Barkin Hennock served as a Federal Communications Commissioner from
1948 to 1955. Appointed by President Harry S. Truman, she was the
first woman to serve as a commissioner on the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC). In this position she was instrumental in securing
the reservation of channels for non-commercial television stations,
an FCC decision that enabled the development of the system of public
broadcasting that exists in the United States today.
her nomination to serve on the FCC, Hennock had been practicing
law in New York City. She had, as she told the Senate Committee
during her confirmation hearings, no experience in broadcasting
other than using radio to raise money for the political campaigns
of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and other Democratic candidates. After
her confirmation in 1948, she quickly began to study the technical
questions and policy issues facing the FCC, issues that would shape
the future of the broadcast industry. Several systems for broadcasting
color television were vying for FCC approval. Plans to use UHF frequencies
were under discussion. Interference was being reported between signals
from the sixteen television stations already on the air. It was
clear that more formal allocation plans were needed to assure that
all parts of the country would have access to television broadcasts.
To allow time to study these issues and others, the FCC announced
a freeze on awarding television licenses.
addition to the technical issues she faced as a commissioner, Hennock
became convinced that television had the power to serve as an important
educational tool. As the proposed table of television channel assignments
was developed during the freeze, however, there were no reservations
for educational stations. Hennock was determined that the opportunity
to use television for educating the audience not be lost. She wrote
a strong dissenting opinion and became an outspoken advocate for
that commercial interests would quickly file for all the available
television licenses, Hennock understood the need to alert the public.
She consulted with members of the Institute for Education by Radio
and the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. She accepted
invitations to speak to many civic groups. She wrote articles for
The Saturday Review of Literature and other publications.
After she appeared on radio and television programs to discuss the
importance of using television for educational purposes, listeners
and readers responded with a flood of letters supporting her position.
Educators formed the Joint Committee on Education Television and
prepared to testify at the FCC hearings.
on the television allocation plan were held in the fall of 1950.
Commercial broadcasters testified that reservations for non-commercial
stations were not needed because their programs served the educational
needs of the audience. Educators produced the results of studies
monitoring those programs. The studies found few programs that could
be considered educational except in superficial ways.
was able to use these monitoring studies and other evidence presented
during the hearings to build a strong case for channel reservations.
When the FCC published its notice of rule making in March 1951,
it included channel reservations for education. Still, it was not
clear that these were to be permanent. Hennock wrote a separate
opinion urging that reservations for non-commercial stations should
June 1951, President Truman nominated Hennock for a federal judgeship
in New York. The nomination proved to be controversial. In spite
of strong support from her fellow FCC commissioners and several
bar associations, confirmation by the senate seemed unlikely and
Hennock asked that her name be withdrawn.
at the FCC, Hennock renewed her commitment to educational television.
When the FCC issued the Sixth Report and Order in April 1952, the
allocation plan included 242 specific channel reservations for non-commercial
stations. Hennock encouraged universities and communities to apply
for these non-commercial licenses. She provided guidance on procedural
matters, suggested ways to gain the support of community leaders
and organizations, and enlisted the cooperation of corporations
in providing grants to help these new stations buy equipment. Her
belief in educational broadcasting was being realized. In June 1953,
the first educational television station began to broadcast. KUHT-TV
in Houston, Texas, invited Frieda B. Hennock to speak during its
inaugural program. By mid-1955, twelve educational stations were
on the air and over fifty applications for non-commercial licenses
had been filed.
was not surprised when her term as FCC commissioner was not renewed.
Many of the positions she had taken were unpopular with powerful
broadcasters. She was an outspoken critic of the practices of commercial
networks. She criticized violence in television programming and
warned about the growth of monopolies in the broadcast industry.
She wrote many dissenting opinions questioning FCC actions. But
as her assistant Stanley Neustadt told oral historian Jim Robertson,
when she took a position on an issue "she was ultimately--sometimes
long after she left the Commission--ultimately shown to be right."
At the end of her term as FCC commissioner, Frieda B. Hennock returned
to private life and private law practice.
BARKIN HENNOCK. Born in Kovel, Poland, 27 December 1904.
Educated at Brooklyn Law School, LL.B., 1924. Self-employed
criminal lawyer, 1926-27; corporate lawyer, law firm of Silver
and Hennock, 1927-34; independent lawyer and assistant counsel
of the New York State Mortgage Commission, 1935-39; lawyer for
Choate, Mitchell and Eli, 1941-48; served as first woman member
of the Federal Communications Commission, 1948-1955; private
practitioner in Washington, D.C., 1955-1960. Died 20 June 1960.
"The Free Air Waves: An Administrative Dilemma." Women Lawyers
Journal (New York), Fall 1950.
"TV 'Conservation'." The Saturday Review of Literature (New
York), 9 December 1950.
Child or Teacher's Pet?" New York State Education (Albany),
"Educational Opportunities in Television." The Commercial and
Financial Chronicle (New York), 15 March 1951.
"Television and Teaching." Educational Outlook (Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania), May 1951.
personal paperss: correspondence, speeches, published articles,
and documents related to her work at the Federal Communications
Commission. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
official papers related to her tenure at the Federal Communications
Commission. Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.
"First Woman Member of FCC Makes Impression on Senators with Frankness."
The Washington (D.C.) Post, 6 July 1948.
Hennock." Current Biography: Who's News and Why 1948. New
York: H. W. Wilson, 1949.
Hennock Simons Dead." The New York Times, 21 June 1960.