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Serial and Government Publications Division



Using the Newspaper Collection
arrow graphicWomen and the News Business
Researching Women in the Newspaper Industry
Women Reporters
PATHFINDER: Women's Editions of Daily Newspapers
Finding Women in Newspapers
Women as Audience






Women and the News Business
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“In Possession.” Milwaukee Journal, February 22, 1895 (News MF 1533). Serial and Government Publications Division.

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The collection of the Serial and Government Publications Division reflects the presence of women in the newspaper business from its colonial beginnings. In the early eighteenth century, women often worked alongside their husbands and brothers to publish a newspaper as a family business. In some cases, a wife became a publisher upon her husband's death, usually until a son could take over the paper. The influence of women as active participants in the family newspaper business is an enduring feature of newspaper history to the present day, as Katharine Graham's leadership at the Washington Post exemplifies.

As the South Carolina Gazette (News MF 1468) documents, the first woman publisher was Elizabeth Timothy (ca. 1700-1757), who ran the Charleston newspaper in 1739 upon the death of her husband, Lewis Timothy. According to Kay Mills in A Place in the News (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1988; PN4784.W7M55 1988 N&CPR), Lewis Timothy went into business with Benjamin Franklin, who later found the widow a far better business partner than her husband. “Her accounts were clearer, she collected on more bills, and she cut off advertisements if payments were not current” (p. 16). Elizabeth Timothy identifies herself as the successor to her husband as editor, but her son Peter is listed as the printer (even though he did not actually take over the newspaper until years later).

Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816), printer and publisher of the Maryland Journal (News box 8, folio 8-15, and News BD 235-36) of Baltimore, during her brother's absence from 1774 to 1783, supported the patriots during the American Revolution, printed and distributed the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence, and published “extraordinaries” that chronicled American successes during the Revolution, among them her July 12, 1775, account of the battle of Bunker Hill.

Talented American women found opportunities in the newspaper business as publishers and as editors. Cornelia Walter (1813-1898) became the first woman to edit a daily newspaper in America while working at the Boston Transcript from 1842 to 1847. Her departure was noted by newspapers around the country, and the newspaper's owners commended her work (Boston Transcript; News MF 1868, September 1, 1847, 1):

The experiment of placing a lady as the responsible editor of a Paper was a new and doubtful one. It was a bold step on her part to undertake so much labor and responsibility. She made the trial with fear and trembling, and her success has been triumphant. The task had never been undertaken in this or any other country, to the knowledge of the publishers, by one of her sex; it was consequently the more trying, and her victory the more brilliant.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) became part owner and editor of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight in 1889. American expatriate Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893), abolitionist and free woman of color, published newspapers in Canada.

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“New Editor-in-Chief.” Washington Herald, July 23, 1930 (News MF 1011). Serial and Government Publications Division.

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Women who were associated with some of the great newspaper dynasties became journalistic leaders in their own right. Helen Rogers (1882-1970) married into the Reid family of the New York Tribune (News MF 1358) and served as the paper's vice president. In that position of influence she actively campaigned for women's suffrage and hired women for the newspaper staff, employing more women than any other U.S. daily. (See New York Herald-Tribune in Manuscripts Division for the Reid Family papers.) In 1930, Eleanor “Cissy” Patterson (1881-1948), granddaughter of Chicago Tribune (News Self-Service) editor Joseph Medill, became editor and publisher of the Washington Herald (News MF 1011), soon to become the largest morning circulation newspaper in Washington. 4 Patterson's niece, Alicia Patterson (1906-1963), became editor of the Long Island daily Newsday (News MF 2463) in 1940 and held that position until her death.

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