortunate enough to have had a positive start in life can make all the difference. And even after 68 years – I left Queen's in 1953 -- I still retain fond memories. Being at Queen's in my teens provided me with the confidence and social bearing that allowed me to jump start my adult professional life. The success I also experienced with my studies – often being in first place irrespective of the subject – added to that confidence. I was clearly an intellectual – albeit out of time and place – and so I should have gone onto university. In fact, my father (my mother had died six year earlier) was even called in by the (then) headmistress – I believe her name was Miss Kynaston – urging him to encourage me to do so.  

But my father was a businessman who had been born and raised in Greece. And it had left him with an Eastern Mediterranean background that was overtly chauvinistic. So all he knew about young women was that a good husband was to be sought for them, after which they were supposed to settle happily into domestic life. Thus, even though I was told about that meeting, I was not encouraged. In fact, it was the opposite. Besides, since all my young women friends and relatives had followed the domestic route, I thought I had to do so, too. So much for the tyranny of social expectations. What a terrible pity, as I see it today. But I think I eventually made up for it. 

I went on instead to take a secretarial course as many “young ladies” did in those days. And I ended up getting an editorial assistant’s job at British Vogue. But I hated the arrogance, rigid attitudes and artifice of those magazine ladies. I had set my heart upon being a real journalist, a real news reporter covering important issues. So I found a job as a junior reporter on a local paper – the Hampstead News. It was a “lightly paid” (£2 per week) four-year internship, whereby they sent me to classes at a local college for two days each week.  

It was there that was able to take courses in history, economics, politics – and bearing in mind that this was still the 1950’s – advanced shorthand and speed typing. I devoured those classes. I also discovered how much I loved writing for newspapers and newspaper people. They were my kind: decent, irreverent, down-to-earth; yet serious about their work. But at home I felt stifled. I was now caught between the start of a career that was clearly a perfect match, and a family that had other expectations. The added problem was that the few women who did make it in journalism in those days were all single for life. And I still wanted a home, a husband and a family, too. Also, I would have loved to move out of my childhood room at that point, into a flat in central London; but it was “not done” for young unmarried ladies like me. 

So I ran away! I quit my job and headed for New York. I left with two suitcases of clothes and $600 that my father had given me to get started. I promised him that it was only for a year, just to explore living in other places. How I thought I could manage to make any headway under the circumstances I do not know, especially as I barely knew anyone there. But we had been in the city for about a year when I was much younger – my father had gone there on business and taken us all along. And I did know that should I run into serious trouble, my father would have sent me an air ticket to get back home. So I was hardly a refugee.  

I first went to live at the youth hostel above the 92nd Street Y – a wonderful, cultural place that also offered temporary housing to young people on its upper floors. Shared bathrooms. Shared bedrooms. But in my early 20’s it did not bother me. Rather, it helped me make friends. Most evenings, we would all have dinner together across the street at the local “greasy spoon;” where the standard joke was that if you allowed the drops of water that fell off its steamy ceiling to fall into your soup, you could add volume. 

I soon found a job with a so-called literary agent. She would accept manuscripts from aspiring writers and charge them to clean up their prose before offering them to publishers. I was one of her editors. I never did discover whether she even offered them to publishers, or just took the cash to edit their works. I was a good editor, in part because of the strict grammar lessons we had experienced at Queens (I still cringe when I start a sentence with “And.”)  

One day, another young editor who worked at an adjoining desk invited me to become a fourth roommate in a furnished apartment nearby. I moved in. We would “double date” as we called it. If someone had a date, they would suggest that the chap might have a friend who would like to join us.  

And that was how I met my husband. He was a friend of a roommate’s date. We married in London. We came right back to New York where I had already started working as the Story Editor for Photoplay Magazine, a gossip glossy about movie stars. Good work. Irksome content. 

I soon had two children – a girl and later a boy. For a few years, I was a full-time mother. During that time, we returned to London temporarily, based upon my husband’s work. I used the opportunity to run for elective office. I won my seat and became the representative from Elstree, where we lived, on the Hertsmere County Council. Arriving back in America, we bought a house in the leafy and beachside town of Westport, Connecticut.  

The New York Times was just starting regional inserts for its Sunday paper, and I applied to write news stories about the area where we lived. I was asked to do a few trial pieces, after which it became clear to the section editor that I was a seasoned reporter. Within six weeks, believe it or not, he invited me to take on a weekly column on homeownership. That led to wider opportunities at the NY Times that lasted eighteen years. 

My brief experience as an elected official also brought me to the attention of the emerging feminist groups wanting to train more women to run for elective office. I offered them media training, during which I discovered that while the concept was excellent, the sessions were being poorly operated. So I had the idea of running such sessions out of a recognized university on a more stable basis. I had recently been appointed an Associate Fellow at Yale University, near where I lived; based upon my body of work at the NY Times. After a great struggle, we were up and running. It is still training women worldwide today (The Campaign School at Yale). My appointment as an Associate Fellow also gave me access to sit in on classes which was a fantastic bonus. Better late than never, indeed. 

I had meanwhile left the New York Times in 1993 to devote my energies to developing the Campaign School and writing books, focusing on the lesser-known aspects of Jewish history that are so often ignored. I also wrote one on the pitfalls of raising over-privileged kids (“Children of Fast Track Parents”) based on a particular column I had written for the NY Times. I continue the history lectures to this day. One of them titled “The Woman who Defied Kings” is in pre-production for a TV mini-series.  

My children grew up. One went to live in Singapore. The other is in the Seattle area. The husband left too. I am now alone but on my way to a beautiful retirement flat close to my daughter and two granddaughters. Overall, I think it has been a worthwhile life, although not without its periods of pain, as is true of all lives. Thank you, Queen's College, London, for giving me a solid start. For more details see: www.andreeaelionbrooks.com  

 

 

 

  

 

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