Early American Newspapers


Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 2: The Rapid Spread of the Epidemic in the United States, Oct. to Dec. 1918

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While the Boston area reeled under the burden of the epidemic, the influenza outbreak was spreading rapidly. On the same date, October 21, 1918, the Belleville News Democrat called the Illinois city of Mascoutah “the Center of Influenza Epidemic in St. Clair County with Three Hundred Cases…” and the Aberdeen Daily News announced “Influenza Epidemic Checked in Boston.” The article in the Aberdeen newspaper continued:

Normal conditions were resumed in this city today when places of public assembly were allowed to reopen by health officials. The places had been closed for nearly three weeks because of the epidemic of influenza which caused nearly 1,000 deaths here.

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Meanwhile, the article in the Belleville paper declared:

Influenza has invaded Mascoutah and today it is reported that there are about 300 cases in the city. Three deaths have already been reported and many more of those afflicted with the disease are said to be seriously ill. New cases are reported hourly.

The Illinois city had begun to establish some prophylactic measures.

Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 2: The Rapid Spread of the Epidemic in the United States, Oct. to Dec. 1918

‘Women Who Wheel’: How the Bicycle Craze of the 1890s Helped to Expand Women’s Freedom

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In the late 19th century women began participating in the bicycle craze which men had enjoyed for two decades. This craze did not last long, but for women it was exciting and liberating. It was mostly affluent society women who defied the naysayers and avidly took to the streets on wheels. By 1889 American newspapers were spreading considerable ink on this latest trend.

In January 1889 the New York Tribune reported on a six-day bicycle race in Madison Square Garden for women only. The competition promised

…an exhibition of woman’s endurance that will rival the female walking matches that took place in certain cities seven or eight years ago….Fifteen women will start in the race and a dozen of the required number have already signed contracts to appear. The women will race eight hours a day instead of twenty-four.

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Two years later in 1891 the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an illustrated article on the “astonishing recent growth of the bicycle habit,” noting particularly that women were flocking to participate. Reporter John Heaton wrote:

‘Women Who Wheel’: How the Bicycle Craze of the 1890s Helped to Expand Women’s Freedom

Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 1: The First Six Weeks of Epidemic in the United States, Sept. to Oct. 1918

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The Spanish Flu, which swept the globe for more than two years and killed as many as 100,000,000, was misnamed. The origins of the 1918 pandemic have been debated, but it is generally accepted that the disease was prevalent among the troops from Germany, France, and Great Britain fighting World War I. Because of the war, the press was censored in those countries. Spain was neutral and the press was not censored. Hence, the early reports of the spread of infection suggested that Spain was the vector. It was not.

Whatever the source, Boston was the first location in the United States to experience an outbreak, probably because of the troop ships and merchant marine vessels returning from Europe. In 1918, between September 10 and October 21, the disease grew exponentially and spread throughout the U.S. as seen in this national news coverage.

On September 10, 1918, the Fort Wayne Sentinel announced in a headline: Epidemic of Influenza Among Sailors in Boston.

Nearly 100 sailors of the merchant marine suffering from influenza, who have been stationed aboard training vessels in Boston harbor, were removed for treatment today to tents pitched on the summit of Corey hill…

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The next day the Pawtucket Times reported that

Spanish Influenza of 1918, Part 1: The First Six Weeks of Epidemic in the United States, Sept. to Oct. 1918

Hetty Green, “Financial Amazon” of the Gilded Age

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At the southern edge of the picturesque village of Bellows Falls, Vermont, stands a modern TD Bank building. Erected on the site of the former home of Hetty Green, it’s a fitting tribute to the richest woman investor of her day who owned banks, railroads, mines and much else besides. When Mrs. Green passed away in 1916 at the age of 81 she left to her children Edward and Sylvia an estate worth upwards of $100 million dollars. Adjusted for inflation that would be about $2.4 billion dollars in 2020. That’s serious money for the “financial Amazon” who took money very seriously, which engendered grudging respect and fear from the “sharks of Wall Street.”

Mrs. Green, the financial Amazon who has proved herself a match for the schemers and sharks of Wall Street, who occasionally engineers mysterious movements there, who has several times put the bears to rout in corners on Reading, in which her clutch on the throats of unfortunate shorts was none the less strong because it was that of a woman’s jeweled hand, was really the cause, it has always been held, of the failure of John J. Cisco’s Sons, the bankers, last year.

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Hetty Green, “Financial Amazon” of the Gilded Age

“Through the tears, confident and determined”: American Women Get the Vote One Century Ago

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August 18, 1920, was a momentous day for the women of America. When Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the act granting equal suffrage for women, which had been passed by Congress earlier in the year, became the law of the land. The preceding months of 1920 was a time of growing enthusiasm, apprehension, and frustration for the women and men who advocated for this landmark legislation.

On January 7, 1920, the Anaconda Standard of Montana published an article headlined “Suffrage Amendment is Still Short in 12 States.” At that time 36 states had to ratify a proposed amendment for the act to be added to the Constitution.

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Two days later, in a widely print Associated Press story, the Democratic leader of New Jersey attacked the amendment calling it “the mother of all ‘isms,’ the greatest menace now threatening the stability of the American government and American institutions.” He added that with along with prohibition the amendment “was forced through an effeminate, absentee congress of cowards by coercion and intimidation.”

