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A vivid social history that brings to light the “girl stunt reporters” of the Gilded Age who went undercover to expose corruption and abuse in America, and redefined what it meant to be a woman and a journalist — pioneers whose influence continues to be felt today. In the waning years of the nineteenth century, women journalists across the United States risked reputation an A vivid social history that brings to light the “girl stunt reporters” of the Gilded Age who went undercover to expose corruption and abuse in America, and redefined what it meant to be a woman and a journalist — pioneers whose influence continues to be felt today. In the waning years of the nineteenth century, women journalists across the United States risked reputation and their own safety to expose the hazardous conditions under which many Americans lived and worked. In various disguises, they stole into sewing factories to report on child labor, fainted in the streets to test public hospital treatment, posed as lobbyists to reveal corrupt politicians. Inventive writers whose in-depth narratives made headlines for weeks at a stretch, these "girl stunt reporters" changed laws, helped launch a labor movement, championed women’s rights, and redefined journalism for the modern age. The 1880s and 1890s witnessed a revolution in journalism as publisher titans like Hearst and Pulitzer used weapons of innovation and scandal to battle it out for market share. As they sought new ways to draw readers in, they found their answer in young women flooding into cities to seek their fortunes. When Nellie Bly went undercover into Blackwell’s Insane Asylum for Women and emerged with a scathing indictment of what she found there, the resulting sensation created opportunity for a whole new wave of writers. In a time of few jobs and few rights for women, here was a path to lives of excitement and meaning. After only a decade of headlines and fame, though, these trailblazers faced a vicious public backlash. Accused of practicing "yellow journalism," their popularity waned until "stunt reporter" became a badge of shame. But their influence on the field of journalism would arc across a century, from the Progressive Era "muckraking" of the 1900s to the personal "New Journalism" of the 1960s and ’70s, to the "immersion journalism" and "creative nonfiction" of today. Bold and unconventional, these writers changed how people would tell stories forever. 


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A vivid social history that brings to light the “girl stunt reporters” of the Gilded Age who went undercover to expose corruption and abuse in America, and redefined what it meant to be a woman and a journalist — pioneers whose influence continues to be felt today. In the waning years of the nineteenth century, women journalists across the United States risked reputation an A vivid social history that brings to light the “girl stunt reporters” of the Gilded Age who went undercover to expose corruption and abuse in America, and redefined what it meant to be a woman and a journalist — pioneers whose influence continues to be felt today. In the waning years of the nineteenth century, women journalists across the United States risked reputation and their own safety to expose the hazardous conditions under which many Americans lived and worked. In various disguises, they stole into sewing factories to report on child labor, fainted in the streets to test public hospital treatment, posed as lobbyists to reveal corrupt politicians. Inventive writers whose in-depth narratives made headlines for weeks at a stretch, these "girl stunt reporters" changed laws, helped launch a labor movement, championed women’s rights, and redefined journalism for the modern age. The 1880s and 1890s witnessed a revolution in journalism as publisher titans like Hearst and Pulitzer used weapons of innovation and scandal to battle it out for market share. As they sought new ways to draw readers in, they found their answer in young women flooding into cities to seek their fortunes. When Nellie Bly went undercover into Blackwell’s Insane Asylum for Women and emerged with a scathing indictment of what she found there, the resulting sensation created opportunity for a whole new wave of writers. In a time of few jobs and few rights for women, here was a path to lives of excitement and meaning. After only a decade of headlines and fame, though, these trailblazers faced a vicious public backlash. Accused of practicing "yellow journalism," their popularity waned until "stunt reporter" became a badge of shame. But their influence on the field of journalism would arc across a century, from the Progressive Era "muckraking" of the 1900s to the personal "New Journalism" of the 1960s and ’70s, to the "immersion journalism" and "creative nonfiction" of today. Bold and unconventional, these writers changed how people would tell stories forever. 

