Welcome to New York
I'm off for New York. Look out for me.
New York City, 1887
did not take New York by storm. Not at first, not as she had planned.
She had arrived in spring, when the city was bursting into bloom and the
air full of promise, with a hundred dollars in her purse along with her
clips from her days at the Pittsburgh Dispatch and ambition to burn. Of
course she would get a job as a reporter for one of the big city papers
(even though it was hardly done for a woman). Of course she would
become a sensation (even though it was widely agreed that a woman should
do no such thing).
Nellie was good at two things: asking questions and believing in herself.
even Nellie was starting to lose her spark and swagger as spring, with
its blossoms and joyous air, turned into a hot, stinking New York City
summer and no one on Newspaper Row had the time of day for a girl
reporter. Not the Herald, not the Sun, not the Mail and Express, not the
Times and not the World. She really had her heart set on the World, but
at this point, she would take anything.
For months now,
she had been walking up and down Newspaper Row, going from one newspaper
office to the next, inquiring about available positions, only to be
turned away, sometimes to uproarious laughter from some red-faced older
gentleman, or with a smirk from some young man with less experience than
she. A girl! In the newsroom!
And that was if she could
even get past the intimidating men hired to guard the gates and protect
the reporters and editors inside from dangerous creatures like outraged
readers, or people who believed themselves slandered in the pages-or
young, female aspiring journalists. Was she dangerous? She didn't feel
Nellie had started out young, fresh-faced,
smartly dressed, wildly optimistic and cheerful. Too cheerful, perhaps.
But as the days wore on, the heat and the rejections were starting to
crawl under her skin. No one wanted to hear of her qualifications or her
ideas for stories about immigrants and women and interviews with
notable women of the day. No one wanted to see her clips from the
Dispatch, like her series about factory girls or her reports from
Mexico. All those precious clips were now softly frayed at the edges
from so much time in her purse.
The heat was taking the curl out of her hair.
was now September and she had one-one-soul-crushing assignment from
good old Erasmus, back in Pittsburgh. A pity assignment, a way to throw
her some money so she could carry on struggling in the big city. But it
was, if she did say so herself, a smartly conceived way to get herself
in front of all those big, important and powerful newspapermen who
refused to give her the time of day. Nellie's idea was to interview all
the top newspaper editors in the city about women's role in journalism.
She had dreamed it up as a ruse to get past the guards at the front door
of all the offices and into the newsrooms-a way to demonstrate a female
reporter at work, right before their eyes. Her hunch was correct:
Editors were more than willing to talk to her if it meant she had to
smile and take notes while they shared their (absurd) opinions on lady
Women can't get the story
To Dr. Hepworth at the Herald, Nellie posed the question: "Do you object to women entering newspaper life?"
Hepworth, who had served in the war as a preacher, gave her a kindly
smile, the sort one gave to small children before attempting to explain a
complicated concept. She smiled blandly back at him and prepared
herself for his answer.
"I personally may not object," he
said, stroking his mustache as he spoke thoughtfully, "but the fact is a
girl just isn't going to get the news."
"Please do explain."
I cannot send her to a crime scene; the police will only give her as
little information as possible to get rid of her. The criminal courts
will be no different. Crime scenes and courts are no place for ladies;
therefore a female reporter would be worse than useless."
"And that is a fact?"
about crime scenes involving women? Or women who are taken to the
criminal courts? You're not suggesting that if we went down to the
courts right now, we'd find only men."
"Well, the sort of
women that you'd find there aren't ladies." Hepworth's cheeks colored
slightly. A gentleman didn't discuss these sorts of women with someone
like Nellie, who seemed respectable enough. Or was she? She caught his
gaze lingering, as he tried to decide. Nellie knew she looked quite
respectable, thank you very much, but her mere presence in his office
suggested otherwise. He was most likely struggling with the conundrum.
Nellie pressed on with her questions. "Could those women become
"Of course not." He chuckled. "They are disreputable and uneducated."
frowned slightly. "So, a woman must be respectable to be a reporter,
yet she cannot be a reporter because she is too respectable to go to the
places a reporter must go." Hepworth blinked at her. Nellie met his
gaze. "I just want to make sure that I understand you. To confirm that
you see no opportunity for a woman in journalism."
"No," Hepworth said with a huff. And after some thought he added, "Though the ladies' pages would be an option."
save Nellie from the ladies' pages. If a woman was lucky enough to get a
job working for a paper-which spared her from working in a factory, or
as a domestic or a wife (shudder)-she would have to spend her days
writing about household hints and recipes, garden shows and charity
luncheons. It was mind-numbingly tedious and she wanted to avoid it at
all costs. It was one reason why she had left Pittsburgh.
Hence her arrival in New York City.
Hence her attempts to get hired to cover the news. Actual, breaking news.
wrote down women can't get the news, then she thanked Dr. Hepworth for
his time and service in the war and went on her way.
Women are not as accurate as men
there, Nellie went next door to the Sun, where she met with the
esteemed Charles Dana. When she arrived, he slipped on a pair of
gold-rimmed glasses and gazed at her curiously, as if he had never quite
seen a woman involved with journalism before. She was seated in a
comfortable chair in his office, which was quite homey with all its
books and papers. There was a lovely view of city hall and the leafy
park surrounding it. She was ready with her notebook open and her pencil
Nellie was ready for the worst but hoping for the best.
are not regarded with editorial favor in New York," Dana told her with
the confidence of a man of a certain age who had thousands of daily
readers of his paper, paying to consume his opinions along with their
morning coffee. Still, it rankled. Especially when he said things like:
"Women are simply not as accurate as men."
Nellie wrote this down, verbatim.
"A journalist must be accurate," he told her, as if she was unaware of that fact.
