For the 111th episode of the Journalism History podcast, hosted by Nick Hirshon, author Kim Todd details the daring exploits of women reporters who pioneered a new genre of investigative journalism in the 1880s and 1890s.
Kim Todd is an associate professor of the Department of English at the University of Minnesota, with a focus on creative writing. In addition to several books on topics releated to science, nature, and history, Todd has written for publications including Orion, Sierra Magazine, Smithsonian, High Country News, and Best American Science and Nature Writing anthologies.
Kim Todd: I refer to them in the book as girl stunt reporters, but I do use quotations around them, ’cause I think they’re actually just innovative investigative journalists.
Nick Hirshon: Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to reexamine the stories you thought you knew and the ones you were never told.
Teri Finneman: I’m Teri Finneman, and I research media coverage of women in politics.
Nick Hirshon: And I’m Nick Hirshon, and I research the history of New York sports.
Ken Ward: And I’m Ken Ward, and I research the journalism history of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
Nick Hirshon: And together we are professional media historians guiding you through our own drafts of history. This episode is sponsored by Taylor and Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History. Transcripts of the show are available online at journalism-history.org/podcast.
Women reporters in the 1880s and 1890s pioneered a new genre of investigative journalism. At a time when cities were both engines of opportunity and magnets for sin, these women went undercover at textile mills, adoption agencies, and public hospitals to reveal societal problems. Newspapers gobbled up the copy of these “girl stunt reporters” to stoke the anxieties of new readers while also feeding their hopes for a better future.
Their daring work was not merely entertaining. American women had limited rights in the late 19th century. They couldn’t vote. They were not legally protected from sexual harassment or marital rape. And in many states, married women couldn’t own property or sign contracts or earn a salary. But the stunt girls demonstrated that enterprising women could make lasting and far reaching contributions nonetheless.
They changed laws, launched labor movements, and redefined what it meant to be a journalist. On this episode of the Journalism History podcast, we dive into the careers of these groundbreaking women from Nellie Bly to Ida B. Wells with Kim Todd, an English professor at the University of Minnesota and the author of Sensational: The Hidden History of America’s Girl Stunt Reporters.
Well, Kim, thanks for joining me today to discuss the era of the girl stunt reporters. Sensational sets the stage for the dawn of this era in the 1880s, when new cheaper printing technologies and an influx of newspaper-reading immigrants put American journalism, as you put it, on the cusp of professionalization. So, what made this period so ripe for the emergence of stunt girls and what is a stunt girl?
Kim Todd: Well, thanks for – both are excellent questions.
Um, so the first is, as you point out, there was a huge influx of immigrants, particularly into U.S. cities at the time, and newspapers were much cheaper to produce. And so, you have someone like Joseph Pulitzer who comes in, who’s really a newspaper visionary and says, “How do I reach all of these new people? Like these are the people that I want for my audience.”
These are people who, you know, maybe haven’t read U.S. newspapers before, because they were too expensive or because, you know, the language was pitched too high. The vocabulary was pitched too high or the stories weren’t of interest to them. They weren’t stories about what they saw happening around them, about maybe poor people, about maybe labor issues. Um, and so, he comes in and says, “I wanna reach those people.” And so the newspaper race is on really to capture that new audience who can pay these cheaper prices to tell compelling stories to them.
And one of the big untapped audiences is women. And that was something that even Joseph Pulitzer’s brother Albert realized he – when he bought his New York newspaper, he said, “I specifically wanna appeal to women. ”And that was something that Pulitzer continued in that vein. So that really did set the stage for these, what I call, which are, I mean, I refer to them in the book as “girl stunt reporters,” but I do use quotations around them ‘cause I think they’re actually, you know, just innovative investigative journalists.
Um, but both the girl and the stunt are sort of slurs, I think, but they do capture exactly what’s going on in this particular decade where women are putting their bodies in danger, and they’re very specifically writing as women and writing about issues that maybe they have access to going undercover as women.
