Julia M. Bennett led way for women in journalism
Mrs. Julia M. Bennett, St. Louis Globe Democrat, 1915. Contributed by Mitchell E. Bennett.
Archie Hayden shares this image of the M.K. & T. Depot at Bird and Front streets, the likely spot of President Hayes’ stop at Hannibal in 1879. The Hannibal Courier, under the management of E.C. and Julia M. Bennett, offered an eye-witness review of the presidential visit, and the crowd reaction.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
In 1879, Mrs. Julia M. Bennett could typically be found seated behind a desk in the Hannibal Courier’s newspaper office, located on the second floor of 123 N. Main St. There, she would judiciously determine what would (and wouldn’t ) be included in the newspaper’s next edition.
Julia Affleck Bennett - with seven prior years of experience writing for the Missouri Republican newspaper in St. Louis County - was a natural for the role of editor for the newspaper her husband, Elliott C. Bennett owned.
While her husband tended to the finances, Mrs. Bennett (who went by Mrs. Julia M., rather than Mrs. E.C., which was the standard of the times) introduced her own voice and interests (including literature, art and science) to the Courier. The newspaper competed head-to-head against three other town newspapers for reader loyalty: The Clipper Herald, the Journal and the Hannibal Independent.
In July 1879, her reputation as a skilled journalist led to an invitation to speak before "the Missouri Press Association’s 13th annual conference in Columbia, Mo. She presented an original poem, “The Editor’s Dream.” Her presentation gave her the status as the first woman to address the all-male organization.
A stanza of the poem was published in ”Pioneer Women of the Missouri Press,” Missouri Historical Review, April 1970:
“Clipping, and jotting down neighborhood news,
Rewriting some nonsense, he dare not refuse,
Hearing the gossip spun out by some bore
Who needed no asking to enter the door,
Sending out bills which came back unpaid,
Some with requests that he take pay in trade …”
Belleville, Ill., native
Julia Maria Chittenden was born in Belleville, St. Clair, Ill, around 1842, the daughter of William E. Chittenden, an Episcopal minister, and Maria C. Mitchell Chittenden. (Mrs. Chittenden died in 1843 at the age of 22, when Julia was very young. Her father died in 1880 in Ohio.)
In 1859, Julia, then 18, traveled to Ontario, Canada, where she married Charles D. Afflack, who was also born in St. Clair County, Ill. He was three years her senior.
He died May 2, 1876, in St. Louis, where they made their home, leaving her with four young children, ranging in age from 9 to 1: Charles, Grace, Maud and Roy Affleck.
She later married E.C. Elliott, and they moved to Hannibal. His daughter, Lillie F. Bennett, 6, and Julia M. Elliott’s four children were soon joined by a child of their new union, Elliott C. Bennett Jr., born in about 1879. At the time of the 1880 census, the family was living at 211 Bird St.
In September 1879, the St. Louis Times-Journal decried Mrs. Julia M. Bennett as “one of our busiest, as well as most capable, Western women.”
The article, reprinted in several newspapers, including the Eureka and Greenwood County Republican, Eureka, Kansas, continued:
“She is the mother of six children, the eldest being about 11 years of age; she assists her husband at editing his paper, the Hannibal Daily Courier; she has written a cookery book within the past six months. Balmer and Weber, of this city, are now publishing three of her new songs; she has furnished a New York house with three children’ stories which are to be printed in book form, and she is under contract to write a holiday story for one of the Boston magazines.”
As if that wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, the St Louis Times-Journal continued:
“In addition to the faithful performance of her manifold literary duties Mrs Bennett has the reputation of being one of the best housewives in the state.”
A duel that wasn’t
The same year that Mrs. Elliott was accumulating accolades for her accomplishments, her husband became embroiled in a dispute with Jas. Hayward, editor of the Clipper-Herald. Rumors circulated at the time that the dispute arose over the awarding of Marion County’s printing contract. A duel was scheduled on the Illinois shoreline opposite of Hannibal, and sources indicate that Hayward’s people chose the weapons: a pair of old ball bats. Elliott refused to fight with the bats, and both parties left the scene without a resolution.
The Fulton Gazette, Fulton, Mo. March 7, 1879 reported:
“An hour later (Elliott) met Hayward at the post office and promptly knocked him down. Then the affair wound up with a police court assault and battery trial.”
