Horace Greeley on a woman’s reform newspaper, 1851

by Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley to Elizabeth Oakes Smith, March 1, 1851 (Gilder Lehrman ColleIn February 1851, suffragist reformer Elizabeth Oakes Smith wrote to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley about her interest in starting a newspaper dedicated to women’s rights issues. Greeley answered with this rather brusque reply discouraging Oakes from founding a paper, attacking Smith’s ideas about the business of reform, and refusing a request for financial help to start the paper.

Greeley told Oakes that starting a woman’s newspaper was a bad business decision, writing “there are already fifty papers (I think) edited by women.” Greeley also wrote that Smith should not hope to earn a subsistence serving reform movements, telling her “Ye cannot serve ‘God and Mammon.’” Greeley himself had managed to make living as a reformer, publishing perhaps the most influential reform paper of the time, but he insisted that his financial success was merely a side effect of his work: “If the object of my life had been Wealth . . . I should have taken a very different course.”

Smith clearly objected to Greeley’s hostile tone; at the top of the letter is a note about its content, written in her hand: “full of conceited assumptions by no means warranted by my communication to [Greeley]. E.O.S.”

A full transcript is available.

Excerpt

Two reasons are assigned by you why a peculiarly Women’s paper should be published under your Editorship; first the Sex needs an organ; secondly, you need a subsistence. Now there are already fifty papers (I think) edited by women, but these do not seem to answer the purpose – perhaps I should say the purposes – though Mrs. Swisshelm and Mrs Nichols are among the Editors. Mrs. Halls Miss Leslie and many other fearless and influential women are conductors of or contributors to widely circulated periodicals; and I do not think they would be refused the privilege of discussing the deepest questions if they should claim it. Nor do I think you would.

But, you say, this, though it would evidently afford a much wider scope for the circulation of the Reform ideas, [struck: it] would not tend to accomplish the other object to wit, the securing a livelihood for yourself. This is partly true, and partly not, I believe that by writing for the most widely circulated periodicals to which you can gain access and being thus made known as an intellectual champion of the Reform, you would be invited to Lecture, either to mixed audiences or to women only, so extensively as to yield you a far more considerable income than can be realized from a newspaper devoted to the idea – or any periodical that would be founded upon it. My own experience tends to this conclusion – Advocacy of Reforms that are vital cannot (or can very rarely and [illegible]) be made a source of personal gain to the advocate. All wealth is Conservative; all true Reforms assail it, question its legitimacy, [threaten] its security ‘Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.’ And here is your mistake. Because your contributions to [strikeout] periodicals bore no pecuniary value – but rather the reverse – you argue that they do not subserve there end. A true Reform article must benefit the world at the expense of its proclaimer.

Questions for Discussion

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