Ida Tarbell

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ida Tarbell in 1904

Ida Minerva Tarbell (November 5, 1857 – January 6, 1944) was an American writer, investigative journalist, biographer and lecturer. She was one of the leading muckrakers of the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and pioneered investigative journalism.


  • When a woman enters the office of a great daily she is painfully conscious that she is a woman — just a woman. She cannot at first grasp the idea that the great daily is a wonderful and almost perfect machine that makes what she terms cruel demands.
    That daily paper is a wonderful creation, and all who serve it become a part of the machinery, and not individuals. It takes a woman some time to realize this.
    She goes into the office, receives her first assignment, does her best on it and next morning finds that not a word of it is used. She takes her next assignment, and perhaps two of the ten inches she wrote is used. Finally, she goes to the busy man with the glasses at the night desk and asks why. She is coldly informed that her first articles were “rot.” She thinks it is brutal and hard and does not understand why the men ignore the fact that she is a woman.
    • "Women in Journalism" (1904)
    • From a short speech delivered c. March-April 1904 at the Annual luncheon, Cornell alumnae, Murray Hill Hotel, New York City
  • Women, newspaper women, have to get over that habit of quitting — it's fatal. And she mustn’t cry — if she belong[s] to that class she will probably be asked to quit. Tears may be a forceful weapon in matrimony, but never in an editorial room.
    • "Women in Journalism" (1904)
    • From a short speech delivered c. March-April 1904 at the Annual luncheon, Cornell alumnae, Murray Hill Hotel, New York City
  • Some of her best friends protested [Grimké speaking in mixed gatherings of men and women]. It was not "proper," nor "right," for a woman to attempt to instruct a man. But Angelina Grimké had gone far beyond the point where propriety weighted when it was a question of humanity. She held that "Whatever is morally right for a man to do is morally right for a woman to do. I recognize no rights but human rights."
    • quoted in Squire, Belle (1911). The Woman Movement in America: A Short Account of the Struggle for Equal Rights. A. C. McClurg & Company. p. 71-2.

All in the Day's Work (1939)[edit]

