First In Their Field: Anne McDowell

Anne McDowell was the first American woman to publish a newspaper completely run by women.

An advocate for labor and women’s rights, in 1855 in Philadelphia, McDowell founded a weekly paper named the “Women’s Advocate” with the goal of “the elevation of the female industrial class”.

“The Woman’s Advocate would not clamor for the political rights of woman, but instead would center its efforts on her right to live and use all means within her reach and capacity to make a living. We are more than ever convinced of the necessity of an advocate of the rights of our toiling sisters – the right to use their hands and heads in any and every capacity that they may have the will and the ability to act in. This we believe covers the whole ground of those rights which women should demand.”

— Anne McDowell editor, journalist, and publisher of the “Woman’s Advocate,” in an editorial Jan 12, 1856.

Through her paper, McDowell urged women to seek training and employment and offered the chance for women to work at her paper. The Advocate focused on publishing columns about suffrage, dress reform, and slavery. Well-known women activists were featured in the paper, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Susan B Anthony recommended the Advocate to supporters of the women’s movement.

Her business was a model of her beliefs in the rights for women to work and be compensated for their work. She hired only female printers and typesetters, and only had female stockholders. She paid her staff the same wages men earned in similar jobs at the time.

Unfortanelty, her paper did not last long and in 1860, after 5 years of operation the “Women’s Advocate” closed. McDowell continued to break new ground as a woman in the publishing and news industry. After he own business closed she went on to be the editor of the women’s department at the Philadelphia “Sunday Dispatch” for 11 years. In 1871, McDowell became the editor of the Philadelphia “Sunday Republic”.

McDowell continued to advocate for labor rights even as she got older. In 1884 she founded an organization that secured health benefits for employees of Wanamaker’s department store where she was a secretary. She also started The McDowell Free Library for women for the store’s employees.

In 1901, at the age of 75, Anne McDowell passed away.

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