Winter 2019


Volume 44, No. 4, Winter 2019

The winter issue contains articles by Pamela Walck and Ashley Walter, Marco Althaus, Denitsa Yotova, James M. Farrell, and Philip M. Glende, as well as four book reviews and a note from editor Greg Borchard. Interested in reading these articles? Get information on subscribing here.

Article Abstracts

“Soaring out of the Private Sphere: How Flyin’ Jenny  and  Comics  Helped  Pioneer a New Path for Women’s Work during World War II,Pamela E. Walck and Ashley Walter (Podcast Interview)
Throughout World War II, newspaper comic strips and propaganda posters not only presented Americans with depictions of major shifts in societal norms, but also helped them accept the dramatic social changes spurred by total war. One historian has argued that pop cultural art that featured women in non-traditional jobs did important work during the war years by creating platforms that helped ease societal fears about the dramatic changes afoot in the workplace. This research argues that Flyin’ Jenny and its brave aviatrix, Jenny Dare, was not only among these hard-working graphic stories and pop cultural icons, but that she was a pioneer on the comics pages by predating Wonder Woman and Brenda Starr. Each week, readers found their heroine competing against the most accomplished men in aviation. But this narrative was intentionally softened through paper dolls, reader-submitted content, and pin-up-like poses.

“The Weimar Republic’s ‘Press Parliament’: Institutionalizing the Daily Government Press Conference in Berlin, 1918-33,” Marco Althaus
Journalists, not state officials, hosted the Reich government’s main press conferences in the Weimar Republic era. Internationally unique, the setup evolved from World War briefings run by Imperial Germany’s military censorship. In the 1918 November Revolution, newspaper correspondents turned the tables on the authorities to organize the Berlin Press Conference. For the next 14 years, the capital press corps’ daily noon meeting with spokesmen or cabinet ministers emerged as the young democracy’s key political news hub. It was often called a “press parliament” to emphasize its institutional character in the ambivalent, conflict-rich but productive relationship with a new Reich press department and ministries. The paper explores the conference’s institutionalization based on participant accounts and previous works. The paper studies self-organization, government responses, culture, conflicts, confidentiality issues, and the de-institutionalization by the National Socialist regime in 1933. Postwar West Germany restored the Weimar-era model, which is still followed a century after its invention.

“Antebellum Urban Reporting as Literary Journalism and Muckraking: George G. Foster’s City Sketches in the New York Press,” Denitsa Yotova (Teaching Essay)
This article examines the writings of George G. Foster in antebellum New York. It analyzes his particular style of social commentary as literary journalism and an early form of muckraking. A review of primary and secondary sources reveals that although presented in a more sensational, yet non-fiction style, Foster’s writings, published in the New-York Tribune and in his books, demonstrate a unique critical, expository, and even self-reflective approach to journalism that existed long before famous twentieth century muckrakers and literary journalists changed American print culture. By focusing on the work of the largely understudied writer in the context of society, culture, and the press during the mid-nineteenth century, this article demonstrates that such early alternative forms of reporting should be viewed as a notable endeavor in the history of journalism.

“Pretrial Publicity in 1830 Salem: Daniel Webster, New England News, and the Knapp-White Trial,” James M. Farrell (Podcast Interview)
The legacy of Daniel Webster’s participation in the prosecution of John Francis Knapp is complex. As Howard Bradley and James Winans pointed out in their treatment of the famous trial, “Webster has been much praised, but also much condemned for his conduct of the case.”  This essay reexamines that famous legal oration in order to bring to light a dimension of Webster’s address heretofore unnoticed by historians and critics. What commentators on the trial speech have not recognized is the close link between the form and substance of Webster’s address to the jury and the accumulated content of the extensive newspaper coverage of the case. This analysis will show that the material for Webster’s address was drawn from widely circulated New England press reports and was crafted to conform to a pre-established narrative framework familiar to the Salem jury. The trial, then, is an early case study in pre-trial publicity.

“Victor Riesel: Labor’s Worst Friend,” Philip M. Glende (Research Essay)
Victor Riesel was a highly visible newspaper columnist known for his reporting on organized labor in the 1940s and 1950s. Riesel considered himself to be a friend of the working class, but his columns echoed the anti-Communist, anti-labor sentiments of conservative politicians and business elites. Riesel’s daily report appeared in nearly two hundred newspapers in the mid-1950s. His claim to being pro-labor and his wide distribution added potency to his criticism of unions, as did an acid attack in 1956 that left him blind. He publicly insisted the assault was retaliation for his coverage of organized crime in labor. Despite his prominence as a specialist on one of the most contentious issues of his time, few scholars have examined Riesel’s career as a syndicated columnist. This essay examines his work leading up to the attack as he became one of the nation’s most visible labor critics.