History & Tourism

When Mansfield Welcomed: The Investigative Journalist

14 Apr , 2020  

Although she disliked the moniker, there is little question that Ida Tarbell was a muckraker – or, in modern terminology, an investigative journalist. In 1926, the famous muckraker paid a visit to Mansfield.

In fact, Tarbell basically created the field in becoming the foremost woman journalist of her time. She set the standard by taking on the largest monopoly the country had ever known.

Ida Tarbell

Ida Minerva Tarbell, who lived from 1857 to 1944, was a teacher, author, and journalist. Her work was a linchpin of authorship in the Progressive Era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her best-known work is “The History of the Standard Oil Company,” recently listed by New York University as #5 in the top 100 books by twentieth century American authors.

During her investigation into Standard Oil, Tarbell developed new strategies and methods to obtain information. The result was an expose on the company’s strong-arm tactics that shocked the country and fueled efforts to dismantle monopolies.

Instead of the term “muckraker,” she preferred “historian” or “fact finder.”

One of her other well-known works was a biography of President Abraham Lincoln, penned after a magazine commissioned her about 1900 to interview those still living who personally knew and interfaced with Lincoln. It was this work which gave rise to a connection to Mansfield.

First Congregational Church

During the Annual Meeting of the Richland County Lincoln Association on February 12, 1926 (fittingly, Lincoln’s birthday), Ida Tarbell spoke to an assembly of people at the former First Congregational Church on Park Avenue West. The city welcomed her warmly, with the Mansfield News declaring “Unquestionably Miss Tarbell is one of the foremost and best known woman publicists of the day. She is (a) recognized authority on social and industrial problems…”

Her topic was Lincoln, and the News noted that she had included a reference in her book to the tablet in Central Park declaring Mansfield to be the first place where Lincoln’s name was nominated for President. She was sure to mention that fact, the paper continued.

As the event took place during National Boy Scouts Week, many local scouts were expected to attend. After the talk, a reception was given for Miss Tarbell at the home of the Mansfield Women’s Club, still standing at 145 Park Avenue West. Her Connecticut home is now a National Historic Landmark, and she was inducted posthumously into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Sources: Wikipedia, Mansfield News, Smithsonian, other

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