So, they kind of tick all the boxes that these newspaper publishers and editors are looking for in that they’re reaching this new audience. They’re telling stories about women and women’s lives. They tend to be great storytellers. They’re using very accessible language. A lot of the girl stunt reporters hadn’t gone to college while a lot of their male colleagues, you know, in the offices of the world or, you know, at the San Francisco Examiner had gone to Harvard [laughs].
So, you really have this big spectrum of, of education levels, and yeah, just the kind of work that they did using scenes, using a lot of dialogue, using a very accessible, often funny narrator really, really drew people in, in the way that just these publishers and editors were looking for at the time.
Nick Hirshon: Well, and I’m glad you bring up that point about the term “stunt girl” itself and that it can be kind of derogatory and dismissive, right? As these women are only doing stunts.
We’re going to get into that later. And if the average American has heard of any of the stunt girls, it’s probably Nellie Bly. She famously faked insanity in 1887 to get committed to an asylum in New York City so she could document patients being starved and abused. She wrote a firsthand account for the New York World that helped sell thousands of copies, right, and resulted in more money for asylum management, and her story has spawned books and movies.
I actually recorded an entire episode on Nellie Bly with her biographer, Brooke Kroger. And if our listeners wanna check that out, that’s Episode 81 in our archives from June 7, 2021. But there were so many other female reporters whose work has faded from public consciousness, including some in the same newsroom where Bly worked. So, I’d like to talk about some of those women. Your book covers Nell Nelson and Elizabeth Jordan. So, what could you tell us about them, Bly’s contemporaries, and how maybe her story has overshadowed them?
Kim Todd: Yeah, that’s a great point. I mean, first of all, her story does overshadow them.
I think a lot of the ways that people like to write history or like to think about history is here’s this one exceptional person, whereas really there is lots of exceptional people doing very exceptional work. Um, but I do think that Bly deserves a little bit of the overwhelming credit that she gets in this instance because she really did launch the genre. Her asylum exposé was so popular and sold so many newspapers that all of a sudden, you had editors all across the country saying like, oh, I need to hire someone to do this kind of work.
And you also have women all across the country who have been, you know, blocked out from most interesting or lucrative jobs saying like, oh, well here’s a young woman doing this, like fascinating and worthwhile work. I would like to do something like that. So, the popularity of that exposé really did launch this decades-long opportunity for women.
One of the women, as you point out, was Nell Nelson. That was her pseudonym. Her actual name was Helen Cusack, and she was working in Chicago. She’d been working as a schoolteacher and she had been, you know, reporting on the side because it wasn’t enough to pay the bills. And the Chicago Times at that point was in a huge amount of turmoil. Um, their longtime publisher had died.
They had this new young publisher coming in who was guaranteeing that he was gonna turn everything around and he wasn’t really able to turn things around until his editor hired Helen Cusack to go do this series on what factory life was like for women in Chicago. And what she did was she just – she described herself as putting on a disguise, but she just put on slightly shabbier clothes and went and applied for work at all of these different Chicago factories and reported on what she found there.
And it ran, you know, day after day for about a little bit over a month. And she really uncovered some things which were quite, quite shocking to the Chicago readers. She uncovered a lot of sexual harassment. She uncovered a lot of child labor, some very young, you know, girls working in the factories. Um, the factories were hot. The factories were unsanitary.
One of the most interesting things to me from a modern-day perspective is that she uncovers an early example of a multi-level marketing scheme, where this business in Chicago is hiring women to crochet, you know, doilies and that kind of thing. And but they have to pay for lessons. They have to pay for the patterns. So, she meets this poor young woman who’s come back to the office after six months, you know, of making these doilies and has barely been able to make her money back. So, the company is really making money off its workers and not making money off selling the products.
So, she does this fascinating work. Gets a lot of attention, really launches an interesting discussion in the editorial pages about, you know, how should women support themselves. Um, and then she gets snapped up by Joseph Pulitzer at the World, and who’s always got, you know, his ears out for any interesting and innovative reporting anywhere in the country. And so, she goes and works for the World and along with Nellie Bly is one of their most prominent and famous reporters in the early 1890s.
