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Ida Tarbell was born on November 5, 1857, in the "oil region" of northwestern Pennsylvania. Her childhood was marked by the prosperous oil days, the Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the fall of the oil industry in the region; events that she would successfully write about in her later years.
Tarbell entered Allegheny College in 1876 as the only female in the class. With an interest in science and the microscope, she studied biology and graduated in 1880. Upon graduation she took a teaching position at The Union Seminary in Poland, Ohio. In 1883, she began her career in journalism with The Chautauquan. Tarbell learned as much as she could about publishing before she left for Paris in 1891. She spent the next three years in Paris as a student, researcher and journalist often sending her articles to several American newspapers and magazines which caught the attention of Samuel McClure.
In 1894, McClure hired Tarbell to work for his new reform-minded magazine. Here Tarbell worked alongside John Phillips, Ray Stannard Baker, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens and would usher in reform journalism. Tarbell's early series on Napoleon and then Madame Roland increased the magazine's circulation. Between 1895 and 1896, her series on Abraham Lincoln was published, which placed her among the well-known Lincoln historians of that time. Then between 1902 and 1904, Tarbell's series on John D. Rockefeller and The Standard Oil Company was published, bringing her into the folds of investigative journalism.
In 1906, Ida Tarbell with several other editors/writers abruptly left McClure's and cofounded The American Magazine where she worked as an editor until 1915. During this time she would write about tariffs and big business. After her tenure with The American Magazine, she maintained an active and productive life as a freelance writer, lecturer and teacher. Tarbell continued her writings on Lincoln publishing additional articles and books. She went on to write biographies on Elbert Gary (U.S. Steel) and Owen D. Young (General Electric) and eventually her autobiography in 1939. Tarbell was a member of the Women's Committee of the Council on National Defense (1917), President Wilson's Industrial Conference (1919), President Harding's Unemployment Conference (1921), and the National Women's Committee for Mobilization of Human Needs (1933-1936). In her seventies, Tarbell taught special courses on biography at various colleges; among them her alma mater, Allegheny College.
Investigative journalist, biographer, teacher, lecturer, and a distinguished alumni of Allegheny College,
Tarbell died on January 6, 1944 in her Connecticut home. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2002
and two years later, the United States Postal Service honored Ida Minerva Tarbell on a stamp.
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Date created: 2004 April 13 Last Modification: 2008 July 08