Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business--and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014. Library copy.
It's About: Ida M. Tarbell, born in 1857, who became one of the first American journalist and also helped found investigative journalism. Her noteworthy articles included a biography of Abraham Lincoln, and an expose of John D. Rockefeller and his company, Standard Oil Trust.
The Good: I really enjoyed learning about Ida M. Tarbell, whose name seemed vaguely familiar from history class.
I was impressed with Ida's many accomplishments and the things she did -- starting with her love of the sciences, attending a co-educational college, her start in journalism, traveling to Paris, freelancing, and then joining the staff of McClure's Magazine, where she wrote her most memorable articles.
One of the things that struck me is how matter of fact it was, how "of course this is what Ida is going to do" it was. While Ida was a pioneer, her story is also a reminder that her life, while not typical of the time, was also just that -- her life. She, with other women, did go to college. She, as others did, created a career, lived away from her family, traveled to Paris, working, having her own home.
I confess: that part of Ida's life, the pre-McClure part, fascinated me the most. I wanted to know more about those things, and those people in her life.
Of course, then, there is Ida's actual journalism, a career she came to sort of sideways. She began loving science, thought she'd be a teacher, and found herself working as an editor at a magazine. It wasn't until her early thirties and her trip to Paris that her work as a journalist really began. So, you can see all the reasons I kept turning the pages -- here, a women in the nineteenth century, having multiple careers. Pursuing her dreams. Living her life on her terms.
One cannot make generalizations about people: for all of Ida's accomplishments, which resulted from drive and determination, she had what seems to be mixed feelings about women's suffrage and equality. McCully explores this area in detail, noting that Ida's being against women getting the vote is probably one of the reasons she is a bit forgotten. What struck me was how modern, actually, Ida's beliefs were: I could easily imagine her in the present, being someone explaining how she didn't need feminism and wasn't a feminist because look at what she accomplished, on her own, and if she did it anyone can so stop with the feminism already.
I would like to learn more about Ida, and her life -- always a good sign in a biography, being left wanting more! I wonder if the things I want to know more about are things that McCully didn't cover because of length (this is a long, detailed biography) or if it's because there aren't the source documentation to answer the questions. For example, I wanted to know more about Ida's unnamed roommates during her 20 but imagine that was left out because of space. I also was curious as to Ida's relationships with her family and those family dynamics. Ida loved her father dearly, and ended up being the main provider to her mother, sister, brother, and brother's family. And yet certain things here left me asking for more and wondering things like whether her father was as wonderful as she painted him, for example. Is that not explored more because of space? Or because there is very little surviving from that time that would fill in the gaps about Ida's family?
Being left with questions, wanting more -- excellent. Learning more about Ida M. Tarbell, and also about what it was like for a woman pursuing a career over a hundred years ago? Even better. I'm so happy that this is a finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award! I read it because it was a finalist, and I'll be chatting it up because it's a finalist.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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