And the other woman that you mentioned, Elizabeth Jordan, has a similar trajectory in that she is from, also from the Midwest and she also gets hired on the World and is very excited about the prospect. And she’s gonna hop on the train to go to the World and she actually meets Nellie Bly, who’s doing a tour of the country giving lectures after she does her trip around the world.
And Elizabeth Jordan is just so excited, “I’m going to work at the World” and Nellie Bly, who’s pretty disillusioned with the whole thing at that time, is like, “Ah” and doesn’t really give her that much encouragement [laughs]. But Jordan goes to the World and she does some great work for them, but actually she works her way into being an editor. So, at kind of the height of the newspaper wars in New York City and at a time when they’re hiring many, many women to do these sort of stunts, she’s actually the editor who’s commissioning a lot of the pieces. Um, so she has a really interesting role to play there.
Nick Hirshon: Yeah. That’s really interesting also about the interaction that Jordan might have had with Nellie Bly. And I wondered just as a kind of tangent off of that, was there a respect at the time for what Nellie Bly had done? Was there kind of an understanding among a lot of women reporters that she has pioneered something and made this possible for a larger group of us?
Or is there maybe some jealousy among these different stunt girl reporters or competitive nature of like, well, if one of them, there’s only a limited number of slots for women, unfortunately, in this era at a newspaper. So, if someone else takes that, you know, if I go on vacation and then someone else takes, uh, you know, steals my thunder. So, what was that interaction like?
Kim Todd: Well, that’s an interesting question. And it does really depend on the reporter and their attitude. Some reporters talk very frankly about, well, Nellie Bly made a successful career with doing this, and that’s exactly the kind of thing that I wanna do.
Um, Elizabeth Jordan was from, you know, a very what she considered a respectable family at the time and who considered joining a nunnery before she decided to be a journalist. So, that was one of the reasons for Bly’s cold response is that she told Bly that she really wanted to do straight news reporting and not the kind of reporting that she and Nell Nelson were doing. And I don’t think Bly appreciated that subtle snub but yeah.
Then Jordan goes – she doesn’t do as many undercover exposé kind of things as Nelson and Bly were doing. Um, but she gets herself into things which are, let’s just say pretty far from the nunnery [laughs]. And yeah, I mean, there was definitely, so we’re talking about the term, like “girl stunt reporter,” but there was definitely like the term “sensation” reporters, which were also considered not quite savory.
And Elizabeth Jordan wrote a lot of fiction. She wrote a short story where she talks about kind of this naïve, good hearted, respectable young woman reporter who comes in and the sensation reporter at the time is very coarse and unseemly and maybe not the kind of woman that you would aspire to be. But I do think that Jordan sort of turned the corner as did newsrooms.
I think at the start of this in the late 1880s, there was one woman in the newsroom and it was really, you know, some of these women talk about getting the feedback, “Oh, you know, we already have our story from a woman today. We don’t need another one.” Um, but then there’s, by the time that Jordan is working in the mid-1890s at the World, like there really is a community of women working there.
Um, and there’s this wonderful photograph of Jordan and all of these other women at the World kind of around their desks and their newswomen clothes, and one of them is holding a kitten. And that’s another thing that really comes to the fore in her short stories is the community of these, you know, single young women making their professional way together in a city.
Nick Hirshon: Well, and there’s a theme throughout your book, and you just brought it up in answering that question about society’s views of what is acceptable for women to do, how they should act. Um, and that’s something that I wanna mention here about another captivating anecdote and sensational – about a reporter I had never heard of, Kate Swan McGuirk, who reported in 1892 on one of the most notorious crimes in American history.
