Women stamped into our memory

Four women pioneers in the field of journalism, who left an indelible mark on the profession, were honored on commemorative stamps issued by the U.S. Post Office. Ida M. Tarbell, Nellie Bly, Ethel L. Payne and Marguerite Higgins were celebrated by the release of the stamps on Sept. 14, 2002.

Each stamp, designed by Fred Otnes of West Redding, Conn., features a collage of a black-and-white photographs merged with headlines and mastheads from each woman’s career.

Tarbell (1857 – 1944) was one of the original “muckraking” investigative journalists, renowned for her work both domestically and abroad. Born in a log cabin in Erie, Pa., Tarbell was fascinated by the sciences at an early age and was the only woman in Allegheny College’s 1880 graduating class to major in biology.

She is best known for her expos? “History of the Standard Oil Company,” a two-volume set published in 1904, which led to the downfall of John D. Rockefeller’s monopoly and its stranglehold on the American oil history.

She interviewed Benito Mussolini in 1926, and wrote about other famous historical figures, including Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln. She also published an autobiography, “All in the Day’s Work.”

Bly (1867-1922), another muckraker, was born Elizabeth Cochrane in Cochran Mills, Pa. She began her journalism career writing about the lives of ordinary women, but it soon expanded to exposing problems of marriage and divorce laws.

Bly went on to investigate corruption in the Mexican government before working for Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World.” She feigned mental illness to reveal abuse and mistreatment at Blackwell Island, a mental institution. She was the first woman to cover the Eastern Front of World War I.

Payne (1911-1991) was known as the first lady of the black press. Born in Chicago, she wrote for “The Chicago Defender” for 27 years about the rights of minorities, especially civil rights.

Payne earned her title as first lady of the black press by aggressively reporting events in Washington, D.C. She was the first African-American to work for a National Network, CBS, as a commentator on both radio and television.

Payne revealed scandals such as segregation in the military and the abandoned Japanese babies fathered by American troops. She said that journalists should renounce objectivity in the face of such crucial issues affecting so many people.

Higgins (1920 – 1966) earned her masters in journalism at Columbia University. She worked for the New York Tribune, where she covered World War II. She documented the atrocities of war and the concentration camps as well as the war’s aftermath, including the Nuremberg Trials and tension between East and West Europe.

She covered the Korean War as well, convincing General Douglas MacArthur to make an exception for her when all women were banned from the front lines. She followed troops behind enemy lines and her stories gave a different spin to the war.

For her courage, she was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetary.

– Information obtained from mwhp.org.