When Nellie Bly met Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony has been in the news lately. This year is the centenary of women (well, white women) getting the vote in America and then there has been a little bit of extra controversy about a presidential pardon. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony set out to cast a ballot in a presidential election. Firm in her belief that the Fourteenth Amendment gave her – as a US Citizen – the right to vote, she entered a barbershop in Rochester, New York, and persuaded the men working there as registrars, to register her and three of her sisters and allow them to vote in the election.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1.

As a citizen, she declared, she had the privilege of voting, and she cast her vote for the Republican incumbent, President Ulysses S. Grant. (He won.) But Susan B. Anthony’s action, as she probably expected, did not go unnoticed. She ended up being arrested some days after the election and was charged with knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully voting. She was tried, found guilty and fined $100 – a fine, it should be noted, that she never paid. Her actions brought national attention to the question of equality.

Twenty four years later, Susan B. Anthony was interviewed by the journalist Nellie Bly. In early February, 1896, Anthony was just days away from her seventy-sixth birthday and Bly was thirty-one. Anthony had spent her life devoted to women’s rights. Here’s Bly’s first impression:

She sat in a low rocking-chair, an image of repose and restfulness. Her well-shaped head, with its silken snowy hair combed smoothly over her ears, rested against the back of the chair. Her shawl had half-fallen from her shoulders and her soft black silk gown lay in gentle folds about her. Her slender hands lay folded idly in her lap, and her feet, crossed, just peeped from beneath the edge of her skirt. If she had been posed for a picture, it could not have been done more artistically or perfectly.

Nellie Bly, The World, February 2nd, 1896

In typical Nellie Bly style, the interview is wide-ranging and moves seamlessly from the serious to the personal and back again. Read it and you will learn how Anthony came by her middle name (Brownell), what she liked to eat for breakfast (fruit, grain and coffee), and how many times she had fallen in love. You’ll discover a sharp intellect – she begins by asking her interviewer her own question about current events in Cuba – and a keen memory, as she describes with great good humor her years as a teacher. She lays out how she came to see that voting rights was the battle that had to be won before all others. In her own words:

I had barked up the temperance tree, and I had barked up the teachers’ tree and I couldn’t do anything. I had learned where our only hope rested.

Susan B. Anthony, The World, February 2nd, 1896
Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony looks very serious in this portrait, but Bly brings her to smiling life in her seven column interview. Anthony comes across as approachable, humorous, and intelligent, but also very human, rooted in her family, relentlessly committed to her cause, and full of optimism for the future. From her views on flowers, bicycles and bloomers, to her committed temperance (she never tasted alcohol in her life), Susan B. Anthony fully comes to life in this interview. As such, it is also a tribute to Nellie Bly’s skills as a journalist, her readiness to ask questions big and small, and her ability to bring her subject’s voice and character to her readers’ attention. In Nellie’s own words, “Miss Anthony enjoys a good joke and can tell one. She never fails to see the funny side of things though it be at her own expense.”

Anyone curious to quickly know Susan B. Anthony, beyond the standard biographical record, could do a lot worse than read this whole interview. It’s available on line as a pdf here, and photographed for slightly easier reading here. But as internet resources come and go, and as has been my habit during my research for The Girl Puzzle, I’ve also transcribed the whole thing and you can read it here. I hope you will!

5 feisty Nellie Bly quotes for #mondaymotivation

Nellie Bly had a lot to say for herself over the years, priding herself on her frankness. Here’s some fine examples…

six-months-mexico-nellie-bly

 

Aged 21:

“The Mexicans surveyed myself and my chaperone in amazement. But I defied their gaze and showed them that a free American girl can accommodate herself to circumstances without the aid of a man.”

Pittsburg Dispatch, June 20th, 1886


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First article:

Take some girls that have the ability, procure for them situations, start them on their way, and by doing so accomplish more than by years of talking.”

The Girl Puzzle, Pittsburg Dispatch, January 25th 1885

 


godey's lady's book

Re-visiting her madhouse story:

 

“Energy applied rightly and directed will accomplish anything.”

 

Among the Mad, Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1889


Often motivational:

Energy applied rightly and directly will accomplish anything


And one of my favorites:

“That women should work is necessary. That they should be treated with equality for their labor is just and right. There should be no difference in the recompense for work, whether done by a man or a woman, so long as it is done equally well.”

New York Evening Journal, September 12th, 1921


Nelly Bly. As consistent in her support for women’s rights and equality for women in her 50’s as she was in her 20’s. Who wouldn’t want to read a novel about her?

2d girl puzzle cover“a well-researched and engrossing tale that focuses on female empowerment,” – Kirkus Reviews

“Grounded in historical research, brought to life by a novelist’s imagination, here is Nellie Bly in all her fascinating complexity: outspoken, courageous, kind, clever, sometimes headstrong, other times self-doubting. “Grounded in historical research, brought to life by a novelist’s imagination, here is Nellie Bly in all her fascinating complexity: outspoken, courageous, kind, clever, sometimes headstrong, other times self-doubting. In The Girl Puzzle Kate Braithwaite has created a character who is not easily forgotten.” –  Matthew Goodman, bestselling author of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World

“Everything a historical novel should be – illuminating, intriguing and intelligent. Kate Braithwaite has woven a fascinating and atmospheric story from what is known about the pioneering feminist journalist Nellie Bly (née Elizabeth Cochrane).  Braithwaite skillfully blends Bly’s early and later career to give a new insight into a remarkable and complex woman.” –  Olga Wojtas, author of Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar

buy-from-amazon

#otd 1885 – The Girl Puzzle is published

nellie undatedOn January 25th, 1885, The Pittsburg Dispatch published its first article by a new employee. In the week leading up to this date, a young woman called Elizabeth Cochrane had answered George Madden and Erasmus Wilson’s advertisement, seeking the author of a letter they’d received, signed only by a ‘Lonely Orphan Girl.’

