Tag Archives: investigative journalism

Jacob Riis, Investigative Reporter

 

 

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Jacob Riis, 1849 — 1914, came to the United States as an immigrant at age 21. He became an investigative journalist, looking at social conditions. Here is an excerpt from his most famous work, How The Other Half Lives, 1890.

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It is estimated that at least one hundred and fifty thousand women and girls earn their own living in New York; but there is reason to believe that this estimate falls far short of the truth when sufficient account is taken of the large number who are not wholly dependent upon their own labor, while contributing by it to the family’s earnings. These alone constitute a large class of the women wage-earners, and it is characteristic of the situation that the very fact that some need not starve on their wages condemns the rest to that fate. The pay they are willing to accept all have to take. What the “everlasting law of supply and demand,” that serves as such a convenient gag for public indignation, has to do with it, one learns from observation all along the road of inquiry into these real woman’s wrongs. To take the case of the sales-women for illustration: The investigation of the Working Women’s Society disclosed the fact that wages averaging from $2 to $4.50 a week were reduced by excessive fines, “the employers placing a value upon time lost that is not given to services rendered.” A little girl, who received two dollars a week, made cash-sales amounting to $167 in a single day, while the receipts of a fifteen-dollar male clerk in the same department footed up only $125; yet for some trivial mistake the girl was fined sixty cents out of her two dollars. The practice prevailed in some stores of dividing the fines between the superintendent and the time-keeper at the end of the year. In one instance they amounted to $3,000, and “the superintendent was heard to charge the time-keeper with not being strict enough in his duties.” One of the causes for fine in a certain large store was sitting down. The law requiring seats for saleswomen, generally ignored, was obeyed faithfully in this establishment. The seats were there, but the girls were fined when found using them.
Cash-girls receiving $1.75 a week for work that at certain seasons lengthened their day to sixteen hours were sometimes required to pay for their aprons. A common cause for discharge from stores in which, on account of the oppressive heat and lack of ventilation, “girls fainted day after day and came out looking like corpses,” was too long service. No other fault was found with the discharged saleswomen than that they had been long enough in the employ of the firm to justly expect an increase of salary. The reason was even given with brutal frankness, in some instances.
These facts give a slight idea of the hardships and the poor pay of a business that notoriously absorbs child-labor. The girls are sent to the store before they have fairly entered their teens, because the money they can earn there is needed for the support of the family. If the boys will not work, if the street tempts them from home, among the girls at least there must be no drones. To keep their places they are told to lie about their age and to say that they are over fourteen. The precaution is usually superfluous. The Women’s Investigating Committee found the majority of the children employed in the stores to be under age, but heard only in a single instance of the truant officers calling. In that case they came once a year and sent the youngest children home; but in a month’s time they were all back in their places, and were not again disturbed. When it comes to the factories, where hard bodily labor is added to long hours, stifling rooms, and starvation wages, matters are even worse. The Legislature has passed laws to prevent the employment of children, as it has forbidden saloon-keepers to sell them beer, and it has provided means of enforcing its mandate, so efficient, that the very number of factories in New York is guessed at as in the neighborhood of twelve thousand. Up till this summer, a single inspector was charged with the duty of keeping the run of them all, and of seeing to it that the law was respected by the owners.
Sixty cents is put as the average day’s earnings of the 150,000, but into this computation enters the stylish “cashier’s” two dollars a day, as well as the thirty cents of the poor little girl who pulls threads in an East Side factory, and, if anything, the average is probably too high. Such as it is, however, it represents board, rent, clothing, and “pleasure” to this army of workers. Here is the case of a woman employed in the manufacturing department of a Broadway house. It stands for a hundred like her own. She averages three dollars a week. Pays $1.50 for her room; for breakfast she has a cup of coffee; lunch she cannot afford. One meal a day is her allowance. This woman is young, she is pretty. She has “the world before her.” Is it anything less than a miracle if she is guilty of nothing worse than the “early and improvident marriage,” against which moralists exclaim as one of the prolific causes of the distress of the poor? Almost any door might seem to offer welcome escape from such slavery as this. “I feel so much healthier since I got three square meals a day,” said a lodger in one of the Girls’ Homes. Two young sewing-girls came in seeking domestic service, so that they might get enough to eat. They had been only half-fed for some time, and starvation had driven them to the one door at which the pride of the American-born girl will not permit her to knock, though poverty be the price of her independence.

