Alice Allison-Dunnigan was born in Russellville, Kentucky in 1906 to Willie and Lena Allison. Allison grew up in an era when African Americans flourished in all enclaves of American society. Her parents, on the other hand, were both sharecroppers. Alice decided she didn’t want to be a sharecropper or a domestic, so she pursued an education. Alice went to Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute, which later became Kentucky State University, and worked as a teacher in a rural school. Alice married a tobacco farmer in 1925, but she soon left the marriage because she felt burdened by the farming lifestyle.
Alice started doing custodial work at the WPA (Works Progress Administration) building in 1931. Soon after, Alice accepted an unpaid position as a fundraiser at M&F College in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Dunnigan then began writing. Her first poem was published in the popular African-American newspaper, The Rising Sun. Dunnigan’s poem piqued the interest of a Kentucky Register editor, and she accepted another unpaid position to write her own column, Scribbles from Alice’s Scrapbook. This included housekeeping advice as well as local gossip.
Moving to Louisville, Kentucky in 1935 for a job as society editor for the Louisville Leader catapulted her career and gained her local notoriety. It’s important to remember that at the time Alice was writing, she was one of the few female journalists. Many of her male colleagues were paid on a regular basis and knew they would be called to facilitate interviews and report on local and national news. Dunnigan did not have the same level of security, but she persisted.
The United States would enter and exit WWII over the next decade. During this time, Dunnigan became more daring in his pursuit of a successful career as a reporter and journalist. She moved back to Russellville, Kentucky, to teach and take journalism classes at Tennessee A&I University. At the start of WWII in 1936, Alice took and passed a typing test for a position at the War Labor Board in Washington, D.C. Alice Dunnigan juggled taking night classes at Howard University in statistics and economics while also working as a freelance writer for the American Negro Press Chicago branch.
She would become the news organization’s only full-time Washington correspondent covering African-American issues. She covered Congress, the White House, and local government for half the pay of her male colleagues at the ANP.
Dunnigan found herself in career limbo at the end of WWII. She was turned down for a press pass to Congress. Partly because her ANP fellows did not support her application. Her application was eventually accepted, and she became the first African-American woman to receive a congressional press pass in 1947.
Dunnigan was undeterred by racism and sexism, and she paid for her own trips to cover President Harry S. Truman’s west coast campaign. Another accomplishment. She frequently inquired about the plight of African Americans and the burgeoning civil rights movement. She was frequently the only African-American present at Truman’s west coast rallies, and she felt a sense of obligation to the readers of American Negro Press.
Alice Allison Dunnigan ended her career after a successful career in journalism and reporting. She was the first African-American to join the Women’s National Press Club in 1955. During the presidencies of Eisenhower and Kennedy, she continued to raise concerns about the nation’s stance on African American civil rights. Dunnigan officially left American Negro Press for a full-time position at the White House in 1961.
Dunnigan would be a member of the President’s Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, earning three times her previous salary as a journalist. She joined the Council on Youth Opportunity in 1967 and served until her retirement in 1970. There was Alice Dunnigan before phenomenal women like Oprah Winfrey, Robin Roberts, and Deborah Roberts.