Post Office honors woman journalists with stamp series
Their names may not be familiar, but there’s a good chance they are in your house right now.
And they will be sticking around. That’s because the U.S. Postal Service has put journalists Nellie Bly, Ida M. Tarbell, Ethel L. Payne and Marguerite Higgins on the latest 37-cent stamps.
Each woman broke down barriers that opened doors for women journalists who have followed in their footsteps. These were no ordinary women who were content to retype something some man gave them. They were not about to be relegated to the women’s section. And they certainly did not take no for an answer.
Those who knew Bly (1864-1922) knew her as Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She took on the pen name Nellie Bly from the Stephen Foster song “Nelly Bly.”
She did not seek out a career as a journalist. Instead it was an editor who sought her out. Bly had written an anonymous letter to the Pittsburgh Dispatch about a column that infuriated her. The editor was so taken by the letter that he ran an ad soliciting the writer’s name.
Bly was hired. Two years later, in 1887, she was working for Joseph Pulitzer’s World in New York City. One of her first stories was to detail the bad treatment of patients in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum. She faked insanity to be admitted so she could get the story.
She is credited with being one of the first female reporters to take part in sensational activities to get a story. She proved that women could write hard news in addition to society columns.
Higgins is another one of those hard news writers. Her stories from Korea are the reason that in 1951 she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. The New York Herald Tribune had appointed her chief of its Tokyo bureau. When war broke out in Korea a U.S. military commander said the front was no place for a woman and ordered her back to the United States.
Higgins wanted none of that. Gen. Douglas MacArthur intervened and reversed the orders.
She died in 1966 at age 45 after contracting a tropical disease while on assignment.
Payne was another journalist who entered the profession indirectly. In 1948 while she was working at an Army special services club in Japan, a reporter read her journal about her experiences and interactions with soldiers. Before long her words were on the front page of the Chicago Defender, a national African American newspaper.
Payne’s pointed question to President Dwight Eisenhower on his plans to ban segregation in interstate travel launched civil rights onto front pages across the country. Eisenhower said he refused to support special interests — a statement that greeted people the next morning on their doorstep in bold letters.
In 1972, Payne (1911-1991) broke another barrier when she became the first black woman commentator at a network.
Fifty-five years after Ida M. Tarbell died, New York University’s journalism department in 1999 ranked her “History of the Standard Oil Company” fifth on its list of best American journalism works from the 20th century. She delved into how John D. Rockefeller Sr. was able to consolidate his hold on the oil industry.
Her articles for McClure magazine from 1902-04 are credited with helping to bring legal actions that resulted in the breaking up of Standard Oil.
The series of self-adhesive stamps featuring these four women are available at local post offices — 61 million have been printed. Designer Fred Otnes used a collage of photographs and memorabilia, including headlines, to create the individual stamps.
— Kathryn Reed may be reached at (530) 541-3880, ext. 251 or e-mail email@example.com
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