Conference Archives

2000 Abstracts

Andie Tucher, Columbia University, “IN SEARCH OF JENKINS: Taste, Style, and Credibility In Gilded-Age Journalism”

In the 1860s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, the term “Jenkins,” borrowed from a British expression for a windy and obsequious society reporter, was widely used in the U.S. as a derisive label for journalists whose prose was over-rich and whose prying -- particularly through the use of that distasteful new practice, the “interview” -- was over the top.  Critics of the Jenkins tribe ran the gamut from the scapegrace Mark Twain to the august George William Curtis, editor of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.


Yet rather than dismissing Jenkins as an embarrassment, the imaginative historian may find in him a lifeline for navigating the convoluted thickets of journalistic prose in the Gilded Age.  Understanding who was called a Jenkins and why may offer some guidance toward facing up to some of the hardest and most persistent challenges any historian must confront: to crack the codes of a time long past, to re-enter the consciousness of its denizens, and to read its documents in the spirit in which they were created.


B. Tripp, “John Brown: The Many Faces of a 19th-Century Character: Media Images of a Martyr”

Black abolitionist Charles H. Langston, who was also one of John Brown’s recruiters, declared that Brown’s actions regarding the abolition of slavery were determined not by a single source, but from three sources, only the third of which was abolition: “First -- The Bible. Second -- The Revolutionary Fathers. Third -- All good Abolitionists.”


Black journalists and other supporters would later perpetuate similar images to their audiences, bestowing this idealistic honor upon Old Osawatomie Brown as they recounted tales of his antislavery activity and perpetuating his rise to martyrdom status. By the time of his execution in 1859, and well into the 20th century, several distinctive images of Brown would be manifested in the pages of newspapers and on canvases throughout the country, including: ‘avenging angel’ or savior; loyal patriot or ‘founding father’; and surrogate father or ‘benevolent uncle’. 


This study examines the manifestation of these three media-created images that transformed Brown from a thief and murderer to a martyr and hero whose appeal has continued to spread into 20th-century popular films and art. In addition, the study will attempt to understand why blacks of the period would so easily accept Brown into their hearts at a time when many blacks, disillusioned by years of promises and unproductive tactics, were no longer willing to embrace whites as their leaders and spokesmen in the antislavery cause -- and why he continues to hold a revered place in African-American lore to rival the folk hero tales of steel-driving ‘John Henry’ and cowboy Nat Love, also known as “Deadwood Dick”.


Charlotte Ford, Georgia Southern University, “Eliza Frances Andrews (Elzey Hay): Reporter, 1865-1931”

This paper divides the Andrews work into two general topics.  The first deals with the political articles and the second part with the travel reports.


Andrews first wrote about local politics at the end of the Civil War.  There are three extant articles in which she discusses the Radicals, the Klu Klux Klan and black voters.  she also traced the theft of Confederate gold along with money from a Virginia bank which had been sent to her home of Washington, Georgia, for safekeeping.  She singles out Confederate renegades as well as local people and Federal troops as responsible for the theft.  She wrote about the franchise and concluded that women should not vote.  On free silver she called for labor as the real standard and labor certificates to replace gold and silver.


Andrews’ travels took her over the United States to Mexico and Europe over a 50-year-period.  In the report she included economic and agricultural information often supported by interviews with local residents.  She added interest to these articles with comments on food, hotels, trees, landscapes, fashions and transportation.  Andrews also collected botanic specimens on these trips.  It is in this field of botany that the majority of her publications after 1900 are found.

Edward J. Blum, University of Kentucky, “God of Wrath, God of Peace: Popular Religion and Popular Press at the Opening and Closing of Reconstruction”

Whether examining the moral force within Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin or the conciliatory message of Charles Nordhoff's Cotton States articles, historians have often recognized the influence of popular literature and press on the northern mind. Scholars, however, have largely ignored one of the most powerful voices in northern secular print: sermons. In the mid nineteenth century, some pastors found widespread media popularity not because of their theological expertise, but because of their ability to interpret society and to spin a good tale. Printed sermons thus functioned as compelling short stories and religious social commentaries that reflected and shaped northern society.


