The Styles of Florida Newspaper Women
Documenting and celebrating the role of women in history is often easier said than done, and the theoretical positions and methodological approaches to doing so make up entire subfields within the academic universe. When I began to write this series for our blog, I was reminded of the stark reality of historical newspapers: the majority of the authors are men, and even if women did contribute, there is a good chance that little is known about their lives outside of the columns and articles they left behind. To be fair, more may be known about women authors in larger cities, but my research on the four main credited editors of the Pensacola Journal’s women’s section*, between September 1905 and December 1914 yielded little in the way of information about these women outside of their contributions to the paper. Despite this roadblock, let’s take this time in March to look in this section of the Pensacola Journal during the tenures of E. Nellie Beck, Aurelie Marean Bernard, Bonnie Burnham, and Celia Myrover Robinson. If you missed our first post in this series, you can find our overview of women’s newspaper sections here.
E. Nellie Beck, editor of “Society, People, and Events” between at least January 1, 1905 and August 26, 1906 curated a fairly stereotypical women’s section during her tenure at the paper. Primarily filled with local events and announcements, a regular fashion feature, and advertisements, Beck’s columns have a methodical, predictable feel. While they do contain notices about death and sicknesses, the overall tone of Beck’s writing is simultaneously upbeat and humdrum. The comings and goings of individuals in the Pensacola area are diligently reported, but there’s no real discussion topics that strike the modern reader as controversial. E. Nellie Beck ended her editorial run in August of 1906. After leaving her post as editor, Beck continued to occasionally contribute to the Pensacola Journal in a noticeably different capacity. It seems Beck moved to Denver, Colorado (for reasons unknown), and periodically penned articles about life and culture in Colorado for her former readership. She died in 1928, and is buried next to her mother in Denver.
The next editor of the “People and Events” section was Aurelie Marean Bernard, who helmed the column from September 23, 1906, when she was announced as the new manager of the department until October 9, 1908 when the last column featuring her name ran. In many ways, Bernard ran a very similar column to her predecessor. There is, however, one notable difference in Bernard’s columns that subsequent editors kept; the inclusion of poetry at the beginning of the column. Anyone who has an interest in literature or women’s lives in the early 20th century will find the content of these poems fascinating. Like the women’s section they are found in, the topics of these poems reflect the social concerns of women and address topics like love, beauty and aging, suitable marriages, and wealth, as well as more jovial subjects like the appreciation of nature. The poems themselves come from a variety of sources including other newspapers. Because so many poems are credited with the location they were originally found, it is difficult to determine the authors of many. However, a considerable number of the poems during Bernard’s editorial leadership feature women poets. While some may certainly be pseudonyms, there is at least the idea that these sections were curated by women and for women beyond just the editors themselves.
Perhaps the most prolific editor of the women’s section of the Pensacola Journal was Bonnie Burnham. Moving to the Pensacola area in 1907, Burnham had already served on the staff of the Sun in Whiting Indiana. The very section she would soon edit reports her vacation to the area in April 1907, describing “Miss Bonnie Burnham” as “a bright young newspaper woman from Chicago.” Burnham seems to have taken over as editor in January 1909 and maintained that position until September 1912. However, unlike her predecessors, Burnham also contributed articles outside of “People and Events.” Prior to, during, and after her tenure as editor of the women’s page, bylines featuring her name can be found regularly throughout the Pensacola Journal where she reported on a variety of topics. The last mention of Burnham in the Pensacola Journal can be in the “People and Events” section on April 7, 1914. Her successor, Celia Myrover Robinson, reports Burnahm’s marriage to Jack Randall and features a picture of the bride. After her marriage, all mentions of the productive newspaper contributor cease.
Burnham’s articles in the main body of the paper are in some ways an extension of the women’s page, but are clearly intended for a broader (male) audience. These pieces generally cover morality in male/female interaction, the vacation culture of the area, and other concerns that were typically relegated to women writers. However, she also authored pieces on more serious political topics. For example, an article from June 9, 1908 covers, in great detail, a bill to be proposed to the next state legislature that would provide funding for a state road creation and maintenance system. Another, from September 13, 1908 covers a “thrilling story” of a “Pensacolian who was in the African Slave Trade” between 1857 and 1858. Historically, this isn’t surprising. In her book on women journalists, historian Alice Fahs states that “with a range of other types of assignments available-from book reviews to woman’s page articles to ‘all round’ reporting-newspaper work offered a welcome alternative to such occupations as teaching.” (7) In Burnham’s case, it seems that her assignments also included more general editing, and later in her career, she served as co-editor of the Pensacola Journal’s Covington County and Escambia County editions.
Given that Bonnie Burnham was an articulate newspaper woman, it may be somewhat surprising to discover she authored at least one piece for the paper against women’s suffrage. In the piece, which was “written by request” for the March 31st 1912 edition of the paper, Burnham states that she doesn’t “believe that it is a practical idea.” She argues that she doesn’t believe the “woman-mind” was constructed “to take care of the home and the nation’s affairs at the same time.” It appears Burnham agreed with a very dualistic system of social responsibility, one in which women managed the household while men handled the outside world. This, she concludes, makes women “of more use to the world than the greatest politician.” The overall tone of the article is defensive. Judging by the scathing response found in the paper on April 7, 1912 by Nellie M. Jerauld, Burnham likely knew she would face criticism from the community for her position on the matter.
The last editor of “Society, People, and Events” we currently have in our archives is Celia Myrover Robinson who took over after Burnham stepped down, but had filled in during Burnham’s extended bouts of sickness. The most noticeable departure from Burnham’s time as editor is that Robinson was an ardent suffragist, and she used the section she edited to promote suffrage meetings and other activities. Robinson served as the chairman of the press committee for the Pensacola Equal Suffrage League and certainly used her position at the paper to promote their activities. Beyond simply including mention of these meetings in her column, they frequently received top billing above all other news. On Labor Day 1914, the League edited a special “Equal Suffrage Edition” within the larger paper to report on suffrage activities locally, nationally, and internationally. The section itself is 12 pages long and, in addition to providing information on the topic, this “Suffrage Edition” also features advertisements from companies who enthusiastically supported the suffragist cause. Since Robinson edited the section past our current end point of this run, we are left to wonder if she organized similar issues the years leading up to the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920.
Looking at the development of the Pensacola Journal women’s page, we as modern readers can trace the transition from it being solely a style and society column to a section that also contains moral and political commentary. Focusing on the tenures of the editors of the Pensacola Journal women’s page allows us to see their individual interests and biases. Text searchable digital databases like Chronicling America, while limited in scope given the largess of the American newspaper industry, allow historians to restore women’s lives in our cultural history because women can literally be searched for within these documents.
*This section goes by a variety of names including “Society,” “People and Events,” “Over the Coffee Cups,” and “Society-People-Events.”
Celia Myrover Robinson-Pensacola, Fla. Archived March 14, 1914. UWF University Archives and West Florida History Center, Pensacola Florida. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://archives.uwf.edu/Archon/?p=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=264.
Fahs, Allice. Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.