WASHINGTON (AP) – Journalist Ann Cottrell Free, who spent her early career covering Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House and later became known as a defender of wildlife and the environment, died Saturday of pneumonia. She was 88.

After a stint at Newsweek’s New York headquarters, where her job was to clip newspapers for the magazine, Free was sent unexpectedly to Washington to join the newsmagazine’s bureau as its only female reporter. She arrived in Washington at the beginning of the 1940s, eight years into Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, and was assigned to cover the first lady.

While she focused on Eleanor Roosevelt, Free also reported from the capital on the impact of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the declaration of World War II, military and home front mobilization, women in the armed forces and war factory production. Upon news of President Roosevelt’s death in 1945, she was the first reporter to reach Bess and Margaret Truman, the next first lady and her daughter.

After the war, Free reported from overseas on special assignments for the United Nations and the Marshall Plan and with newspapers.

One of those assignments in the 1960s brought Free an interview with environmental writer Rachel Carson while she was writing her major work, “Silent Spring.” The two women became friends, and after Carson’s death, Free initiated in a national magazine a campaign for the establishment of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

Free wrote three books on preservation of the environment and wildlife and was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Medal, the Rachel Carson Legacy Award and other honors.

Free died at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, said her daughter, Elissa Blake Free.

Ann Free is survived by her daughter, son-in-law William Ward Nooter and granddaughter Amanda Blake Nooter.

AP-ES-10-30-04 1535EDT

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