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Libraries for the Masses

Although few households in early Louisiana had many books, newspapers were readily available, supplying a steady stream of not just news, but also essays, poetry, sermons, selections from novels, medical advice, and even the occasional recipe. In an age when most people had little time for reading, newspapers frequently satisfied their needs, as one contributor to The Louisiana Journal pointed out, with some exaggeration, on October 1, 1825:  “Such a variety of ideas may not be found in a hundred volumes of books… as may frequently be found in one newspaper. Those who have ample means… to gain a subsistence, may go the whole rounds of literature, but he who has daily to gain it, had better take a short cut, through the newspapers.” There was no more gratifying a sight, the contributor believed, than to enter a stranger’s house in the country and find children reading a stack of newspapers to their parents. “A well edited public newspaper is the best political library that the great mass of the citizens can possess.”

Women in Journalism in Louisiana

Eliza Nicholson (1849-1896). From James Henry Harrison, Pearl Rivers, Publisher of the Picayune. New Orleans: Tulane University, 1932.
LLMVC PS2464 .N2 Z66 1932
Henrietta McClendon Brock (1873-1948). From Proceedings of the Thirty-Seventh Annual Session of the Louisiana Press Association. [n.p.: n.p., 1916].
LLMVC PN4844 .L6 L6 1915-16
Mattie McGrath (ca. 1867-1926)
United Daughters of the Confederacy, Louisiana Division Collection,
1922-1928, Mss. 428.

Eliza NicholsonHenrietta McClendon BrockMattie McGrath

Newspaper work was one of the few professional careers women in the nineteenth and early twentieth century could pursue. Louisiana boasted many women journalists. Some, such as Mary Edwards Bryan of the Natchitoches Times, contributed fiction, poetry, domestic advice, and stories on women’s topics to newspapers run by men. A few managed and edited newspapers entirely on their own. The most well known was Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson (“Pearl Rivers”). Her husband owned the influential New Orleans Picayune. When he died bankrupt in 1886, Eliza took charge of the paper, introducing many innovations that made the Picayune one of the leading journals in the South.

In 1892, May Edna Leake and her husband William Walter Leake founded the Bayou Sara True Democrat to “make war” on the Louisiana Lottery, a private corporation that provided revenue for Louisiana but was seen as a corrupting influence on state government. Mrs. Leake managed the paper on her own after her husband’s death in 1901. In 1906, she married her pressman, Elrie Robinson, who later gained some recognition as an expert on the reproduction of old typefaces. The True Democrat, which Leake edited until her death in 1925, came to be recognized as one of the South’s finest “country journals.”

When she was widowed in 1885, Marie Louise Garner of the East Carroll Banner turned to journalism to support herself and her young son. She used the editor’s pen to advance the causes of education and temperance in rural northeast Louisiana. Another crusader for better schools was Henrietta McClendon Brock, editor of the Franklinton Era Leader from 1912 to 1937. Brock also served as the first woman president of the Louisiana Press Association.

In July 1921, less than a year after the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote, the Woman’s Enterprise was founded in Baton Rouge. Devoted to women’s interests, it was published and edited by Mattie B. McGrath. She encouraged women to register to vote, reported on women’s volunteer work and education, and published sketches of local professionals to help young women choose a career.

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The Beginnings of Black Journalism

The Concordia Eagle
Also available in Chronicling America
LLMVC 143-5:2 and Mf 986

Concordia EagleDuring the Civil War, the first African-American newspaper in Louisiana appeared. It was, in fact, the first black newspaper in the South. Louis Roudanez, son of a French Haitian refugee and a free black woman, published L’Union in French from 1862 to 1864, followed by the New Orleans Tribune in French and English from 1864 to 1870. Another black man, P. B. S. Pinchback, whose career in Louisiana politics included terms as lieutenant governor and interim governor, began publishing the weekly Louisianian in 1870 and called the first national meeting of African-American newspaper publishers in 1875. The Vidalia Concordia Eagle, probably the first black-owned newspaper in north Louisiana, was founded by state legislator and former slave David Young. The paper was next edited by James Presley Ball, Jr., who went on to gain some distinction as a newspaperman in the Pacific Northwest.

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LSU Students Fight Censorship

“Student Journalists on the Job,” 1932.
Marvin G. Osborn Scrapbooks, Mss. 1730

Student Journalists

Louisiana’s controversial governor Huey P. Long made several attempts to censor the state press during his time in office. One involved LSU’s school newspaper, the Reveille.

In November 1934, Long attended a football game at his beloved LSU and announced that he had chosen one of the team’s star players to be a state senator at an upcoming special legislative session. A student at the university saw it as favoritism and wrote an angry letter of protest to the Reveille. When Long found out that the paper’s editor, Jesse Cutrer, planned to publish the letter, he forcibly prevented it from going to press. “I’ll fire any student that dares to say a word against Huey Long,” the governor declared. “I’ll fire a thousand. We’ve got ten thousand to take their places. That’s my university, I built it, and I’m not going to stand for any students criticizing Huey Long.”

In protest, Cutrer and five other members of the Reveille staff resigned, and students at the school of journalism went on strike. To Long’s dismay, the incident attracted national attention. One newspaper compared Long to the Nazi regime then coming to power in Germany, while The Nation magazine defended the student editors, adding them to its honor roll for 1934.