30 review for Sensational: The Hidden History of America's “Girl Stunt Reporters”

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jaksen

    Won this book through Goodreads giveaway program - thanks so much! Fascinating read not only into the 'girl stunt reporters' of the 1880's up into the early 1900's, but of the turbulent history of that time as well. The 'girls' - and that's what they were called regardless of their age, though most were in their 20's - were young women driven by ambition, frustration, anger and a willingness to test their own limits while advancing causes they believed in. This was often mixed with a desire to get Won this book through Goodreads giveaway program - thanks so much! Fascinating read not only into the 'girl stunt reporters' of the 1880's up into the early 1900's, but of the turbulent history of that time as well. The 'girls' - and that's what they were called regardless of their age, though most were in their 20's - were young women driven by ambition, frustration, anger and a willingness to test their own limits while advancing causes they believed in. This was often mixed with a desire to get a chance to just write and work as journalists, doing anything to get a foothold in. Often living on a less-than-decent living wage, in poor or risky circumstances, they did things like pretend insanity to check out the conditions in an 'insane asylum,' or going undercover among prostitutes, or pretending to need/want an abortion to ferret out doctors doing the same, or who were giving illegal advice (at the time) to women seeking one. Sometimes this worked, and conditions or laws were changed; other times the women (not girls) were branded as attention-seekers, or unwomanly, or ugly, or agents of 'yellow journalism,' which in many cases today would be hailed as 'investigative reporting.' The environment/times they lived in was well-covered, too, serving as both backdrop and cause for their efforts. Women had few recourses at this time: domestic labor, maybe teaching or other poorly-paid jobs, such as factory work, and/or marriage. (And one can see the emphasis in literature at this time of women 'needing' to be married. Yes, if you were willing to give up a host of rights in many states such as owning property, or keeping any money you earned. Yikes!) This was also an era of extreme oversight, IMO, even though many say today is the era of no-privacy. In the late 1800's and up into the 1900's, a woman had to actually dress a certain way to be considered anything other than loose, a prostitute, or worse. How one dressed, acted, spoke and moved about the world were in constant scrutiny - not just by men, but by everyone, including other women. To raise a scandal, be publicly talked about or chastised - well, your life was just about over. (Yes, in some ways it's not a lot better today, but the constant need to fit into a very rigid, highly-stratified society must have been chilling. I even saw remnants of this as a child and teenager when listening to how older women talked about others. I don't move in a circle that does this anymore, but I remember the discussion about clothes, behavior, even how one 'kept a house.' More than chilling. A few words said in a certain direction could damage you for life.) So these 'girl' reporters had a lot going against them. Constant harassment at work, often in an office of all men, and no recourse whatsoever against it other than to leave - or get married! Often publicly belittled - entire editorials were written about this, mocking and deriding at the same time. But the girls (women) went on, persevered, did their work, as well as speak out against many of the social problems of their day: Anti-unionism, fair wages, racism, sexism and sexual harassment, child labor, workplace safety, treatment of mental illness, worker exploitation, voting rights and so on. In some of these issues, we still have a ways to go. In many cases the recognition of and changes involved are and were due to these young women. (Damn, I hate the way they were all called girls! Wonder how men would like to be called 'boys' in every aspect of their lives.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    I don't know exactly how to review this book. I was excited by learning that this would be a book about female reporters of the Gilded Age, like Nelly Bly. (I loved her exposé on mental institutions that I had read previously!) This book is filled with "stunts" like this and showcases the bias women reporters were shown. I have to admit that I was amazed at how many women wanted to do such things...but there you have it! This book also shows how investigative reporting started, and it seems that I don't know exactly how to review this book. I was excited by learning that this would be a book about female reporters of the Gilded Age, like Nelly Bly. (I loved her exposé on mental institutions that I had read previously!) This book is filled with "stunts" like this and showcases the bias women reporters were shown. I have to admit that I was amazed at how many women wanted to do such things...but there you have it! This book also shows how investigative reporting started, and it seems that it all started with women newspaper reporters! The first part of this book (and it dragged) was about abortionists, abortion drugs, and the exposés the women reporters managed on the Doctor's and Pharmacists. The years never seem to change, just some of the reporters. 400 pages (or thereabouts) to cover what should have been 10 or more years but concentrated on about 4 years. Now we add racial bigotry and women's rights into the mix. This takes a large part of the book and is well covered. We also have long discussions of the feud between newspaper owners such as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Finally, we get to the turn of the century, and even some modern authors, though there isn't a huge coverage on them-one chapter. These are very long chapters -that is a particular complaint of mine but not anyone else, so just ignore that I said that! LOL! There are drawings, newspaper excerpts, photos, and plenty of the author's research. *ARC supplied by the publisher, author, and Edelweiss.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kim McGee