Lizzie Borden, as our listeners may know, had been accused of viciously murdering her father and her stepmother inside their home in Massachusetts. Their bodies had been struck many, many times perhaps with an ax and her father’s skull was crushed, his blood splattering the walls. And you write about how the cruelty and the violence of that crime was such a repudiation of femininity that newspapers and the mostly male reporters describe Borden in these unflattering ways. She was repellent and sulky and masculine looking, and generally they were unsympathetic in their coverage.
And as Lizzie Borden sat in a jail cell, awaiting the grand jury, she refused almost all of these interviews because she didn’t like the way she was being portrayed the media, except for Kate Swan McGuirk who had worked with Lizzie at the Fall River Fruit and Flower Mission, bringing food to sick families and picture books to orphanages and bouquets to hospitals.
So, tell us about this relationship between McGuirk and Lizzie Borden and how again, we see these “stunt girls” are doing things that are really adding to a lot of important news information, really contributing to a discussion more than just being a stunt. She’s reporting on getting exclusive access to probably the most notorious person of her age.
Kim Todd: Yeah. Kate Swan McGuirk has a fascinating career. So, she grew up in the same, in New England, in the same area of the country as Lizzie Borden, and she got her start again doing kind of the most respectable kind of reporting. She went to Washington D.C., and was reporting on politics and sort of the society around politics. And then she next crops up as being the only person who is able to get this exclusive interview with Lizzie Borden.
And she really, it really is a repudiation of all of the male reporters’ criticisms of Lizzie Borden’s femininity. You know, one of the big things was like, well, she wasn’t sad enough and she never cried. Um, and so Kate Swan in her interview like almost documents every tear that Lizzie Borden shed. She was like, well, here was this time when she was reported crying, and here was this other time when she was reported crying. Um, and it’s a great interview again, like the only one, although a lot of people cast doubts on, you know, whether it was true.
I think some of the maybe jealous male reporters who hadn’t been able to get the interview were disparaging the fact that she was actually able to get it. And yeah, she really just looks at the case and Lizzie Borden’s person in a new light. And it’s interesting because so Kate Swan does this innovative interview and then doesn’t really cover Lizzy Borden that much more that we know of, but the person who does cover it for the World is Elizabeth Jordan, who we were just talking about.
And she is the reporter, the World’s main reporter on the scene. And she also gives a very sympathetic portrayal of Lizzie Borden, and her articles are kind of framed from Lizzie Borden’s perspective. You know, oh, it was a bad day in the courtroom for Lizzie Borden if they come up with some evidence, which seems to be against her.
I mean, I think that Jordan really struggled. I think that she was aware that because Lizzie Borden wasn’t very physically attractive and because she wasn’t portraying typical femininity that she was really getting an unfair shake, but despite her best efforts, you can get the sense that she doesn’t actually like her that much. She declares that she feels that she’s innocent.
Um, and then in her memoir, many years later, she sort of reconsiders and, and cast doubts on some of Borden’s behavior. So, it’s an interesting – it’s an interesting engagement with this very high-profile woman. Because all these reporters were very concerned with, you know, being critiqued for not performing femininity appropriately, right?
They were doing dangerous things. A lot of these stunts involved, you know, physical strength or certainly a certain kind of courage. Um, so I think they were very aware of the conversation about what it meant to be a woman in the right kind of way.
Nick Hirshon: Yeah, it’s so complex there because we’re talking about the way women are viewed. And then, of course, well, could Elizabeth Jordan possibly write something negative about Lizzie Borden as if like all women have to agree on every point? And that’s, you know, of course that’s just not the way it should be. Um, and then you’re also talking about the way that the male journalism establishment is viewing all of this and maybe being jealous of the exclusives.
And so is your perception of this era that the male news industry was almost exclusively trying to demean these women who were reporting on these stories or were they accepting – were they – were any of them kind of flattering and saying like, hey, kudos to Elizabeth Jordan and, you know, Kate Swan McGuirk for getting these interviews?