This phenomenon is evident at two critical moments in Reconstruction, during which the Northern press paid an inordinate amount of attention to popular religion. The first occurred after Abraham Lincoln's assassination, as confused and sullen Yankees turned to their clergy, searching for meaning in the travesty. The second took place a decade later when the evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody set the North aflame with the fire of a Great Awakening; this time the nation sought a reprieve from a depressed economy and a demoralized government. In both cases, the ways in which Protestants both interpreted the actions of their God and narrated worldly events helped mold northern opinions particularly regarding issues of social reform and attitudes toward the South.


Ed Blum is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, studying with Mark W. Summers and William Freehling. Blum did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, graduating with high distinction and honors in History. He is currently working on a dissertation on race, revivalism, and Reconstruction. Blum has presented works at the Ohio Valley Historical Conference, “America at Its Third Century” Conference at LSU Shrevport, and is currently being considered for the Sidney Mead Prize in Church History.


G. Reel

During the 1880s, National Police Gazette publisher Richard Kyle Fox helped create modern boxing by conducting promotions, offering prize belts and publicizing the exploits of boxing great John L. Sullivan. Fox, an Irish immigrant, used the Gazette not just as a vehicle to chronicle the adventures of buxom showgirls or to sensationalize the latest heinous crime; he also used the weekly magazine as a pulpit to denounce hypocrites who opposed the modern sport of boxing. Through his tenacity — and good fortune in having the chance to chronicle the deeds of a legend such as Sullivan — Fox became one of the most influential sports figures of the Nineteenth Century. Sullivan, the hard-drinking brawler from Boston, was just as fortunate, for while he and Fox may not have been mutual admirers, their careers crossed paths at just the right moment; Sullivan became world famous and Fox became a millionaire. This paper tells the story of Fox, Sullivan and The National Police Gazette during part of Fox’s lengthy tenure as editor and publisher. The Gazette, while it is perhaps best known as a precursor to today’s tabloid journalism — as a leading journal of sex and crime — also should be remembered for its unrelenting early support of the “manly sport” of professional prize fighting.


H. Dicken-Garcia, “Coverage of Mary E. Surratt in Three 1865 Newspapers”

This paper, part of a larger project about images of women in Civil War era media, focuses on the trial and execution of Mary E. Surratt, implicated in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the first woman executed by the U. S. government. Given abundant sources both that antebellum Americans viewed women as belonging in the “proper sphere” (the home) and that wars reshape gender roles, the larger project asks whether images in Civil War era media reveal shifts in attitudes toward women’s societal role.


In keeping with prevailing views of womanhood at the time, conflicts about Mary Surratt’s guilt were overshadowed by the belief that a woman would not be executed, guilty or not.  Therefore, applying the definition of the “cult of true womanhood,” augmented by two sets of images of women identified as prevailing in the 19th century, research for this paper was guided by these questions: 1) How was Mary Surratt treated in assassination-related and trial coverage, especially as a participant in trial proceedings?  And  2) how was she depicted relative to the “cult of true womanhood” and two sets of images used for studying coverage in three newspapers?


Overall coverage in the Boston Liberator, Charleston Courier, and New York Times conveys images of women as a group consonant with the “cult of true womanhood.”  However, the coverage depicts Mary Surratt as an aberration on that view, as images from the two sets used for studying the coverage are either absent or subverted--including images of  her as “evil incarnate” and “masculine.” Ironically, debate following the execution accords Mary Surratt a measure of the womanhood denied in her final days.


Lorman A. Ratner, University of Illinois, and Dwight L. Teeter, Jr., University of Tennessee, “Fanatics,” “Fire-Eaters” and the Embattled Republic: Similar Words, Different Meanings in American Newspapers, 1856-1861”

Although war, like murder, is an ultimate expression of differences, words used in the prelude to the Civil War sounded much the same, North and South, from 1855 to 1861.  While the overriding issue that produced the anger and fear that eventually led to warfare was slavery, one’s stance on that issue, and what one did about it, was seen as underlying presumed answers to another question.  That question was framed this way: who was loyal to the republic and who was its enemy?  Those who labeled others as “fanatics” marked them not just as opponents of slavery, but as enemies of the republic.  Conversely, those who labeled others as “fire-eaters” saw them not just as defenders of a region and its institution of involuntary servitude, but as enemies of the republic.


