Nineteenth Century Newspaper Publishing

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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This Note discusses the world of Nineteenth Century newspaper publishing with particular emphasis on the Clara Foltz and her work at the San Diego Bee.


General Works

The two basic works I relied most on are: FRANK LUTHER MOTT, AMERICAN JOURNALISM: A HISTORY OF NEWSPAPERS IN THE UNITED STATES THROUGH 260 YEARS, 1690 TO 1950 495-511 (1950); ROBERT F. KAROLEVITZ, NEWSPAPERING IN THE OLD WEST, (1965) (San Diego Bee building pictured at 56). A good account of the economics of publishing a paper is found in BARBARA CLOUD, THE BUSINESS OF NEWSPAPERS ON THE WESTERN FRONTIER (1992) and JOHN TEBBEL, THE COMPACT HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN NEWSPAPER (1963). Popular treatment of the wide-open journalism of the west is in JOHN BRUCE, GAUDY CENTURY 1848-1948: SAN FRANCISCO’S ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF ROBUST JOURNALISM (1948); FRANKLIN WALKER, SAN FRANCISCO’S LITERARY FRONTIER (1939) (dealing mainly with magazines, but offering a good picture of the newspaper scene as well in 1860’s-1880’s). EDWIN EMERY & MICHAEL EMERY, THE PRESS AND AMERICA: AN INTERPRETIVE HISTORY OF THE MASS MEDIA 291 (4th ed., 1954).

Biographies and Autobiographies

Biographies and autobiographies include EVELYN WELLS, FREMONT OLDER (1936); FREMONT OLDER, MY OWN STORY (1919); WELLS DRURY, AN EDITOR ON THE COMSTOCK LODE (1936) (published posthumously) (Drury knew Clara Foltz from Oregon days and recommended her for a Notaryship in 1891 as detailed in Chapter Three of WOMAN LAWYER). FRANK ALEAMON LEACH RECOLLECTIONS OF A NEWSPAPERMAN A RECORD OF LIFE AND EVENTS IN CALIFORNIA (1917). He published the Vallejo Evening Chronicle, 1867-1886 and the Oakland Enquirer, 1886-1898. He retired from journalism to become superintendent of the San Francisco Mint from 1897-1907 and performed heroic service saving the building in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Leach paints an excellent picture of California politics in this period. JAMES J. AYERS, GOLD AND SUNSHINE (1922) (published posthumously) is interesting not only on the newspaper business in California (he published the L.A.Express in Los Angeles) but also on the events of 1878-79. In the preface, he wrote that “Each life helps to make up the sum of all history, and there is none so obscure or isolated but that it would, if properly written, throw a ray of light upon some latent event of interest to historians, at iv. See Chapter One and Babcock, Constitution-Maker for more on Ayers and his role in the passage of the employment clause at nn. 19, 23-24, 98-99, 158-165.

Women and Western Journalism

On women in Western journalism and publishing, see SHERILYN COX BENNION, EQUAL TO THE OCCASION: WOMEN EDITORS OF THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY WEST (1990). In Women Editors of California 1854-1900, 28 PAC. HIST. 31 (1984). Bennion found a total of 110 women “known to have been active as editors before 1900.” Id. at 32. She described Laura Gordon’s journalistic career, at 36-37, but missed Foltz’s brief editorship of the San Diego Bee. ROGER LEVENSON, WOMEN IN PRINTING: NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, 1857-1890 (1994). Appendix A, pp. 179-238 introduces many extraordinary women involved in both printing, publishing, and editing. Ann M. Breedlove, Inspired and Possessed, CALIF. HIST. (Spring, 2001) describes the women editors and their papers. See also Anne M. Breedlove, Inspired and Possessed: San Francisco Women Newspaper Publishers, 80 CAL. HIST., (2001) (noting that between 1854 and 1893, ten newspapers in Northern California had fourteen different women publishers or editors, though only four stayed in business longer than two years).

On the history of women in journalism more generally, see PATRICIA BRADLEY, WOMEN AND THE PRESS: THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY (2005). RUTH MONYNIHAN, REBEL FOR RIGHTS: ABIGAIL SCOTT DUNIWAY (1985) has many good passages on the effort involved in putting out a weekly newspaper.

