In keeping with a recent release, Dianna’s Dilemma, in which the heroine is a journalist with the Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette, I thought I’d do some research into women in journalism through history. And boy, was I surprised!
Women have been involved in newspapers in America since colonial times, when newspapers were often operated as a family affair. The gentle ladies worked alongside their fathers, brothers, or perhaps husbands to not only gather the news stories, but also to typeset and print them. Sometimes, a woman inherited the business from her husband, maintaining not only the family income but their legacy to pass along to their children. By the 1800s, women often were relegated to the more genteel sections of the paper, including birth, marriage, and death announcement; engagements; social events; reviews for the theater; and ultimately, to gossip columns meant to transmit news in the nicest of ways, of course.
The following is a sample listing of women journalists, citing instances of important firsts in bold:
• Elizabeth Timothy (ca. 1700-1757) – first woman publisher on record in US, inheriting the South Carolina Gazette when her husband died. • Mary Katherine Goddard (ca. 1738-1816) – printed and distributed the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence.
• Cornelia Walter (ca. 1813-1898) – first woman editor of a newspaper in US
• Ida B. Wells-Barnett (ca. 1862-1931) – part owner and editor of Memphis Free Speech
• Eleanor Patterson (ca. 1881-1948) – editor and publisher of Washington Herald in 1930.
In a speech given regularly to interested audiences in 1897, Abigail Scott Duniway listed female journalists who influenced her life and encouraged her to persevere in what was commonly considered a male bastion. One of her earliest memories was of a small weekly publication called Lily which was the product of Mrs. Amelia Bloomer, after whom the costume is named.
Miss Duniway held such women in high esteem, and the article referenced below in the Resources section is a veritable who’s who within the publishing industry itself. The women named were not on the sidelines or relegated to menial positions on their newspapers—these were editors, publishers, owners, and true journalists. She shares their struggles and stories, including the one about Mrs. Leslie who, after her husband died, leaving their paper in debt, assumed her husband’s first name, Frank, borrowed $50,000 (an exorbitant amount in the 1880s) and went to work. In less than two years, she’d repaid the debt.
Courtesy Historic Sites.DC Preservation
Another important first in the world of journalism was Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black female journalist in North America and first female journalist in Canada—and much more. Born in 1823, she spent her life helping others through education, the law, journalism, and anti-slavery efforts. She served as co-editor of Canada’s first anti-slavery newspaper, the Provincial Freeman, and she published several pamphlets and articles in Washington DC newspapers. Another item of note is that she is recognized as one of the first black female lawyers in the US, earning her degree in 1883 at the age of 60.
In my book, Dianna Dewalt is assigned to cover the inauguration of the town of La Junta, Colorado, which actually occurred in 1881. Several real life characters and events are key points in the story, including the reason antelope are still on the town’s official shield. You can learn more about the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B3SCZFTZ
And if you enjoy this story, you might like to check out the rest of the multi-author series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09K7FP3SJ
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About Donna: A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter.
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