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Women in the Media: From the Margins to the Mainstream (February 2020): Periodical Journalism

by Camille McCutcheon

Periodical Journalism

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788–1879) was editor of the Ladies’ Magazine of Boston (1828–36) and then literary editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book (1837–77), the latter for many year the most influential and popular women’s magazine of its time. Patricia Okker’s Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth-Century American Women Editors spans Hale’s fifty-year career in periodical publishing. Hale (who is known as the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) was celebrated for her efforts in establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and she also wrote poetry, fiction, and books on cooking and housekeeping. Okker provides the first scholarly study of Hale and her editorial career and places her in the context of nineteenth-century periodical publishing. A highlight of this book is its appendix, which lists more than 600 American women who edited periodicals, and gives sources of information on them.

Edited by Martha Watson, A Voice of Their Own: The Woman Suffrage Press, 1840–1910 is an important resource. The material in this well-annotated anthology covers the role of the suffrage press—i.e., journals as well as newspapers founded by suffrage movement activists—in the women’s rights movement and the role of newspapers in the nineteenth-century women’s movement. Watson analyzes eight suffrage periodicals, among them The Lily (1849–56), which was founded by Amelia Jenks Bloomer six months after the 1848 Seneca Falls [New York] Convention, the first women’s rights convention in the United States; The Una (1853–55), edited by Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis, which is considered to be the first feminist newspaper; and The Revolution (1868–70), a weekly women’s rights newspaper that was coedited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. A Voice of Their Own includes excerpts from these suffrage publications.

In her day, Ida M. Tarbell (1857–1944) was one of the leading muckraking journalists in the United States. Her articles were published in McClure’s Magazine, which was one of the US’s leading periodicals in the late 1890s. In 1902, Tarbell wrote a series of investigative articles for McClure’s on the Standard Oil Company and John D. Rockefeller, and those articles were published together in 1904 as a book. (Tarbell’s The History of the Standard Oil Company became a best seller.) The only book-length study of Tarbell, Kathleen Brady’s Ida Tarbell: Portrait of a Muckraker, is a solid, scholarly resource on Tarbell’s life and career. This fine biography complements More than a Muckraker: Ida Tarbell’s Lifetime in Journalism, edited by Robert Kochersberger, a collection of twenty-six selections from Tarbell’s writing, including articles, book chapters, and speeches. Kochersberger contributes an excellent introduction. Originally published in 1939 and reissued in 2003, Tarbell’s autobiography, All in the Day’s Work, also includes an introduction by Kochersberger.1


1. Though not about women in journalism per se, Tarbell’s The Business of Being a Woman (Macmillan, 1912) comments on what being a woman meant at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Works Cited