Clara Foltz knew many people in publishing, including her brother Charles, with whom she was close, and who was in the newspaper business in Northern California for most of his career. As discussed in Chapter 2, Foltz knew Duniway in Oregon and was a correspondent for the New Northwest for a few years after she moved to California. Laura Gordon was publishing the Oakland Daily Democrat when Foltz first met her. Later, her friend, Marietta Stow, (see Chapter Two) published a monthly, The Women’s Herald of Industry. Many women’s publications were devoted to causes, such as temperance and suffrage. A VOICE OF THEIR OWN: THE WOMAN SUFFRAGE PRESS, 1840-1910 (1991). Martha M. Solomon, ed. See especially, the chapter by E. Claire Jerry, Clara Bewick Colby and the Woman’s Tribune 1883-1909: The Free Lance Editor as Movement Leader at 110. Colby was editor of the Tribune from 1883-1909. For more on Colby, see On-Line Bibliographic Note: Friends and Allies WLH Website.

Lawyers and Publishing

On lawyers and publishing, see GORDON MORRIS BAKKEN, PRACTICING LAW IN FRONTIER CALIFORNIA (1991) (relating that many attorneys doubled as journalists to meet the overhead on their practice). Lawyers also supplemented their income with stock-brokering and other business as well as holding public office.

A Bee Sampler

To give an idea of what Foltz published as editor of the Bee, here is a sampler drawn from the Bee in the last ten days of May, 1887, several weeks after she assumed the editorship.

The Boom

Seven to nine columns a day in advertisements alone were taken up by incredible ocean views, proximity to the post-office or “permanently located” train station, the best people, rich soil, and pure water. The most imaginative ad was two-columns for Ocean Beach, proclaiming in bold type "One of the Finest Hotels in the State," and in much smaller and lighter letters beneath it “Will soon be erected” and so it went for "An Electric Street Railway" and "The Bay Shore Boulevard." The only thing actually in place was the Mussel Beds, “one of the most interesting objects for tourists and the old timer to view.”

The boom also supplied news about all the “bustle push, go.” Every day, an assistant editor walked the streets, recording new building, perusing the hotel guest registers for the arrival of “large capitalists” and “prominent businessmen,” and noting the latest vessels at the wharf (barks, brigantines, sloops, steamers and yachts). In late May, the roving reporter scooped the other papers with the unexpected arrival early one morning of Senator Leland Stanford and other “prominent officials” in their special railway cars. San Diegans were hoping for a direct rail line from San Francisco, but Stanford promised nothing, saying only that he was “astonished” at the progress of the town since his last visit five years earlier.

Editor Foltz did some elevated writing on the theme of San Diego the Beautiful: “The Flowers of the City are to the vegetable world what angels are to mortal man . . . God’s jewels to the rich and poor alike and here they bud and blossom as nowhere else on earth. She also editorialized on San Diego the Great: “Not even the gold excitement of 1849 and the succeeding ten years revealed more matchless enterprise to the world. . . . We are laying the foundations of the divinest paradise the earth has ever known.“

Outside News

Paeans to San Diego plus real estate and other advertisements could fill as much as two pages, yet that left at least fourteen columns. The other standard item, consuming as much as four columns on the front page was the national and international news, delivered by telegraph from various agencies. Foltz bought her news from the United Press, and the recently opened Mackay-Bennett Commercial Cable Company. A rival paper had the exclusive use of the best and oldest service, the Associated Press. Because the services sent out somewhat different raw news items, and because the individual editors did their own selection and headlining, the world outside San Diego might look quite different depending on the paper read. Both foreign and national dispatches were heavy on crime news — so much so that Foltz editorialized on “the sensational insanity of modern journalism.” She complained that “News are caught and transmitted from every section to every section with the rapidity of thought. All that is cruel, strange, abortive, unnatural, or fearful and all that is evil, murderous and fiendish is placed in print.”