Kim Todd: Oh, there definitely was a spectrum of opinion. And it generally had to do with how you felt about Pulitzer and Hearst who were implying, you know, employing most of the women. So you know, people who were sympathetic to those papers, you know, wrote great things about Kate Swan McGuirk, you know, wrote very flattering things about Nellie Bly. A lot of times, if a reporter, if a paper had their own girl stunt reporter, then they were definitely boosting her. And you know, these women’s names appeared in ads for forthcoming articles.
They were seen as profitable [laughs]. Which I think, you know, is the bottom line in terms of whether or not a paper is gonna promote them and speak well of them. And then conversely, the papers that didn’t run Nellie Bly’s stories or were maybe competing with Nellie Bly said, you know, quite disparaging things about the kind of work that she was doing and how unseemly it was and that sort of thing.
Nick Hirshon: Uh, definitely. Well, and we’ve talked a lot now about this term “stunt girls,” girl stunt reporters, and how the word “stunt” itself implies something that’s not substantive or unnecessarily theatrical, done only to grab attention, but a lot of the women that we’ve been discussing in [your book] Sensational did do important work and brought about change. They used the guise of journalism to adopt roles forbidden to them at the time, as you’ve described in the book, driving trains, serving on search and rescue teams, leaping into the cold ocean, facing down factory bosses.
So, can you just talk generally about the sorts of changes that these women did bring about in a, you know, a positive way for society?
Kim Todd: Yeah, I think that there’s a number of different ways. And I just wanna specify, I think it’s useful to think about really two stages of this kind of reporting over this decade. So, in the early days, you really had people who were doing work very similar to Nellie Bly. So, they very often went into disguise and they very often did these exposés of women dominated spaces, whether or not that was asylums, factories, how women were treated in public hospitals, for example.
Um, Nellie Bly wrote about orphanages and the whole adoption industry. Winifred Sweet wrote about cosmetics and that particular industry. So, you have this early on, very like socially engaged reporting. And that bought about a lot of concrete change in the very short term, right?
Nellie Bly got more money for the asylum. Um, Winifred Sweet got this horribly abusive doctor fired from the public hospital. Nell Nelson got more female factory inspectors and a law passed in Illinois that, you know, kept kids in school longer and kept them out of the factories longer. Then in about the middle of the century, so 1895, 1896, you have a change where the women are doing more adventurous kind of stunts.
So, less in disguise, less really overtly in the public interest and more in that list that you listed off: driving trains, climbing bridges. Um, Nellie Bly has a stunt where she, you know, says that she’s gonna go learn how to train an elephant, and she goes and sits on the back of an elephant.
Um, so in a way that seems much less significant than the work that they’re doing earlier, but they are combating this stereotype of women as weak and cowardly, right? They’re showing these strong women doing brave, adventurous things, which require quite a bit of muscle in some cases. And I think the longer-term effect is that these stories in the – in 1885 and 1896 were very highly illustrated.
They showed the women doing all these adventurous things and they were really the foundation of comic strips, like Lois Lane and Brenda Starr, and while a lot of these original reporters like Nell Nelson and Winifred Sweet have been forgotten, like a lot of actual female journalists were inspired by Lois Lane and Brenda Starr [laughs]. So I think – I think that image of the intricate girl reporter really had a very long life and got its start with these women.
Nick Hirshon: Yeah, it’s interesting to think about how we could trace that back the Lois Lane to Nellie Bly and Nell Nelson. That’s great. Uh, and we’ve been talking a lot about the distinction, obviously between male and female, but what we haven’t discussed yet is race, and white women reporters could get away with dipping into disreputable water. So, they’re stunt reporting, as you described in the book, they could resurface unscathed and remain respectable, but that same grace was not extended to Black women. And Black women still experimented with their voice and persona outside of this arena and expressed opinions about how the world should be and what justice looked like.
Perhaps the most prominent example of that was the so-called princess of the press, Ida B. Wells. She wrote for papers in New York, Little Rock, Memphis. Sensational describes how she covered the lynching of Black men in Memphis in 1892. And then she went on vacation to the East Coast, and while she was away, she paid the price for her brave reporting because mobs destroyed her newspaper office, waited by the train station for her to come back, waited by her house and forced her essentially to stay in New York and do more reporting there.
