Society Page

One of the most common assignments given to a woman newspaper reporter in the early days of Nebraska journalism was covering the community’s social news for the “society page,” which was thought to interest chiefly women. Reminiscences of Nebraska State Journal reporter Annie L. Miller, published in 1906, described her first news gathering experiences in Lincoln:

“It was in August of 1898, when a hot wind was raging and the thermometer was hovering near the hundred mark, that I began work on The Journal. People with money enough to travel had mostly left town and others were minimizing effort and excitement. Under such conditions I started forth to gather up an entertaining and comprehensive social department. In darkened homes I tracked to cover guests in hiding from the sun’s rays, and I described porch parties which ensued when these visitors ventured forth in the evening’s cool to entertain callers from the neighborhood. Under the exigencies of the case my discriminative faculties developed so acutely that I early learned to distinguish a real ‘party’ from a family gathering without knowing whether the lemonade was plain or had cherries and pine apple floating on the top.

“As the society, club and church events which were to be my portion, with a little music for recreation, were not then in season, I harbored a suspicion, which still exists after the lapse of eight years, that the managing editor sent me forth to glean a barren field with the intention of removing all glamor from the sphere I desired to enter. The city editor, then Ernest Holmes, was soon to leave the staff and took slight interest in the advent of a woman on the force, but saw that I had the uninteresting minor assignments which always fall to the greenest reporter. As I made the round of meetings where a quorum was sure to be lacking or where no one ever had anything of interest to report, I could only hope that relief from these monotonies would compensate the men in the office for the many times pipes were covertly slipped under their desks at my approach. . . .

“In the eyes of the other reporters my pages were made up chiefly from trivialities, but I early learned that the perusal of the affairs of nations could cause no such heart-burnings as arose through the society columns. A gentleman of intelligence and culture has been known to appear as chagrined as a defeated politician because of the omission of his wife’s name from the report of an important function, and the leaving out of a name of an assisting lady at a reception has more than once aroused the suspicion that the hostess had taken this method of stabbing a friend in the back. In early days the compositors gave many queer twists to the type which aided materially in keeping things lively. For example: when two girls were each married to the wrong man, or when the names of strict church people with an abhorrence for cards, were attached to the report of a card party instead of the prim kensington of which they were a part. With the air thus electrically charged, though with shocks tempered with courtesy, the recorder of social doings could scarcely find the work tame. . . .

“I have arisen from sleep at 7 o’clock in the morning to answer the telephone and hear objections to a musical criticism, and have responded to the bell at midnight to take down a club notice which a lady feared to leave til morning lest she should forget. . . . I wonder that my fellow reporters have not shown, in my occasional absences, a greater desire to participate, in these experiences.” 

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