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The tenement and the competition of public institutions and farmers’ wives and daughters, have done the tyrant shirt to death, but they have not bettered the lot of the needle-women. The sweater of the East Side has appropriated the flannel shirt. He turns them out to-day at forty-five cents a dozen, paying his Jewish workers from twenty to thirty-five cents. One of these testified before the State Board of Arbitration, during the shirtmakers’ strike, that she worked eleven hours in the shop and four at home, and had never in the best of times made over six dollars a week. Another stated that she worked from 4 o’clock in the morning to 11 at night. These girls had to find their own thread and pay for their own machines out of their wages. The white shirt has gone to the public and private institutions that shelter large numbers of young girls, and to the country. There are not half as many shirtmakers in New York to-day as only a few years ago, and some of the largest firms have closed their city shops. The same is true of the manufacturers of underwear. One large Broadway firm has nearly all its work done by farmers’ girls in Maine, who think themselves well off if they can earn two or three dollars a week to pay for a Sunday silk, or the wedding outfit, little dreaming of the part they are playing in starving their city sisters. Literally, they sew “with double thread, a shroud as well as a shirt.” Their pin-money sets the rate of wages for thousands of poor sewing-girls in New York. The average earnings of the worker on underwear to-day do not exceed the three dollars which her competitor among the Eastern hills is willing to accept as the price of her play. The shirtmaker’s pay is better only because the very finest custom work is all there is left for her to do.
Calico wrappers at a dollar and a half a dozen—the very expert sewers able to make from eight to ten, the common run five or six—neckties at from 25 to 75 cents a dozen, with a dozen as a good day’s work, are specimens of women’s wages. And yet people persist in wondering at the poor quality of work done in the tenements! Italian cheap labor has come of late also to possess this poor field, with the sweater in its train. There is scarce a branch of woman’s work outside of the home in which wages, long since at low-water mark, have not fallen to the point of actual starvation. A case was brought to my notice recently by a woman doctor, whose heart as well as her life-work is with the poor, of a widow with two little children she found at work in an East Side attic, making paper-bags. Her father, she told the doctor, had made good wages at it; but she received only five cents for six hundred of the little three-cornered bags, and her fingers had to be very swift and handle the paste-brush very deftly to bring her earnings up to twenty-five and thirty cents a day. She paid four dollars a month for her room. The rest went to buy food for herself and the children. The physician’s purse, rather than her skill, had healing for their complaint.
I have aimed to set down a few dry facts merely. They carry their own comment. Back of the shop with its weary, grinding toil—the home in the tenement, of which it was said in a report of the State Labor Bureau: “Decency and womanly reserve cannot be maintained there—what wonder so many fall away from virtue?” Of the outlook, what? Last Christmas Eve my business took me to an obscure street among the West Side tenements. An old woman had just fallen on the doorstep, stricken with paralysis. The doctor said she would never again move her right hand or foot. The whole side was dead. By her bedside, in their cheerless room, sat the patient’s aged sister, a hopeless cripple, in dumb despair. Forty years ago the sisters had come, five in number then, with their mother, from the North of Ireland to make their home and earn a living among strangers. They were lace embroiderers and found work easily at good wages. All the rest had died as the years went by. The two remained and, firmly resolved to lead an honest life, worked on though wages fell and fell as age and toil stiffened their once nimble fingers and dimmed their sight. Then one of them dropped out, her hands palsied and her courage gone. Still the other toiled on, resting neither by night nor by day, that the sister might not want. Now that she too had been stricken, as she was going to the store for the work that was to keep them through the holidays, the battle was over at last. There was before them starvation, or the poor-house. And the proud spirits of the sisters, helpless now, quailed at the outlook.
These were old, with life behind them. For them nothing was left but to sit in the shadow and wait. But of the thousands, who are travelling the road they trod to the end, with the hot blood of youth in their veins, with the love of life and of the beautiful world to which not even sixty cents a day can shut their eyes—who is to blame if their feet find the paths of shame that are “always open to them?” The very paths that have effaced the saving “limit,” and to which it is declared to be “inevitable that they must in many instances resort.” Let the moralist answer. Let the wise economist apply his rule of supply and demand, and let the answer be heard in this city of a thousand charities where justice goes begging.
To the everlasting credit of New York’s working-girl let it be said that, rough though her road be, all but hopeless her battle with life, only in the rarest instances does she go astray. As a class she is brave, virtuous, and true. New York’s army of profligate women is not, as in some foreign cities, recruited from her ranks. She is as plucky as she is proud. That “American girls never whimper” became a proverb long ago, and she accepts her lot uncomplainingly, doing the best she can and holding her cherished independence cheap at the cost of a meal, or of half her daily ration, if need be. The home in the tenement and the traditions of her childhood have neither trained her to luxury nor predisposed her in favor of domestic labor in preference to the shop. So, to the world she presents a cheerful, uncomplaining front that sometimes deceives it. Her courage will not be without its reward. Slowly, as the conviction is thrust upon society that woman’s work must enter more and more into its planning, a better day is dawning. The organization of working girls’ clubs, unions, and societies with a community of interests, despite the obstacles to such a movement, bears testimony to it, as to the devotion of the unselfish women who have made their poorer sisters cause their own, and will yet wring from an unfair were the justice too long denied her.

