The Styles of Florida Newspaper Women

Celia Robinson-2
Photo of Pensacola Journal Society Editor Celia Myrover Robinson courtesy of UFW University Archives

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.

Women's Section Battle of Flowers
Travel Description by Beck Pensacola Journal April 20, 1906

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.

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.

Burnham Roads
Burnham’s Report on Road Legislation Pensacola Journal June 9,1908

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.

Burnham Suffrage
Burnham on Suffrage Pensacola Journal March 10,1912

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.

Robinson Suffrage 1
Suffrage League Advertisement by Robinson Pensacola Journal March 20,1914
Equal Suffrage Edition
Equal Suffrage Edition by Robinson Pensacola Journal September 7, 1914

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.”

Bibliography/Further Reading

Celia Myrover Robinson-Pensacola, Fla. Archived March 14, 1914. UWF University Archives and West Florida History Center, Pensacola Florida. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://archives.uwf.edu/Archon/?p=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=264.

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.

The Women’s Page: More than Meets the Eye

“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.

Birthday Party
Pensacola Journal December 12, 1906

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.

Heart and Home Problems-Subvert.jpg
Pensacola Journal-August 2, 1905

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.

Journal Daily Fashion
Pensacola Journal-November 25, 1906

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.

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.

Jaffe, Sarah “From Women’s Page to Style Section.” Columbia Journalism Review, February 19, 2013. http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/womens_page_to_style_section.php.

Whitt, Jan. Women in American Journalism: A New History. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Florida Panthers Leap Out of the Past

 

Panther Florida Memory
Florida Panther at the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science Courtesy of Florida Memory

On March 3rd we celebrate the 117th anniversary of Florida’s statehood. The 27th state to join the Union, Florida in 1845 was largely unsettled by non-Native American groups. From its discovery by Europeans onward, settlers struggled to learn how to survive in a difficult climate filled with potentially troublesome plants and animals. While mentioning Florida wildlife may invoke a variety of images including the alligator and manatee, the state animal is officially the Florida Panther. To celebrate Florida’s birthday, we want to take the time to discuss this state symbol and just a few of its numerous appearances in our historic newspaper collection.

The Florida Panther (also known as the catamount or painter) was selected by school children in the state during the early 1980s to be the state animal. It faced stiff competition during this election, beating out the alligator, Key Deer, and manatee. By the late 20th century, the panther had secured a spot on the Federal endangered species list due to there being only about 20 left in existence. This Federal protection is a far cry from the cultural attitude of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when panthers were routinely sought out and killed by people all over Florida. For example, a 1916 advertisement for Ten Thousand Islands (now a part of the Everglades National Park) by West Coast Transportation Company promoted the region as “the best area for hunting, fishing, and boating” and includes “panther” on the list of animals that can be found (and presumably hunted) in the area.

Thousand Islands hunting area
Punta Gorda Herald-March 16, 1916

The simplest explanation as to why they were the targets of human aggression is because humans feared them and the big cats caused property damage. These large carnivorous mammals routinely grow to be between 75 and 160 pounds and, in the past, had no scruples about entering towns in search of food. In March of 1901 the Ocala Evening Star included a front page story about a Panther who “invaded the streets” of Perry, Florida. The Panther was reported to have attacked two dogs belonging to Mr. W. E. Quarterman, “eating one and badly wounding the other.” This is a rare story because it does not end in the panther’s death, rather, it simply states that the animal “departed, leaving nothing but his tracks and a partly devoured dog.” A panther living in the Pensacola area was not as lucky. In January of 1907 the Pensacola Journal reported that “wild cats in that vicinity were working sad havoc” and had caused W.D. Henderson to lose “25-30” lambs during the present season. This lead the farmer to join forces with Country Treasurer Williams and “the famous colored catamount hunter,” Ransom Dean, to deal with the animals. The paper reports that they were able to successfully kill two and ends by stating that Mr. Henderson “thinks that either the county commissioners or the cattle growers of the county, or both, should provide a bounty for these destructive animals.”

Perry Panther Dog
Ocala Evening Star-March 23, 1909

Panthers in their natural habitat weren’t much safer than those that ventured into land settled by humans. In April 1908 both the Pensacola Journal and Ocala Evening Star reran a story originally from the Tampa Tribune reporting a panther incident near Punta Gorda. It seems that five young men decided to go camping on Captiva Island despite warnings that it was “infested with various wild animals.” While the trip went well at first, that Friday night P.Q.S. Hatch was attacked by a panther while hunting. Two of his companions arrived after Hatch fired a distress signal from his gun, and Gene Whidden, witnessing the confrontation, “killed the panther by shooting it in the head with a rifle.” Hatch emerged from the event “terribly clawed all over” but ultimately survived.

In addition to the fact that they were considered game animals until 1958, panthers are threatened by other aspects of human activity beyond hunting and poaching. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Service reports road kills are the most common human related cause of panther death in the wild. While this has certainly been exacerbated by the growth of Florida interstates, stories of panthers sightings near roads is not a new occurrence. In 1914 the Pensacola Journal re-ran a short story from the DeLand News about a panther who “was getting ready to spring upon” a hog near the road until “the headlight of an automobile” scared the cat into the brush “before they had the chance to shoot.” Interestingly, this article also notes that this particular panther was the first longtime resident Sheriff Smith had seen in many years and that “forty years ago there were many” in the Volusia county area.

Auto Hog Panther
Pensacola Journal-July 26, 1914

 

Despite the well-chronicled negativity in instances of human-panther interaction in historical newspapers from Florida, some stories have a happier ending. In May of 1899, the Ocala Evening Star includes a quick blurb about Louis Volk, a local man who captured a catamount kitten. This man apparently displayed the living animal in the show window of A. E. Delouest, a local hardware store. While it may be a good idea to question the claim that it “is becoming somewhat domesticated,” this story nonetheless shows a different side to panther human-panther encounter. One thing becomes very clear while reading about panthers in historical Floridian newspapers: humans have a certain fascination with this particular animal. Perhaps that’s what led school children to choose it to represent Florida as the State Animal.

Catamount Kitten
Ocala Evening Star-May 30, 1899

Works Cited and Additional Information