July 25, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service (NPS). Established by Woodrow Wilson under the Organic Act of 1916, the national parks are enjoyed by millions of visitors interested in exploring the diversity and beauty of the U.S. landscape. Today, the creation of a new federal bureau would likely make headlines, but the policy issues surrounding the consolidation of park management as well as the other conservation acts leading up to the creation of the NPS don’t seem to drive the discussion about national parks in our papers. Instead, the parks are frequently mentioned in conjunction with tourism. Across our papers, headlines related to national parks typically take the form of travel notices about Floridians on the move, advertisements offering guided trips to the West, and society segments chronicling the travels of famous Americans to distant areas like Yosemite, Crater Lake, and Glacier National Parks. Finding this perspective in our papers isn’t all that surprising, an argument historian Marguerite S. Shaffer makes in her book See America First: Tourism and National Identity 1880-1940. In her work, she argues “under the leadership of the National Park Service, the United States government, in partnership with private corporations, began to define and promote a national tourism as a ritual of American citizenship. In the process, the national parks were transformed into a system of national assets, and tourism became integrally linked to national identity” (Shaffer 92). To celebrate the centennial of the NPS, we’ll be exploring instances in our papers where the parks are discussed in relation to travel.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, interest in the American West increased substantially due in part to stories, photos, and even theater shows like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West celebrating the region circulating in the Eastern U.S. and Europe. Expansions in national railroad infrastructure as well as new travel technology like the car made it easier than ever for people to explore the vast American West, leading to concerns about conservation and access. This is an issue tourism scholars Richard W. Butler and Stephen W. Boyd discuss in the introduction to the book Tourism and National Parks: Issues and Implications. In it they claim, “while preservation and romantic notions of safeguarding wilderness places were often stated as the driving forces behind early park establishment, many of the first parks would not have been established if they had offered no potential for tourism….The first parks in North America, for example, Yellowstone and Banff, benefited from the presence of railroad interests that provided not only initial access to the parks but also the necessary tourism infrastructure within the parks for the first tourists” (Butler and Boyd 9). While some Americans may think of the parks as pristine nature preserves, they are in fact tied up in a larger legacy of tourism and development.
Yellowstone National Park was the first park to be formed by the U.S government. Signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, it became the first such park “in the history of the world” (PBS EP1). By the end of the 19th century, there were additional national parks including Sequoia, Yosemite, and Mt. Rainier. A further expansion of presidential powers took place in 1906 when Teddy Roosevelt signed what is commonly known as the Antiquities Act, giving the president “the exclusive authority – without any Congressional approval – to preserve places that would be called national monuments” (PBS EP2). Conflict over who would manage these monuments and parks demonstrated a need to create a governmental agency with that express purpose. At the same time this need developed at an administrative level, promotional materials were created and distributed by groups in support of the parks (including companies using the slogan “See America First”) which “sought to establish the value of national parks as national assets” (Shaffer 104). Public and corporate support for the national parks generated by promotional campaigns contributed to the passage and signing of the Organic Act of 1916. Combined with the fact that access to Europe for tourists was hindered by the ongoing World War, Americans turned west to explore their own country. As we see in our papers during this time period, “between 1918 and 1919, the parks were defined as more than just scenic wonders. They became quintessentially American landscapes that objectified the American character and embodied the essence of the nation, and in the tradition of democracy, they belonged to the people, ever available for their benefit and pleasure” (Shaffer 114-115).
With that background in mind, please enjoy the following excerpts from our Florida newspapers about visiting the national parks during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Famous Visitors to the Parks
Auto Tourism and the Parks
Citations and Additional Sources
Butler, Richard W. and Stephen W. Boyd. “Tourism and parks-a long but uneasy relationship.” In Tourism and National Parks: Issues and Implications, edited by Richard W. Butler and Stephen W. Boyd, 3-11. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, LTD, 2000.
Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Yellowstone National Park, Ranger Naturalist Service. 1 print (poster): screen, color ; 48 x 36 cm. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. From: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007676133/ (accessed August 25, 2016).
Shaffer, Marquerite S. See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 1880-1940. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001.
We’ve posted a quick tutorial on YouTube that covers the what the Florida & Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project is, our partners, and how to perform searches using the advanced search option. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of ChronAm’s functionality, but we hope this walk-through inspires you to dig into the past.