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Molly Ivins CAN Say That

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Molly Ivins
JANUARY 4, 2007
The president of the United States does not have the sense God gave a duck — so it’s up to us. You and me, Bubba.

I don’t know why Bush is just standing there like a frozen rabbit, but it’s time we found out. The fact is WE have to do something about it. This country is being torn apart by an evil and unnecessary war, and it has to be stopped NOW.

This war is being prosecuted in our names, with our money, with our blood, against our will. Polls consistently show that less than 30 percent of the people want to maintain current troop levels. It is obscene and wrong for the president to go against the people in this fashion. And it’s doubly wrong for him to send 20,0000 more soldiers into this hellhole, as he reportedly will announce next week.

What happened to the nation that never tortured? The nation that wasn’t supposed to start wars of choice? The nation that respected human rights and life? A nation that from the beginning was against tyranny? Where have we gone? How did we let these people take us there? How did we let them fool us?

It’s a monstrous idea to put people in prison and keep them there. Since 1215, civil authorities have been obligated to tell people with what they are charged if they’re arrested. This administration has done away with rights first enshrined in the Magna Carta nearly 800 years ago, and we’ve, let them do it.

This will be a regular feature of mine, like an old-fashioned newspaper campaign. Every column, I’ll write about this war until we find some way to end it. STOP IT NOW. BAM! Every day, we will review some factor we should have gotten right.

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So let’s take a step back and note, for example, that before the war one of the architects of the entire policy, Paul Wolfowitz, testified to Congress that Iraq had no history of ethnic strife. Sectarian and ethnic strife is a part of the region. And the region is full of examples of Western colonial powers trying to occupy countries, take their resources and take over the administration of their people — and failing.

The sectarian bloodbath we see daily completely refutes Wolfowitz. And now Bush has given him the World Bank to run. Wonder what he’ll do there.

And let’s keep in mind that when the Army arrived in Baghdad, we, the television viewers, watched footage of a bunch of enraged and joyous Iraqis pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein, their repulsive dictator, in Firdos Square. Only one thing was wrong. The event was staged. Taking down the statue was instigated by a Marine colonel, and a PSYOP (psychological operations) unit made it appear to be a spontaneous show of Iraqi joy.

When we later saw the whole square where the statue was located, only 30 to 40 people were there (U.S. soldiers, press and some Iraqis — and one of several U.S. tanks present pulled the statue down with a cable). We, the television viewers, saw the square being presented as though the people of Iraq had gone into a frenzy, mobbed the square and spontaneously pulled down the statue. Fake images and claims have been a part of this fiasco from the beginning.

We need to cut through all this smoke and mirrors and come up with an exit strategy, forthwith. The Democrats have yet to offer a cohesive plan to get us out of this mess. Of course, it’s not their fault — but the fact is we need leaders who are grown-ups and who are willing to try to fix it. Bush has ignored the actual grown-ups from the Iraq Study Group and the generals and all other experts who are nearly unanimous in the opinion that more troops will not help.

So, like I said, it’s up to you and me, Bubba. We need to make sure that the new Congress curbs executive power, which has been so misused, and asserts its own power to make this situation change. Now.

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A Radical Journalist Such as We Need Now!

Mary Heaton Vorse O’Brien (1874–1966) was an American journalist, labor activist, social critic, and novelist. She was outspoken and active in peace and social justice causes, such as women’s suffrage, civil rights, pacifism (such as opposition to World War I), socialism, child labor, infant mortality, labor disputes, and affordable housing.

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Mary Heaton was born October 11, 1874, in New York City to Ellen Marvin Heaton and Hiram Heaton. She was raised in prosperity in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a 24-room house with half-siblings from her mother’s previous marriage. The money in the family came from her mother’s side. In 1852, Vorse’s mother married Captain Charles Bernard Marvin, a wealthy shipping magnate and liquor merchant, more than 20 years her senior, when she was a young woman of 18. Ellen Marvin was widowed at age 37 with five children. In 1873, she married Mary’s father, who, with his family, operated the Stockbridge Inn. The family traveled widely, spending over a year in Europe, where Mary attended kindergarten in Hanover and the first year of grade school in Dresden, learning the German language in the process. Later, the family had an apartment in Paris, where Mary learned French, followed later by a winter in Austria.

In her 1935 memoir, she dated her interest in the problems of politics and economics to the years of her youth, when her mother read to her aloud from a book by ethnographer George Kennan on the brutal Siberian penal system of Russia. An interest in classic Russian literature followed, complemented by directed reading with her father on topics of American history. She found her intellect stimulated by life in the college town of Amherst and discussions held in the family home between her father and several prominent friends from academia, including the president of Massachusetts Agricultural College, Henry Hill Goodell, and anthropology professor John Tyler.