Much later, both Wilson and Nellie Bly would reflect on this first meeting. Wilson recalled the young woman arriving, breathless from climbing the stairs. She appeared to him to be shy, but when she smiled her whole face brightened and he remembered she had beautiful teeth. For her part, Nellie was surprised by both Wilson and Madden. Wilson, author of the provoking Q.O. column whose views on a ‘women’s sphere’ had enraged her so much she’d put pen to paper, was not at all the cross old man of her imagination. Instead he was ‘a great big good-natured fellow who wouldn’t even kill the nasty roaches that crawled over his desk.’ maddenAnd Madden, the editor, was a ‘mild-mannered, pleasant-faced boy,’ not at all the fierce, bushy-bearded man she’d imagined him to be.

Best of all, Madden didn’t simply want to publish the girl’s letter. He wanted more of her views and opinions. The result? Her first published article, The Girl Puzzle.

The article, staunch in its view that girls are just as good, if not smarter than boys, calls out for women’s working opportunities to be expanded, and sympathy and assistance offered to struggling women, instead of scorn or unconcern.

Aged 20, Elizabeth (or Nellie as she would become) held firm views that did not change as she grew older. She called for action, not just words, from advocates for women, directly suggesting that leaders of the women’s movement, ‘forgo their lecturing and writing and go to work; more work and less talk.’ No wonder George Madden found something he could not pass up in her first letter to the paper. As Wilson later recalled Madden saying:

‘She isn’t much for style, but what she has to say she says it right out regardless of paragraphs or punctuation. She knocks it off and it is just right too.’

A week later, with his editorial guidance, the Lonely Orphan had her first piece in the newspaper.

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Elizabeth Cochrane was not yet Nellie Bly. But she was on her way.

Dec 18th: Fly Girls by Keith O’Brien

“Between the world wars, no sport was more popular, or more dangerous, than airplane racing. Thousands of fans flocked to multi‑day events, and cities vied with one another to host them. The pilots themselves were hailed as dashing heroes who cheerfully stared death in the face. Well, the men were hailed. Female pilots were more often ridiculed than praised for what the press portrayed as silly efforts to horn in on a manly, and deadly, pursuit. Fly Girls recounts how a cadre of women banded together to break the original glass ceiling: the entrenched prejudice that conspired to keep them out of the sky.

O’Brien weaves together the stories of five remarkable women: Florence Klingensmith, a high‑school dropout who worked for a dry cleaner in Fargo, North Dakota; Ruth Elder, an Alabama divorcee; Amelia Earhart, the most famous, but not necessarily the most skilled; Ruth Nichols, who chafed at the constraints of her blue‑blood family’s expectations; and Louise Thaden, the mother of two young kids who got her start selling coal in Wichita. Together, they fought for the chance to race against the men — and in 1936 one of them would triumph in the toughest race of all.” (Amazon blurb)

fly girlsWhy read Fly Girls?

Again I’m going to point to the subtitle of the book as I big reason for my interest. It reads: “How five daring women defied all odds and made aviation history.”

There. Who wouldn’t want to read about that? Daring women defying the odds is always a killer of a sales line for me.

This one definitely has me intrigued. I don’t know much about Amelia Earhart and could definitely learn more and I like that fact that these other women get a look-in too. Yup. I’m going to be reading this one for sure.

 

December 7th: Silk and the Sword: the women of the Norman Conquest by Sharon Bennett Connolly

“The momentous events of 1066, the story of invasion, battle and conquest, are well known. But what of the women?

Harold II of England had been with Edith Swanneck for twenty years but in 1066, in order to strengthen his hold on the throne, he married Ealdgyth, sister of two earls. William of Normandy’s Duchess, Matilda of Flanders, had supposedly only agreed to marry the Duke after he’d pulled her pigtails and thrown her in the mud. Harald Hardrada had two wives – apparently at the same time. So, who were these women? What was their real story? And what happened to them after 1066?

These are not peripheral figures. Emma of Normandy was a Norman married to both a Saxon and a Dane ‒ and the mother of a king from each. Wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II, the fact that, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, she had control of the treasury at the end of the reigns of both Cnut and Harthacnut suggests the extent of Emma’s influence over these two kings –and the country itself.

Then there is Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great, and the less well known but still influential Gundrada de Warenne, the wife of one of William the Conqueror’s most loyal knights, and one of the few men who it is known beyond doubt was with the Duke at the Battle of Hastings.

These are lives full of drama, pathos and sometimes mystery: Edith and Gytha searching the battlefield of Hastings for the body of Harold, his lover and mother united in their grief for the fallen king. Who was Ælfgyva, the lady of the Bayeux Tapestry, portrayed with a naked man at her feet?

Silk and the Sword traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play during the Norman Conquest – wives, lovers, sisters, mothers, leaders.” (Amazon blurb)

Why read Silk and the Sword?

silk and the sword1066, the Battle of Hastings, Harold with an arrow in the eye and the Norman conquest of Britain – that’s what I learned about at school. Definitely no women in the story and in fact I don’t really remember there being any women in the history I learned at school until Mary of Guise and Mary Queen of Scots in the 16th Century. Maybe that’s why I liked them so much!

But now things have changed. Reading this blurb I’m already feeling unhappy about the treatment of Edith Swanneck and Matilda of Flanders. No one deserves to get flung in the mud by their pigtails. Just think about how ouchy that would be!

Not only does this book look great, but Sharon Bennett Connolly has one of my fav history blogs – History the Interesting Bits – which is every bit as interesting as the name suggests.