Few things shaped the long history of the University of Florida like the signing of the Buckman Act on June 5, 1905. The legislation, authored by Congressman Henry H. Buckman, consolidated the numerous (white) public colleges and seminaries in the state into the University of Florida and Florida Female College (now Florida State University) as well as maintained the State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students (now Florida A&M) and the Institute for Blind, Deaf, and Dumb. Because the bill fundamentally restructured higher education within the state and impacted many communities which housed smaller institutions, the Buckman Act is covered extensively in our papers. Samuel Proctor and Wright Langley, authors of Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida are correct in pointing out that “most newspapers favored consolidation, although there was opposition in communities like Bartow that seemed likely to lose their institutions” (Proctor and Langley 24). This post will look at the manner in which the Buckman Act was discussed during the 1905 legislative session. Notably, we’ll look at the Weekly True Democrat from Tallahassee, which supported the bill and also reported opinions printed in other papers in the state, and the Gainesville Daily Sun which, while initially against the act, warmed up to it considerably once Gainesville’s name began to be mentioned as the possible location of the University of Florida.
The history of higher education in Florida can be traced back to January 22, 1851 when “the Legislature passed a bill authorizing establishment of two seminaries, one in east Florida and the other in west Florida” (Proctor and Langley 18). In the wake of the organization of these two institutions, other small state schools opened throughout the remainder of the 19th century. By the early 20th century, there were eight total public colleges and institutes. At the beginning of the 1905 legislative session, some officials were of the opinion that the proliferation of these unregulated institutions was placing an unreasonable financial burden on the state. These institutions competed for students, which, in turn, allowed them to ask for more financial support from the state. The result of this competition led to “interschool rivalry” and the fear among many was that “Florida had more schools than it could afford to maintain, and without change, none would be able to achieve preeminence” (Proctor and Langley 23). This attitude is reflected in the May 19th issue of the Weekly True Democrat from Tallahassee. While the editors are “doubtful” that the bill can be enacted, they nonetheless state that its very existence is “an indication that the taxpayers of the State have become weary of witnessing successive Legislatures fritter away their hard-earned money in wasteful efforts to build up local schools for the sole benefit of ambitious local communities.”
The goal of Buckman’s bill was threefold: it intended to condense the number of state funded institutions of higher learning, place the consolidated institutions under the authority of the governor-appointed of the Board of Control, and create gender segregated schools for white students. The bill gained popularity and ultimately replaced the “Regent’s Bill” proposed by Senator Stockton and Congressman Wall which supported oversight without school closures and said nothing about gender segregation. While there is simply not enough space to discuss the gendered aspect of the Buckman Act, an article by Shira Birnbaum on the topic notes that “most of these state-financed public institutions-like their private and locally supported counterparts-had been made coeducational before the turn of the century” (Birnbaum 225).
So what do papers from the time have to say about the Buckman bill? In short, quite a bit. The legislation was one of the more publicly discussed bills of the 1905 legislative session. A search for the term in Florida Chronicling America papers for only the year 1905 yields an impressive number of articles from across the state, often occupying prime front-page space.
The Weekly True Democrat from Tallahassee is one of our papers that frequently reported on the university issue while the bill was being considered, during the contestation of the law at the state Supreme Court, and throughout the implementation process. There are two potential reasons for the coverage. First, the Tallahassee paper features a considerable amount of political news simply because Tallahassee is the state capital and seat of state governance. Additionally, as the host of both Florida State College and the State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students, citizens of Tallahassee would be affected should either college close. Fears aside, the Weekly True Democrat unabashedly supported the bill. Early in the session, the Weekly True Democrat addressed this issue saying as “much as we deprecate the arbitrary abolishment of some of the institutions thus affected by this bill, and especially our own State College, we feel…that the time has come to cut of the wasting of the people’s money…and if the enactment of the Buckman bill is the only means of accomplishing this purpose, we are in favor of it.”
Perhaps more useful to individuals interested in learning more about public opinion and the Buckman bill is the fact that the Weekly True Democrat regularly included columns containing snippets from other newspapers in the state about certain hot cultural topics. From these columns, we can see the tension that existed surrounding the issue in the language used by supporters and detractors of the bill. For example, the Perry Topics is reported by the Democrat as saying “This is the best bill that could have been passed. The measly little schools were draining the State, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and doing less good than a third grade school in the rural districts.” The Live Oak Democrat echoed similar sentiment saying “the people, we doubt not, would be better satisfied with two or three high-class educational institutions adequately supported by the State than half a dozen or more always ‘on the bum’ through no fault of their own…” On the other side of the issue was the DeFuniak Breeze which was reported as saying “Should the Governor sign it, it may be taken almost as an assured fact that the matter will go into the courts and end no one knows where.” DuFuniak, Florida, it should be noted, was the location of the White Normal School that would be eliminated if the Buckman bill passed. While the majority of the reports in the Weekly True Democrat from other papers are supportive of consolidation, editorial approval for the bill was not universal across the state.