    Having always been interested in larger than life Nellie Bly I knew that there had to be many more women journalists who were pioneers in a world dominated by men. So, how do you get out of writing snippets in the society pages and do some real journalism when you can't even vote, sit on a jury and are not taken seriously? You work for free, work under an assumed male name or become a "girl reporter". These brave women put themselves in dangerous situations that even their male counterparts woul Having always been interested in larger than life Nellie Bly I knew that there had to be many more women journalists who were pioneers in a world dominated by men. So, how do you get out of writing snippets in the society pages and do some real journalism when you can't even vote, sit on a jury and are not taken seriously? You work for free, work under an assumed male name or become a "girl reporter". These brave women put themselves in dangerous situations that even their male counterparts would not have done to expose scandals , dangerous situations and deplorable social conditions. They searched out women like themselves and became advocates for women's rights. Some, like Nellie Bly, would achieve fame but most had their best efforts go unnoticed by the public. Not only is this an in depth look at the "girl stunt reporters" but it is also an interesting look at the high jinx between the two biggest publishers - Heart and Pulitzer in their endless feud and quest for being crowned king of the publishing world. Kim Todd shares her research at the end of the book which tied up loose ends and I found very interesting. For any reader who enjoys learning more about the unsung female heroes. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Donna Wetzel

    Thanks Goodreads for my copy of Sensational:The Hidden History of America's "Girl Stunt Reporters" by Kim Todd. This book reads more like a history book than a non fiction paperback. This book did illuminate the era of girl reporters for those of us who were unaware of these early women reporters. However it got a bit tedious in the second half of the book. More stunts, more women going to rival papers; just more of the same reexamining this time period. Thanks Goodreads for my copy of Sensational:The Hidden History of America's "Girl Stunt Reporters" by Kim Todd. This book reads more like a history book than a non fiction paperback. This book did illuminate the era of girl reporters for those of us who were unaware of these early women reporters. However it got a bit tedious in the second half of the book. More stunts, more women going to rival papers; just more of the same reexamining this time period.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Sparrow

    Absolutely fine. Todd recounts the story of the pioneering women journalists of the last years of the nineteenth century. I knew a little bit about Nellie Bly and Ida B. Wells, but I learned so much more about them and a dozen other reporters. Always inspiring and Kim Todd does a great job about putting their journalism in the context of the newspapers of the time. In the last couple of chapters, she discussed their influence on more contemporary writers, e.g. Gloria Steinem and Joan Didion and i Absolutely fine. Todd recounts the story of the pioneering women journalists of the last years of the nineteenth century. I knew a little bit about Nellie Bly and Ida B. Wells, but I learned so much more about them and a dozen other reporters. Always inspiring and Kim Todd does a great job about putting their journalism in the context of the newspapers of the time. In the last couple of chapters, she discussed their influence on more contemporary writers, e.g. Gloria Steinem and Joan Didion and in the final chapters, Kim summarizes the lives of the reporters into the twentieth century. If you have the opportunity, check out the interview with Kim Todd which was aired on C-Span Book TV, it adds another dimension to the story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    Sensational delves into the stories often forgotten, or ignored, of women contributing to the literary and journalistic world in the late 1800s and after. These experiences and histories were told in such a way that blended fact with a stronger narration, elevating the text from a mere retelling of what happened through engaging story telling. This book excited and inspired me. It showed me the differences that women have made and the challenges that they have faced in an honest light. I particu Sensational delves into the stories often forgotten, or ignored, of women contributing to the literary and journalistic world in the late 1800s and after. These experiences and histories were told in such a way that blended fact with a stronger narration, elevating the text from a mere retelling of what happened through engaging story telling. This book excited and inspired me. It showed me the differences that women have made and the challenges that they have faced in an honest light. I particularly appreciated the accompanying commentary that did not let black women get lost despite history trying to bury their voices. Todd lets us interpret the larger relevance of "stunt" reporters for ourselves, but also makes sure to remind us of the larger structures at play, tying the treatment of women reporters in the past to treatment in more recent history, as with memoirs. This makes a larger commentary on the value of women's stories and voices in the face of a society that diminishes their worth and tries to silence or mock them. I loved it and fully recommend it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tina Panik

    Captivating! These women had moxie, and Todd deftly captures their triumphs and tragedies. This was an ARC.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cj

