Printer’s Ink, Poetry, and Politics

Lately I’ve been reading  about women journalists in the 19th century. Specifically I wanted to find one who could  make a cameo appearance in my novel in progress. And, well, like they say about potato chips, you can’t stop at just one. What a cast of  fascinating characters they were! Lydia Starr McPherson, the one I chose to attend a press reception with  my protagonist, Sophie Robillard Caldwell is a woman worthy of a novel of her own,  and right here and now I am calling dibs. Born in Ohio in 1827, Lydia moved to Iowa with her family at age 12 and began teaching in Ashland, Iowa at age 17. At 22 she married David Hunter and the couple had five children. When David died, Lydia moved her family to Caddo Indian territory (now Oklahoma)  where she married Granville McPherson, owner of the Oklahoma Star. Writing under the name Urania, she co edited the paper until McPherson moved the family to Blanco, here in the Texas hill country where he died. In 1878 Lydia moved to Whitesboro, Texas and established the weekly Democrat, the first Texas newspaper to be owned and operated by a woman. A year later, she was invited to move her operation to Sherman,Texas where in 1881,  her paper became the Sherman Democrat, an influential daily. Lydia was one of 3 female members of the Texas Press Assocaition, a delegate to a national newspaper convention, and honorary commissioner of the New Orleans World Exposition in 1885. She contributed to a number of magazines, traveled throughout the west, and in 1892 published Reullura,  a collection of poems. Her sons owned and operated the Sherman Democrat until 1920.

Nellie Bly was the pen name of 19 year old Elizabeth Cochrane , shown here– who first worked for the Pittsburgh Dispatch and later went to Mexico where she sent back travel dispatches while secretly searching for missing Americans. Known for her daring, sensationalistic stories, Nellie was often labeled a “muckraker” for her stories of harsh living conditions among the insane and the poor.

Elizabeth Jordan (1865-1947) wrote thousands of articles, served as assistant Sunday editor of the New York World, edited Harper’s Bazaar, and penned 28 novels and story collections. Best known for her coverage of the Lizzie Borden trial in 1893, Elizabeth claimed to have elicited a confession from Lizzie, who was acquitted in the ax murder of her parents–a confession that was published after the verdict. Elizabeth wrote that women made better journalists because their sympathetic natures allowed them to more easily find the truth, and therefore offer readers a more objective view.

A career as a newspaperwoman in the 19th century was not an easy one. A woman who found a job in a newspaper office was often relegated to writing household hints,  giving advice to the lovelorn and answering reader mail. Those like Lydia, Nellie, and Elizabeth who traveled and took on social issues, and published fiction and poetry were women of exceptional talent and fortitude. Writing about female journalists, Elizabeth Jordan summed it up best:  “She will  need…a spirit which no amount of discouragement can break.”

As a high school and university student, I edited my school’s newspapers and loved every minute of it. My hat is off to women like these three who paved the way.

7 thoughts on “Printer’s Ink, Poetry, and Politics

  1. Carrie Turansky

    Hi Dorothy, I have read a few books about Nellie Bly and have a story rolling around in my head with a heroine inspired by her. I hope to write that one some day. These other women sound fascinating too! thanks for sharing.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Hi Carrie,

      Don’t they though? I spent two hours reading about them and had to make myself stop and write this post. Amazed at their travels all over the world, their willingness to take risks, the writing they accomplished aside from newspaper work. Found out that Elizabeth Jordan was a friend of Mark Twain. Don’t you just love finding out all this stuff??

  2. Don

    Hi Dorothy,

    If you are planning a novel about Lydia McPherson, I can share a lot of interesting “color” to you on her life as well as that of her husband Granville McPherson…who himself was QUITE a colorful character himself! Granville was a distant relative of mine and I have loads of history on him…I can tell you a few bits of “corrected” info on these two here…

    – David Hunter did not in fact die, he and Lydia divorced and though the exact place and date of his death are uncertain, I have a date of Dec. 23, 1904 in Iowa for Hunter.
    – Granville and Lydia separated quietly but somewhat suddenly in late 1876 and by 1879 he was living in Blanco, Texas where he soon married his cousin Mary Kate Johnson Rountree.
    – Granville was married 4 times and had families with all but Lydia. His first he left behind in Arkansas at the opening of the Civil War and from all accounts had nothing more to do with them.
    – Granville and Lydia were both very active and outspoken in early Indian Territory politics.
    – Lydia was a prolific writer and was…in spite of the sudden split…admired by Granville. She was planning another book at the time of her death. It is thought the manuscript was lost some years later in a fire at the offices of the newspaper she owned and was operated by her son.

    If you have interest in further details of these group for your book, please feel free to contact me. I also have a book that was published in the early 1900’s that was a collection of poems by 19th century Southwestern poets which includes 3 of Lydia’s poems and I also have a digital copy of Lydia’s book “Reullura”. It appears from the tone of some of the poems that she mourned the breakup with Granville.

    Good luck with your book.

    Don Watson

    1. dorothy Post author

      Wow, Don what a lot of great information. All of the sources I consulted said that Hunter died while wed to Lydia. But in any case, her story is compelling. I have given her a “cameo” in the third Hickory Ridge novel which will be out late next year. I’ve already planned the next series so it may be a long while before I can write an entire book based on Lydia’s life. I found the complete text of “Reullura” online and also noticed the preoccupation with death. But many folks in the Victorian age were similarly obsessed. Thank you so much for writing with this information. Fascinating stuff!!

  3. Judith Moore

    I am anxious to read your books…will look for them on my next trip to Barnes and Noble :]

  4. Sue Moore

    Can you please put me in touch with Don Watson? My email is sbmoore at
    He knows more about Lydia that anyone I have found. I am going to try to start the process to get an historical marker for her. I have all the usual sources, but I have a few additional questions for him. Thanks.
    Sue M.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Hi Sue,

      I’m sending you the contact info I have for Don. Please do let me know if you are able to get an historical marker for her. I’d love to be able to tell my readers about it. The book in which Lydia has a cameo is called EVERY PERFECT GIFT and will be published in teh fall of 2012.
      Thanks for visiting INSIDE STORY!

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