Like DeFuniak, Gainesville (the current home of the University of Florida) was concerned that the passage of the Buckman bill would lead to the closure of East Florida Seminary, which had been located in the city since 1866 and vocally opposed the legislation (Proctor and Langley 19). The Gainesville Daily Sun covered the Buckman bill regularly, including running a story about a committee who ventured to Tallahassee “in the interest of securing if possible the defeat of the famous Buckman bill.” On May 28th, after the bill passed the Senate, the Daily Sun reported that “Senator McCreary made a noble fight against great odds to save East Florida Seminary, but the forces against him and education were too strong.” Clearly, the Gainesville Daily Sun viewed the Buckman Act as something of immense social and cultural importance and framed the issue using the type of rhetoric we often see in reports on issues related to the so-called culture wars today.
As what appeared to be the inevitable passage of the bill loomed, antagonism towards it in the Daily Sun waned due in large part to support around the state to choose Gainesville as the location of the University of Florida, the premier educational institution in this newly organized structure. According to Proctor and Langley, “many Floridians favored Lake City since the University was already established there with several new and modern buildings.” Knowing they faced an uphill battle, “Gainesville launched a major public relations campaign to win statewide support” (Proctor and Langley 25). Knowing that the serving as the home of the university would ultimately be beneficial to the city, the Daily Sun enthusiastically began to support placing the University of Florida in Gainesville.
For obvious reasons, the Daily Sun only ran articles supporting the idea that Gainesville was the best suited location for the university. One such article ran on June 3, 1905 and extensively quotes a June 2ndTampa Tribune piece about the suitability of Gainesville. This contextualized reprint states “Gainesville is unquestionably the best location in the State for the University, which is the most important proposition. The city is located centrally, both geographically and with respect to population and has everything desirable for the maintenance of the University. It has the school spirit, good water, a healthful climate, good buildings, and is a town without a saloon or a disorderly house, with a standard of morality that makes it an ideal college town.” Nearly a month later on June 29th, the Gainesville Daily Sun re-ran an editorial by Maitland resident S.B. Hill that had been first published in Jacksonville’s Times-Union. This editorial is completely complimentary to Gainesville, framing the city as the people’s choice for the flagship school. In Hill’s opinion, not only is Gainesville a better choice, but the school formerly run in Lake City was rife with “discord, enmity, and factionalism” which, prior to its closure by the Buckman Act, had “interfered with the management of the school.” This led Hill to conclude “we cannot afford to trust the University in a place where local politics, with all its blighting influences, has dared to lay its profanating [sic] hands upon the sacred interests of the State school entrusted to fostering care of the community.”
Ultimately, the Board of Control chose Gainesville as the location of the University of Florida on July 6, 1905 in a close 6-4 vote. The same evening, a unanimous vote resulted in the selection of Tallahassee as the location for the Florida Female College. After the successful public relations campaign, the city of Gainesville celebrated their victory. The front page of the Gainesville Daily Sun for the next several days recounts the triumphant vote and reports the city’s response to the news, including an impromptu 51 car parade which met Mayor W.R. Thomas upon his return to the city. This parade included “carriages, buggies and wagons, as well as the bicycles” which “were decorated in the Seminary colors, orange and black, and buttonieres [sic] and lapel streamers were prominent on the persons of all who participated in the parade, as well as ninety-five percent of the people of the city, regardless of age, sex or color.” The front page of the July 10th edition of the paper features a large announcement titled “Our Grateful Thanks” In which the paper, “on behalf of the good people of the city of Gainesville,” expresses its “deep gratitude to the press of the State for the free and generous manner in which it stood by our city in this effort to maintain supremacy as an educational center.” In reflecting on the choice of Gainesville as the home of UF, the paper uses religious language, saying that “a sacred trust has fallen to our city” and that “in whatever position we may be called upon to act, we will ever hold next to Him on high, our duty to these institutions where the minds of our youth are to be molded for the perpetuity of our State and the Nation.” Despite the public celebration, the Gainesville Sun, it seems, viewed the decision of the Board of Control in a more nuanced way, meshing celebration with solemnity and a sense of moral responsibility.
Although the Buckman Act established the University of Florida in Gainesville, not everyone, particularly residents of Lake City, was happy with the decision. During the 1906 move of equipment and furnishings from Lake City to Gainesville, a fracas-both physical and legal- ensued, which is also discussed in our papers. That however, is a story for another day. The Buckman Act, enacted June 5, 1905, resulted in the restructuring of higher education in Florida. Discussion of this publicly debated legislative act and stories about the schools that emerged from this reorganization can be found throughout our historical Florida newspapers.
