Academic journal article Journalism History

Frontier Feminism and the Woman's Tribune: The Journalism of Clara Bewick Colby

Academic journal article Journalism History

Frontier Feminism and the Woman's Tribune: The Journalism of Clara Bewick Colby

Article excerpt

Clara Bewick Colby established the Woman's Tribune in Beatrice, Nebraska, in 1883. The suffragist newspaper survived twenty-six years and would later include Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon, as place of publication. This study is an analysis of the content of the newspaper in the years when it was published in Nebraska (1883-89), during which time the paper provided rural, isolated women with information that transcended the right to vote. The study concludes that the Woman's Tribune consistently was framed within an identifiable feminist ideology, in which Colby held to the notion that suffrage and equality for women were moral rights in a democratic society.

In December 1884, during her second year as publisher and editor of the suffragist newspaper, the Woman's Tribune, an exasperated Clara Bewick Colby told readers, "What with third party subscribers stopping the paper because it published Elizabeth Cady Stanton's and Susan B. Anthony's appeals to stand by the Republican Party, and Republican women refusing the paper because it published Mrs. Fixen's letter about her work for St. John in New York, verily the way of the reformer is hard."1

The newspaper would enjoy a twenty-six-year life span, but the work of this suffragist leader and reform journalist never would get any easier. Indeed, the above sentiment exemplifies Colby's work as a suffragist and reform publisher because hers is the story of a woman caught in the middle: her newspaper attempted to speak to two distinct audiences-the activists within the movement as well as the potential suffragist converts among the women on the plains of Nebraska and Kansas-and she tried to establish the newspaper's philosophical identity at a time when the suffragist movement was characterized by opposing, often vitriolic, factions. In fact, Colby's time within the movement was shared among a group of virtually unknown women. They were too young to be with the first generation of revolutionaries whose demand for suffrage was declared in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, and they were either forgotten or dead by the time the Nineteenth Amendment enfranchising women was finally ratified in 1920. As one scholar noted, Colby and her newspaper have fallen to little more than a historical footnote.2

Yet Colby is an important historical figure in several ways. A leading activist in the woman's suffrage movement in America and especially in the West, she was a colleague and a close friend to both Anthony and Stanton throughout their lifetimes. Her suffragist newspaper, the Woman's Tribune, which was published from 1883 to 1909, was one of the largest in terms of circulation,3 and its twenty-six-year life span makes it the second longest-running newspaper to emerge from the movement.4 Most important, Colby deserves more scholarly attention not only because of what she did but because she did it so well. One scholar ranked the Woman's Tribune as one of the five leading newspapers of the early suffragist movement.5 Stanton, a regular contributor to the paper, proclaimed the Woman's Tribune to be the best suffrage paper ever published.6

Colby took over leadership of the Nebraska suffrage movement in 1881 and began publishing the Woman's Tribune in Beatrice, Nebraska, in 1883. Beginning in December 1889 and for the next three years, she published the newspaper from Washington, D.C., when Congress was in session and from Nebraska during the rest of the year. In 1893 she moved the newspaper to the nation's capital, where she continued to publish it until 1904. Finally, from 1904 to 1909, she published the Tribune from Portland, Oregon. Throughout its twenty-six years, the publication's emphasis was, not surprising, on suffrage news. However, as a fellow suffragist, the Rev. Olympia Brown, noted, the Woman's Tribune also functioned to educate women in every aspect of their lives.7 Thus, Colby also attempted to connect suffrage to other issues of importance and interest to women-especially the isolated, rural women of the Midwest-and the Woman's Tribune contained ideas about political liberty that transcended the right to vote. …

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