Marie Ridder travelled to Finland in 1947 when she was a 21-year-old reporter to cover the post-war negotiations between Finland and the Soviet Union. Ms. Ridder came to Finland from Sweden and she was shocked to see the difference between the countries: Sweden had everything and Finland had nothing. We spoke with Ms. Ridder about her experience.
Ms. Ridder came to Sweden after World War II because her uncle was the CBS correspondent for the Nordic countries and based in Stockholm. Ms. Ridder wanted to travel to Finland to cover the post-war negotiations between Finland and the Soviet Union. The American Ambassador in Stockholm gave her his blessing, but warned that Finland was still recovering from the war and suggested she bring some bags of coffee to give to people.
When Ms. Ridder arrived in Finland she noticed that there was a lack of everything. The hotel she stayed in had paper sheets and there was hardly any food available. Ms. Ridder had a suitor, a young Finnish reporter, and he took her to a black market restaurant for a proper dinner. But despite the lack of everything, Ms. Ridder says that you could find pockets of beautiful things. She bought some Arabia coffee cups, and she still has the cups, 70 years after purchasing them.
An editor from a Finnish newspaper wanted to invite Ms. Ridder for dinner, but he didn’t have any food to serve. In the end, the editor invited her for coffee and served her the coffee she had brought from Sweden. Ms. Ridder protested using the coffee on her. The editor responded that he would like to offer Ms. Ridder something that he was able to drink. Coffee was rationed in Finland until 1954.
Ms. Ridder says that only two American reporters covered the Finnish-Soviet negotiations – she and William Attwood, who later became the managing editor of Look magazine. Both she and Mr. Attwood were stunned that the Finnish negotiators were so brave. “What do I remember the most? The deprivations that the Finns already were suffering and that the Russians were trying to make even worse,” Ms. Ridder says.
Since the first trip, Ms. Ridder has returned to Finland three times. She says it is remarkable how Finland rebounded in just ten years. After coming back to the U.S., Ms. Ridder has remained interested in Finland, and she has been friends with several Finnish Ambassadors in Washington, D.C.
Ms. Ridder spent most of her career working in journalism. She was Washington editor for Vogue, Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines, worked as a Washington correspondent for the Ridder and, later, Knight Ridder newspapers, and wrote for a wide variety of publications including The Washington Post and Boston Globe. She served as Deputy to the National Director of Project Head Start and Liaison to Mrs. Lyndon Johnson from 1964 to 1968. She ran for the Virginia House of Delegates in the early 1980’s, and has been very active with various environmental organizations.