Erie County (PA) Genealogy
Faces & Biographies of those who left Erie County

Ida M. Tarbell

Written and Contributed by Beth Simmons


Harbor Creek Township coordinator Beth Simmons has extracted and transcribed several articles from John Miller, 1909, History of Erie County, Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Chapter 35, “Notable People; Horace Greeley, Ida M. Tarbell, Senator Burrows and Others Who Went Away and Some Who Came,” p. 400-404. The article below is about Ida M. Tarbell.


Ida Tarbell

                One of the greatest living historians is a woman-Ida M. Tarbell, who evolved from a chaos of facts and figures a clear, orderly, concise and consecutive history of, perhaps, the greatest business organization in the world. With the sure instinct of the true historian, she gathered the vital facts in the rise of this great institution and presented them in their true relation with conscientious loyalty to truth, with courage in stating boldly her findings, and with an absence of prejudice that is rare, indeed, in writing on such a theme. The work is more than a mere history of an industry; it is the biography of a genius in organization and the vivisection of a typical Trust combined in one masterly work – “The History of the Standard Oil Company.” This is but one of the splendid pieces of literature to the credit of Miss Tarbell.

                Miss Ida M. Tarbell was born in the vicinity of Wattsburg, in Amity township in this county, her father Frank Tarbell, and the family – or rather the families, for the McCulloughs, related on her mother’s side also live in Amity – are well known throughout the eastern part of Erie county. She was reared in Amity and there obtained her primary schooling. Later, however, her father moved to Titusville and there better advantages for learning offered. After graduating from the Titusville High School and later from Allegheny College in Meadville, she had to face the problem of self-support. After a period of teaching in Ohio she assumed the position of associate editor of “The Chautauquan,” and later became managing editor. She saw that editorial work and original creation cannot be properly be driven abreast, so gently cutting the reins of editorial duties, went to Paris to study the French method of historical research. Here for three years, while studying she supported herself by her writings.

                An article on Alphand, who carried out the improvements in beautifying Paris, led to an interview with S. S. McClure, who was so charmed with her work that he rushed in for a five minutes’ talk in her little den on the fifth floor of the house where she lived; he stayed two hours, and, as Miss Tarbell says, they both talked at once all the time. A cable invitation for her to write of history of Napoleon brought her back to America shortly after, and her literary success really began.

                Her splendid life of Lincoln represented five solid years in the collection of material, and she went from Kentucky to Indiana, from there to Illinois, and then to Washington, interviewing men who had known him, digging into files of old newspapers, records, reports and documents, and visiting out-of-the-way places that might furnish a single grain of new illumination on his character or lifework. It was the same spirit of conscientious care in details that made her travel from New York to Cleveland merely to see for a few moments John D. Rockefeller as he appeared in a Sunday School environment. Miss Tarbell’s latest work on the “Tariff in Our Times” is a line of effort that seems destined to wield a great influence on the future history of our nation.


This page was last updated on  Friday, November 21, 2008 .

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