She was allowed to leave the formal school system at a young age and subsequently spent several winters in Paris studying art. In 1896, Heaton began to study at the Art Students’ League, on West 57th Street in New York City. The League was established 20 years earlier by strong-minded young men in rebellion from the conservative nature of the instruction at the National Academy of Design. By the time that Mary entered, the school was booming, with over 1100 pupils studying in sex-segregated day and evening classes, studying sketch art, sculpture, and painting. While Mary found participation in the artistic avant-garde exhilarating, she unfortunately had rather mediocre talent. She wrote in her diary: “When I come into my room and see my work lying around, my sense of my own futility overwhelms me. After so much work, that is all I can do.”

She was young, intelligent, and athletic and was deeply influenced by the ideas of feminism that had begun to emerge as the 19th century came to a close. Many upper-class women such as Mary were in the forefront of the movement for women’s rights to economic independence, education, voting rights, and birth control.

Her first husband was Albert White “Bert” Vorse, a widely traveled journalist who had worked for a year in a Boston settlement house, run by Edward Everett Hale. They were married on October 26, 1898 after a brief courtship and had two children: a boy, Heaton, born in 1901 and a girl, Mary, born in 1907.

The couple began to take an increased interest in social problems of the day, spurred by the muckraking reformist politics of the day and a personal friendship with radical journalist Lincoln Steffens. The Vorses would frequently go sailing with Steffens and his wife on the Vorses’ boat, where they would be regaled with Steffens’s “epic stories” of “gigantic lootings and skullduggeries” by wealthy bankers and industrialists.

Bert was soon assigned to Paris as the correspondent of the Philadelphia Ledger. It was in France that Mary, encouraged and instructed by her husband, began to try her own hand at professional writing. She began to create and sell romantic fiction to women’s magazines. Her stories often featured the motif of a rugged and energetic heroine who managed to win the affection of a coveted male over a more constrained and conventionally feminine rival. In 1904, the Vorses moved to Venice, where Mary was first introduced into the world of the working class and their labor struggles. Bert died on June 14, 1910, of a cerebral hemorrhage.

In 1912, she married the journalist Joe O’Brien, a socialist from Virginia whom she met at the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike.

sept 1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_2Poster of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, strike

The couple had one child, a boy born in 1914 Joe O’Brien died in 1915.

Vorse was active in the fight against militarism and American entry into World War I and was a founding member, along with Jane Addams, of the Woman’s Peace Party in January 1915. She was chosen as the delegate of the New York Woman Suffrage Party to an International Women’s Peace Congress held in The Hague at the end of April 1915, traveling aboard the MS Noordam through mine-strewn waters to attend.

She wrote for the New York Post, New York World, McCall’s, Harper’s Weekly, Atlantic Monthly, The Masses, New Masses, New Republic, and McClure’s Magazine as well as various news services.

She participated in and reported on the Lawrence Textile Strike, the miners’ strike in Minnesota in 1916, the steel strike of 1919, the textile workers strike of 1934, autoworkers in Michigan in 1937,  and coal strikes in Harlan County, Kentucky. She was wounded by police gunfire while reporting on a strike in Youngstown, Ohio. She researched and wrote about Indian affairs in the mid-1930s and reported on post-war Europe from 1945 to 1947 for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration

Four years before her death in 1966, the 88-year-old Vorse entered the silver jubilee banquet of the United Auto Workers, accompanied by union leader Walter Reuther. There, she received the first UAW Social Justice Award, with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and novelist Upton Sinclair looking on to share her honor. Vorse  was feted for her work as one of the most important labor journalists of the 1920s and 1930s.

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Vorse died of a heart attack on June 14, 1966, at her home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the extreme tip of Cape Cod, where she was buried.[28] She was 92 years old.

In addition to her memoir written in 1935, Vorse participated in an oral history project at Columbia University in 1957, an interview that was transcribed and microfilmed by the university.

Vorse also wrote several ghost stories, including “The Second Wife” (1912). The stories were later collected in the Ash-Tree Press volume “Sinister Romance : Collected Ghost Stories.” Her friend Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, said Vorse  continued writing in order to aid her children and their children.

 

Speaking Truth to Power, Taking Risks

Ida B. Wells published an editorial on her investigation on lynching in her Memphis paper, The Free Speech. When her office was destroyed by a mob, she wrote a more detailed account in the New York Age a black newspaper in New York City. On October 26, 1892, Wells published this research in a pamphlet titled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. Having examined many accounts of lynchings due to the alleged “rape of white women,” she concluded that Southerners cried rape as an excuse to hide their real reasons for lynchings: black economic progress, which threatened white Southerners with competition, and white ideas of enforcing black second-class status in the society. Black economic progress was a contemporary issue in the South, and in many states whites worked to suppress black progress. In this period at the turn of the century, Southern states, starting with Mississippi in 1890, passed laws and/or new constitutions to disenfranchise most black people and many poor white people through use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other devices. Wells-Barnett recommended that black people use arms to defend against lynching.

