Elizabeth Jane Dugan, better known by her pseudonym “Rosa Pearle,” was the founder, editor, and principal writer of Rosa Pearle’s Paper, a Saturday-evening society weekly published in Sedalia, Missouri, from 1894 until 1911. Questions remain as to whether she was born in Warren County, Ohio, in 1848 or Bridgewater, Pennsylvania, in May 1849. Dugan came to Sedalia with her parents Talbot and Elizabeth McLean Dugan in the early 1870s. She did not marry, and her writing suggests she believed marriage robbed a woman of her spirit. She lived with her brother Emmett and helped raise Alice, Oscar, and Frank, the children of their brother Alonzo, who had died in 1864. Dugan died on January 10, 1911, of kidney disease.
At a time when “scribbling women” were frequently viewed with patronizing contempt, Dugan was recognized by the Kansas City Journal as “one of Missouri’s brightest newspaper women.” Between 1890 and 1900, fewer than twenty-five Missouri women edited newspapers; most of these women had assisted husbands or fathers and assumed management of their papers upon their deaths. Only a few founded the papers they edited.
Dugan began her writing career as a poet; her works were printed in the New York Post, the New York Sentinel, and the New York World. She continued to write poetry throughout her life. She began her journalistic career with the Sedalia Bazoo, edited by J. West Goodwin. Serving as a news writer, society editor, and general editor, she wrote news and editorial essays for the Bazoo. Her outspoken commentary matched the flamboyant Goodwin’s trenchant social criticism; it is likely that she was influenced by his view of the journalist as social reformer. At her death Goodwin eulogized Dugan by saying that “her aim was to make Sedalia a better city, socially and morally.”
Dugan wrote briefly for a short-lived Sedalia paper called the Earth, which was billed as “the original family, literary and society paper.” After working for the Chicago Tribune for a time, she was offered a job on the New York Tribune, which she refused because of poor health.
In 1894 Dugan and her niece Alice, or “Allie,” began Rosa Pearle’s Paper, a society paper described by one Sedalia matron as “very pretty.” The eight-page weekly, devoted to “society, literature, drama, and music,” was praised by the Sedalia Morning Gazette, the Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, and the Sedalia Sunday Democrat. The Kansas City Journal referred to Rosa Pearle’s Paper as
“handsomely printed and in every way creditable to the publisher.”
The front page of Rosa Pearle’s Paper noted the affairs of “Sedalia Society.” Dugan described musicales, teas, weddings, and receptions with detailed accounts of ladies’ gowns, table decorations, flower arrangements, and entertainment. She named eligible young ladies and provided a list of bachelors. Regular columns included “Fashion Notes” and “Music Notes,” as well as editorial comments from “Your Aunt Fuller” (another of Dugan’s pseudonyms). Theater was particularly popular in Sedalia at that time, and she regularly reviewed the performances.
Dugan moved beyond news of tea parties and church socials, however, to confront issues of the day. She lamented the lack of courtesy of men who smoked, but she also questioned the propriety of women’s smoking. She castigated men who would not work to support their families. Critical of inequities, she denounced the low wages paid most working women. While she deplored the tactics of the Knights of Labor, she recognized the lack of fairness in the treatment of the working class. She raised questions about woman suffrage and about temperance. In doing so, Dugan continued the tradition of journalist as social critic, and promoted the rights of women and the poor. Her work addressed issues of interest to the so-called new woman of the early twentieth century, presaging a time when women would be active in all aspects of journalism.
Cassity, Michael J. Defending a Way of Life: An American Community in the Nineteenth Century. Albany: State University Press of New York, 1989.
Dains, Mary K., ed. Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989.
Dugan, Elizabeth Jane. Letter from Rosa Pearle to Benjamin F. Barnes. Theodore Roosevelt Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division. Online at Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library, Fairleigh Dickinson University, https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o52372.
Kansas City Star, September 11, 1910.
McGruder, Mark A. History of Pettis County, Missouri. Topeka, KS: Historical Publishing, 1919.
Rosa Pearle’s Paper, May 19, 1894–June 16, 1901.
Sedalia Democrat-Sentinel, January 10, 1911.
Vaughn, Alma. “Pioneer Women of the Missouri Press.” Missouri Historical Review 64, no. 3 (April 1970): 289–305. https://digital.shsmo.org/digital/collection/mhr/id/32980/rec/4
Published March 11, 2022
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