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Serial and Government Publications Division



Using the Newspaper Collection
Women and the News Business
PATHFINDER: Women's Editions of Daily Newspapers
arrow graphicFinding Women in Newspapers
Women as Audience






Finding Women in Newspapers
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“Notice: I hereby forewarn all persons against crediting my wife, Delilah McConnell.” Cherokee Phoenix May 25,1828. Serial and Government Publications Division. LC-DIG-ppmsca-02912 (scan from b&w copy photo in Publishing Office)

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As one of the most readily accessible media for the general population of America, newspapers present a rich and full picture of the daily life of women over time. Not only is the content of the articles revealing, but their placement in an issue or on a page, next to an advertisement or a photograph, speaks volumes about the newspaper editors' assumptions about audience views of women.

Announcements of births, weddings, and deaths traditionally document women's place in society. The presence or absence of obituaries for women, as well as their content, is indicative of women's status in society. Likewise, employment ads in newspapers indicate wider societal viewpoints, and not just by job titles and salaries: until the late 1960s, want ads segregated by gender were commonplace in all major newspapers.

Of course, women were also the subject of newspaper articles. As early as colonial times, articles reporting crimes against women or by women were numerous, the more sensational the better. One of the first news reports about a colonial American woman described a purported kidnapping of a servant girl by four Indians. However, according to a handwritten notation on the page containing this report in the Library's copy of the Boston Newsletter of May 8, 1704 (News MF 1930 ESR Mass Na reel 1), this was a false report: “This story was a fiction contrived by the girl to excuse her too long stay at the spring with a young man who met her there.” In the early American press, women were depicted in two basic, and opposite, ways—as either the virtuous woman or the vicious woman.

Later, the undercover investigations by Nellie Bly (1864-1922), Winifred Black, and others focused on women in jeopardy, and society's horrified reaction to their discoveries often led to reform. Nellie Bly's portrayal of a deranged, Spanish-speaking woman committed to Blackwell's Island asylum published in the New York World (News MF 1363) was one of the first exposés concerning the taboo subject of mental illness.13 When Winifred Black, writing as Annie Laurie, went undercover as a vagrant in 1890 for the San Francisco Examiner (News Self-Service), her writings increased the newspaper's circulation and led to a complete review of hospital services for the poor as well as the creation of San Francisco's first ambulance service.

Researching women as the subject of news articles can be done using standard search strategies—searching available and pertinent newspaper indexes, reviewing newspaper histories for discussions of women in newspapers, and scanning secondary sources (books, dissertations, journal articles) for useful citations. To study an individual woman, researchers may need to search the broader topics she is associated with (instead of her name), since names are not always listed consistently in indexes. General and subject-specialized periodical indexes may provide approximate dates for researching women and women's issues in local (unindexed) newspapers.

More recently, scholarly attention has turned to what is not usually indexed—advertisements, want ads, and obituaries—to discover how women were viewed during their lifetime and what newspapers considered to be of importance to a female audience.

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