Local Excitement

Boomtide San Diego was like a gold-mining camp, as an old-timer darkly observed. A “population imbued with excitement and far from conventional trammels” tended toward “theft, murder, incendiarism, carousals, fights, highway robbery and licentiousness.” All the sensation created a dilemma for Editor Foltz because crime sold papers while its absence sold San Diego to potential investors. She resolved the tension by constantly claiming crime was under control while reporting hair-raising stories practically every day. At the end of May, there was A Serious Stabbing Affray on the Flume Line. The flume was a civic project to bring water to the town’s brackish wells from a distant lake. Bad feelings arose between the day and night shifts and during the changeover there was “A lively scuffle . . . leaving one man too dangerously wounded to be brought to the city.”

Another unsettling event in May was a fire at 8 p.m. right next door to the Bee’s wood frame building. Despite the heat, Foltz and her staff got the paper out the following morning, with a complete story on the excitement and an editorial entitled Our Gallant Fire Boys. One of Clara Foltz’s first public acts years ago had been to agitate for a well-equipped professional fire company in San Jose, (see chapter one). In San Diego, she noted with satisfaction that the “fire last evening proved beyond all doubt that our fire department is in excellent order.”

Regular Items

News sources that Foltz could depend on were Sunday’s sermons, (an expandable item) and the Monday night meetings of Our City Dads (hot issues of permits and licensing). The courthouse was always good for a story. Late May saw Babcock and Story, (developers of the hotel Coronado) charged with extending their wharf too far into the Bay. Foltz was exasperated at the conflicting testimony from engineers and sea captains on both sides: “The cause still winds and drags its tedious coils along. May the truth win -- whatever it is” (ultimately the judge imposed a nominal fine on Babcock and Story).

San Diegans were avid joiners and club activities provided excellent filler for Foltz’s columns. A Religious and Philosophical society formed with “many of the most intelligent, wealthy and cultured families” conducting a “candid inquiry after truth.” The Woman’s History Club met in May to discuss Machiavelli. Eighty men born in California started a new chapter of the Native Sons of the Golden West, and saluted the town’s publications (three newspapers and a monthly magazine) in their inaugural procession, ending with a banquet at the Horton House.

Entertainment and sport could take a column or two, especially as the weekend approached: sculling and shooting matches; the natatorium; horseback wrestling (opponents try to unseat each other — for the “glory and the gate receipts”); a regular ocean fishing expedition. Leach’s Opera House was the only theater in town but it was regularly lit. In late May, the arrival of Henry Crindle, “the renowned medium” from New York, promised “manifestations of a startling nature.” But, the Bee reported that ”the séance was cut short by cries of `too thin’ and `rats’ from several doubting Thomases in the audience”, leaving “the truth of the medium’s tests” unsettled. Walter Leach, the owner of the Opera House, was an attorney who converted a building into a theater seating 800 people. When Leach died in 1888 (thrown from a horse), Jack Dodge took over and converted it to D. Street theater. ELIZABETH C. MACPHAIL, THE STORY OF NEW SAN DIEGO AND ITS FOUNDER, ALONZO E. HORTON 76-77 (1969).

Editor Foltz supplied meta-stories by critiquing the three other San Diego papers for old news, stolen ideas (from her), infelicities in phrasing, and errors in print. On the other hand, she was sympathetic to the new young editor of the San Francisco Examiner, William Randolph Hearst, when he was taken in by a hoax featuring a doctor murderer who sold body parts. Though a United Press dispatch said:” All San Francisco is in a spasm of merriment over the … extravagant sensational publication,” Foltz wrote “like all things of vaulting ambition, [this `magnificent newspaper’] sometimes overleaps itself. Everyone makes mistakes.”

Civic Events

From the beginning these were a Bee specialty, partly because Foltz was often at the center of such occasions. At the annual Memorial Day ceremonies, she delivered an original poem by J.D. Steel, Bee city editor. It went like this for fifty stanzas: No more our glorious banner waves Above the clanking chains of slaves . . May all war’s scars at length be healed And never more on blood-stained field Columbia’s sons to discord yield.” For thanks to these our fallen braves.

