Academic journal article Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

Ellen Mackay Hutchinson ([1851]-1933)

Academic journal article Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers

Ellen Mackay Hutchinson ([1851]-1933)

Article excerpt

In 1882, pioneering woman journalist Ellen Mackay Hutchinson agreed to coedit, with Edmund Clarence Stedman, the most massive collection of American literature theretofore completed, A Library of American Literature.' Published in eleven volumes between 1888 and 1890, the Library is little known to present-day scholars. However, for more than forty years it remained a standard reference work for readers, editors, and historians of US literature, until superseded by what Evelyn Rezak Bibb labels the "modern omnibus anthology" (369). Modern readers cannot imagine the difficulty involved in locating many of the source materials reprinted in the Library, especially in the early volumes. Hutchinson, poet and longtime literary editor of the New-York Tribune, sought out rare book sellers and private collectors and combed through library archives to make the initial selections. She left to Stedman--poet, anthologist, literary critic, and Wall Street broker--the work of making final selections, reading proof, and obtaining the necessary copyrights and permissions. Bibb concludes that this division of labor made Hutchinson the "junior editor" (247). Yet throughout her life Hutchinson insisted that her work on the Library and at the Tribune be conducted and valued on conditions of strict equality with men. Nowhere is that insistence clearer than in her correspondence with Stedman. Her letters reveal that she resisted the conventions governing literary relations between women and men, explicitly rejecting the subordinate role, even though she strategically used gendered language and manipulated epistolary conventions when it served her purpose. Recovering Hutchinson as coeditor of the Library demonstrates how she helped to shape a late-nineteenth-century national understanding and appreciation of American literature and why Maurice Francis Egan called her "the foremost literary woman of our country" (qtd. in Stedman and Gould 2: 143).

One of a small army of women journalists employed at the end of the nineteenth century, Hutchinson worked for twenty-five years at the Tribune, rising from reporter to editor of the Sunday edition to literary editor for the paper. In the opinion of one critic, she was "an extraordinary woman" who made the Sunday edition of the Tribune "the metropolitan counterpart of the weekly editions, a journal of discussion and critical review" (Baehr 142). Hutchinson published poems in periodicals, mostly anonymously, before collecting them into a single volume, Songs and Lyrics. Her poetry appears in two anthologies: Elizabeth A. Sharp's Lyric Celtica and Stedman's An American Anthology. Other publications include a children's story, "The Child-Princess, Charlotte"; an essay, "'Personal Intelligence' Fifty Years Ago"; and a review of Frances Courtenay Baylor's On Both Sides. In 1887, Ida M. Tarbell's "Women in Journalism" identified Hutchinson as one of the "representative women of the day" Three years later, her name appeared on the Critic's 1890 ballot list of 125 names for the periodical's election "The Twenty Immortelles," a contest designed to honor the foremost living American women writers ("Twenty 'Immortelles" 156). However, for nineteenth-century readers, "Miss Hutchinson's name [was] best known in connection with that colossal and invaluable work, the Cyclopce-dia [sic] of American Literature (eleven vols.), in which she was the collaborator of Mr. Edmund Clarence Stedman" (Sharp 421).

Advertising material bound with Joseph Kirkland's The Story of Chicago links Hutchinson to the Library's inception. When W. E. Dibble, a Cincinnati publisher, approached Stedman to produce "a complete literary history of America.... he agreed to do the work with Ellen McKay Hutchinson as co-editor" (Kirkland 480). For their work, Stedman and Hutchinson received equal pay: $500 per volume plus royalties of 8 percent (Scholnick 142). As an undated, six-page handwritten description of the Library indicates, they initially anticipated that the five-hundred-page volumes would "appear at intervals of from two to three months" ("Substantially" 6). …

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