She followed-up with greater research and detail in The Red Record (1895), a 100-page pamphlet describing lynching in the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. It also covered black peoples’ struggles in the South since the Civil War. The Red Record explored the alarmingly high rates of lynching in the United States (which was at a peak from 1880 to 1930). Wells-Barnett said that during Reconstruction, most Americans outside the South did not realize the growing rate of violence against black people in the South. She believed that during slavery, white people had not committed as many attacks because of the economic labour value of slaves. Wells noted that, since slavery time, “ten thousand Negroes have been killed in cold blood, [through lynching] without the formality of judicial trial and legal execution.”

Frederick Douglass had written an article noting three eras of “Southern barbarism,” and the excuses that whites claimed in each period.

Wells-Barnett explored these in detail in her The Red Record.

During slavery time, she noted that whites worked to “repress and stamp out alleged ‘race riots.'” or suspected slave rebellions, usually killing black people in far higher proportions than any white casualties. Once the Civil War ended, white people feared black people, who were in the majority in many areas. White people acted to control them and suppress them by violence.
During the Reconstruction Era white people lynched black people as part of mob efforts to suppress black political activity and re-establish white supremacy after the war. They feared “Negro Domination” through voting and taking office. Wells-Barnett urged black people in high-risk areas to move away to protect their families.
She noted that whites frequently claimed that black men had “to be killed to avenge their assaults upon women.” She noted that white people assumed that any relationship between a white woman and a black man was a result of rape. But, given power relationships, it was much more common for white men to take sexual advantage of poor black women. She stated: “Nobody in this section of the country believes the old threadbare lie that black men rape white women.” Wells connected lynching to sexual violence showing how the myth of the black man’s lust for white women led to murder of African American men.
Wells-Barnett gave 14 pages of statistics related to lynching cases committed from 1892 to 1895; she also included pages of graphic accounts detailing specific lynchings. She notes that her data was taken from articles by white correspondents, white press bureaus, and white newspapers. The Red Record was a huge pamphlet, and had far-reaching influence in the debate about lynching. Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases and The Red Record’s accounts of these lynchings grabbed the attention of Northerners who knew little about lynching or accepted the common explanation that black men deserved this fate. Generally southern states and white juries refused to indict any perpetrators for lynching, although they were frequently known and sometimes shown in the photographs being made more frequently of such events.

A 19th Century Investigative Reporter

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830–1885) was a poet, novelist and essayist who became an advocate for Native American rights, fighting for improved treatment of Natives by the US government. She detailed the adverse effects of previous actions taken against Indian tribes in her history A Century of Dishonor (1881). Her novel Ramona dramatized the in Southern California and attracted considerable attention to her cause.

Helen Maria Fiske was born October 18, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, the daughter of Nathan Welby Fiske and Deborah Vinal Fiske, a writer. Nathan Fiske was professor of Language and Philosophy at Amherst College. Helen had a sister Anne and two brothers, both of whom died soon after birth.
Deborah Fiske died of tuberculosis in 1844 when Helen was fourteen. Nathan Fiske died in 1847 in Jerusalem while on a trip to the Holy Land, but he had provided for her education and had arranged for an aunt to care for her.

Helen attended the highly regarded Ipswich Female Seminary and the Abbott Institute, a boarding school run by Reverend J.S.C. Abbott in New York City, receiving an excellent education for the times. At Abbott, Helen was a classmate of one of America’s most distinguished poets Emily Dickinson, also from Amherst. The two remained close and corresponded for the rest of their lives, but few of their letters have survived.

Family
In 1852 at age 22, Helen married Edward Bissell Hunt, a captain in the U.S. Corps of Engineers. For the next 11 years, she and her husband followed the typically mobile life of a career military family. They had two sons, one of whom, Murray Hunt, died as an infant in 1854 of a brain disease.

The Civil War years were not kind to Helen and her family. In 1863 her husband was killed in an accident while experimenting with a one-man submarine he had invented. Her only surviving son, Horsford “Rennie” Hunt, died of diphtheria in 1865 at age nine.

In the winter of 1873-1874 on her doctor’s advice Helen visited Colorado Springs, Colorado in search of a cure for a respiratory ailment when she met a wealthy local banker and railroad executive William Sharpless Jackson. She married Jackson on October 22, 1875 and made Colorado her home. They had no children.

Literary Career
After losing all her family members, Helen took up residence in Newport, Rhode Island, where she and her husband had previously been stationed. After meeting Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a soldier, social reformer and author, Jackson decided to seriously pursue a writing career. With Higginson’s support, her initial literary efforts were devoted to children’s stories, travel sketches, poetry and essays under the pseudonyms “H.H.”

