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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published May 04 2013

Eriksmoen: ND woman was trailblazing journalist

A trailblazing female journalist was born and raised in North Dakota.

It has been written that Emma “Bab” Lincoln was “the first woman reporter to cover the White House; the first American (correspondent) to cover the Paris fashion shows, and the first to develop and edit a women’s page as a regular segment of a major newspaper.”

Besides her incredible career in the newspaper business, Lincoln also traveled the country as a noted elocutionist, appeared in motion pictures, had her own national radio program, and was the publicist for some of the largest hotels in the nation.

Emma Perley Lincoln was born June 30, 1894, on a large farm near Hunter, N.D., to Willard and Mary (Perley) Lincoln.

Willard and his brother Edwin owned two and a half sections of some of the finest farm land in the Red River Valley. Growing up in a large house with “servants and maids” and being able to purchase the “most fashionable of clothing” would have spoiled most children, but Emma had a strong work ethic and was always very confident in what she could accomplish.

The Lincolns’ life of leisure ended very suddenly when Willard developed a bad case of pneumonia and died on April 6, 1903. On his deathbed, he instructed Emma to relay this message to her sisters: “Be good upright girls, don’t assume anything, be just who you are, and always remember you are ladies.” Although she had seven older sisters, Emma was a leader.

After Willard’s death, Mary moved to Fargo with many of her children. The family names first appeared in the Fargo directory in 1905. The interesting thing about the entry for Emma is that she is listed as a “teacher,” despite the fact that she was only 11 years old. Because she was undoubtedly well advanced for her age, she may have assisted in the schools after moving to Fargo.

On the farm, she received much of her education from governesses who came into the home. Emma read almost everything the family received in the mail, including periodicals and newspapers from large eastern cities and Europe.

In 1908, Mary and the four youngest children moved to Portland, Ore., where Emma completed her public school education. Two areas where she excelled were speaking and writing. During the last two years of school, Emma entered and won national writing contests sponsored by the Minneapolis Journal. After graduating in 1910, she taught speech at the prestigious Ladd School in Portland.

In 1913, Emma went to visit friends in Los Angeles. While there, she auditioned for and received motion picture roles.

One individual who took note of her acting skills was J. Farrell MacDonald, a movie actor and director. Emma spent all of the next summer appearing in movie shorts that MacDonald was directing.

A producer appeared on the set of one of the films and was taken by the beautiful young actress. He invited Emma to his office to talk over a starring role that would be perfect in enhancing her career. Soon after arriving at the producer’s office, she realized that it was a “casting couch” invitation, and after telling him off, she left, turning her back completely on making movies. There is no doubt that the dying words of her father were solidly imprinted into her character.

Capitalizing on her eloquence, Emma went on tour, giving talks and doing readings at “the best theaters in the Midwest.” She was billed as “the girl with the golden voice” and “a dainty miss in a melodic monologue.”

In February 1915, Emma made a trip to visit one of her sisters in Bismarck and appeared in three shows for which she received rave reviews in the Bismarck Tribune.

When her mother became ill in 1917, Emma moved to Minneapolis in order to help a sister care for her. While there, she was hired as a reporter by William Frisbee, managing editor of the Minneapolis Daily News. Frisbee had been with the Minneapolis Journal when Emma wrote her winning essays and had remembered her.

During her time with the Daily News, Emma began churning out children’s stories for various periodicals and edited the Teen-Ster, a juvenile magazine.

In 1920, she got involved in politics by touring Minnesota in support of Republican presidential candidate Warren Harding. Three years after she began with the newspaper, Emma was named editor of the “Society” section of the Daily News.

In 1923, “Emma was offered a job in New York.” She became unhappy with the work in the Big Apple and relocated to Washington, D.C., the following year. During her first years there, she worked freelance, writing articles for the Kansas City Star, Chicago Daily News, Minneapolis Journal and other publications.

In 1928, Emma was hired by the Washington Times-Herald to write fashion articles. One of her first assignments was to cover the popular fashion show in Paris. She arrived in France on Aug. 24 and spent the next two years writing about Europe’s newest trends in women’s wear. She adopted the pen-name, “Bab” and titled her column “Shopping with Bab through Europe.”

When Emma returned to the U.S., she continued to cover fashion, focusing on what was stylish and available at the most elegant women’s clothing stores in Washington, D.C. Her new column was called “Shopping with Bab on Connecticut Avenue.”

In 1930, Cissy Petterson was hired as editor of the Times Herald, and she strongly “encouraged society reporting and the women’s page.” She recognized Emma’s keen eye for style and hired her as the fashion editor. Harper’s Bazaar selected her fashion page as “the best in the country.”

Besides fashion, Emma also maintained a great interest in politics. Because of her intelligence, awareness of political events and decisions, and charismatic personality, politicians were drawn to her.

The social gathering place in Washington for national and world leaders was the Mayflower Hotel, and management of the hotel asked Emma to become their director of publicity. Having served in a similar capacity with the Curtis Hotel when she worked in Minneapolis, she readily accepted and turned in her resignation to the Times-Herald.

Emma believed that one of her duties was to meet with the more important guests and welcome them to the Mayflower and Washington, D.C. To accomplish this, she established a daily meal that she called “Lunch with Bab at the Mayflower.”

Besides her work with the Mayflower, Emma also managed the accounts of several businesses. One of her clients was her good friend Polly Morrison.

Emma had been extremely successful in drawing guests to the Mayflower. What she initially did not realize was that she was hurting her friend Polly, who managed a rival hotel, the Gralyn. After serving as publicity director of the Mayflower for 14 years, Emma resigned and took a similar position with the Gralyn.

In 1971, her health began to fail, and she moved to Oneonta, N.Y., to be near her one remaining sister.

Emma “Bab” Lincoln died on Oct. 21, 1977.

(Last week I failed to notice a typo in the Jesse Owens article. Owens died in 1980, not 1960.)


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.