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An important figure in early American feminism, the American writer and editor Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950) was also a pioneer of what would later be called human rights activism. Blackwell succeeded her mother, Lucy Stone (1818-1893), as editor of Boston’s Woman’s Journal, a key publication in the fight for woman suffrage (voting rights for women) that culminated in the ratification of the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Blackwell’s reform instincts also led her into other areas. After the goal of suffrage was achieved in 1920 she became a founding member of the Massachusetts League of Women Voters. She was also active in the pro-Prohibition Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Anti-Vivisection League, the American Peace Society, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, and the Friends of Russian Freedom, as well as several other organizations. (Adapted from: “Alice Stone Blackwell.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, vol. 29, Gale, 2009).
One of the most famous of America’s early investigative reporters, Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (1864-1922), writing under the pen name Nellie Bly, set the standard for investigative reporting in the era of “yellow journalism.” Today she is best known for her reportorial stunts. Bly’s first real assignment was one that she herself had chosen: she proposed going undercover to report on the treatment of the indigent insane. Taking the name of Nellie Brown, she succeeded in having herself committed to Blackwell’s Island, where she remained for ten days, at considerable risk to herself, until her newspaper secured her release. Her reports on the appalling conditions she found there were initially published in installments and later collected into a book (Ten Days in a Mad-House, 1887). The articles, which inspired major reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill, were picked up by all the major papers of the nation, making her name a household word across America. (Adapted from: “Nellie Bly.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2008.)
Parton, Sara Payson Willis (1811-1872), author, known to the reading public as Fanny Fern, was born in Portland. After her husband’s death, she was obliged to earn a living for herself and two children. The editor of a Boston home magazine paid her fifty cents for a paragraph called “The Model Minister,” signed “Fanny Fern.” The paragraph was copied in several Boston papers and thereafter she found a ready market for her life essays. For the New York Ledger she wrote a weekly article, and this, together with her contributions to other papers, made her work amount to a story or sketch a day. She thought out her articles while engaged in other occupations and then wrote them rapidly; they show neither deep reflection nor intellectual quality. She wrote spontaneously, from experience and observation, on every-day subjects of human appeal, and was popular because her combination of common sense, sentiment, and occasional religious teaching met the demands of her age. (Adapted from: “Sara Payson Willis Parton.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936).
William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was an American editor, reformer, and antislavery crusader, who became the symbol of the age of aggressive abolitionism. Garrison borrowed money in 1826 to buy part of the Newburyport Free Press; it soon failed. He worked as a printer in Boston and in 1827 helped edit a temperance paper, the National Philanthropist. Successfully sued for libel, he spent 44 days in jail, emerging in June 1830 with plans for an abolitionist paper of his own. Encouraged by Boston friends, he and a partner published the first number of the Liberator on January 1st, 1831, bearing the motto, “Our country is the world--our countrymen are mankind,” adapted from Thomas Paine (1737-1809). In 1844 Garrison adopted the slogan “No union with slaveholders,” arguing that since the Constitution was a proslavery document, the Union it held together should be dissolved by the separation of free from slave states. Yet, despite his reputation, Garrison was a pacifist and did not believe in violence. (Adapted from: “William Lloyd Garrison.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale, 1998).
Editor and reformer Horace Greeley (1811-1872) changed the direction of American journalism and played an important role in the social and political movements surrounding the Civil War. Greeley’s political emergence as both a Whig and equalitarian caused him to seek out practical political solutions while also encouraging debate and radical experimentation. In 1838 he edited a partisan publication, the Jeffersonian, for the New York Whigs. He also began an association with Whig leaders William H. Seward (1801-1872) and Thurlow Weed (1797-1882) that continued for twenty years. Greeley’s radicalism was qualified by his more general orthodoxy. He held rigid temperance principles and scorned woman suffragists and divorce reformers. He adhered to conventional political patterns. Moreover, his receptivity to social experiment enabled him for many years to avoid the slavery problem as being remote from immediate issues. In the postwar era, Greeley cooperated with the Radical Republicans, opposing President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) and appealing for African American rights. (Adapted from: “Horace Greeley.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale, 1998).
Francis Brett Harte (1836-1902), was born at Albany, N. Y. As a writer he used his middle name, spelling it with a single t, and is now known as Bret Harte. With his best writing done before he was thirty-five, Harte failed notably to fulfil the promise of his early years. This failure to develop cannot be attributed to lack of care, energy, or literary conscience; it seems rather to result from the shallowness of his intellectual resources. From the very beginning of his career, moreover, he was forced to think constantly of his family’s support, and during most of his life he suffered from ill health. His great stroke was the application of simple, well-tested formulas to novel literary material. But the formulas were repeated too often, and his knowledge of the material was limited; all too soon he was left with an inflated reputation and with nothing to sustain it. In the brief years of his prime, however, he produced a body of work that still compels admiration by its vigor, color, and wit. (Adapted from: “Francis Brett Harte.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936).
James Russell Lowell’s (1819-1891) achievements are impressive from many points of view. Though his lyrical verse was overrated in his own time, his merits as a critic, a satirist, an essayist, an educator, a diplomat, a journalist, and a letter writer continue to be acknowledged by discriminating and knowledgeable critics. The most versatile of the New Englanders at mid century, Lowell, both in his life and his work, is a vital force in the history of American literature and thought during the 19th century. Hailed by such dissimilar groups as pacifists and New Humanists, Lowell’s final importance has been hard to measure but impossible to ignore. His range and penetration in literary criticism were unequaled in 19th century America. Lowell’s decline in the literary marketplace is both an index to changing literary tastes and values and the result of critical conflicts and misfortunes. His merits as a writer were not those valued by the New Critics, though, ironically, it was in Lowell that academic criticism had its first significant manifestation in America. (Adapted from: “James Russell Lowell.” Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, vol. 1, Gale, 1988).
Ida Tarbell (1857-1944) was a biographer and journalist who helped develop the form of journalism known as “muckraking.” She exposed the corruption of big businesses, especially those that violated trust laws. Tarbell had a well-adjusted childhood despite this hardship; she was very well educated, graduating in 1880 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology. Tarbell never pursued a career in science instead she turned to writing. In 1894 Tarbell joined the staff of McClure’s as a writer and associate editor. She wrote a series of articles on Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), which later became a respected book. Tarbell began to write critical articles about important issues of the day such as corporate trusts. The goal of these articles was to expose corruption and the abuses of public power; these articles served as fuel for Progressivism, a reform movement of that time. In 1906 Tarbell and some of her colleagues had a dispute with McClure and left the magazine to own and operate American magazine, which was sold in 1915 and Tarbell spent the rest of her life as a lecturer and freelance writer. (Adapted from: “Ida Minerva Tarbell.” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Carson and Mary Bonk, Gale, 1999).
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