Helen Hunt Jackson became perhaps the most prolific woman writer of her era in the country. Many of her pieces appeared in the New York Independent, Nation, Atlantic and other periodicals. Her early work also included a volume of poetry, Verses (1870). Ralph Waldo Emerson admired her poetry and used several of her poems in his public readings. He included five of them in his anthology Parnassus.

From 1875 to 1877, Jackson published three novels, including Hetty’s Strange History and Mercy Philbrick’s Choice, in which Emily Dickinson was part-model for the heroine. In time, Jackson would produce more than 30 books and hundreds of articles. She most likely would have become better known without the pseudonyms, but popular convention of the time dictated that female writers conceal their true identity.

On a trip back east in 1879 Jackson attended a lecture in Boston by the Ponca Chief Standing Bear, who described the forcible removal of the Ponca Indians from their Nebraska reservation and transfer to the Quapaw Reservation in Indian Territory, where they suffered from disease, climate and poor supplies. This piqued her interest.

Jackson promised to help raise funds for the Ponca People so they could return to their homeland. She wrote a friend, “I have done now, I believe, the last of the things I have said I would never do. I have become what I have said a thousand times was the most odious thing in the world – a woman with a cause.”

Social Reform
Although Jackson continued her other writing, the Native Americans became her primary concern. Upset about the mistreatment of American Indians by government agents, Jackson started investigating and publicizing government misconduct, circulating petitions, raising money for lawsuits and writing letters to the New York Times, attempting to arouse public opinion on behalf of the Indians’ deteriorating condition.

She engaged in heated exchanges with federal officials over the injustices committed against American Indians. Among her special targets was US Secretary of Interior Carl Schurz, whom she once called “the most adroit liar I ever knew.” She exposed the government’s violation of treaties with the Indian tribes and documented the corruption of US Indian agents, military officers and settlers who encroached on and stole Indian lands. The book caused a national sensation.

Jackson’s political activism won the support of several newspaper editors who published her reports about broken treaties, dishonest deals and unfulfilled promises. Among them were William Hayes Ward of the New York Independent, Richard Watson Guilder of the Century Magazine and publisher Whitelaw Reid of the New York Daily Tribune.

In 1881 she wrote what she considered her most important book, A Century of Dishonor. She sent a copy of the book to each member of Congress with a quote from Benjamin Franklin printed in red on the cover: “Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations.” The book condemned state and federal Indian policy, detailed the history of broken treaties and called for significant reform in government policy toward Native Americans.

The New York Times later wrote that she:

soon made enemies at Washington by her often unmeasured attacks, and while on general lines she did some good, her case was weakened by her inability, in some cases, to substantiate the charges she had made; hence many who were at first sympathetic fell away.

Jackson went to southern California for rest. Having been interested in the area’s mission and the Mission Indians on an earlier visit, she began an in-depth study. Under its original land grants, the Mexican government provided for resident Indians to continue to occupy the mission lands. After taking control of the territory in 1848, US policies led to their removal from mission lands.

In 1882 President Chester A. Arthur appointed Jackson, along with translator Abbott Kinney, Special Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1882 – the first woman to hold that position. Her assignment was to visit the Mission Indians in Southern California, ascertain the location and condition of various bands, and determine what lands should be purchased for their use.

In 1883 Jackson and Kinney published their 56-page report, which recommended extensive government relief for the Mission Indians, including the purchase of new lands for reservations and the establishment of more Indian schools. Jackson’s call for “some atonement” for past neglect and injustice was not acted upon by government authorities.

Inspired by her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jackson wrote:

I am going to write a novel, in which will be set forth some Indian experiences in a way to move people’s hearts. People will read a novel when they will not read serious books. If I could write a story that would do for the Indian one-hundredth part what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for the Negro, I would be thankful the rest of my life.

Although Jackson started an outline in California, she began writing the novel in December 1883 in a New York hotel room, and completed it in about three months. Originally titled In The Name of the Law, she published it as Ramona (1884). The story features Ramona, an orphan girl who was half Indian and half Scots and her Indian husband Alessandro, and their struggles for land of their own.

Ramona dramatized the mistreatment of Indians in Southern California, although its popularity was based on its romantic and picturesque qualities rather than its political content. The characters were based on people known by Jackson and incidents which she had encountered. The book achieved rapid success among a wide audience and was popular for generations; it was estimated to have been reprinted 300 times.

A fall at her Colorado Springs home in June 1884 left Jackson with a severely fractured leg. However, she returned to California to visit friends and continue writing. While there, she was diagnosed with cancer, and never returned to Colorado.

