Professional Anxiety: African American Female Journalists Writing Their Way to Legitimacy, 1880-1914

  • Author / Creator
    Mulcahy, Monica Clare
  • Situated at the juncture of black periodical studies, periodical studies more broadly, the history of American journalism, and black women’s historiography, Professional Anxiety contributes to a growing trend in scholarship that explores black female journalists’ writing. This study considers the meaning of professional legitimacy for African American women, and their complex work to claim it, in the press at the turn of the century. Focusing on leading black female journalists, including Gertrude Mossell, Victoria Earle Matthews, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Lucy Wilmot Smith, and Addie Hunton, I argue that their negotiation of professional standards is made evident through their writing on journalism and on the black domestic worker, a controversial figure within the black press and broader turn-of-the-century American society due to her centrality to such pressing issues as migration, education, labour, and civil rights. Whereas extant scholarship on middle-class black women’s writing on the black domestic worker often positions it as classist or emerging from social reform work and the black women’s club movement, I contend that for black female journalists addressing this figure constituted both an important strategy toward solidifying their tenuous claim to professional legitimacy even as they used it to challenge dominant notions of professionalism within journalism. My project explores black female journalists’ efforts to negotiate their marginalization by aligning themselves with legitimizing collectives while simultaneously working to redefine their roles within them. Chapter One examines the ways that, through their writing on the profession, they simultaneously upheld models of respectable journalism within the black press that promoted racial collectivity, yet undermined them by championing a careerist, feminist collectivity with other black female journalists, even over loyalty to “the race.” In the subsequent chapters, I build on this analysis by interrogating black female journalists’ navigation of gendered and racialized meanings of professionalism, not only within the black press but also within American journalism, through their writing on the black domestic worker. In both Chapters Two and Three, I argue that this strategic negotiation of journalistic professionalism often came at the cost of creating a dichotomous relationship with black domestic workers that undermined their labour movement. I argue in Chapter Two that black female journalists endeavoured to rhetorically manage their proximity to this figure in order to construct themselves as informational journalists, a significant move given that this prestigious form of journalism was widely racialized as white and gendered as male. In Chapter Three, I read their engagement with the black domestic worker within the context of the “servant problem” debates as an attempt to lay claim to markers of professionalism, which were denied to them through systemic oppression, and yet were increasingly privileged in an era of professionalizing American journalism.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2017
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.