Women Writing War: The Evolution of the Girl Reporter 1845-1945

Open Access
Kale, Verna
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 05, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Robin G Schulze And Sandra Spanier, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Robin Schulze, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Sandra Spanier, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Mark Stewart Morrisson, Committee Member
  • James L W West Iii, Committee Member
  • William Leonard Joyce, Committee Member
  • rhetoric
  • captivity narrative
  • affect
  • sentimental
  • Martha Gellhorn
  • Nellie Bly
  • Fanny Fern
  • Margaret Fuller
  • stunt reporting
  • journalism
  • women war correspondents
  • New Woman
  • feminism
  • public sphere
  • modernism
  • His Girl Friday
  • Brenda Starr
This dissertation traces the evolution of the “girl reporter” in modern American literature and culture. I examine how nineteenth-century writers like journalist and philosopher Margaret Fuller, popular columnist Fanny Fern, and “stunt reporter” Nellie Bly employed the rhetoric of sentimentality, domesticity, and the captivity narrative to create new and popular forms of women’s writing that allowed for greater participation by women in the public sphere. The second half of the project looks at how these same tropes emerge in war correspondence—during World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II—by Nellie Bly and by modernist writer Martha Gellhorn. I also examine representations of the girl reporter in fiction, drama, and in a variety of visual media: advertisements, comic strips, and film. I explore how the physically attractive “girl reporter” plays upon tropes of sentiment and the female body at risk to gain access to the front lines and how this sexualized, emotional image precludes the possibility of modernist impersonality and journalistic objectivity. The project reconsiders the idea of impersonality as a defining criterion of modernism and instead locates modernist innovations in the girl reporter’s commitment to social justice through storytelling, through sentiment, and through the redirection of the gaze away from combat and toward the effects of war on the bodies of real people—including the body of the reporter herself.