President Hayes visits
Among the newsworthy highlights of the Elliotts’ newspaper tenure in Hannibal was a rail stop at Union Station by President Rutherford B. Hayes and Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in late September, 1879. The Hannibal Courier’s account of the visit was picked up by the Quincy Whig.
The evening began with several hundred ladies and gentleman gathered at Union Station hoping to see the president as he passed through Hannibal en route to Kansas.
The train’s delay in leaving Quincy, combined with a rain storm which began around 9 p.m., resulted in many of these citizens heading home for the night.
Left downtown to await the train’s arrival were what the Hannibal newspaper described as “roughs.
“A few moments before 9 o’clock the rain began to fall in torrents, and as the roof of our union depot leaked badly the assembled crowd resorted to the neighboring awnings and saloons, where the roughs filled up with beer and whisky, becoming more boisterous every minute.”
At 9:50 p.m. the CB&Q presidential train arrived from the north.
“The president appeared on the rear platform of the Baltimore and Ohio car, and bade the crowd ‘good evening,’ but seeing the composition of his audience, hastily retired.”
The newspaper described the following scene as “bedlam in earnest.”
Gen. Sherman was the next to appear on the platform. He scolded the rowdies on the treatment of their president.
“The president came out to see you and he will hardly care to come again after the treatment he received. You must not insult the president of the United States, and you must not insult me, for if you do, so help me God I will fight. (Cries of “You bet,” “we know you’ll fight”). If you will promise to be respectful, I will see the president, and I think he will come out and see you again. (Cries of “three cheers for Gen. Sherman!”) Never mind, boys, cheering for me; just treat the president respectfully when he comes out and you’ll please me best.”
The president joined Sherman on the platform, and respectfulness ensued.
(Timetable contributed by Archie Hayden)
The Elliotts left Hannibal sometime in 1880, returning to St. Louis to live and work.
E.C. Elliott had previously worked as a detective in St. Louis, and for a time followed that profession. At another time he served as proprietor of the Hotel Comfort, Twentieth and Market Streets, St. Louis. In 1893 he was founder and editor of the Building Association Record, and launched a new weekly, Our New Era, devoted to real estate, architectural and building association interests.
In 1891, Mrs. Bennett edited the Kirkwood Leader, which was published by Mrs. E.M. Brent. The Thanksgiving edition featured a story by Julia M. Bennett, entitled “The Chrysanthemum Dinner.” In 1894, she was editor and co-publisher of the Leader in Kirkwood.
The Bennetts divorced in 1897.
Mr. Bennett, who had served with the Illinois Infantry during the Civil War, died in 1909.
Mrs Bennett died Dec. 26, 1915.
Thanks to the Hannibal Free Public Library for sharing Julia M. Bennett’s obituary from The Daily Courier Post, Dec. 27, 1915.
North Main Street, Hannibal, Mo., circa 1866. A little more than a decade later, E.C. Bennett operated the Hannibal Courier at 123 North Main, upstairs. His wife, Mrs. Julia M. Bennett, was editor of the newspaper in 1879. Steve Chou collection.
The 1879 Hannibal City Directory carries an introduction from the publisher, Elliott C. Bennett. Page accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website.
By Julia M. Bennett
Chetopa Herald, Chetopa, Kansas, Dec. 29, 1877
We sing of the ribbon,
The bonnie blue ribbon,
Whose color means true;
On your broad breasts they pin it,
Waste not one precious minute,
With your whole soul in it,
Then pin on the blue.
’Tis a sign that is given,
This wee bit of ribbon,
This pretty blue ribbon,
That will so become you,
Itmeans you’re a man,
And firmly will stand,
And rest while you can,
With the help of the blue.
Here is my hand then, brother,
To help you recover,
With many another
the manhood you’ve lost,
Here’s a bunch of blue ribbon,
Among then, your ribbon,
Enough of the blue ribbon
To cover a host.
Then cheer for the ribbon,
The precious blue ribbon,
The bit of blue ribbon
We pin near the heart,
The promise is taken,
Shall ne’er be forsaken,
Till by death overtaken,
From life we must part.
Hannibal Daily Courier
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com