- Elizabeth Stoddard's Civil War:"Gossip from Gotham" and the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin
In a letter written to her friend Edmund Clarence Stedman on 20 March 1862, Elizabeth Stoddard expressed admiration for his "late war letters, written with ease and spirit," that had been published in the New York World. Stedman, who was at the time serving simultaneously as war correspondent for the World and pardon clerk in the US Attorney General's office in Washington, DC, had earned a reputation as a journalist with his letter on the first battle of Bull Run, which was reprinted extensively and republished in pamphlet form almost immediately after the battle. In this letter, Stoddard lamented her own lack of similar opportunities, complaining, "If only some newspaper would engage me to write a few feminine seat-of-war letters! I could do them well I know. But there seems to be no luck for me." Stoddard scholars have taken the author at her word here, perhaps because a handful of periodical publications and the 1865 appearance of her second novel, Two Men, did not indicate a gap in her body of work. In the introduction to my own edition of Two Men, I dismissed Stoddard's desire to write "feminine seat-of-war letters" as an unfulfilled ambition (xxxv–xxxvi). Like others before me, I assumed that the Daily Alta California letters (seventy-five articles published between 1854 and 1858) and her late work for the Independent represented Stoddard's only contributions to the field of journalism and read the Alta letters as an apprenticeship of sorts to her real work, the writing of novels, poetry, and short fiction.
However, in 2008, while working simultaneously on an edition of Stoddard's letters and a project on Stoddard's friend and fellow writer, Elizabeth Akers [End Page 392] Allen, I came across a familiar voice in the pages of the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin. Following a hunch, I printed out a series of twenty-two letters published between May 1862 and March 1863 attributed to the Bulletin's "Lady Correspondent" and, using internal evidence and her personal correspondence, proved that they were, in fact, written by Stoddard.1 The Bulletin letters are, in many ways, a continuation of the work she had done for the Alta. As in the Alta letters, Stoddard wrote reviews of books, plays, and musical performances; she recounted her attendance at social affairs; and she responded to local and national news, often cataloguing items she found in other newspapers. Her work is distinguished from that of other Bulletin correspondents by being titled "Gossip from Gotham" rather than "Letter from" a city such as New York (a title already taken by a male correspondent) or Washington. As in the Alta, her gender is further highlighted with the label "Lady Correspondent." Yet, in both series, Stoddard reclaimed and clarified that authorial persona for her audience, differentiating her work from that of other newspaper writers of the day. In her first column for the Alta, published on 8 October 1854, for example, she attempts to distinguish herself from other female letter writers:
This being my first essay to establish myself in the columns of your paper as one of "our own," I debate in my mind how to appear most effectively, whether to present myself as a genuine original, or adopt some great example in style: such as the pugilism of Fanny Fern, the pathetics of Minnie Myrtle, or the abandon of Cassie Cauliflower.… On the whole I conclude not to attempt the ornate at present, but to send you letters containing facts and opinions.("Letter from a Lady Correspondent")
In her initial letter for the Bulletin, published eight years later, Stoddard similarly disturbs her readers' expectations of a "Lady Correspondent" by claiming for herself the role of war correspondent, or "prose-troubadour," whose adventures might compete with those of her male counterparts for her readers' attentions (12 May 1862). Stoddard was acutely aware of the masculinized, romanticized nature of war correspondence. In her Alta columns, she had often passed on information about the Crimean War gleaned from the work of some of the first professional war correspondents...