Fahs ’73 explores the lives of early women journalists

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New book: Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space, by Alice Fahs ’73 (University of North Carolina Press)

 
The author: A professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, Fahs studies the social and cultural history of 19th- and early-20th-century America. Her previous books include The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature of the North and South, 1861-1865 (2001).
 
The book: Out on Assignment “examines some of the hundreds of little-known newspaper women who entered metropolitan work for mass-circulation dailies at the turn of the century,” she has said. While many of the women she writes about were well known at the time, Fahs said, they have been neglected because many of them wrote for sensational or “yellow” newspapers and for the women’s page. Fahs argues that their work — including celebrity interviews, advice columns, and a campaign in support of suffrage — opened up new opportunities for careers and lifestyles.
 

Opening lines: “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 [who] met accidentally Thursday evening at a restaurant on Broadway,’ she began her first column. …  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.”
 
(From Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space, by Alice Fahs. Copyright © 2011 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.)
 
Review: Library Journal called the book an “accessible cultural history. In seven chapters covering such topics as the personalities of women newspaper writers, the style and impact of papers’ popular ‘women’s pages’ and human interest stories, and how women writers undertook ‘stunt’ journalism and travel adventures, Fahs combines quotations from the journalists … with primary research and scholarly citations.”

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