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“Through the tears, confident and determined”: American Women Get the Vote One Century Ago

The Great Blondin: ‘Crossing of Niagara on a Rope!’

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The acrobat whose name would become synonymous with tightrope walking was born Jean-François Gravelet in Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais, France. Generally known as Charles Blondin (1824-1897), the performer was also referred to as Jean-François Blondin, Chevalier Blondin, The Great Blondin, and, in his first public appearance, The Boy Wonder.

Blondin traveled to the United States in 1855, joined a circus, and became famous for crossing the Niagara Gorge, at times doing summersaults, on a tightrope. In a series of articles, originally reported in the Rochester Union and reprinted in the Washington, D.C., Constitution, the acrobat himself and his first crossing are described on July 6, 1859, this way: 

“About four o’clock M. Blondin arrived in a carriage decorated with the American and French flags, and was received with cheers from the multitude, music from the bands, and the firing of a cannon, which was answered from the Canada side. A ring was made by a rope, and within the ring was a tight rope six feet above the ground, upon which the preliminary exhibition took place.

The Great Blondin: ‘Crossing of Niagara on a Rope!’

Fish or Cut Bait: Following a Phrase in Early American Newspapers

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The derivation of the phrase “fish or cut bait” is relatively clear, but its meaning has been murky since it became popularized in the mid-nineteenth century. One interpretation is similar to a contemporary idiom more politely expressed as ‘evacuate or vacate the wash closet,’ urging one to either proceed or cease a course of action. Another reading of the expression is it is instructing one to choose between two actions required to attain a particular goal.

An April 30, 1897, New-York Tribune column encouraging Tammany Hall to take action on monetary policy illustrates both the phrase’s origin and that its common usage is incomplete. 

“She must either fish or cut bait,” says “Jimmie.” The fisherman’s formula—intended to express the idea of division of labor with no loafing—is “must either fish, cut bait or go ashore.” The omission of the last choice indicates a purpose of throwing Tammany overboard without giving her a chance to go ashore if she doesn’t either fish or cut bait.

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A Pawtucket Times article from March 24, 1920, describing a call to accomplish the multitude of tasks required to form a fish and game association, also interprets the phrase as a division of labor.

Fish or Cut Bait: Following a Phrase in Early American Newspapers

Women in War: From the American Indian Wars to the American Civil War

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The experiences of women in wartime have been less well documented than those of men. Their contributions, their sufferings and heroism merit closer attention. The wealth of digitized primary sources in Readex collections offer fresh opportunities for researchers to study women who lived through, and often participated in, conflicts across multiple centuries and continents. In this post, we will touch on the diverse roles played by women in American wars from the early days of settlement through the middle of the 19th century.

The earliest European settlements in North America conflicted with the various Indian tribes which populated the eastern lands of the continent. One popular type of publication was the captivity narrative. In 1754 Susanna Willard Johnson and her family were taken captive by the Abenakis and held for four years. After her release she published a popular account.

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Women in War: From the American Indian Wars to the American Civil War

Ribald Renderings, a Nuanced Novella and Informed Innocence: Readex Report (November 2019)

In this issue: Seamy urban newspapers seduce and scandalize readers in 19th-century America, weighty themes abound in yesteryear’s children’s books, and did an 1849 execution inspire an enigmatic American novella?


Washington Goode and Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor: Race and the Death Penalty through Nineteenth-Century Media

By Lenora Warren, Lecturer, Department of English, Ithaca College

Warren-cover-300px.jpgWhat connects the 1849 execution of an obscure African American sailor with Billy Budd, Sailor, the enigmatic novella written by Herman Melville, one of the greatest American writers of the nineteenth century? Perhaps a great deal. Let’s begin with the sailor, a man by the name of Washington Goode, about whom little is known. As a very young man Goode served under Andrew Jackson during the Seminole War, and after the war, he served as a ship’s cook. By 1848 Goode was a resident of “The Black Sea,” a neighborhood frequented by sailors on leave, immigrants, and African Americans, and notorious as a hotbed … > Full Story


The Cultural Work of Child’s Play: Examples from Three Picture Books in Readex Digital Collections

By Laura Wasowicz, Children’s Literature Curator, American Antiquarian Society

Ribald Renderings, a Nuanced Novella and Informed Innocence: Readex Report (November 2019)

Before Hamilton Mania: Joanne B. Freeman on her Scholarly Obsession with an American Enigma

After Joanne B. Freeman’s captivating talk on early congressional violence at the 2019 American Library Association Annual Conference, we sat down with the Yale University history professor to dive deeper into her scholarly interests and use of primary documents. We shared highlights with you in the most recent installment of Readex’s Scholars Speak series; however, no conversation with Freeman would be complete without a focus on Alexander Hamilton.

Decades before Lin Manuel Miranda’s inspiration for the Broadway smash hit, a teenager’s interest in this American enigma was struck in the biography section of her local library. Freeman—who calls herself that “crazy person” who knows more about Hamilton than anybody else—realized upon seeing the musical for the first time that her work was the basis for the song “Ten Duel Commandments.”

Enjoy this behind-the-scenes chat as Freeman discusses what first sparked her interest in this enigmatic founding father, why after decades of research he continues to fascinate her, and how she predicts “Hamilton Mania” will impact history.

 

Before Hamilton Mania: Joanne B. Freeman on her Scholarly Obsession with an American Enigma

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