Her last letter was written to President Grover Cleveland:

From my death bed I send you a message of heartfelt thanks for what you have already done for the Indians. I ask you to read my Century of Dishonor. I am dying happier for the belief I have that it is your hand that is destined to strike the first steady blow toward lifting this burden of infamy from our country and righting the wrongs of the Indian race.

Helen Hunt Jackson died of stomach cancer on August 12, 1885 in San Francisco, California. Her husband arranged for her burial on a one-acre plot on a high plateau overlooking Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her grave was later moved to Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs. Her estate was valued at $12,642.

One year after her death the North American Review called Ramona “unquestionably the best novel yet produced by an American woman” and named it, along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of two most ethical novels of the 19th century. Sixty years after its publication, 600,000 copies had been sold. There have been over 300 reissues to date and the book has never been out of print.

Helen was described as “the most brilliant, impetuous and thoroughly individual woman in her time.” She rose above personal tragedy and became one of the most successful writers of her day. She included as her friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Through her dedication to Indian reform during the last five years of her life, she wrote herself into American history.

We Need A Free Press and Free Speech

Police are threatening free expression by abusing the law to punish disrespect of law enforcement

Camille Fassett
Reporter

July 31, 2018

In May 2016, a pair of police officers with the New York City Police Department ticketed Shyam Patel for his car’s tinted windows in Times Square. After parking his car, Patel raised his middle finger at them in response.

The NYPD officers then approached Patel and asked for his identification. When Patel asked what crime he was suspected of committing, he alleges that one officer told him, “You cannot gesture as such…”

When Patel insisted that freedom of speech did grant him the right, Patel alleges that the officer said that he could not curse a police officer, grabbed his phone, and again demanded identification. Patel was arrested and charged of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

While the charges were later dropped, Patel is suing the officers for violation of his First Amendment right to free expression. No law prohibits swearing at or flipping off a police officer, and it seems clear that law enforcement were in the wrong. But Patel’s case is only the latest incident of police officers abusing the law and their positions of power to punish people critical or disrespectful of law enforcement.

In 2009, a black man returned to his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts from travels abroad to find his door tightly shut. He, along with his taxi driver, forced the door open. Soon after, police arrived to his residence to respond to a reported burglary.

It’s unclear what words exactly were exchanged, but the man was arrested for “loud and tumultuous behavior”. A report by the officer in question indicated that the man merely used harsh language and called the officer a racist.

If the circumstances were different, this incident may not have made the headlines it did—countless people of color are accused of criminal activity for walking upon their own sidewalks or entering into their own homes. But the man was Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a professor at Harvard University and friend of newly elected President Obama. The details of his arrest quickly made waves across the country.

Coverage of the incident focused on concerns of racial profiling, but it was about free speech, too. Gates was arrested not for breaking and entering, but for disorderly conduct after he used harsh language at the officer—just like Patel in New York. Civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate has called disorderly conduct law enforcement’s “charge of choice” for when a citizen gives lip to a cop.

These types of cases are a still regular occurrence, despite the landmark 1974 court case Lewis v. New Orleans, where the Supreme Court struck down a city ordinance that outlawed “obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to” a police officer. At that time, the court noted that a “properly trained police officer may reasonably be expected to exercise a higher degree of restraint” than private citizens.

Despite the Supreme Court’s clear ruling on this issue, police in Pennsylvania are using the state’s version of a “hate crime” law to prosecute multiple people who say offensive things to them when they are arrested. These laws are intended to protect the vulnerable, but are instead being wielded as a tool by powerful government entities.

Robbie Sanderson, a 52 year old black man, was arrested for retail theft near Pittsburgh in September 2016. During his arrest, he called the police “Nazis” and “skinheads”, and said that “all you cops just shoot people for no reason.” He was charged with felony ethnic intimidation.

Later that year, Senatta Amoroso became agitated at a police station, and was arrested for disorderly conduct and knocked to the ground. According to the ACLU, she yelled while handcuffed in a jail cell: “Death to all you white bitches. I’m going to kill all you white bitches. I hope ISIS kills all you white bitches.” Her six charges included a felony assault charge for hitting an officer in the arm and felony ethnic intimidation.

Sanderson and Amoroso’s cases are just two of many of Pennsylvania law enforcement agents slapping disrespectful arrestees with “hate crime” charges. These people yelled speech that officers found offensive, but they were handcuffed and posed no physical threat to anyone.

Pennsylvania’s “ethnic intimidation” charge works similarly to “hate crime” laws in other states, which generally enhance penalties for perpetrators when victims were targeted for discrimanatory reasons. (“Hate speech” laws technically do not exist in the United States.) Although hate crimes statutes were enacted to protect minorities, they can and are being enforced to protect powerful groups like police.

Nadine Strossen, a professor at New York Law School who was previously president of the ACLU, is not surprised that police are abusing “hate crime” laws to punish disrespect. She thinks these cases, in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, all show the same pattern of such laws being wielded against the people they were intended to protect—minorities, and people who lack political power.