  • I have never had illusions about the value of my individual contribution! I realized early that what a man or a woman does is built on what those who have gone before have done, that its real value depends on making the matter in hand a little clearer, a little sounder for those who come after. Nobody begins or ends anything. Each person is a link, weak or strong, in an endless chain. One of our gravest mistakes is persuading ourselves that nobody has passed this way before.
  • When I entered Allegheny College in the fall of 1876 I made my first contact with the past. I had been born and reared a pioneer; I knew only the beginning of things, the making of a home in a wilderness, the making of an industry from the ground up. I had seen the hardships of beginnings, the joy of realization, the attacks that success must expect; but of things with a past, things that had made themselves permanent, I knew nothing. It struck me full in the face now, for this was an old college as things west of the Alleghenies were reckoned-an old college in an old town. Here was history, and I had never met it before to recognize it.
  • I realized at the start that I had found what I had come to college for, direction in the only field in which I was interested-science.
  • In spite of my painful efforts to make a regular worker out of myself, life at college was lightened by my discovery of the Boy.
  • I did not dance-the Methodist discipline forbade it. I was incredibly stupid and uninterested in games-still am. I had no easy companionable ways, was too shy to attempt them. I had my delights; the hills which I ran, the long drives behind our little white horse, the family doings, the reading of French regularly with my splendid friend Annette Grumbine, still living, still as she was then a vitalizing influence in the town and state for all that makes for a higher social life-these things and my precious evening walks, the full length of Titusville's main street, alone or with some girl friend while we talked of things deepest in our minds.
  • economic independence-the first plank in my platform.
  • The deluge of monopolistic trusts which had followed the close of the Spanish-American War and the "return of prosperity" was disturbing and confusing people. It was contrary to their philosophy, their belief that, given free opportunity, free competition, there would always be brains and energy enough to prevent even the ablest leader monopolizing an industry. What was interfering with the free play of the forces in which they trusted? They had been depending on the Federal Antitrust Law passed ten years before. Was it quite useless? It looked that way.
  • One must be an artist before he can create-that I knew.
  • I soon discovered that, if we were not afraid, I must work in a field where numbers of men and women were afraid, believed in the all-seeing eye and the all-powerful reach of the ruler of the oil industry. They believed that anybody going ahead openly with a project in any way objectionable to the Standard Oil Company would meet with direct or indirect attack.
  • the obsession of the Standard Oil Company, that danger lurked in small as well as great things, that nothing, however trivial, must live outside of its control.
  • I never had an animus against their size and wealth, never objected to their corporate form. I was willing that they should combine and grow as big and rich as they could, but only by legitimate means. But they had never played fair, and that ruined their greatness for me. I am convinced that their brilliant example has contributed not only to a weakening of the country's moral standards but to its economic unsoundness. The experience of the last decade particularly seems to me to amply justify my conviction.
  • It was not long before I found I was being taken for something more serious than a mere journalist. Conservative Standard Oil sympathizers regarded me as a spy and not infrequently denounced me as an enemy to society. Independent oilmen and radical editors, who were in the majority, called me a prophet.
  • If there were leaders in practically every industry who regarded it not only as sound ethics but as sound economics to improve the lot of the worker, ought not the public to be familiarized with this belief?
  • But if the practices were not universal, if there was a steady, though slow, progress, ought not the public to recognize it? Was it not the duty of those who were called muckrakers to rake up the good earth as well as the noxious? Was there not as much driving force in a good example as in an evil one?
  • I gave myself time around these factories. The observer who once in his life goes down for half a day into a mine or spends two or three hours walking through a steel mill, naturally revolts against the darkness, the clatter, the smoke, the danger. As a rule he misses the points of real hardship; he also misses the satisfactions. As my pilgrimage lengthened, I became more and more convinced that there is no trade which has not its devotee. "Once a miner, always a miner." "Once a sailor, always a sailor." One might go through the whole category.
  • As to the relation of workmen to their union-for often they belonged to a union-I concluded that in the average industrial community it was not unlike that of the average citizen to his political party and political boss. Both the union and the employer seemed to me to be missing opportunities to help men to understand the structure of industry, perhaps because they did not themselves understand it too well, or sank their understanding in politics. Both union and employer depended upon one or another form of force when there was unrest, rather than education and arbitration. In doing this they weakened, perhaps in the end destroyed, that by which they all lived. The most distressing thing in mills and factories seemed to me to be the atmosphere of suspicion which had accumulated from years of appeal to force. I felt it as soon as I went into certain plants everybody watching me, the guide, the boss, the men at the machines.
  • It was the men who saw industry as a cooperative undertaking who gave me heart. I do not mean political cooperation, but practical cooperation, worked out on the ground by the persons concerned.
  • What it simmered down to was that if you wanted to make a business you must make men, and you must make men by seeing that they had a chance for what we are pleased to call these days a good life. And if they are going to have a good life they must not only have money but have low prices.
  • What I never could make some of these friends see was that I had no quarrel with corporate business so long as it played fair. It was the unfairness I feared and despised. I had no quarrel with men of wealth if they could show performance back of it untainted by privilege.
