As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26th, especially on the centennial of the signing of the 19th Amendment, we often remember the women, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who lead the fight to the women’s right to vote. These are the women we immediately think of and associate the movement with, yet there are so many unsung heroes that we often forget about.
One heroine whom most people often completely forget about is Miriam Michelson, a prominent reporter during the suffrage movement.
Michelson was born in 1870 in California to Polish immigrants, and was the younger sibling to Albert A. Michelson, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for science. She began her writing career in 1890 as a journalist. According to TabletMag.com, the entirety of her career stemmed from her creation of audacious women who were independent and “making it on their own.” She often used fiction in order to challenge gender stereotypes, critique the injustices of chauvinism, and brought to attention certain issues such as women’s rights, and the rights of immigrant and underprivileged communities.
Her first, and most famous novel In the Bishop’s Carriage featured a female thief as the protagonist, establishing Michelson’s career as a writer. What truly sets her apart from other female writers from the era is her pre-feminist ideals, especially seen in her novella The Superwoman. The short book takes on a utopian society where gender roles are reversed and women are in power, creating a social critique of the current society.
In terms of the suffrage movement, Miriam Michelson’s restless coverage was a pivotal movement in the charge for the passage of the 19th Amendment. Female journalists, specifically called “girl reporters,” were in a troubled position where they attempted to be taken as seriously as men, however in order to get into these newspapers, they needed to express their femininity. And Michelson leveraged this status as a “girl reporter” by adding her own perspective on the news she covered.
Lori Harrison-Kahan in an interview states that Michelson physically made herself a character in her stories. Women journalists became a part of the news stories they were writing as they were getting into the grit of the material..
While the organizations, conventions all found funding somehow, it was the female journalists, like Michelson who really spread the word about suffrage. She covered the conventions, told their own stories, and interviewed suffragists such Susan B. Anthony, and kept the movement alive.
Michelson, along with other female journalists, ignited a movement that pressured male politicians to vote in favor of gaining women the right to vote. Without female journalists, it is quite possible that suffrage would have not occurred, or, instead, been even delayed more.
Miriam Michelson was a forerunner in female reporting, making pivotal movements in the passing of the 19th Amendment. She, in a sense, was before her time, setting precedent for journalists and novelists to come. While it is necessary to look to the ‘big names’ of the suffrage movements like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, we must also remember those who reported to the world on female equality. Without these women, like Miriam Michelson, the suffrage movement would have suffered greatly, denying women the right to vote for years to come.
Here is a link to an interview with her from the nyol: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2019/09/12/feminist-miriam-michelson-interview-harrison-kahan