Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space

Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space

Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space

Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space


Out on Assignment illuminates the lives and writings of a lost world of women who wrote for major metropolitan newspapers at the start of the twentieth century. Using extraordinary archival research, Alice Fahs unearths a richly networked community of female journalists drawn by the hundreds to major cities--especially New York--from all parts of the United States.

Newspaper women were part of a wave of women seeking new, independent, urban lives, but they struggled to obtain the newspaper work of their dreams. Although some female journalists embraced more adventurous reporting, including stunt work and undercover assignments, many were relegated to the women's page. However, these intrepid female journalists made the women's page their own. Fahs reveals how their writings--including celebrity interviews, witty sketches of urban life, celebrations of being "bachelor girls," advice columns, and a campaign in support of suffrage--had far-reaching implications for the creation of new, modern public spaces for American women at the turn of the century. As observers and actors in a new drama of independent urban life, newspaper women used the simultaneously liberating and exploitative nature of their work, Fahs argues, to demonstrate the power of a public voice, both individually and collectively.


In 1891 Margherita Arlina Hamm began writing “Among the Newspaper Women” for the New York Journalist—the first newspaper column ever devoted to newspaper women as a group. Chronicling the work of women newspaper writers around the country, but especially in New York, Hamm conjured up a world of public sociability. “There were some four or five newspaper women met accidentally Thursday evening at a restaurant on Broadway,” she began her first column; “they all became confidential in a short while, as is the habit of newspaper women. Not confidential about their inner lives, but about their business I mean.” On the face of it this was a casual statement about a casual meeting of women in public, but it also deliberately laid claim to a public community of independent women in one of the most famous public spaces of New York.

With her column, which she continued to write weekly over the next two years, Hamm publicized the activities of some of the hundreds of women who were entering newspaper work nationwide at the turn of the century. But she did more, as well: by writing about what newspaper women were thinking and doing, by reporting their conversations in the printed columns of the Journalist, Hamm also created a new public space for women within the world of print culture. As she did so, her column joined the work of numerous other newspaper women, who at the turn of the century wrote widely of new work opportunities for women, developed new newspaper genres such as advice columns and interviews, explored new living arrangements for women, advocated extensive travel, and covered and promoted women’s political activism. Their work shaped new public spaces for women within the physical pages of the newspaper, while also writing into being a far-flung new public world of women.

We get some sense of newspaper women’s active creation of this new public realm when we examine the career of the ambitious and prolific . . .

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