By Lydia Szyjka

“Trust but verify.” That is one of the life lessons that Alice Demery Travis ’65 learned from her professors at Immaculata University. That advice, given by Sister Mary Charles, head of the English Department during Travis’ time as a student in the 1960s, helped her personally and professionally.

“I am not sure she ever knew how helpful she was,” admitted Travis of Sister Mary Charles. Her words of wisdom, along with the education Travis received, propelled her to reach the pinnacle of the many professions she pursued.

Stylishly dressed woman walking outdoors
After Travis ended her broadcast journalism career, she designed a line of handbags before launching a communications consulting company.

Travis enrolled at Immaculata University as a sociology major in 1961, a time when only 5.4 percent of Black Americans attended college and only 3.6 percent of Black American females attended college. In fact, Travis was the only Black student in Immaculata’s graduation class of 1965. Still, she had many role models, as the women in her family were among the few Black women to not only earn undergraduate degrees, but master’s degrees as well. In 1909, her paternal grandmother graduated from Claflin University in South Carolina with a teaching degree, and Travis’ mother earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition and home economics that led to teaching and supervisory positions in Philadelphia. Additionally, her father served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Travis and her younger brother lived with their maternal grandparents in New Orleans. While spending summer vacations in Philadelphia, Travis had opportunities to visit other major northern cities and began a lifelong passion for traveling. After graduating from high school, she was excited by the prospect of leaving home to attend college.

“I shared my thoughts with my grandmother,” Travis recalled. “She made it very clear that I had two choices. I could remain at home in New Orleans and in all probability, attend Xavier University in Louisiana (Travis’ mother’s alma mater), or I could go to Philadelphia, live with my mother and commute to college.” She decided on the latter and enrolled at Immaculata.

The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who had taught Travis all the way through high school, were pleased to hear that she had chosen to attend Immaculata. Having grown up in a Catholic family, Travis wanted to continue her education at a Catholic college. When she arrived at Immaculata, she found the religious traditions she was familiar with made the transition to college smoother. However, her four years weren’t without challenges. Many of her classmates had never truly known a Black person before, and although they were friendly, when the school day was over, they went their separate ways. Travis realized, however, that her own experiences in the Jim Crow South mirrored the experiences of her classmates, as she also had never been part of an integrated student body until attending Immaculata.

Travis dedicated her time to studying and getting involved in campus activities. In the process, she made friends. Serving as vice president of the sociology club, she developed special bonds with fellow sociology majors Lena Chansing Hohenadel ’65 and Carolyn Ludwig Miller ’65, which continue to this day. As a freshman, Travis was elected as Immaculata’s delegate to the National Federation of Catholic College Students before serving as a senior delegate in her junior and senior years. With a keen interest in English, Travis joined the staff of The Immaculatan student newspaper and became an active member of the student council. Her tireless efforts earned her a spot in the Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities during her senior year. Additionally, her sociology professor, Francis Monaghan, recognized her exceptional dedication and nominated her for the Annie E. Gorman Medal for Sociology, an honor she proudly received at commencement.

With her education and emerging leadership skills, Travis would soon change how people viewed and communicated with Black females.

Two men and a woman on TV talk show
Alice Travis (right) on “Panorama” with cohost Maury Povich (center). Library of Congress photo.

It all started with a chance meeting with local radio pioneer Allan Hotlen. Travis met him at an event in 1969 while taking graduate courses and working as a training director at Temple University. Later, Hotlen recommended Travis as the cohost for “Panorama,” a two-hour daily news and interview show broadcasted live on WTTG television station in Washington, D.C. She was hired and worked alongside John Willis and Maury Povich from 1970 to 1973. After that, Travis moved north to serve as a host of “AM New York” for ABC television.

After making a name for herself in the television news industry, Travis auditioned for what would become “Good Morning America” in 1975 and for the “Today” show.

She could have walked away from her career in television when an executive producer told Travis that her color was a disadvantage. Instead, she decided to launch her own news show that catered to a specific audience that had been mostly ignored: Black women. In June of 1977, when her show “For You…Black Woman” premiered, Travis became the first Black woman to host her own national talk show. An Oct. 17, 2023 article on Travis in the New York Times stated that she was Oprah before Oprah.   

During her brief television career, Travis interviewed some of the most famous celebrities of the day, including heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, television journalist Barbara Walters and singers Ray Charles and Sammy Davis Jr. She also interviewed playwright Arthur Miller, film director Otto Preminger, Senator Edward Brooke, poet and writer Maya Angelou, novelists Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, artist Salvador Dalí and actor Charlton Heston.

“I remember interviewing songstress and later ‘Touched by An Angel’ star Della Reese in the early 1970s on ‘Panorama’ in Washington, D.C.,” Travis shared. “I told her how much I enjoyed her album, ‘Special Delivery.’ She had a great sense of humor. She asked me if I bought the album. I replied yes. She responded, ‘YOU…and my mother.’”

Three women in front of Christmas display at Peddler's Village
Travis recently reunited with former Immaculata classmates. Pictured L to R: Lena Chansing Hohenadel, Carolyn Ludwig Miller and Travis.

When Travis left broadcast journalism after two years on “For You…Black Woman,” she dabbled in fashion, designing a line of handbags and related accessories for Charisma Le Sac, which were sold at such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue. Her goal was to design luxurious but practical handbags that were affordable for working women. Moving on from the fashion world, she used her education and prior experience to launch and run her own communications consulting company, Alice Travis Inc., from 1976 to 1988, where she conducted media training for corporate executives.

Travis launched three equally successful careers, started a family and pursued her love of traveling. Her sociology degree provided her with the means to understand individual and group behavior and the societal issues that she delved into during her broadcasting career. She acknowledged that her time at Immaculata was a significant life experience in that it enabled her to learn how to “navigate life’s choppy, unknown waters.”

“The years marched on,” she recalled of her senior year. “As we approached graduation, I had become an Immaculatan. I vividly remember standing, in 1965, in the gorgeous Rotunda under its exquisite dome and singing the words to our class song with my classmates and meaning them. ‘And WE, the Class of ’65…’”

It’s been nearly 60 years since Travis sang those words. And, as the years continue to march on, they are as heartfelt as the day she sang them. Now, a little older and a little wiser, Travis still lives by the motto, “trust but verify.”