Born to privilege

Katharine Meyer was born in 1917, one of five children to Eugene Meyer, a wealthy Wall Street financier and stalwart Republican who was appointed to the Federal Reserve Board by President Herbert Hoover, and Agnes Ernst, a Barnard graduate and reporter who was known for her passionate friendships with such famous men as Thomas Mann, Louis Brandeis and Auguste Rodin.

Mr. Meyer was Jewish, but his children were baptized and raised Lutheran. In fact, Mrs. Graham said in her autobiography, growing up, "I was totally - incredibly - unaware of anti-Semitism, let alone of my father's being Jewish."

The Meyer family moved between homes in New York and Washington, but as Mrs. Graham described it in her autobiography, her life of privilege and wealth - private schools and horseback riding, music and French lessons, tutors and governesses, European travel and fabulous parties - was a lonely one.

Her father was difficult, her mother aloof, and her friends were intimidated by the formal atmosphere of her 40-room home in Washington, filled with Chippendale furniture and precious art and silent family dinners.

As a diversion in his retirement, Mr. Meyer bought the bankrupt Washington Post in 1933, using it to take aim at the New Deal.

Katharine Meyer, too, was interested in journalism. After attending Vassar College and the University of Chicago and working at The San Francisco News as a reporter, she went to work for her father at the Post as an editorial writer.

"If it doesn't work, we'll get rid of her," her father told Time magazine.

In 1939, she met Philip Graham, who was a Supreme Court law clerk and who, as Katharine Graham would write, captivated her immediately.

Upon his marriage proposal to Katharine, Philip Graham vowed never to accept help from the young heiress' father or to become involved with him in business. But after serving in the Army during World War II and as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's inner circle, Mr. Graham agreed to join the Post as associate publisher.

After Mr. Meyer left the paper to head the World Bank, Philip Graham, whose liberal politics represented a sharp change from Mr. Meyer's, became publisher. The newspaper prospered under Philip Graham, who boosted circulation by acquiring the Post's chief competitor, The Washington Times-Herald. He also bought Newsweek magazine, giving the company a national profile.

What's more, Philip Graham had forged close ties with important political leaders. In 1960, he helped persuade John F. Kennedy to choose Mr. Graham's friend Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate. Mr. Graham, unlike his wife who would succeed him, was not above allowing his personal politics to seep into the paper's political coverage.

For her part, Katharine Graham managed the couple's social and home life, raising four children - Elizabeth (known as "Lally"), Donald, William and Stephen - after losing her first son at birth.

But even in such a swirl of power, money and influence, she retreated, becoming increasingly withdrawn as her domineering husband belittled and ridiculed her, treating her like a "a second-class citizen" and a "doormat."

"I increasingly saw my role as the tail to his kite," she wrote.

Though she did not know it at the time, Philip Graham was manic-depressive. For years, she tried to hide his illness, even though it was accompanied by emotional breakdowns, tirades aimed at her and, in the end, an affair with a young Newsweek reporter.

When the young woman called one Christmas Eve, Katharine Graham picked up the phone just as her husband did in another room, and learned of the affair.

"That Christmas Eve afternoon," she wrote in a candid account of her marriage in her book, "the world I had known and loved ended for me."

Soon after, Philip Graham's condition deteriorated, and he entered a mental hospital. While at their country house in Virginia during a hospital leave, Philip Graham shot himself to death.

Going to work in terror