So, what stands out to you about Ida B. Wells and women of color trying to emerge in the news industry in this period?
Kim Todd: Well, as you point out, so they were not doing the same kind of work as the women that we’re talking about, as the girls stunt reporters. That was almost a role, like you can almost think about it as a theatrical role, though a lot of these women did, you know, establish their unique voices on the page and their unique persona. And it was a role that was available to white women at these predominantly white-owned newspapers.
And one of the things that struck me about Ida B. Wells and another of the Black women that I read about, Victoria Earle Matthews, is that they really had to create their own structures. I mean, Ida B. Wells, you know, not only wasn’t writing predominantly for the white-owned papers, but she more than once had to own her own paper to print the kinds of things that she wanted to write and say.
Like, it just wasn’t palatable or acceptable to other editors to get her story out there. She had to, you know find her own avenues. And similarly, Victoria Earle Matthews, someone who I read about, like Kate Swan really got her start writing, you know, household hints and, and that sort of thing, and did a lot of writing for a lot of different kinds of newspapers and also wrote fiction and wrote some plays.
Um, but then her most forceful writing came in 1895 when she traveled to the South to see some of the work that Booker T. Washington was doing. And while she was in the South, she realized that there was this whole network of employment agencies, which were luring young Black women to the North with promises of great jobs. And they would say, “Oh, you know, we’ll pay your steamship fare and we’ll pay your lodging while you look around for a job.”
And then when they ended up in New York, these young women found themselves in a whole lot of debt. Um, they weren’t being offered the kinds of jobs that they wanted and they often ended up, you know, with no job at all or doing sex work and not the kind of thing that they imagined that they might do. Um, so she really uncovered this network of basically human trafficking and her response was that she lectured about it and she wrote about it, but then she also started a settlement house.
So, again, kind of creating her own organization that would help these, actually help these young women find jobs, look after their kids, give them some training that they needed. Um, and she, during the later part of her life, you know, was going down to the docks to meet these women and try to usher them towards her settlement house, as opposed to falling into the clutches of these traffickers. So, so two very different paths, but they both didn’t have refuge in, you know, the high-paying jobs that these white-owned newspapers were offering these other women.
Nick Hirshon: And so, I guess in a way, the emergence of the stunts being done by these women gave a path for other women to make their mark on journalism, to be respected and find roles and other opportunities, you know, for some of these women in your – in your book. Um, so, you know, I’d like to start wrapping up the podcast by looking at so much investigative journalism that is born out of the particular circumstances of the time. And if we look at the beginning of your book, Sensational opens with an anecdote about a female reporter going undercover for the Chicago Times in 1888, pretending to be pregnant and visiting more than 200 physicians across town to write an exposé on the city’s illicit abortion practice.
You describe in remarkable detail in this sort of exquisite description throughout the book, which I found very impressive, how this particular journalist who went by the pseudonym “The Girl Reporter” found many doctors were offering unsolicited opinions to her about sex out of wedlock and making her feel shameful. One told her to get married. Some said that abortion was murderous and sinful. And still others, many others agreed to perform abortions, even though they were illegal at the time.
So, if we fast forward to 2022, and we all know the Supreme Court decided last summer to overturn Roe v. Wade, meaning that individual states can dictate the legality of abortion. So, once again, women with unwanted pregnancies are facing some of the same uncomfortable conversations with doctors as The Girl Reporter may have had more than a century ago
So, how do you think the fall of Roe v. Wade will affect the future of investigative journalism by women and about women’s issues? And are there other sorts of trends that you see emerging in that sense of like, what are the stories of our time generally that you think will yield a lot of investigative journalism?
I don’t know if it would be stunt reporting, but maybe there will be women who actually go out and do undercover reporting to report on these very important issues.
