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Jane Grey Swisshelm

Posted by: | October 9, 2012 | No Comment |

On Thursday October 4, 2012 Senate Historian Donald Richie came and spoke to the History of Journalism course.

Donald Richie is the historian for the United States Senate. He came and spoke to the class regarding the access to Congress and the relationship that the city of Washington D.C. has with the reporters that cover/covered the city.

Jane Grey Swisshelm
Minnesota Historical Society Photograph Collection

One such individual was Jane Grey Swisshelm. Swisshlem  was both a journalist and an abolitionist. She began her journalism career when she submitted poems and stories to papers in Philadelphia where she lived. She began publishing her own abolitionist newspaper entitled the Pittsburgh Saturday Visitor. In it, Swisshelm wrote about the growing need for women’s rights and to end slavery.

Swisshelm in 1850 became the first women to be allowed t in the Senate press gallery as a journalist. When she covered the U.S. Senate, Swisshelm worked for the New York Tribune.

While covering the senate, she reported on the controversial issue of the Compromise of 1850 which, “admitted California as a free state and abolished the slave trade in the District of Columbia also included a Fugitive Slave provision which required Northern sheriffs and other officials to cooperate actively in the recapture of escaped slaves.”

Swisshelm became highly critical of then Senator Daniel Webster from Massachusettes who was a supporter of the compromise. She began reporting on the person life of Senator Webster writing about his illegitimate children and his habitual drinking problem. She quickly became a household name for her reports in a time when the lives of politicians were not published or discussed.  Swisshelm was publicly criticised and later moved to to Minnesota to create her own paper.

Swisshlem is was a pioneer in the field of journalism. When she passed away Alice Lee Weston wrote in the Chicago Daily Tribune that Swisshelm was, “the pioneer of her sex in vigorous and effective journalism. She went into newspaper life when the sentiment of the public was against women expressing opinion in print on any subject stronger than roses or ribbons.”

On July 24, 1884 the Chicago Daily Tribune  also wrote of Swisshelm that, “as a writer no woman of her time, and very few men, have wielded such a sharp, powerful, and an incisive pen.” Swisshlelm was a household name, such as the likes of Edward R. Murrow during McCarthyism and today individuals such as Tom Brokaw and the late Tim Russert.

When studying the history of journalism it is important to note Swisshlem’s contribution to not only the abolitionist papers, but also in pioneering the way for women journalists.

For more accounts of Swisshelm the following are links to The New York Times  and The Christian Science Monitor:
New York Times Jane Swisshelm
Christian Science Monitor Swisshlem 

under: Comm 455
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