Dorothy Casserly was born with ink in her veins. She inherited it from her grandfather, who founded the Belle Plaine Herald in the late 1800s. And it carried her through a long career in Minnesota newspapering — from journalism school at the University of Minnesota to covering women’s teas to tough legal reporting in the Twin Cities for community newspapers.
“She was a true journalist,” said her daughter, Martha Casserly.
Casserly died Sept. 25 at the age of 89.
Even as a child, she helped out at the family business, doing printing jobs, typing and making change for customers. She learned to drive at age 11 so she could do even more for the family paper.
“She said our family was typical of small town business,” Martha Casserly said. “Every member contributed.”
In 1948, Casserly became one of the few women to graduate from the U with a degree in journalism, but it took her to one of the few newspaper jobs available to women at the time — writing for the social pages of the Faribault Daily News.
She reported on teas, weddings and church news, while also writing obituaries. And, as she wrote years later in a column published near her retirement, as the only woman in the newsroom, she had to answer the telephone.
Her husband, Bernard Casserly, was also a well-known Minnesota journalist, though they used to joke that the only way he could get into the newspaper business was to marry the publisher’s daughter. He was the editor of the Catholic Bulletin newspaper for many years.
Casserly continued to work as a freelance reporter for community newspapers while raising their six children, spending many nights and weekends covering City Council and school board meetings.
In the 1970s she went back to work for the family business, driving to Belle Plaine three days a week to write a personal and family column. The title reflected the changing times for women — “Call me Ms.”
“That’s what she thought,” said Martha Casserly. “She talked early on about titles” and how women wanted to refer to themselves. “She always had to ask.”
Her mother opened doors for the women who followed her, Martha Casserly said. “She helped with the women’s movement and was part of the success of that,” she said.
Casserly’s work won numerous journalism awards over the years, including recognition from the Minnesota Newspaper Association, the Minnesota Women’s Press and the Minnesota Education Association.
One notable prize was from the Minnesota Newspaper Association for a story on one of Minnesota’s biggest controversies of the time — a series of unsubstantiated child sex abuse allegations by the Scott County attorney.
She retired from the Sun Newspapers, a chain of Twin Cities community suburban papers, in 1991, but continued to write for community newspapers in Minneapolis.
Casserly loved language and loved to write, her daughter said, and she was a stickler for correct usage right to the end.
“She didn’t like the ‘term passed away,’ ” Martha Casserly said. “We had to make sure we use the word ‘died’ in her obit.”