Assignment 2 – Synthesis of Five Scholarly Sources:
The Legacy of Frieda Hennock
Submitted in partial fulfillment of
the requirements for
Foundations of Learning and Technologies
Master of Arts in Learning and Technology Program
School of Education and Technology
Royal Roads University
George Veletsianos, PhD, Facilitator
Due: October 13, 2019
While exploring the foundations of learning and technologies, we should continue to recognize and pay tribute to the people of historical significance in the field, as well as the impacts they have made, and moreover their contributions toward our current state of educational technology. Frieda Barkin Hennock is one of these people. In seeking to fully understand who Frieda was as a person, and the legacy she left behind, I have researched and analyzed five articles written about her and her work. While Beadle and Stephenson (1997) speak of Frieda in a purely positive manner describing her as a champion and a pioneer, the other authors speak of her two sides. While they also highlight the accomplishments she achieved, as well as the hardships she endured, they too question her intentions, and speak of her mistakes and shortcomings such as the fact that many claimed that she was difficult to deal with (Brinson, 1998). One thing that is agreed upon by all these authors is the fact that Frieda Hennock, after being appointed as the first female commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by President Truman, played a vital role in fighting for educational television and against TV being purely commercialized. In order to have a clearer understanding of Ms. Hennock’s intentions and where her drive and passion stemmed from, it is important to learn some details of her personal and professional life before her time at the FCC.
All five articles share morsels of Frieda’s life, that when combined disclose a clearer picture of who Frieda Hennock was. Frieda was born in Poland into a Jewish family and was the youngest of eight children. They immigrated to the United States when she was six years old and she became a U.S. citizen when she was 12. Frieda was blonde with brown eyes, spoke fluent Yiddish and was a gifted piano player. Her parents envisioned a musical career for her, however she dreamed of being a lawyer. Her father refused to pay for law school, however this didn’t stop her; she worked as a clerk during the day in order to pay for her own night classes. She graduated from law school when she was 19 but had to wait until she was 21 in order to be admitted to the Bar Association. According to Beadle and Stephenson (1997), she then went on to become the youngest female lawyer in New York City, and at her law firm she was the only female partner, the only Jewish partner, and the only Democrat. Speaking of being a Democrat, Frieda was a speaker and fundraiser for the Democrat party. She was also a women’s rights activist. She encouraged women to get involved in politics and her most famous related incident was when she marched through the front door of the University of Michigan’s Union Building in front of a group of women she organized, when the rules were clearly stated that women were only allowed to use the side entrance. Frieda was a fighter. She encountered many hardships starting with feeling the need to go against her parents’ wishes to follow her dreams, being an immigrant, a Jew, and a woman in a then male dominant society. She didn’t allow any of these issues to get in her way and according to Brinson (1998), wasn’t afraid to use her personality traits such as her stubborn nature and her emotional argumentative tendencies to fight for what she believed in. Her triumphs at the FCC are proof of this.
Ms. Hennock’s seven-year term at the FCC proved to be fruitful. Soon after starting her position as commissioner, she decided that educational television was her cause, and she started to fight for her cause immediately after realizing what it was. She believed that the then new medium of television could be an important part of education for both children and adults as it could produce classrooms without physical barriers. She was a visionary in educational technology as she understood and advertised then that this technology could broaden educators’ platforms. Frieda demanded that channels be reserved for educational purposes and recruited over 70 witnesses from women’s organizations, the education sector and the public who traveled near and far to speak at the hearings which lasted for about three months. During the first week of the hearings, she convinced a local journalist to publish a newspaper article about the hearings which in turn motivated hundreds of readers to write letters in support of her cause. She also spoke publicly several times during the hearings on the radio, on TV and in person. Even though Hennock was able to secure 242 channels for educational programing, her battle wasn’t over after the hearings. She had to face other hurdles such as a shortage of finances, the strength of commercial interests, and the technical problems with ultra-high frequency (UHF) reception which one of the authors partially blames on Hennock. Brinson (2000) claims that because Frieda was so focused on public television for personal and professional reasons, that she failed to foresee troubles with UHF that could have been prevented, and by the time she realized the issues and tried to fix them that it was too late despite her efforts. On the contrary, the other authors don’t seem to blame Hennock for the UHF issues seeing as she didn’t have a background in broadcasting technology and she spent long days at her desk studying related materials in order to educate herself in the field. One success that Frieda had which each of the authors mention is when she was invited to inaugurate the first educational television station in the United States in Houston, Texas.
It goes without saying that Ms. Hennocks’s legacy rests with her work at the FCC and her campaign for educational television, however something else of note was her nomination for a federal judgeship for the Southern District of New York by President Truman. Even though she had tremendous support by many to take on this role, she also had people speaking out opposing her judgeship. Morgenthau (2009) and Brinson (1998) both mention Frieda’s character flaws such as a bad temper and sometimes being emotional and insensitive, and this is when those flaws proved to be detrimental to her career. Frieda unfortunately withdrew her nomination after people publicly judged her. She finished her term at the FCC, then went back to practicing law. Frieda married late in life at the age of 52, then sadly passed away at the age of 56 due to a brain tumor.
In the five articles synthesized here, nothing was lacking so to speak, but it may be of interest to bring Ms. Hennock’s success to life by listing some of the educational TV shows that came about from the first educational television station in the United States in Houston, Texas – KUHT. According to Houston Public Television (1999), some of the first shows featured the history and culture of southeast Texas such as The Texas Rangers, Love of the Game: The History of Baseball in Houston and Living with Killer Bees. In 1970, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) began service and added popular TV shows such as Sesame Street and Masterpiece Theatre.
Some people questioned Frieda’s motives behind her fight for public television; assuming that her intentions were solely to make a name for herself, while others felt that her intentions were pure as she had a passion for education, wanted to make a difference, and never lost sight of who she was. People around her stated that she was a devout Jew and was known to be extremely generous with her extended family throughout her life. Either way, she was the dominant leader behind educational television (known as public broadcasting today) and one of the first known women in the field of educational technology.
Beadle, M., & Stephenson, A. (1997). Frieda Hennock: Leader for educational
television. Techtrends, 42(6), 45-49.
Brinson, S. (1998). Frieda Hennock: FCC activist and the campaign for educational
television, 1948-1951. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 18(3),
Brinson, S. (2010). Missed Opportunities: FCC Commissioner Frieda Hennock and
the UHF Debacle. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44(2), 248-267.
Houston Public Television. (1999). KUHT/Houston Public Television America’s First
Public Television Station. Retrieved from
Morgenthau, H. (2009). “Frieda Barkin Hennock.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive
Historical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
Pollack, C. (2014). Frieda Barkin Hennock, Federal Communications Commissioner.
Retrieved from https://forward.com/sisterhood/202242/frieda-barkin-hennock-