Citations and Additional Sources
Birnbaum, Shira. “Making Southern Belles in Progressive Era Florida: Gender in the Formal and Hidden Curriculum of the Florida Female College.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 16 (2/3 1996): 218-46.
Proctor, Samuel, and Wright Langley. Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida. Gainesville, FL: South Star Publishing Company, 1986.
While Florida newspapers certainly cover history-making moments, they also serve as a chronicle of the economic and social issues facing readers at the time of publication. Within the pages of papers included in the FPRDNP, few topics are as pervasive as the state’s iconic citrus industry. It may be unsurprising that citrus news dominates a title like DeLand’s Florida Agriculturist, but the reality is news about the citrus industry frequently made headlines across the state.
Although citrus is frequently associated with Florida in terms of cultural memory, it is not native to the state. Prior to European involvement in the Americas, citrus was already a well-known and desired commodity in Europe and Asia. It is believed that “Ponce de Leon, planted the first orange trees around St. Augustine, Florida, sometime between 1513 and 1565” (Florida Citrus Mutual). Although non-native, citrus plants thrived in Florida. In fact, “by 1774, when the naturalist William Bartram traveled up the St. Johns River, he reported finding wild orange groves scattered across the higher regions of land where he camped at night” (Peggy Macdonald). As European Americans settled Florida, cultivation of citrus and transportation methods improved, and by 1893 the state was producing “more than five million boxes” of citrus fruit annually (Florida Citrus Mutual). Due to the important role citrus played in the state’s economy, our newspapers contain articles from a variety of perspectives.
No single dimension of the citrus industry dominates coverage in these papers, and individuals with a variety of historical interests will enjoy searching through the collection. For example, those curious about the agricultural side of things will find stories detailing the agendas of the Florida State Horticultural Society, an organization that was actively involved in developing new and improved methods of fruit cultivation, particularly compelling. Similarly, University of Florida aficionados may enjoy browsing issues of the Punta Gorda Herald containing the “Farm and Grove in Florida” column. Specifically reporting on research done at the UF College of Agriculture, the column includes stories demonstrating the issues facing UF scientists and Florida growers alike-especially the dreaded whitefly.
Individuals interested in the economic and business aspects of the citrus industry may enjoy reading the articles and advertisements by the Florida Citrus Exchange defending their distribution methods and imploring other growers to join the organization. Founded in 1909, the goal of the Exchange was to organize “Florida growers into one cooperative marketing agency.” The idea behind this was to help “improve production by sharing facilities, technology and manpower” and to “maximize returns on citrus growers’ investment, standardize operations and shipping, and increase collective volumes for nationwide marketing” according to Seald Sweet, the company that grew out of the Florida Citrus Exchange.
Despite the technological advances related to citrus cultivation presented in these papers, it is apparent that humans were not the only actors in the citrus industry. One of the biggest adversaries to the citrus industry are the unpredictable natural disasters including hurricanes and freezes. Across all the papers in the FPRDNP, there are reports detailing the losses caused by such events. Notwithstanding the best efforts by growers to cultivate healthy crops, events like the Freezes of 1894-1895 and the 1921 Tampa hurricane were major financial and emotional setbacks. When discussing the hurricane, Ocala Evening Starestimates this particular storm did two million dollars’ worth of damage to the citrus crop in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, and Lee counties alone.
Today, some farmers, researchers, and public policy makers are questioning the future of citrus in Florida due to citrus greening and other diseases (NPR). Although citrus trees have thrived overall since their introduction in Florida, our newspapers demonstrate that growers have long had to contend with what nature has thrown at them. Despite nature-based setbacks, our papers tell a story of human determination and perseverance among growers in the state that has helped solidify the association between the State of Florida and citrus production in the public mind.
Few events lead to sensational and speculative newspaper headlines quite like unexpected disasters. One such disaster covered by the papers in our collection is the sinking of the Titanic which occurred April 15th 1912, just hours after the ship struck an iceberg on its starboard side. There are many reasons why this particular disaster is so cemented in public memory, including the public perception that the ship was “unsinkable,” the death toll due to lack of space in escape boats, and even claims that the disaster had been eerily predicted in a work of fiction. In his book Titanic Legacy: Disaster as Media Event and Myth, Paul Heyer states that beginning with the San Francisco earthquake in 1908, sensational disaster reporting increased dramatically. This was due, in part, to rapidly advancing communication technologies including “transcontinental telephone linkups, which increased the information flow beyond what would have been possible using the telegraph alone” as well as the “new mass journalism pioneered by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in the last decades of the nineteenth century.”(5) Despite Florida’s physical distance from the sites directly affected by the disaster, news of the Titanic, the fate of her passengers, and the political inquiries that followed nonetheless were front page news in Florida papers in the days, weeks, and years following the disaster.