Here Nellie groaned mentally for the fate of the interview.
Women are too emotional
are too emotional," Robert Morris at the Telegram informed her with
great authority. "We can't have a girl reporter swooning at a murder
scene or fainting at a fire."
Nellie had to bite the
inside of her cheek to keep from scoffing. She'd seen danger and
violence aplenty at home (her mother had not remarried well). She'd seen
deadly fires so close that the heat of the flames had singed her
skirts. At fourteen, she'd testified at a trial, solemnly taking the
stand and telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Her story
on factory girls wasn't for the faint of heart-those machines could and
did mangle a hand or scalp-and Nellie recorded all their stories,
sparing no detail.
All of which was to say that Mr.
Morris, like most men, had a precious idea of a woman's constitution
that did not seem to be based in the facts of women's lives.
are fundamentally unequipped for the rigors of reporting," he told her
in no uncertain terms. She wrote this down calmly and unemotionally,
even though she wanted to throw a dictionary at his head. "All the
sensations and scandals in the press are inappropriate for ladies' eyes.
We could never task a female reporter with that class of news."
pasted a polite smile on her face. One always had to be polite when
challenging a man in a position of authority; they didn't take kindly to
it. In fact, one could say it even made them emotional.
"Women read the newspapers, just as men do. What is the difference between reading and writing that class of news?"
He gave a hearty chuckle. "That's why we have the ladies' pages, my dear. So the ladies have something suitable to read."
"And do you really think that's the only section of the newspaper that they read?"
The flicker of shock in his eyes told her he hadn't ever thought about it.
Women don't need the money
his desk in the corner of the bustling newsroom, Foster Coates at the
Mail and Express shared the opinion that there was probably nothing
wrong with a woman writing for a newspaper. He continued to say, in so
many words, that men were the ones who, in addition to being more
constitutionally suited to the rigors of the job by being emotionally
dead both inside and out, were thus the better to report the facts.
he said, with a dramatic pause. "Men have families to support. They
have wives, children and other helpless dependents."
about women without a father, husband or brother to support them?"
Nellie inquired coolly. Asking for a friend. Asking for me. Asking for
her mother, back home in Pittsburgh, waiting for Nellie to establish
herself in New York so she could support them here. Asking for all the
women like her mother, with dead or drunk or deadbeat husbands. Asking
for the smart spinsters who had known better than to marry but who still
needed to eat.
"Well, a woman ought to find one! Any man
should do." Mr. Foster chuckled. Nellie couldn't bring herself to laugh
along with him, even politely, because she knew that not any man would
do. Some men were definitely worse than no man at all.
A woman's experience isn't enough
the Times, Nellie pretended to be an applicant. Pretended. She had to
laugh at that, since in truth she would gladly accept almost any job at
this point, if it would only get her in a newsroom. Or in proximity to a
newsroom. She had no doubt that once she was in, she could conquer
"And what might you do?" The editor, a balding
man by the name of Charles Ransom Miller, inquired. Her heart skipped a
beat. This was . . . promising?
"Anything," Nellie replied. "Literally anything. There's nothing I can't do, given the chance."
she wouldn't do. Probably. She didn't want to seem too eager, but also,
she was very eager. Her funds were dwindling. Her pride wanted
encouragement. Her brain wanted something to take on.
Miller regarded her thoughtfully for a moment. A long moment in which
she felt hope. But then a man-one younger than her, with a pimpled
complexion and wearing a wrinkled suit-approached, also to apply. And
just like that Nellie was shuffled out of the way, out the door and back
onto the street.
We already have one woman-isn't that enough?
Nellie got to the building that housed the offices of the World, she
paused reverentially outside while busy men and workingwomen swarmed
around her. The World was a paper for the rest of them-not the wealthy,
or snobby or elites, but the immigrants, the poor, the masses, the
workingmen and-women. It was a paper for sensation, crusade and scandal.
It was her first choice of a paper to write for, if she had a choice.
the World, Nellie walked slowly through the lobby in awe. After
confirming with the guard on duty that she did indeed have an interview,
she rode the elevator to the top floor and managed to catch a moment
with the editor, Colonel John Cockerill, who seemed annoyed to be
interrupted from a profanity-laden tirade at a young male assistant
("Damn it to hell, Hearst, if I've told you once . . . !"). Nellie dared
"Women in journalism?" He repeated her
question with a bark. He pushed his hair out of his eyes. Like he had to
think about it because he had honestly never considered it before.
Hope, it fell in her chest. "A man is of far greater service," he said.
And then: "Anyway, we have a woman on staff already. So, it's not a
Nellie bit back a sharp hiss of Who
is she? Who was this lucky woman who had the constitution to withstand
crime and sensation, who could write down facts and report them, who
could get intelligence from the police and the criminal courts? Who was
She was probably just writing for the ladies' pages,
Nellie thought meanly. She was probably just writing about who wore what
to which party while people starved in the streets. She probably wrote
about high fashion and swishy silk dresses, salacious gossip and elegant
charity luncheons. There was nothing to be jealous of.
She was still jealous.
And now she was increasingly desperate. And, damn it, Robert Morris at the Telegram, she was feeling emotional.
And then her purse was stolen on the train back uptown.
Her purse with her clips, her notebook full of quotes and every last penny to her name.
The Girl Puzzle
Mrs. Parkhill's Boardinghouse
New York City
next morning, Nellie awoke on her narrow bed and looked out the window.
Or tried to. As befitting most rooms that she could afford in the city,
her view was of a neighboring building's brick wall. But if she turned
her head just so, and contorted her body in a certain way that rumpled
the blanket and pinched her neck, she could catch a glimpse of sky, all
bright and clear blue. It promised to be a beautiful day.
Except for the fact that she had no money, no friends, no job, and no real prospects.