Academic journal article Journalism History

Impertinences: Selected Writings of Elia Peattie, a Journalist in the Gilded Age

Academic journal article Journalism History

Impertinences: Selected Writings of Elia Peattie, a Journalist in the Gilded Age

Article excerpt

Bloomfield, Susanne G., ed. Impertinences: Selected Writings of Elia Peattie, a Journalist in the Gilded Age. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. 335 pp. $20.

Susanne Bloomfield has done a service to historians of newspapers, women and the press, writing, and Omaha. Anthologies can be daunting for a reader to approach, and a disjointed collection of writings that really have little to do with today can be a formidable object. But within a few pages, Elia Peattic becomes a comfortable friend, and she begins to present a colorful image of Omaha as it was just before the turn of the twentieth century.

It has become a cliché to say that women in journalism were rare 100 years ago, but we keep finding more and more who actually made their voices heard back then. Now, Peattie can be added to that list. Omaha was a train and cattle town at the end of the 180Os, growing rapidly thanks to European immigrants; still gritty, it was beginning to establish its more genteel side. One can easily find all of this in Peattie's prose. She worked from 1888 to 1896 at the Omaha World-Herald, where her husband Robert was managing editor. While writing news, editorials, and columns for the paper, she raised two children and tended to her husband's fragile health. She wrote about society, politics, traditions, children, criminals, and just about every other subject in which her readers were interested.

Impertinences is important to newspaper history because Peattie's columns and articles were part of the evolution of papers in daily life. The World-Herald, which is the sole surviving paper in a town that once had five daily journals, was an important paper between Chicago and Denver. Reading her, one gets another example of how newspapers covered the news. She was part of the evolution of editorializing. And although not as flamboyant as, say, Nellie BIy, her flair was no less stunning. She simply worked in a smaller market.

Peattie is an important example of women in the press because of the variety of subjects she covered. She was not a "women's page" writer, although no doubt some of her pieces ended up there. She took mighty swings at the foundations of Omaha and of Nebraska, but she was gentle in her treatment of help centers and aid societies. She understood the plight of prostitutes and condemned the people she saw as hypocrites. …

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