Prior to the disaster, news about the Titanic, an engineering marvel, appears sporadically in our papers. While a search for the word will yield many results, because the name of the ship is a common word, most instances of the word prior reports of its demise beginning April 15, 1912 are not related to the ship. However, when the ship is featured in our newspapers during its construction, the accompanying stories are primarily about its immense size. One such story can be found on the front page of the January 8, 1910 edition of The Daytona daily news. Covering the construction of “The World’s Largest Vessel,” the story features an “architectural picture” and demonstrates the immensity of the ship’s 860 feet reported length by juxtaposing its size to that of the Washington Monument (555 feet) and Christopher Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria (60 feet.) Other examples of similar stories can be found in the Pensacola journal and The Ocala evening star prior to its maiden voyage.
News about the disaster trickled in slowly and relied predominantly on wireless radio aficionados picking up signals from boats at sea, relaying them to newspapers, and those papers subsequently being published. Because of this delay, much of the initial news of the incident was speculative and optimistic. According to John P. Eaton and Charles A. Hass, authors of Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy, it wasn’t until “16 April’s evening edition” that papers begin to report that the ship had sunk around 2:20AM on the 15th (203). In the same book, a caption of a newsboy selling papers reads “the city’s (New York) newspapers find it difficult to keep up with the rapidly changing developments in the North Atlantic.” (208). We can see an example of this confusion in the April 16th 1912 edition of The Ocala evening star. The front page story on the Titanic is titled simply “Titanic is in Trouble” and says that the “greatest steamship afloat” is likely “being towed presumably toward Halifax.” Meanwhile, on the second page of the paper is a story with the headline “All the World Stands Aghast” about the sinking of the great ship which speculates that “more than 1500 persons, it is feared, sank to death.” Likely, the front page had been proofed before the paper received definitive news of the ship’s sinking.
Paul Heyer states that “news about the plight of the Titanic circulated with a rapidity unmatched by any previous event” And that from “15-19 April, the primary goal of the newspapers covering the sinking of the Titanic was to gather and present all possible information pertaining to what had happened. After the Carpathia’s arrival and launch of the American Senate’s inquiry, the burning question became why” (91). That being said, newspapers approached reporting the facts of the Titanic disaster from a variety of different angles from the pragmatic to the social to the conspiratorial to the sensational. In our collection, there exists a smattering of each type of news.
On a practical level, papers reported the facts about the disaster, including the number of lives lost, photos of the ship, maps showing where the incident was thought to have happened, and the oft repeated story that women and children were taken off first. However, as with any media event of this scale, there were a fair number of more sensational stories about heroism, graphic descriptions of the panic that ensued during the rush to fill lifeboats, as well as reports of “embalmers work all night” on the unidentified bodies of Titanic dead in a morgue in Canada. In the midst of trying to cover the disaster, it seems like no tidbit of information related to the Titanic was unfit to print.
The predominant human angle that emerges in our papers following the sinking of the Titanic are not tales of the immigrant poor who disproportionately perished in the wreck, but rather stories of well-known members of American and European society. Steven Biel offers an explanation for this in his book Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster saying, “with its interest in celebrity, the commercial press tended to represent the disaster exclusively as the story of the first cabin.” The reason for this, of course, is that like today, tabloid stories of the wealthy and famous sell papers. Of the newspapers in our current collection, The Pensacola journal, whose society pages we’ve discussed in previous pieces, contains the most news on this topic in the days and weeks following the disaster. Before the start of May 1912, no less than three pieces, complete with pictures, had run about the “noted,”“well known,” and “prominent leaders” of society who had been traveling on the ship during its ill-fated maiden voyage.
Pensacola Journal April 30, 1912
Pensacola Journal April 24, 1912
Pensacola Journal April 20, 1912
One of the more conspiratorial headlines after the sinking of the Titanic pertained to the eerie similarities between the 1912 disaster and the fictional disaster that took place in Morgan Robertson’s 1898 short story Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan. In this story, the Titan, a ship of comparable size to the later Titanic, sinks after hitting an iceberg on its starboard side in the North Atlantic. In the story, the Titan, who had also been described as “practically unsinkable” also lacked an inadequate number of lifeboats which lead to the death of over half the passengers and crew. While people interested in the Titanic disaster attribute the short story to psychic phenomenon, Heyer explains that it was a speculative work by a “former seaman and student of maritime developments who, in becoming a pulp fiction writer, applied that expertise to sea adventure stories” which can account for “prediction of the design features that might characterize future ships.” (143)
Sensation, speculation, and conspiracy however, sell newspapers. Because of this, between May 4th and 18th 1912 The Ocala evening star ran the entirety of the Wreck of the Titan as a serial manner. The day preceding the first installment, an advertisement for the story filled most of the front page of the paper. It is described as “a wonderfully prophetic story” and implores readers to “read how a famous author described, over a decade ago, how the S.S. Titanic would sink and drown hundreds of souls.” During this time period, serialized literature was a common feature in newspapers because a hit serial could help grow circulation. Given the immediate impact the Titanic disaster had on American society and culture, it is not surprising that The Ocala evening star would run this particular piece.
