Front-Page Girls: Women Journalists in American Culture and Fiction, 1880-1930

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The first study of the role of the newspaperwoman in American literary culture at the turn of the twentieth century, this book recaptures the imaginative exchange between real-life reporters like Nellie Bly and Ida B. Wells and fictional characters like Henrietta Stackpole, the lady-correspondent in Henry James's Portrait of a Lady. It chronicles the exploits of a neglected group of American women writers and uncovers an alternative reporter-novelist tradition that runs counter to the more familiar story of gritty realism generated in male-dominated newsrooms. Taking up actual newspaper accounts written by women, fictional portrayals of female journalists, and the work of reporters-turned-novelists such as Willa Cather and Djuna Barnes, Jean Marie Lutes finds in women's journalism a rich and complex source for modern American fiction. Female journalists, cast as both standard-bearers and scapegoats of an emergent mass culture, created fictions of themselves that far outlasted the fleeting news value of the stories they covered.Front-Page Girls revives the spectacular stories of now-forgotten newspaperwomen who were not afraid of becoming the news themselves—the defiant few who wrote for the city desks of mainstream newspapers and resisted the growing demand to fill women's columns with fashion news and household hints. It also examines, for the first time, how women's journalism shaped the path from news to novels for women writers.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Lutes puts her academic expertise and knowledge of the newspaper profession—she's a former staff writer for the Miami Herald"To superb use in this fascinating, clearly enunciated examination of the historical and cultural role of the American woman journalist during the decades bridging the 19th and 20th centuries. . . . Lutes reclaims the female reporter's pioneering and transformative position, first historically (e.g., Nellie Bly's exposing social ills; Ida B. Wells's fight against lynching), then as conjured in fiction by Henry James and such former newspaper women as Willa Cather and Edna Ferber. . . . Especially in consideration of today's body-conscious media culture—whether in front of, behind, or via hidden camera—Lutes's work is a revelation."—Library Journal, 15 December 2006

"In the sensational press of a century or more ago, women did not rise by quietly doing their chores. The way to get ahead was to make oneself the story, often by assuming an undercover role and emerging to report the dangers, bodily and otherwise, that one had faced. . . . Jean Marie Lutes, once a reporter herself, finds scholarly diversion in reconsidering the roles sex and body played in the work of the stunt girls and the sob sisters. She also contemplates such fictional journalists as Henry James's Henrietta Stackpole, who became James's symbol of the evils of the popular press."—James Boylan, Columbia Journalism Review, March/April 2007

"As Jean Marie Lutes uncovers stories of girl stunt reporters, the first African American newswomen, and sob sisters—writers who specialized in wringing tears from the reader—it becomes very clear that it would be hard for a young journalist today to have an experience like these women . . . thankfully. The history begins with tales of the girl student reporters who would feign madness to report from the inside of a New York City asylum or spend days in cigarette factories following young girls forced to work under sweatshop conditions."—Bust, April/May 2007

"Lutes supports her arguments with . . . evidence from journalism archives as well as from pamphlets, popular novels, and other ephemera. . . . Her carefully considered close readings and rhetorical analyses that distinguish this project. Writing in clear, journalistic prose herself, Lutes identifies a particularly female literary tradition among these varied writers. . . . She focuses on the American fascination with and disdain for the female journalist, and, finally, the attempts of the journalist-turned-author to reconcile the performativity and sentimentality of female authorship with a modernist aesthetic. . . . Exploring a diverse array of authors across a fifty-year period, Lutes organizes her work around a unifying thesis that makes this book an important contribution to the fields of journalism, history, literary studies, and popular culture."—Verna Kale, Journal of Popular Culture 40:2, 2007

"This study's major contributions lie in its sharp refocusing of the nexus of journalism and literature in order to illuminate the contributions of women in both fields. . . . While Front-Page Girls is partly a recovery project, bringing to scholarly attention forgotten literary texts and episodes in media history, it is also a much-needed supplement to the longstanding discussion on the intersections of fiction and journalism."—Sari Edelstein, American Literature, December 2007

"Ambitious and provocative. . . For historians, Lutes's well-written, acutely observed book provides a theoretically sophisticated provocation to further study."—Patricia A. Schechter, American Historical Review, October 2007

"Front-Page Girls is conspicuously well written. The prose is clear, vivid, and sophisticated while sustaining a high degree of complexity in the analysis. The cultural history Lutes presents is compelling and important. She is an exceptionally skillful critic and interpreter and is able to combine close readings of textual passages with persuasive arguments about the cultural significance of women in journalism."—Nancy Bentley, University of Pennsylvania

"Jean Marie Lutes challenges accounts linking the developing standard of journalistic objectivity to the emergence of realist fiction, both of which were seen as male domains. In so doing she adds a new aspect to the story: how women journalists-both white and African American-contributed to journalism and to literary culture."—Elizabeth Faue, Wayne State University

"Front-Page Girls is a splendid addition to the literature of journalism and literary history from the perspective of women's studies. This seminal work provides a much-needed examination of the careers of American women journalists in fact and fiction from 1880 to 1930 by merging literary and journalism history. It points out that women journalists, long trivialized as stunt girls and sob sisters, played important roles in a mass-produced commodity culture that marketed their own femininity along with their news stories. Studying the intersections of race, class, and gender in depicting women journalists, Lutes makes a convincing case that they have not been given the attention they deserve from scholars who have overlooked their significance as symbols of contested womanhood. She tells a compelling tale of women who personified both authorship and spectacle as they entered a new world of publicity and power dominated by images of their bodies as emblems of women's place in a modern America."—Maurine Beasley, University of Maryland, College Park

Library Journal
Lutes (English, Villanova Univ.) puts her academic expertise and knowledge of the newspaper profession-she's a former staff writer for the Miami Herald-to superb use in this fascinating, clearly enunciated examination of the historical and cultural role of the American woman journalist during the decades bridging the 19th and 20th centuries. The story we all absorb, she points out, is the "male-defined model of journalism," with a pretense of reasoned neutrality. Lutes reclaims the female reporter's pioneering and transformative position, first historically (e.g., Nelly Bly's exposing social ills; Ida B. Wells's fight against lynching), then as conjured in fiction by Henry James and such former newspaper women as Willa Cather and Edna Ferber. Lutes's disciplined use of the language of critical discourse enlightens rather than excludes general readers as she traces women reporters' "performative" tactics (e.g., Bly infiltrating a New York City asylum as a patient in order to write about and condemn the treatment there), leaving the original "women's pages" on gardening and fashion to make societal circumstances into news. She notes the essential role these women's physical selves played in their endeavors. Especially in consideration of today's body-conscious media culture-whether in front of, behind, or via hidden camera-Lutes's work is a revelation. For public libraries covering media or women's studies and for all academic libraries.-Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801442353
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction     1
Into the Madhouse with Girl Stunt Reporters     12
The African American Newswoman as National Icon     39
The Original Sob Sisters: Writers on Trial     65
A Reporter-Heroine's Evolution     94
From News to Novels     119
Epilogue: Girl Reporters on Film     161
Notes     207
Bibliography     201
Index     219
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