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‘Sensational’ Female Undercover Journalists of the Gilded Age with Kim Todd; Moderated by William Souder

April 15, 2021 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


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A vivid history that brings to light the “girl stunt reporters” who went undercover and into danger to expose the rot at the heart of the Gilded Age.

 In the waning years of the nineteenth century, female 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.

Praise for Sensational:

“In Todd’s able hands, we learn about these daring young women, about their lives and times, their work, their editors and mentors, their torments and loves, their interconnections, and, best of all, their real legacy. These young reporters demonstrated the power of personal narrative to rivet public attention on society’s seen and unseen ills and incite the quest for remedy — a tradition that endures today.” — Brooke Kroeger, author of Nellie Bly: Daredevil. Reporter. Feminist

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.” —Stephanie Gorton, author of Citizen Reporters

“The perfect read for these crazy days. I was transfixed and inspired by the stories of women who dared to cross boundaries and report the truth. I plan to send copies to my mom, sisters, and brilliant female friends — Sensational, The Hidden History of America’s ‘Girl Stunt Reporters’ gave me hope and reminded me, as Todd writes, of ‘life’s rich possibility.’”— Amanda Ward, author of The Jetsetters

“Kim Todd’s spirited tour of Gilded Age “girl reporters” casts a welcome light on these trailblazing women determined to make their mark.  The beam is even keener on American journalism shouldering its way toward our own media-drenched world.  Nellie Bly, a heroine here, has never faded from cultural memory, but Todd presents a whole sisterhood of intrepid  correspondents.”  — Patricia Hampl, author of The Art of the Wasted Day and The Florist’s Daughter

“At the height of the turn-of-the century newspaper wars, these “girl reporters” did their work for the same reasons men did — a keen sense of social justice, along with a taste for adventure and writerly fame. Their gender (and the anonymity it provided) often gave them a leg up in reporting, drew in hordes of excited readers — and, of course, held back their careers and suppressed their pay. Sensational is an illuminating look at female pioneers working at a key moment in American journalism.” — Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

My current book project, Sensational: The Hidden History of America’s “Girl Stunt Reporters,” highlights female undercover journalists who exposed the rot at the heart of the Gilded Age. Based on an article that appeared in Smithsonian’s Secrets of American History issue, it will be published by HarperCollins in April 2021. Earlier books include Sparrow; Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis; and Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America.


Kim Todd says, “I love disappearing into large book projects, but I also write essays and articles on topics ranging from the nature of curiosity, to the developing science of reintroduction biology, to the evolving songs of urban sparrows, to lessons from the longest running predator-prey study in the world. The on-the-ground implications of the stories we tell about animals are a long-term interest. My work has appeared in Orion, Sierra Magazine, Smithsonian, High Country News, and Best American Science and Nature Writing anthologies, among other places. I have given talks at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the New England Aquarium, the Getty Museum, the Commonwealth Club, Yale University, Bowdoin College, Wellesley College, the University of California (Davis), and many other venues.

Raised in California, educated in Montana, after moving from coast to coast and landing many places in between, I now live with my family in Minneapolis. Here in the Twin Cities I am a nonfiction faculty member at the MFA program at the University of Minnesota where I get to help some of the most exciting new writers in the country hone their craft; I am also a Fellow with the Institute on the Environment. When not writing or teaching, I spend time hiking or kayaking whatever trails and rivers I can find.”


William Souder’s work has appeared in many publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Smithsonian, and Harper’s. He is the author of four books, including Under a Wild Sky, a biography of the bird artist John James Audubon that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, published in 2012, was a New York Times Notable Book of the year, and was named one of the Top 25 Nonfiction Books of the Year by Kirkus Reviews. Souder has also appeared in documentaries about Audubon and Carson. His latest book, Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck, came out in 2020. Souder lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota.


April 15, 2021
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
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