Over 100 years later, the Titanic disaster still holds a significant spot in our collective social memory. One reason for this may be because, as Heyer explains it, the disaster was “our century’s first collective nightmare” and, in many ways, it represents the tension between the progress of humanity and the unpredictability of the natural world (ix). Whether your interest is in the factual, sensational, social, or conspiratorial, many facets of the Titanic disaster can be found in our Chronicling America papers.
Citations and Additional Sources
Biel, Steven. Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996.
Eaton, John P. and Charles A. Haas. Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy Second Edition. New York: WW. Norton & Company, 1998.
Heyer, Paul. Titanic Legacy: Disaster as Media Event and Myth. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1995.
Documenting and celebrating the role of women in history is often easier said than done, and the theoretical positions and methodological approaches to doing so make up entire subfields within the academic universe. When I began to write this series for our blog, I was reminded of the stark reality of historical newspapers: the majority of the authors are men, and even if women did contribute, there is a good chance that little is known about their lives outside of the columns and articles they left behind. To be fair, more may be known about women authors in larger cities, but my research on the four main credited editors of the Pensacola Journal’s women’s section*, between September 1905 and December 1914 yielded little in the way of information about these women outside of their contributions to the paper. Despite this roadblock, let’s take this time in March to look in this section of the Pensacola Journal during the tenures of E. Nellie Beck, Aurelie Marean Bernard, Bonnie Burnham, and Celia Myrover Robinson. If you missed our first post in this series, you can find our overview of women’s newspaper sections here.
E. Nellie Beck, editor of “Society, People, and Events” between at least January 1, 1905 and August 26, 1906 curated a fairly stereotypical women’s section during her tenure at the paper. Primarily filled with local events and announcements, a regular fashion feature, and advertisements, Beck’s columns have a methodical, predictable feel. While they do contain notices about death and sicknesses, the overall tone of Beck’s writing is simultaneously upbeat and humdrum. The comings and goings of individuals in the Pensacola area are diligently reported, but there’s no real discussion topics that strike the modern reader as controversial. E. Nellie Beck ended her editorial run in August of 1906. After leaving her post as editor, Beck continued to occasionally contribute to the Pensacola Journal in a noticeably different capacity. It seems Beck moved to Denver, Colorado (for reasons unknown), and periodically penned articles about life and culture in Colorado for her former readership. She died in 1928, and is buried next to her mother in Denver.
The next editor of the “People and Events” section was Aurelie Marean Bernard, who helmed the column from September 23, 1906, when she was announced as the new manager of the department until October 9, 1908 when the last column featuring her name ran. In many ways, Bernard ran a very similar column to her predecessor. There is, however, one notable difference in Bernard’s columns that subsequent editors kept; the inclusion of poetry at the beginning of the column. Anyone who has an interest in literature or women’s lives in the early 20th century will find the content of these poems fascinating. Like the women’s section they are found in, the topics of these poems reflect the social concerns of women and address topics like love, beauty and aging, suitable marriages, and wealth, as well as more jovial subjects like the appreciation of nature. The poems themselves come from a variety of sources including other newspapers. Because so many poems are credited with the location they were originally found, it is difficult to determine the authors of many. However, a considerable number of the poems during Bernard’s editorial leadership feature women poets. While some may certainly be pseudonyms, there is at least the idea that these sections were curated by women and for women beyond just the editors themselves.
Pensacola Journal May 10, 1908
Pensacola Journal April 17, 1908
Perhaps the most prolific editor of the women’s section of the Pensacola Journal was Bonnie Burnham. Moving to the Pensacola area in 1907, Burnham had already served on the staff of the Sun in Whiting Indiana. The very section she would soon edit reports her vacation to the area in April 1907, describing “Miss Bonnie Burnham” as “a bright young newspaper woman from Chicago.” Burnham seems to have taken over as editor in January 1909 and maintained that position until September 1912. However, unlike her predecessors, Burnham also contributed articles outside of “People and Events.” Prior to, during, and after her tenure as editor of the women’s page, bylines featuring her name can be found regularly throughout the Pensacola Journal where she reported on a variety of topics. The last mention of Burnham in the Pensacola Journal can be in the “People and Events” section on April 7, 1914. Her successor, Celia Myrover Robinson, reports Burnahm’s marriage to Jack Randall and features a picture of the bride. After her marriage, all mentions of the productive newspaper contributor cease.
