New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1905. First Edition. Hardcover. The first novel by an American woman about a female journalist. Octavo: 315 p. with 4 plates and 4 p. publisher’s ads. Original black cloth binding, with yellow stamping. The top edge is dust stained. The boards are moderately edgeworn, with a faint coaster ring to the rear panel and some general fading; else about very good.
Miriam Michelson (1870-1942) was the youngest of seven children of Polish immigrants who left New York for California in the 1850s and eventually settled in Virginia City, Nevada. Her oldest brother, physicist Albert A. Michelson, became the first American citizen to win a Nobel Prize for science; the youngest, Charles Michelson, a journalist for Hearst in San Francisco and New York, became a close assistant to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Dissatisfied with her teaching career, Michelson began contributing special features and dramatic criticism to San Francisco newspapers around 1895, eventually receiving a byline for major news stories when such individual recognition was rare. Michelson’s career as a newspaperwoman (she was also published in Philadelphia) stands out in a period when male editors were convinced that women reporters should be confined to the women’s pages, if they had to be tolerated at all. “The writer knew Miriam when she was a reporter in the Bay city and nearly every real newspaper man who happened to get on the same assignment with her looked upon her as a pest,” wrote one contemptuous contemporary. “There was a sigh of relief when she went to writing books and quit reporting.”
Michelson left daily journalism for the more lucrative field of magazine writing in 1903. Her serial fiction quickly found success; her first novel, In the Bishop’s Carriage (1904), became a national sensation and was eventually turned into a movie – twice. Similarly, A Yellow Journalist began as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post. When published by Appleton in 1905 as a book with “the true newspaper thrill in it from beginning to end,” it was the first novel by an American woman about a woman journalist, according to bibliographer Roland E. Wolseley. The adventurers of reporter Rhoda Massey, whose competitiveness drove her to do anything for a story, received mixed reviews. “…upon laying down the book (and you do not lay it down unread) you have finally come to be more edified than disgusted […] Miss Michelson is as popular, as ‘catchy’ as ragtime,” The Atlantic opined. The Critic was not impressed: “Yellow journalism with all its vulgarity, slang and slipshod slapdash simply reeks – there is no other word – in these pages. It must be admitted that Miss Michelson is possessed of a very vivacious and snappy style, that may make her work entertaining to those who can stand yellow journalism unexcused by daily news.” But when future novelist Edna Ferber read it as a 20-year-old, she found it “fresh and racy […] all about a woman reporter and her dashing adventures on a big-town paper. There was the kind of newspaper woman I wanted to be.”
Michelson wrote several more novels, including The Superwoman (1912), which appeared one year after California granted women the right to vote and depicted a utopian society ruled by women. For the next decade she devoted full time to advocating for women’s suffrage. After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, she returned to novel writing. In her obituary, the San Francisco Examiner called her “one of a triumvirate of famous women writers [from California], including Gertrude Atherton and Kathleen Norris.”. Very good. Item #76475