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Women Journalists Honored on Stamps

Nellie Bly, Marguerite Higgins, Ethel L. Payne, and Ida M. Tarbell

September 14, 2002
Stamp Release #02-063

FORT WORTH, Texas - The U.S. Postal Service honored four accomplished female journalists, Nellie Bly, Marguerite Higgins, Ethel L. Payne and Ida M. Tarbell, with the issuance of 37-cent commemorative postage stamps.

A special ceremony marking the stamps first day of issue was held Saturday morning, during the National Convention of the Society of Professional Journalists Sunshine and First Amendment Awards breakfast in Fort Worth.

The Women in Journalism stamps are available at post offices across the country.

"The Women in Journalism stamps evoke the free and creative spirit of the United States," said Francia G. Smith, Vice President and Consumer Advocate for the Postal Service, who dedicated the stamps. "We're sure these stamps will be very popular with our customers and stamp collectors, as well as all those who value the landmark accomplishments of women in our society and the great journalists throughout history."

Joining Smith at the first day of issue ceremony were Helen Thomas, columnist for the Hearst Newspapers; Al Cross, President, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ); Rena Pederson, Editor-At-Large, Dallas Morning News; and Michael S. Flores, Fort Worth's District Manager. Honored guests included John Vallie, Postmaster, Fort Worth.

"I am deeply honored to salute the four newspaper women journalists who will be immortalized on the new commemorative postage stamps entitled, 'Women in Journalism,'" said Thomas. "They were unsung heroines in their time and displayed great courage and great integrity in uplifting the profession of journalism. They also made great contributions to America by exposing corruption, the inhumanity of social discrimination and the horror of war. And they understood the need to keep the American people informed about the great issues that affected all their lives in the 20th century."

"As the nation's oldest and broadest journalism organization, SPJ is proud to host this event honoring the contributions of all women journalists, as exemplified by the four stellar examples depicted on these stamps," said Al Cross, outgoing president of SPJ and political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. "These stamps convey the message that journalism was one of the early career opportunities for women, and that it continues to play an essential role in our diverse democracy."

Nellie Bly, Marguerite Higgins, Ethel L. Payne and Ida M. Tarbell made their contributions to journalism at different times, but they were all trailblazers in a field dominated by men. Avoiding the limitations of working on women's or society pages, they entered the fields of investigative journalism, war correspondence and political reporting. Through their work they won awards and fame and opened doors for future women journalists.

Nellie Bly (1864-1922) was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Cochrans Mills, Pa. In 1885, angered by a column in The Pittsburg Dispatch, she sent an anonymous letter to the editor. Impressed with her letter, the editor ran an ad seeking the writer's identity.

After meeting Cochran, he hired her to write an article about "a woman's place in the world." She soon became a permanent member of the staff and began to use the pen name Nellie Bly, taken from the popular Stephen Foster song "Nelly Bly."

In 1887 Bly moved to New York City and was hired by The World a newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer. For her first assignment she feigned insanity and gained admittance to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwells Island (now Roosevelt Island). Bly's account of her experience exposed the poor treatment of patients in the asylum.

Given the task of traveling around the world in fewer than 80 days, Bly achieved widespread fame in 1889 as she raced around the world to beat the record set by Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg. She began her voyage on Nov.14, 1889, setting sail from New Jersey for England. Before her journey ended 72 days later, Bly had traveled by train, rickshaw and burro to achieve her goal.

Bly was one of the first female stunt reporters who participated in dangerous or sensational activities in order to capture readers' attention. Her success, as well as the social issues her stories highlighted, helped open the profession to coming generations of women journalists who wanted to write hard news rather than be relegated to light features and society columns.

Marguerite Higgins (1920-1966) covered World War II, Korea and Vietnam and in the process advanced the cause of equal access for female war correspondents. In 1951 she was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.

Eager to become a war correspondent, Higgins persuaded the management of the New York Herald Tribune to send her to Europe in 1944. After being stationed in London and Paris, she was reassigned to Germany in March 1945. There she witnessed the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in April 1945 and received an Army campaign ribbon for her assistance during the SS guards' surrender. She later covered the Nuremberg war trials and the Soviet Union's blockade of Berlin.

In 1950 Higgins was named chief of the Tribune's Tokyo bureau. Shortly after her arrival in Japan war broke out in Korea. One of the first reporters on the spot, she was quickly ordered out of the country by a U.S. military commander who argued that women did not belong at the front. An appeal was made to General Douglas MacArthur, who reversed the orders, which was a major breakthrough for all female war correspondents. As a result of her reporting from Korea, Higgins won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, sharing the award with five male war correspondents.