Burnham’s articles in the main body of the paper are in some ways an extension of the women’s page, but are clearly intended for a broader (male) audience. These pieces generally cover morality in male/female interaction, the vacation culture of the area, and other concerns that were typically relegated to women writers. However, she also authored pieces on more serious political topics. For example, an article from June 9, 1908 covers, in great detail, a bill to be proposed to the next state legislature that would provide funding for a state road creation and maintenance system. Another, from September 13, 1908 covers a “thrilling story” of a “Pensacolian who was in the African Slave Trade” between 1857 and 1858. Historically, this isn’t surprising. In her book on women journalists, historian Alice Fahs states that “with a range of other types of assignments available-from book reviews to woman’s page articles to ‘all round’ reporting-newspaper work offered a welcome alternative to such occupations as teaching.” (7) In Burnham’s case, it seems that her assignments also included more general editing, and later in her career, she served as co-editor of the Pensacola Journal’s Covington County and Escambia County editions.
Given that Bonnie Burnham was an articulate newspaper woman, it may be somewhat surprising to discover she authored at least one piece for the paper against women’s suffrage. In the piece, which was “written by request” for the March 31st 1912 edition of the paper, Burnham states that she doesn’t “believe that it is a practical idea.” She argues that she doesn’t believe the “woman-mind” was constructed “to take care of the home and the nation’s affairs at the same time.” It appears Burnham agreed with a very dualistic system of social responsibility, one in which women managed the household while men handled the outside world. This, she concludes, makes women “of more use to the world than the greatest politician.” The overall tone of the article is defensive. Judging by the scathing response found in the paper on April 7, 1912 by Nellie M. Jerauld, Burnham likely knew she would face criticism from the community for her position on the matter.
The last editor of “Society, People, and Events” we currently have in our archives is Celia Myrover Robinson who took over after Burnham stepped down, but had filled in during Burnham’s extended bouts of sickness. The most noticeable departure from Burnham’s time as editor is that Robinson was an ardent suffragist, and she used the section she edited to promote suffrage meetings and other activities. Robinson served as the chairman of the press committee for the Pensacola Equal Suffrage League and certainly used her position at the paper to promote their activities. Beyond simply including mention of these meetings in her column, they frequently received top billing above all other news. On Labor Day 1914, the League edited a special “Equal Suffrage Edition” within the larger paper to report on suffrage activities locally, nationally, and internationally. The section itself is 12 pages long and, in addition to providing information on the topic, this “Suffrage Edition” also features advertisements from companies who enthusiastically supported the suffragist cause. Since Robinson edited the section past our current end point of this run, we are left to wonder if she organized similar issues the years leading up to the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920.
Looking at the development of the Pensacola Journal women’s page, we as modern readers can trace the transition from it being solely a style and society column to a section that also contains moral and political commentary. Focusing on the tenures of the editors of the Pensacola Journal women’s page allows us to see their individual interests and biases. Text searchable digital databases like Chronicling America, while limited in scope given the largess of the American newspaper industry, allow historians to restore women’s lives in our cultural history because women can literally be searched for within these documents.
*This section goes by a variety of names including “Society,” “People and Events,” “Over the Coffee Cups,” and “Society-People-Events.”
“In Women’s Realm,” “Society,” “People and Events,” “Over the Coffee Cups”- these are just a few of the names that denote women-centric columns in the English language newspapers within the FPRDNP. But to the contemporary user of historic newspaper archives, what does this mean and why should we care? The first of a two part series celebrating Women’s History Month, this blog post will explore the meaning and content of what historian Alice Fahs refers to as “The Woman’s Page.” To do so, I will use the Pensacola Journal exclusively due to the consistent presence of a woman edited society section in the title spanning from at least January 1905 to at the earliest December 1914, when our archives for this particular paper end.