  • Before I left The Chautauquan I had concluded that there was a trilogy of wrongs-all curable-responsible for our repeated depressions and our poorly distributed wealth: discrimination in transportation; tariffs save for revenue only; private ownership of natural resources.
  • Were we not getting a larger and larger class interested only in what money would buy? Particularly did I dislike the spreading belief that wealth piled up by a combination of ability, illegality, and bludgeoning could be so used as to justify itself-that the good to be done would cancel the evil done. What it amounted to was the promotion of humanitarianism at the expense of Christian ethics; and that, I believe, made for moral softness instead of stoutness.
  • It was the logic of my conviction that the world is one, that isolation of nations is as fantastic as isolation of the earth from the solar system, the solar system from the universe. All this made a species of Fabian pacifist of me. I was for anything that looked to peace, to neutrality, but it was always with the hopeless feeling that one simply must do what one can if the house is on fire.
  • One of the most revealing things about a country is the way it takes the threat of war.
  • I confess I was unprepared for what I everywhere met early in 1918, traveling chiefly in the South, the Middle West, and the Southwest. The country was no longer quiet, no longer reflective. On every street corner, around every table, it was fighting the War, watchfully, suspiciously, determinedly. All the paraphernalia of life had taken on war coloring; the platforms from which I spoke were so swathed in flags that I often had to watch my step entering and leaving. I found I was expected to wear a flag-not a corsage. At every lunch or dinner where I was a guest all declarations were red, white, and blue.
  • In final analysis it was the failure patiently to listen to the political objections coming from the United States and trying openly to meet them which kept us out of the largest and soundest joint attempt the world had ever seen, to put an end to war. For that is what I believed the Covenant of the League of Nations to be when I heard the final draft read and adopted at the Plenary Session of the Conference on April 28.
  • The documents in this case, which I later analyzed for the character sketch on which we had decided, present a fair example of what were popularly called "Standard Oil methods" as well as what they could do to the minds and hearts of victims. The more intimately I went into my subject, the more hateful it became to me. No achievement on earth could justify those methods, I felt.
  • "Why," I asked, "could not the present Woman's Committee be continued after the War in the Department of the Interior? Why could it not be put under a woman assistant secretary and used as a channel to carry to women in the last outposts of the country knowledge of what the various departments of the Government are doing for the improvement of the life of the people? You know how limited is the reach of many of the findings of the bureaus of research, of their planning for health and education and training? Why not do for peace what we are doing for war?"
  • Feeling as I did, I could not fight for suffrage, although I did not fight against it. Moreover, I believed that it would come because in the minds of most people democracy is a piece of machinery, its motive power the ballot. The majority of the advocates for women's suffrage saw regeneration, a new world through laws and systems; but I saw democracy as a spiritual faith. I did not deny that it must be interpreted in laws and systems, but their work deepens, broadens, only as the spirit grows. What I feared in women was that they would substitute the letter for the spirit, weaken the strategic place Nature and society had given them for keeping the spirit alive in the democracy, elevating it to the head of the procession of life, training youth for its place. But what chance had such ideas beside the practical program of the suffragist?
  • the unpalatable fact that business always moves in cycles-that a boom will be followed by a slump, that common sense demands preparedness.
  • I took on self-support at the start that I might be free to find answers to questions which puzzled me. After long floundering I blundered into man's old struggle for the betterment of his life. My point of attack has always been that of a journalist after the fact, rarely that of a reformer, the advocate of a cause or a system.
  • We are given to ignoring not only the past of our solutions, their status when we took them over, but the variety of relationships they must meet, satisfy. They must sink or swim in a stream where a multitude of human experiences, prejudices, ambitions, ideals meet and clash, throw one another back, mingle, make that all-powerful current which is public opinion the trend which swallows, digests, or rejects what we give it. It is our indifference to or ignorance of the multiplicity of human elements in the society we seek to benefit that is responsible for the sinking outright of many of our fine plans. There are certain exhibits of the eighty years I have lived which particularly impress me. Perhaps the first of these is the cyclical character of man's nature and activities. If I separate my eighty years-1857 to 1937-into four generations, examine them, compare my findings, I find startling similarities in essentials. Take the effort to create, distribute, and use wealth. How alike are the ups and downs that have marked that effort!
  • These long rides, these night waits, brought unforgettable looks into human lives. Strange how travelers will confide their ambitions, unload their secrets, show their scars to strangers.
  • Two generalizations topping all others came out of this going up and down the land in the years between 1920 and 1932. The first is the ambition of our people to live and think according to what they conceive to be national standards. They adopt them whether they suit their locality or not, and often in adopting them destroy something with individuality and charm.
  • It has been sickening to see hopes grow dim under the hammering of reality, to see a generation lose its first grand fire and sink into apathy, cynicism. One asks oneself if man has the staying power ever to realize his ideals.
  • If I find little satisfaction or hope in examining and comparing one by one my four successive generations, I find considerable in looking at them as a whole. When I do that, I see not a group of cycles rolling one after another along a rocky and uneven road but a spiral-the group moves upward. To be sure it is not a very steady spiral, but I am convinced that is the real movement. Could there be greater evidence that this is true than that the world as a whole has today come to conscious grips over that most fundamental of problems: Shall all men cooperate in an effort to make a free, peaceful, orderly world, or shall we consent that strong men make a world to their liking, forcing us to live in it? more than that, train us to carry it on? It is well that the issue should be clear, so clear that each of us must be forced to choose.