She noted that during the civil rights movement, police would charge people protesting injustice with whatever they could—with “resisting arrest”, “disorderly conduct”, or “fighting words”, all of which Strossen calls “catch-all” crimes.

Strossen thinks that the way police abuse “hate crime” laws reveals the inherent problematic nature of legislation that attempts to single out specific identities. “There’s this hydrologic pressure once you have any hate crime or hate speech law. Additional pressures to expand this definition emerge, until the question becomes: ‘Who is not included?'”

In Strossen’s new book, HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, not Censorship, she argues that hate speech laws in many European countries have ended up stifling the speech of the vulnerable populations they are intended to protect. She cautions that these recent examples show how hate crime laws can potentially be used for similar purposes in the United States, and that pushing for hate speech laws can backfire.

While the first hate crime laws in the United States were targeted to race and religion, they have expanded to include other categories like gender and sexual orientation. There is concern that powerful groups like police officers are co-opting these laws to shield themselves from scrutiny or criticism. It’s a pattern not unique to the United States—she referenced a recent proposal in South Africa that considered adding “occupation” to a list of protected classes. “Could this include police and politicians, and government officials?”

Some U.S. policymakers are already aiming to officially establish police as a “protected” class of people. This May, the House of Representatives passed the Protect and Serve Act, which would make assaulting a police officer a federal crime. The Senate’s version of this bill even frames attacks on police as federal hate crimes.

These legislative efforts at the federal level follow on the heels of so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bills already passed in states including Kentucky and Louisiana. And while the federal bill applies to physical attacks on police, the state level laws have been enforced upon mere language hostile to police.

During an arrest on unrelated charges in 2016, a man in New Orleans yelled insults at officers and was slapped with additional charges. In a post about this incident, the ACLU of Louisiana wrote that “While racist, sexist, and other similar language may show a lack of respect for law enforcement, it is the job of the police to protect even the rights of those whose opinions they don’t share.”

These bills are not only unnecessary (attacking police officers is already a crime) but also actively harmful.

“The point is clear, especially with regards to the adoption of hate crime statute frameworks: to reinforce the myth of the police as vulnerable and embattled,” Natasha Lennard wrote about “the Protect and Serve Act” for The Intercept.

Recent incidents in Pennsylvania, New York, and Louisiana are part of a long and disturbing history of police abusing the law to punish speech they find unfavorable. It’s deeply concerning for free expression that police feel empowered to add additional charges to arrestees because of the words that they yell while being handcuffed, and legislation that makes police a protected class only amplifies the police’s ability to silence dissent and intimidate critics.

Free Press in the United States

Ida Tarbell helped transform journalism by introducing what is called today investigative journalism. Through her achievements, she not only helped to expand the role of the newspaper in modern society and stimulate the Progressive reform movement, but she also became a role model for women wishing to become professional journalists.

Born on the oil frontier of western Pennsylvania in 1857, Tarbell was among the first women to graduate from Allegheny College in 1880. After trying her hand at the more traditional women’s job of teaching, Tarbell began writing and editing a magazine for the Methodist Church. Then, after studying in France for a few years, she joined S. S. McClure’s new reform-minded magazine in 1894. Initially she wrote two popular biographical series–on Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln. In 1902, she embarked on her ground breaking study of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, or what was called the Standard Oil Trust. Her History of the Standard Oil Company, published in 1904, was a landmark work of expos√© journalism that became known as “muckraking.” Her exposure of Rockefeller’s unfair business methods outraged the public and led the government to prosecute the company for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. As a result, after years of precedent-setting litigation, the Supreme Court upheld the break-up of Standard Oil.

As the most famous woman journalist of her time, Tarbell founded the American Magazine in 1906. She authored biographies of several important businessmen and wrote a series of articles about an extremely controversial issue of her day, the tariff imposed on goods imported from foreign countries. Of this series President Wilson commented, “She has written more good sense, good plain common sense, about the tariff than any man I know of.” During World War I, she joined the efforts to improve the plight of working women. In 1922, The New York Times named her one of the “Twelve Greatest American Women.” It was journalism like hers that inspired Americans of the early twentieth century to seek reform in our government, in our economic structures, and in our urban areas. Along with other muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, and Upton Sinclair, Tarbell ushered in reform journalism. Ever since, newspapers have played a leading role as the watchdogs and consciences of our political, economic, and social lives.

Although Tarbell was not, herself, an advocate of women’s issues or women’s rights, as the most prominent woman active in the muckraking movement and one of the most respected business historians of her generation, Tarbell succeeded in a “male” world ‚Äì the world of journalism, business analysis, and world affairs, thus helping to open the door to other women seeking careers in journalism and, later, in broadcasting.