    In Sensational, Kim Todd explores the role of female journalists, beginning with “girl stunt reporters” in the late 1800’s through investigate journalists working today. Todd focuses on the details of several stunt reporters’ lives, weaving their stories through the larger history of the role of women in journalism. First of all, the topic is fascinating. The ways in which these women went undercover to get their stories was incredibly brave (and occasionally reckless). I did not know much, if an In Sensational, Kim Todd explores the role of female journalists, beginning with “girl stunt reporters” in the late 1800’s through investigate journalists working today. Todd focuses on the details of several stunt reporters’ lives, weaving their stories through the larger history of the role of women in journalism. First of all, the topic is fascinating. The ways in which these women went undercover to get their stories was incredibly brave (and occasionally reckless). I did not know much, if anything, about this topic, and I really enjoyed learning from Todd’s research. Her comparisons between some instances of the label “yellow journalism” with today’s “fake news” label were especially thought-provoking. At times, I did find it difficult to immerse myself within the writing because the book’s structure felt a bit disconnected. Todd narrowly focuses on one reporter, then quickly shifts to another. I did struggle a bit at the beginning to keep up with which journalist was doing what. Overall, however, the information was interesting, and I appreciated learning about these women’s roles in history. If you’re interested in stories about women overcoming obstacles to succeed in male-dominated fields, check this one out!

  9. 5 out of 5

    LB

    *disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof as part of a Goodreads Giveaway I love learning more about little bits of history I've only encountered in passing. I had known about Nellie Bly and her famous expose on Blackwell's Island, but I had only a vague idea of what a large trend stunt reporting had been, and that so many women had left such a mark on the industry. This was a really well researched and engagingly written read that kept my interest throughout. I especially loved the closing ch *disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof as part of a Goodreads Giveaway I love learning more about little bits of history I've only encountered in passing. I had known about Nellie Bly and her famous expose on Blackwell's Island, but I had only a vague idea of what a large trend stunt reporting had been, and that so many women had left such a mark on the industry. This was a really well researched and engagingly written read that kept my interest throughout. I especially loved the closing chapters where the author examines the legacy of these women and the way their contributions are sadly still unacknowledged and overlooked in favor of men doing the same things. Typical. I sometimes found it difficult to track all the many subjects of the book, especially since some of them go by several pseudonyms or changed their last names after marriage. The recap of their careers at the end helped to tie it all back together for me. Overall I found this really informative and inspiring and would definitely recommend it to others interested in women's history, the history of journalism, or even just the history of pop culture trends in the 19th century.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    I won this from a Goodreads Giveaway Let me tell you the good points first. This is set mainly from the 1880's to 1910. So it is historical, which I like. I learned that these stunt reporters actually started what we now call Investigated Reporting. The women it covers did a lot for future reporters. It was researched a lot, maybe too much. Now, what I didn't care for. It drug on and on and on. The chapters were long. There were grammatical errors, that will hopefully be fixed before it hits the b I won this from a Goodreads Giveaway Let me tell you the good points first. This is set mainly from the 1880's to 1910. So it is historical, which I like. I learned that these stunt reporters actually started what we now call Investigated Reporting. The women it covers did a lot for future reporters. It was researched a lot, maybe too much. Now, what I didn't care for. It drug on and on and on. The chapters were long. There were grammatical errors, that will hopefully be fixed before it hits the bookshelves. It went off on tangents about abortion, racial issues, and woman suffrage. It, to me, got off track some. It only had one chapter about present reporters and not a whole lot of them making the present section really weak. Of course, this is just my opinion and you may love the book, which a lot have. It hit bookshelves on April 21, 2021. Thanks to Goodreads, Harper Publishing and Todd for the book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tom Henderson

    As a huge Nellie Bly geek (or "Nelliophile" as no one has ever called us), I've read numerous books on this subject. Notable works include Brooke Kroeger's definitive 1994 biography of Nellie Bly and Matthew Goodman's 2013 "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." Kim Todd's new book may well be my favorite. The other books, as one might imagine, focus primarily on Nellie Bly. While giving Nellie her propers, Todd highlights the work of other female r As a huge Nellie Bly geek (or "Nelliophile" as no one has ever called us), I've read numerous books on this subject. Notable works include Brooke Kroeger's definitive 1994 biography of Nellie Bly and Matthew Goodman's 2013 "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." Kim Todd's new book may well be my favorite. The other books, as one might imagine, focus primarily on Nellie Bly. While giving Nellie her propers, Todd highlights the work of other female reporters of the era whose contributions are often dismissed as a part of a gimmicky fad of the late 19th century. She effectively argues for the rightful place of these "ink-stained Amazons" in literary and journalism history. They were, she asserts, the true progenitors of New Journalism and creative nonfiction. Their stories need to be told, and Todd does so in this magnificent book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    Many might know the name and work of Nellie Bly but what about Eva McDonald? Ida Wells might ne familiar but Victoria Matthews? Todd takes a good look at journalism and media magnates of the Gilded Age in this well researched history of female reporters or, if you will, girl stunt reporters. Yes, these women did what was considered stunt reporting but of course today their work would be applauded for exposing bad things not promote in the way it was. They had a lot to expose and more long term i Many might know the name and work of Nellie Bly but what about Eva McDonald? Ida Wells might ne familiar but Victoria Matthews? Todd takes a good look at journalism and media magnates of the Gilded Age in this well researched history of female reporters or, if you will, girl stunt reporters. Yes, these women did what was considered stunt reporting but of course today their work would be applauded for exposing bad things not promote in the way it was. They had a lot to expose and more long term impact than they ever could have imagined. I enjoyed this for the opportunity to learn more about these women as well as the subjects of their work. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. A must for students and fans of journalism.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susan Goldstein

    More like a 3.5. The historical information here is fascinating—these brave, bold women in the late 1800’s, determined to work in the predominately male field of journalism and the stories and risks they took in order to achieve this work and brief fame. These women opened the doors for the likes of Gloria Steinem, who went undercover as a Playboy Bunny in the 70’s, and more recently Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Nickled and Dimed, where she worked undercover to expose the low wages women recei More like a 3.5. The historical information here is fascinating—these brave, bold women in the late 1800’s, determined to work in the predominately male field of journalism and the stories and risks they took in order to achieve this work and brief fame. These women opened the doors for the likes of Gloria Steinem, who went undercover as a Playboy Bunny in the 70’s, and more recently Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Nickled and Dimed, where she worked undercover to expose the low wages women receive and the impossibility of surviving with just one job. The writing was okay. At times, there were so many names to keep track of that it got a bit confusing. And sometimes the plot veered into other related but not as important areas.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Gorton

    Sensational brings the stories and battles of Gilded Age newspaperwomen to gritty, effervescent life. The greatest achievements of undercover journalism -- public health reforms, labor protections, and heightened awareness of our flawed criminal justice system -- can be traced back to this fascinating group of writers, whose close-held dreams and professional compromises feel all too familiar today.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    The story and history told in this book is incredible. What these women had to go through was heart-breaking and depressing that their stories have been buried for so long. However, it was difficult for me to get through this book. I can't explain why but I had to force myself through this book, even though I was invested. The story and history told in this book is incredible. What these women had to go through was heart-breaking and depressing that their stories have been buried for so long. However, it was difficult for me to get through this book. I can't explain why but I had to force myself through this book, even though I was invested.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

    From the days of Nellie Bly and the still mysterious Girl Reporter through the dawn of yellow journalism and on to a brief survey of modern undercover journalism. We meet true stunt reporters just trying to get a paying gig, as well as activist crusaders...all fascinating ladies.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This book is a fascinating page-turner! I’d definitely recommend to history buffs, journalism fans, as well as anyone wanting to learn more about strong women kicking butt! I’m new to Miss Todd’s writing but I will definitely check out her other books.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Payal

    I enjoyed reading it, I finished it in under a week🐽

  19. 4 out of 5

    KarnagesMistress

    I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. It is an uncorrected proof.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I had the best time listening to this history book on audio, wonderfully narrated by Maggi-Meg Reed. These “stunt reporters” were an admirable group of investigative reporters in the late nineteenth century, exposing abuse by medical institutions, factories and other settings, and acting as a catalyst for needed societal changes. I was surprised to learn how several of them were recruited by newspaper publishers, although plenty of the women needed to push their way into this profession by grit an I had the best time listening to this history book on audio, wonderfully narrated by Maggi-Meg Reed. These “stunt reporters” were an admirable group of investigative reporters in the late nineteenth century, exposing abuse by medical institutions, factories and other settings, and acting as a catalyst for needed societal changes. I was surprised to learn how several of them were recruited by newspaper publishers, although plenty of the women needed to push their way into this profession by grit and determination. I am glad the author discussed the contrast with black investigator reporters, such as Ida B. Wells, who were not hired by the white-owned newspapers who published these stunt reporting exposes. I liked the way these stories were woven into a picture of the era and the growing independence of women who were entering the workforce in increasing numbers. And as the book points out, it is important for women (and indeed this applies to all groups) to be able to see themselves, and their concerns, represented in the media.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lira

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Baldwin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jodie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amy Bowen

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Gunawan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Susan Tunis

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

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