Higgins continued to cover foreign affairs throughout the rest of her life, interviewing world leaders such as Francisco Franco, Nikita Khrushchev and Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1955 she established and was chief of the Tribune's Moscow bureau. In 1963 she joined Newsday and was assigned to cover Vietnam. While on assignment in late 1965, Higgins contracted a tropical disease that led to her death on January 3, 1966.

Award-winning journalist Ethel L. Payne (1911-1991), known as the first lady of the black press, combined advocacy with journalism as she reported on the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1972 she became the first female African-American commentator employed by a national network.

Born in Chicago, Ill., Payne began her journalism career rather unexpectedly while working as a hostess at an Army Special Services club in Japan, a position she had taken in 1948. She allowed a visiting reporter from the "Chicago Defender" to read her journal, which detailed her own experiences as well as those of African-American soldiers. Impressed, the reporter took the journal back to Chicago and soon Payne's observations were being used by the Defender, an African-American newspaper with a national readership, as the basis for front-page stories.

In the early 1950s, Payne moved back to Chicago to work full-time for the Defender. After working there for two years she took over the paper's one-person bureau in Washington, D.C. During Payne's career, she covered several key events in the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery bus boycott and desegregation at the University of Alabama in 1956, as well as the 1963 March on Washington.

Payne earned a reputation as an aggressive journalist who asked tough questions. She once asked President Eisenhower when he planned to ban segregation in interstate travel. The President's angry response that he refused to support special interests made headlines and helped push civil rights issues to the forefront of national debate.

The work of Ida M. Tarbell (1857-1944) has stood the test of time. In 1999 New York University's journalism department ranked her "History of the Standard Oil Company" fifth on its list of the top 100 works of 20th-century American journalism. On Oct. 7, 2000, she was posthumously inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Tarbell was born in Erie County, Pa. After graduating from Allegheny College in 1880 (the only woman in her class), Tarbell moved to Ohio and taught school for two years. In 1882 she moved back to Pennsylvania and a year later took a position with The Chautauquan, a monthly magazine.

In 1891 Tarbell moved to Paris and supported herself by contributing articles to American newspapers and magazines. In 1894 she returned to the United States to work for McClure's Magazine. Her most famous project was an exhaustive investigation of the Standard Oil Company and the methods that John D. Rockefeller, Sr., had used to consolidate his hold on the oil industry. Tarbell's detailed series of articles published from 1902 to 1904 helped bring about legal actions that resulted in the breakup of Standard Oil several years later.

Later in her career, Tarbell traveled as a lecturer and wrote freelance articles, including a report on the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and an interview with Benito Mussolini in the mid-1920s.

For each of these stamps, designer Fred Otnes of West Redding, Conn., created a collage featuring a black-and-white photograph combined with memorabilia such as publication nameplates and story headlines. The four designs are repeated five times each on the 20-stamp pane.

The collage on the Nellie Bly stamp features a circa 1890 black-and-white photograph of Bly. To the left of the photograph is a portion of the nameplate of The World from the Jan. 20, 1890, edition of the paper.

The collage on the Marguerite Higgins stamp features a 1950 black-and-white photograph of Higgins taken by Life photographer Carl Mydans. The picture appeared in Higgins' 1951 book "War in Korea" and was captioned "Miss Higgins after landing at Suwon." The word "Korea" taken from the map on the inside of the back cover of "War in Korea", appears to the right of the photograph. To the left is the New York Herald Tribune nameplate from the Sept. 17, 1950, edition of the paper.

The collage on the Ethel L. Payne stamp features a black-and white photograph of Payne. To the left of the photograph is the nameplate of the Chicago Defender from the April 3, 1954, edition. To the right of Payne's photograph is a headline for her article about the Alabama bus boycott that was published in the Feb. 18, 1956, edition of the Chicago Defender.

The collage on the Ida M. Tarbell stamp features a black-and-white photograph of Tarbell. To the right of the photograph is a portion of the headline "The History of the Standard Oil Company," as well as a portion of the McClures Magazine header, both from page 3 of the magazine's November 1902 issue.

Sixty-one million Women in Journalism self-adhesive 37-cent stamps have been printed. To see the Women in Journalism stamps, visit the Postal Service Web site at www.usps.com and locate the online version of this press release by clicking on "News and Events" then "Philatelic News."

Current U.S. stamps, as well as a free comprehensive catalog, are available toll free by calling 1 800 STAMP-24. In addition, a selection of stamps and other philatelic items are available in the Postal Store at www.usps.com.

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