Friday, June 05, 2009
The crossword in the morning paper had as 41 down Writer Tarbell. From the surrounding letters I figured it was an Ida Tarbell, and looked her up. I had never heard of her before.
Ida Tarbell was a muckraker (1857-1944) who wrote a lengthy account of the Standard Oil Company (published in 1904) which helped to destroy its monopoly. She hid the fact that her father was an oil speculator who had been ruined by Standard Oil, and her brother ran a competing company called Pure Oil Co.
She also wrote biographies of Napoleon, A. Lincoln, and many journalistic pieces. She was asked to get involved in the struggle for women's reproductive rights, but refused. Often linked to Upton Sinclair, Jacob Riis, and other muckrakers, she didn't like the name "muckraker," and preferred "historian." Here we have her own take from Wikipedia:
"She didn’t like the label Muckraker and wrote an article “Muckraker or Historian” where she justified her efforts for exposing the oil trust. She referred to "this classification of muckraker, which I did not like. All the radical element, and I numbered many friends among them, were begging me to join their movements. I soon found that most of them wanted attacks. They had little interest in balanced findings. Now I was convinced that in the long run the public they were trying to stir would weary of vituperation, that if you were to secure permanent results the mind must be convinced.""
I think too that "balanced findings" are of a lot more interest in the long run, which is why I can't stand either Madcow Rachel, or Hannity Vanity. Tarbell's history of Standard Oil was mentioned as one of the top five journalistic books of the 20th century in an article that appeared in the NYT in 1999. Tarbell is now a feminist icon, and is in the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY (where one of the first feminist congresses was held mid-nineteenth century).
Tarbell got her own postage stamp in 2002.