What is a women’s column and what is its place in newspaper history? As journalism scholar Jan Whitt puts it, they “are a product of the late nineteenth century and were designed to draw a large audience for advertisers interested in marketing to women.” (38). There are multiple types of women’s pages, including separate papers for women known by the same name and single pages within broader-interest papers. While the editors of the Pensacola Journal offered both by 1909, we will concern ourselves with the columns contained within the general paper. Historian Alice Fahs claims in her book Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space that these pages have largely been overlooked by newspaper historians. This is a mistake because these “stories offer compelling insight into a lost world of women’s writings that placed women at the heart of a new public life.” (13)
Looking at the women’s section in the Pensacola Journal broadly, the reader can find a vivid portrait of the social calendar in the city. Beyond simply reporting important life events such as births, deaths, and funerals, the column also includes reports of illness, birthday parties, out of town visitors, and club meetings. Unlike the quick local news sections of the paper, the social events found on the “People and Events” page typically contain a paragraph or more description of the headline. For example, the April 3rd 1909 “Society” column devotes four paragraphs to Miss Victorine Kroenberger “a beautiful young Pensacola girl” who left home to “enter the Convent of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame” in order to become a nun. In this respect, the column provides more context for local events than the rest of the paper.
Not just a source for local news, the “Society” page in the Pensacola Journal also offers insight into national cultural concerns for women. This section of the paper houses the syndicated column “Heart and Home Problems,” written by Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, that also can be found in the Topeka State Journal (KS), Rock Island Argus (Ill.), and the Oklahoma City Times (OK) just to name a few. Beginning in 1912 and continuing through at least December 1914, these columns by Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson provide practical advice to letter writers regarding a wide variety of issues like courtship, hygiene, and their education. In many ways, her column is a precursor to those like “Dear Abby” or “Miss Manners” found in contemporary newspapers and their online counterparts.While the modern reader may expect a column like this to contain fairly traditional advice regarding gender roles, they sometimes deviated from the norm. For example, in the column below from August 1912, Mrs. Thompson says that “many splendid men have helped their wives with the housework, thinking it more dignified for a man to help his wife than it would be for him to let her become a worn-out drudge” in response to a fourteen year old’s query about being responsible for all house work because her mother is deceased.
Women’s pages also address topics related to the body both inside and out. Fashion and beauty are addressed in these columns in the form of editorials, news reports, and advertisements. For example, the Pensacola Journal contains a sub-column known as “The Journal’s Daily Fashion Feature” in many issues. This feature includes drawings and descriptions of cutting edge women’s clothing styles from around the United States and Europe. From this feature, it becomes obvious that Pensacola women in the early 20th century wanted to stay abreast of fashion trends. Beyond wanting to simply know about fashion, they valued the skills of individuals who were able to reproduce the current styles locally. For example, an article from October 7, 1906 highlights Mrs. Nordstrom’s millinery due to the fact that the store has “one of the best St. Louis milliners.” Why was it so important to report on the talent of employee Miss Nobles? Because “St. Louis is where millinery styles are made.” These women’s sections inform readers of trends and also let them know where they can procure the goods discussed.
When it comes to internal issues, women’s papers feature advertisements for products related to problems typically relegated to women such as the care of the sick and cooking. All manner of new and cutting edge products are promoted that promise improvements in health and digestion. For example, an ad by Cotolene claims women should use it to replace lard because it “makes food that any stomach can digest…and is the most healthful and economical cooking fat on the market.” With the tagline “sunshine in the kitchen,” ads for this particular cotton seed oil are a frequent sight on the “Society” page. While women are targets for ads related to feeding their families in these columns, it is clear they are also responsible for their overall health as well. An ad for “California Syrup of Figs” from October 22, 1913 begins with the phrase “Look at the tongue, mother!” before claiming that the mother would soon have “a well, playful child again” after using the product to eliminate constipation and yellow bile. Beyond the health of their families, advertisements also promise cures to obviously misunderstood maladies grouped together as “womanly troubles.” The tonic known as Carudi, for example, promises to “relieve or prevent headache, backache, side ache, dragging sensations, nervousness, irritability, irregularity, and general female weakness and misery.” Like the Cotolene ad, Carudi advertisements span the run of the section. Regardless of if they bought these products or not, women who read “Over the Coffee Cups” and its other iterations were exposed to advertising with considerable cultural subtext.
Pensacola Journal- March 22, 1912
Pensacola Journal-October 22, 1913
Pensacola Journal February 20, 1909
While much more can and should be said about historic women’s newspaper columns, the fact of the matter is there are easily upwards of 500 pages within just this digitized portion of the Pensacola Journal that are edited by women and deal with people and societal events. This overview barely scratches the surface of the available information in just this one title. However, I hope that after reading this blog post it is abundantly clear that even in the early 20th century, women weren’t simply passive consumers of the news. They were a demographic that is explicitly courted by the inclusion of sections like “People and Events,” “Society,” and “Over the Coffee Cups.”
Works Cited and Additional Information
Fahs, Allice. Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.