Kim Todd: Well, I think that the abortion issue is a prime one, and what was dismaying to me at the time when I was writing about The Girl Reporter’s exposé and which is even more dismaying in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade was that the discussions are exactly the same. Like her, her reporting she reported for a number of weeks. Um, like Nell Nelson’s prompted all of this discussion in editorial pages and the positions sort of pro and con abortion and doctors helping and how safe it should be are really like exactly the same, even, you know, down to the phrasing.
You know, some of the more feminist writers were saying like, “Well, we have to hold men equally accountable. Um, you know, maybe we should make sex with – sex before wedlock illegal so that they would also pay the price for these babies born out of wedlock.”
And other people were saying, you know, “We need to have better foundling homes and more foundling homes, so women will give their kids up for adoption.” And other people were saying like, “Well, we have foundling homes and almost all of the kids who go into them die because we don’t look after the kids who are born, effectively.”
And the interesting thing about the girl stunt reporter’s work, which, about The Girl Reporter’s work, which I hear an echo of so clearly now, is she was opposed to abortion and her paper was opposed to abortion. So, the undercurrent of the exposé was like, look at all these doctors agreeing to perform abortions. You know, it’s very, it’s a terrible thing, right? That’s what they were exposing.
But on the other hand, it was illegal to write about abortion and women’s health and contraception. These Comstock laws made it not too possible to talk about women’s bodies in that way. So, actually just providing the information that she provided in her stories in terms of hundreds of doctors will provide abortions for you. There are multiple methods. Most of them are safe.
Um, kind of undercut the ostensible purpose of the reporting, and I really see a very similar thing happening with these new laws, which are really designed again in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade to restrict women’s speech and restrict doctors’ speech.
Like what can they talk about? What can they say? Where can women travel if they’re pregnant? Um, we’re almost going back to, you know, earlier and more restrictive times than the girl stunt reporter was writing about in 1888. So, I think that the field is rife for brave investigative reporting, and I hope we have a lot of it.
Nick Hirshon: And although we’ve made a lot of headway in that century-plus since The Girl Reporter was one of the few women in the newsroom and there are a lot more women reporters, we still have a lot of work to do there we know. Um, there are a lot of challenges facing these prospective investigative journalists.
Well, as we finish today’s episode and thank you so much for being on today, I would like to pose to you a question that we ask all of our guests on the podcast to end. Why does journalism history matter?
Kim Todd: I think journalism history matters because I’m a writer and so not specifically a journalist, but I think it’s very important to know what is possible.
And I think anytime that you look deeply into the history of a given area, you understand that like people have always been doing amazing things. And even if there have been a lot of roadblocks in the way, people find creative and innovative ways around those roadblocks and to tell important truths. And I think you really see that with these investigative reporters of the 1880s and 1890s.
Um, and just as a side note, one thing that I wanted to add when we were talking about Wells and Matthews, I mentioned how they each created their own structures. Um, but Matthews was actually a huge help to Wells. She had this massive fundraiser, which helped support Ida B. Wells’ first book of anti-lynching reporting.
So, it wasn’t these women all doing it independently. They were also really helping each other to get the word out.
Nick Hirshon: And maybe there’s some message in there about the way that women today can tackle some of the problems that we’ve been talking about in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade and all these other sorts of issues, right? ‘Cause we saw there’s the competitive nature of news and being the first to get an exclusive story.
And there’s always gonna be some jealousy and conflict there, but there’s also, I guess in, in that story of some of a, you know, coming together and have a common kind of a goal in supporting each other. So, the book again here is Sensational: The Hidden History of America’s Girl Stunt Reporters from Harper Collins. The author is Kim Todd. Thanks again, Kim, for joining us on the Journalism History podcast.
Kim Todd: Thanks for having me.
Nick Hirshon: Thanks for tuning in and additional thanks to our sponsor, Taylor and Francis. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast. You can also follow us on Twitter @Jhistoryjournal. Until next time, I’m your host, Nick Hirshon signing off with the words of Edward R Murrow. Goodnight and good luck.