Friday, June 4, 2021

Ida, Nellie and Ida: Trailblazing Women Journalists in the Victorian Age

I thought I would take a break from the coronavirus pandemic and politics to take a look at the history of the craft we call journalism.  The late 1800s were a period of yellow journalism led by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst where sensational headlines were what sold newspapers.  There were trailblazing male and female journalists who worked on hard news stories that mattered to people's lives.

 

Ida B. Wells (profiled in the above video) was born into slavery in 1862.  She never forgot her background and she wrote extensively on the horrors of lynching and discrimination in post reconstruction south.  She died in 1931.  There is now the Ida B. Wells society to support investigative African American Journalism.  She also received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020.


Nellie Bly (a.k.a. Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) was another female trailblazer who was born near Pittsburgh.  She went undercover in a mental institution to expose the abuse that women received there.  She then went on an journey to simulate Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days.  She managed to complete the journey in 72 days and had many great stories to tell.  She died in 1922 only 2 years after women got the right to vote.


The last trailblazer in this post is Ida Tarbell who wrote the seminal book (The History of Standard Oil) that brought down John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil monopoly.  Like Nellie Bly, she was from the Western Pennsylvania.  Unlike Wells and Bly, she was born before the Civil War and lived until 1944.  The journalist and whistleblower Wendell Potter has created a news organization named after Tarbell.

I don't know if Ida, Nellie and Ida ever met.  They must have known about each other.  It  would make for an interesting play with the three of them discussing their work and comparing notes and the struggles they faced.  There were other significant male journalists at this time such as Upton Sinclair.  Did he have advantages that the other three ladies didn't?

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