For each side, opposing the other was an act of loyalty to the republic–a proof of virtue, or of reverence for the society born in the Revolution and nurtured ever since.  The tone of what was published in every newspaper we read was angry, challenging, even threatening, and became more so as the decade of the 1850s unfolded.  To whom this angry language was directed varied depending both on the place where a newspaper was published and the politics of its editor and readers.


What we found fits with what a number of historians writing about the coming of the Civil War have concluded.  In one way or another, nationalism was at the heart of the issue; all other sources of conflict were subsumed under it.  There were, of course, conflicting versions of nationalism.  We join other historians in believing that the concern with nationalism and a concomitant fear for the future of the republic to be a central point of agreement and division leading to the Civil War.


Peter Gade, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma, “On War and Liberty: John Stuart Mill as editor of the Richmond Examiner, 1861-65”

This essay brings 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill to Richmond, Virginia, to work beside his cousin during the Civil War as editor of the influential Richmond Examiner.  Although the essay is fiction, the historical timing of considering Mill’s ideas about freedom and governance is appropriate given that Mill’s greatest works -- On Liberty (1859) and Utilitarianism (1861) -- were published immediately prior to the Civil War.  These books provide a historically contemporary framework for better understanding the South’s struggle to answer some of the great moral questions posed by secession and the war. This narrative, told by Mill’s cousin, recounts the newsroom conversations Mill had with Examiner editors and includes a sampling of Mill’s published editorials. The historical account of the war is accurate and is interspersed with Mill’s ideas on the role of the press, tyranny of public opinion, slavery, the draft, consequences of war, and the relationship between citizens and government.


Sarah F. Smith, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, “Mother,  Murderess or Martyr? Press Coverage of the Margaret Garner story”

On January 28, 1856, Margaret Garner, an escaped slave mother, turned on her children with a knife rather than see them returned to slavery.  Newspaper reports of Garner’s act of desperate infanticide and the ensuing trial of the Garner family on a fugitive slave warrant offer insight into the meaning of slave motherhood in the mid-nineteenth century.


This paper examines two “mainstream” Cincinnati newspapers and two national abolition newspapers to illuminate how the condition of “slave motherhood” was framed and understood in antebellum America.


Abolitionists struggled to reconcile motherhood with infanticide, a difficult task, considering that they also strove to align black motherhood with hallowed white motherhood.  Pro-slavery advocates explained the event was typical of the brutish behavior of blacks, an unnatural and animalistic people, incapable of living in a civilized manner outside the controlling hand of slavery.


The case was complicated by Garner’s status as a runaway slave and the uncompromising Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.  Would Garner be tried as a murderess in Ohio or be returned as chattel to her home state of Kentucky?  Garner’s story also posed a religious quandary.  Was Garner justified in her action through her faith in God or had she trampled on divine providence by taking the life of her child?


This paper examine how the “Fugitive Slave Case” became a national news story while the “fugitive slave mother” became a national symbol of an institution dividing the country.


As newspaper reporters, abolitionists and attorneys debated her act, her humanity and her future, Garner was transformed into a powerful and evocative image within the Fugitive.


Sue Smith, “Slave Act controversy. On the Brink of Battle: Newspaper Coverage of Charles Wilkes and the Trent Affair, 1861-1862”

On November 8, 1861, Charles Wilkes of the United States Navy forever changed American history.  It was on this date when Wilkes boarded the British mail steamer, Trent, and arrested two Confederate envoys.   Wilkes knew that these envoys, James Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana, were on their way to Great Britain and France to arouse Southern Sympathy for the Confederates during the American Civil War.  As a result, Wilkes believed that it was his duty to stop this espionage.  What soon followed was a battle of opinion between the United States and Great Britain regarding the legality of Wilkes’ actions.  Newspapers and other sources of the era documented this tension which was known as the Trent Affair.


The attached paper examined the views of many American and British newspapers regarding the Trent Affair.  Much of the controversy between the two opinions revolved around question of the international breech of neutrality and what defined contraband.  Other discussions involved several regional and international viewpoints.  These include perspectives from the American Southern Press, American and British Government, the French Press, as well as other international sources.


The primary sources used during the research of the Trent Affair included the following newspapers: The New York Times, The London Times, The Washington Star, Richmond Daily Wig, and Illustrated London News.  Official governmental records and the Autobiography of Charles Wilkes also comprised the research material.