A muckraker who rejected the term as well as an educated woman who opposed women’s suffrage, Ida M. Tarbell (1857-1944) may seem like an unlikely role model to inspire the next generation. But Emily Arnold McCully presents the story of Tarbell and her times with such nuance and depth that young readers will appreciate Tarbell’s difficult circumstances, vast energies and pioneering journalism. Restless and curious from an early age (even after she got nightmares from sneaking a peek at three dead bodies), Tarbell grew up in Western Pennsylvania, which was drastically altered during those oil boom years, and then traveled widely as a journalist. Swearing off romance for reasons McCully pins mostly on her parents’ uneasy relationship, Tarbell found intellectual fulfillment as well as financial independence through her professional pursuits. Particularly satisfying are the descriptions here of the lively offices of McClure’s Magazine, where she encouraged other writers and for which she put together now-classic exposés of shady business practices, unsafe working conditions and corrupt politicians. Tarbell often railed against a growing disparity between the wealthiest and the rest of society, and her richly researched articles on the Standard Oil Trust and other corporations led to Progressive-era reforms. She considered herself a historian and truth-seeker rather than a raker of muck, but either way, Tarbell’s thoughtful life and work stand in stark contrast to the money-mad, turn-of-the-century titans.
IDA M. TARBELL
Who Challenged Big Business — and Won!
Clarion. $18.99. Ages 12 and up