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Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 11″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ Collection!

Ida Tarbell (1857-1944) stood as a shining example of speaking truth to power. Born to an oil producer in Pennsylvania, their family was hit hard by an 1872 price-fixing scheme between the Pennsylvania Railroad and John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. Smaller oil companies were forced to either sell to Standard or to slowly go out of business, as happened to Ida’s father. This would prove to be important later in her life.

Tarbell graduated as the only woman in her class in 1880 from Allegheny College, where she had developed a strong interest in writing. After two years working as a teacher, she began her writing career in interest. She wrote for The Chautauquan through the remainder of the decade before leaving for Paris where she pursued her graduate studies at the Sorbonne and the College de France. She continued to work as a journalist there, contributing to various magazines, notably McClure’s Magazine.

In 1900 she began a focus on the troubling development of monopolies for McClure’s, focusing on the Standard Oil Company which had impacted her family. The series of articles, entitled ‘The History of the Standard Oil Company’ was massively successful and well-received, where she exposed the company’s questionable practices and their impact. This exhaustive study not only gave rise to what’s referred to as muckraking but also led to the dismantling of Standard Oil in 1911 when it was found to indeed be in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Tarbell wrote for the rest of her life and stayed involved in politics, sitting on councils for both Presidents Wilson and Harding. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000, and her collection of the ‘History of the Standard Oil Company’ articles is viewed as one of the most important works of journalism of the 20th century.