Society and Fashion

In San Diego, society was a fluid mix of the newly rich and newly arrived, “all classes are alike full of geniality and cordial feelings,” Foltz wrote, opining that the friendly social scene was a result of the climate and the boom. From the first, the Bee covered social events and fashion developments in greater detail than any rival paper. Foltz wanted to attract women readers and knew they were starved for this kind of story. The mainstay of social reporting was, of course, the weddings. For example, a young real estate man, resident for a year, married another newcomer, whose “pleasant ways, sweet disposition and culture have won her many friends.” The ceremony was in a “spacious” tent on Coronado Beach: “A brilliant event . . . two-hundred present . . . white roses and orange blossoms . . . Presents were few but costly.” BEE, June 5, 1887.

Foltz enlisted her friend Frona Wait (see On-Line Bibliographic Note: San Francisco Social Life and Clara Foltz’s Circle for more on Frona Wait) to become the San Francisco correspondent on such matters as “Feminine Costumes at the Metropolis.” Tea-gowns were “the rage” for the Fall, Waite reported, using a specialized vocabulary to describe the garment: “A dress with a Fedora front of lace or surrah of contrasting color, with an oxidized silver girdle from which dangles a vinaigrette… ‘The Bernhardt’ had popularized the loose fit, ‘indefinite in outline.’” BEE, Oct. 3, 1887 (Fashion and Fancy, by Frona Wait). Clara Foltz undoubtedly had such a garment but San Diego, with its unpaved streets and lack of sidewalks, was a tough town for tea gowns.

Last Days at the Bee

On July 31, 1887, in the midst of the press war over the disputed claims to Mexican land, Foltz editorialized in the Bee: “If a person should chance to embark in a business he finds is not suited to him, he had best give it up at once.” Yet, she continued, “whims and prejudices” must not be confused with incompatibility. At the end of a short paragraph, she resolved that “the surest way to avoid this mistake is to always make the best of surrounding circumstances and not fret.”

In August and September, there were further hints that she would not last much longer as editor of the Bee. The defection of one of her chief assistants to the San Diego Sun was a major blow. Cothran was an old friend from San Jose, a lawyer, one of the group that gathered around the coffee shop near the Montgomery Block, and one of the young people that Madge Morris and Harr Wagner had recruited to San Diego. He had come on the Bee after it replaced the little sheet he had been editing, the Stingaree. Most important, Cothran was a mainstay for filling the columns in every issue of the Bee. His contribution to the press war had been a satire in many scenes and issues called The Chestnut (the IC’s name for Mrs. Burton’s title). The play featured such characters as Queen Bee (Foltz), Sellout (the Union editor), Gasbag (Major Sisson of the International Company of Mexico) and Fides Achates (Harr Wagner).

Cothran lampooned everything -- the melodramatic threats to kill the Bee and drive Foltz out of town, the IC’s claim to be a corporation with a soul -- and even his boss’s prose. Here is Queen Bee “soliloquizing” on the Ensenada beach: “How utterly beautiful this bay! Soft it seems unto the weary brain as a blue-eyed beauty’s tender glance of love. These tiny, many-colored shells, by gentle wavelets laid beside my feet, recall one universal language of the world, the unsyllabled, silent language, thinking God and uttering eternity!” Cothran was parodying Foltz’s tendency to excess when trying for literary effect.

As related in Chapter 2, by mid-November, Foltz had concluded her editorship of the Bee. On March 30, 1888, a year after the Bee was founded, the new editors celebrated its history, noting that it had been newly incorporated in November 1887 by Hutton, Will Gould, Thomas McCord, Harry Howard, and Thomas Fitch. The story also noted that under Foltz’s editorship, “its matter assumed an exceedingly spicy and sensational character; and whatever may be said of the wisdom of this policy, it certainly attracted no little attention…throughout the state.” WILLIAM E. SMYTHE, HISTORY OF SAN DIEGO, 1542-1908, at 493 (1907) (in the chapter, Later Journalism and Literature, briefly describes “The Short-Lived Bee” and says it was a “live paper, while it lasted” and that it was absorbed by the Union in Dec. 1888).

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