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Kate Field

Biography: 

(1840-1896)

Combustion in a female form, a contemporary described her--a tireless poet, musical performer, actress, playwright, orator, and political advocate, Kate Field galvanized a transatlantic artistic world from the Civil War to the end of the 19th century. Daughter of actor-manager Joseph Field, a man of equivalent energy and breadth, she was born in St. Louis and educated in its schools and later a seminary in Massachusetts. Her greatest genius was as a journalist, and she received a medal at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 for her services to news writing, particularly for the journalim contained in her newspaper Kate Field's Washington. The hallmarks of her writing were wit and intelligence; her conversation too could inspire volcanic laughter among the participants.

Though her early training concentrated upon music, her first professional identity was as an actress, debuting at Booth's Theater in New York in 1874. She was not hailed as a great mimetic artist, so she decided to become a concert singer and lecturer. After a brief failed venture in women's communal commerce--The Co-operative Dress Association--she discovered as subject that sparked her indignation, Mormon polygamy. She went to Utah for research, composing there a series of essays, "The Mormons and their Habits" that became the basis of a wildly popular national lecture tour. The presentations caught the attention of newspaper editors, and she became a writer for both the St. Louis Journal and St. Louis Times. She became the lover of journalist Whitelaw Ried and collaborated with him in writing both the Cincinnati Commercial and The New York Tribune, until his engagement to the daughter of the owner of the majority of Tribune stock drove her to Washington, D.C.

Offended by the corruption and superficiality of American politicals, Field founded a newspaper of opinion, Kate Field's Washington, and for a period the eloquence and pungency of the opinions secured her a readership. After her paper went under, she worked for the Chicago Times Herald on freelance projects. She died in Hawaii while working on a story about the culture of the islands in 1896. David S. Shields/ALS