  • Justice Brandeis, then plain lawyer Brandeis, was before a committee considering the Dingley bill. "And for whom do you appear?" he was asked. "For the consumer," he answered. The committee, chairman and all, laughed aloud, but they were good enough to say, "Oh, let him run down." This old indifference to the effect of higher prices on the living of the poor stirred me to the only article in my series which seemed to "take hold." I called it, "Where Every Penny Counts." The worthwhile thing, from my point of view, was that it reached women. "I never knew what the tariff meant before," Jane Addams wrote me.
  • Even more hopeful, if not so clear to many people, is the increasing knowledge that we are getting of man as an individual and as a mass, coming to us particularly from men of science.
  • One of my great satisfactions has been a revival of curiosity. I lost it in the 1920's and early 1930's. Human affairs seemed to me to be headed for collapse. War was not over, and men were taking it for granted it was. The failure of the hopes of previous generations had taught us nothing. The sense of disaster was strong in me. What I most feared was that we were raising our standard of living at the expense of our standard of character. If you believed as I did (and do) that permanent human betterment must rest on a sound moral basis, then our house would collapse sooner or later. It was taking a longer view, looking at my fifty years as a whole, that revived me. I thought I saw a spiral, was eager to prove it. Once more I am curious. It is an armchair curiosity-no longer can I go out and see for myself; but that has its advantages. It compels longer reflection, intensifies the conviction that taking time, having patience, doing one thing at a time are the essentials for solid improvement, for finding answers. Perhaps, I tell myself, I may from an armchair find better answers than I have yet found to those questions which set me at my day's work, the still unanswered questions of the most fruitful life for women in civilization, the true nature of revolutions, even the mystery of God. It is the last of the three which disturbs me least. The greatest of mysteries, it has become for me the greatest of realities.
  • We owe it to Amelia Bloomer that we can without public ridicule wear short skirts and stout boots, be as sensible as our feminine natures permit
  • My speech was not popular. What they wanted from me was a rousing attack on the Standard Oil Company. They wanted a Mary Lease to tell them to go on raising hell, and here I was telling them they had got all they could by raising hell and now they must settle down to doing business.
  • the War put a different face on oil. It suddenly became a matter for government control. It was no longer a private business. It was life and death for the Allies.
  • there were other forces working against the type of journalism in which we believed. We were classed as muckrakers, and the school had been so commercialized that the public was beginning to suspect it. The public is not as stupid as it sometimes seems. The truth of the matter was that the muckraking school was stupid. It had lost the passion for facts in a passion for subscriptions.
  • This classification of muckraker, which I did not like
  • Now and then I came upon a man or woman who dared to say to me when he had me in a corner: "I am a pacifist. We must find another way." With which I so heartily agreed. But that man or woman would not have said that on the street corner without danger to his life.
  • Each generation repeats its leaders. Each sees men endowed with superior inventiveness, energy, and genius for business, inspired by love of power and possession, launch selfish schemes-Carnegies, Rockefellers, Goulds…Each generation has had its Henry George, its Bellamy, its Bryan, intent on persuading mankind that he had found the way, could lead men to the good life. In each generation employer and employee have faced the decision-war or cooperation.
  • I was quite clear about the work I wanted to do. It was to continue writing and speaking on the few subjects on which I felt strongly, and of which I knew a little. These subjects had made a pattern in my mind. If men would work out this pattern I felt that they would go a long way towards ending the world's quarrels, quieting its confusions. First and most important were the privileges they had snatched. I wanted to see them all gradually scrapped, cost what it might economically. They were a threat to honest men, to sound industry, to peaceful international Life. I wanted to help spread the knowledge of all the intelligent efforts within and without industry and government, to put an end to militancy, replace it with actual understanding. And then I wanted to do my part towards making the world acquainted with the man who I believed had best shown how to carry out a program of cooperation based on consideration of others-that was Abraham Lincoln. There was a man, I told myself, who took the time to understand a thing before he spoke. He knew that hurry, acting before you were reasonably sure, almost invariably makes a mess of even the best intentions. He wanted to know what he was about before he acted, also he wanted all those upon whom he must depend for results to know what he was about and why. Whatever he did, he did without malice, taking into account men's limitations, not asking more from any one than he could give. More than anybody I had studied he applied in public affairs Frederick Taylor's rules for achievement of which I have spoken above. The more people who knew about Lincoln, the more chance democracy had to destroy its two chief enemies, privilege and militancy. I proposed to take every chance I had to talk about him.

Quotes about Ida Tarbell[edit]

  • Tarbell's private reflections, about gender among other things, do emerge from time to time. Early on, she recognized the predicament of women. At 14, Ida knelt and prayed to God that she would be spared marriage. "I must be free; and to be free I must be a spinster." She was right: Though higher education was becoming more available to women, to have a career, a woman had to forgo having a family. Aside from teaching and missionary work—the two "respectable" careers for educated women—journalism, in its chaotic infancy, offered an opening an intrepid female could slip through.

External links[edit]

Wikipedia has an article about: