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Ella Hepworth Dixon: Storming the Bastille, or Taking it by Stealth?

ContributorsFehlbaum, Valérie
Published inWomen in Journalism at the Fin de Siècle: Making a Name for Herself, Editors Gray, F.-E., p. 182-201
PublisherBasingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan
Publication date2012

Towards the end of her career in January 1925 Ella Hepworth Dixon began her column in the Westminster Gazette by declaring, ‘These modern days are certainly the opportunity of the Women. For the first time they can, and do, compete with men.' After enumerating various advances made by women in the professions in general, she then noted, ‘One of the last citadels to fall was the newspaper office. ... Here prejudice reigned supreme. ... Today the Bastille of Journalism has fallen'. As one who had earned her living through journalism for nearly forty years, she was obviously well-placed to judge, and her choice of metaphors surely reflects the revolutionary nature of the phenomenon. Yet in her memoirs, As I KnewThem: Sketches of People I Have Met Along the Way, published just a few years later in 1930, she apparently glosses over any difficulties she and women like her may have faced, particularly in her debut, describing ‘journalistic activities' ‘mixed up with a great deal of dancing and dining out'. Nevertheless, she does include several revelatory anecdotes, such as not openly acknowledging at a ball, so as not to spoil her evening, that she was the author of ‘owdacious' short stories, or not publicly admitting on a trip to New York in the ‘gay ‘nineties' that she was ‘a newspaper woman', who ‘over there, had no social standing whatever'. Such admissions and omissions reveal both an astute awareness of the prejudices facing women writers and an impressive capacity for manoeuvering around them. They certainly help to explain how, in spite of much continued hostility towards literary women, she managed to enjoy what she described as her ‘singularly happy working life'. Her long career, during which she worked with most of the leading editors and publishers, including Oscar Wilde on The Woman's World and Arnold Bennett on Woman, clearly reflects many of the changes taking place in the journalistic world. Although ever-ready to defend her sex and promote a sort of trades-unionism amongst women, she admitted to never having burned for her faith, and for this reason may attract the scorn of more engaged feminists. On the other hand, she does appear to have maintained the course she set herself and was admirably able to fulfil the ambitions expressed by Mary Erle, the heroine of her novel, ‘to make her way in the world and compete with men'. As the daughter of William Hepworth Dixon, she may, like Mary Erle, have benefited initially from her father's name, but unlike her heroine, so successful was Ella Hepworth Dixon in competing in what remained largely a man's world that, albeit for a very short time, she became that rara avis a lady Editor of a woman's magazine. By her very example, writing for periodicals of various kinds throughout her life as well as editing a woman's magazine, and even becoming a selling-point for journals, she made important contributions to the development of the profession of journalism for women.

  • Ella Hepworth Dixon
  • Journalism for Women
  • Fin de siècle
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Arnold Bennett
Citation (ISO format)
FEHLBAUM, Valérie. Ella Hepworth Dixon: Storming the Bastille, or Taking it by Stealth? In: Women in Journalism at the Fin de Siècle: Making a Name for Herself. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. p. 182–201.
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Book chapter (Accepted version)
  • PID : unige:23872

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