Are Women Hoping For?
the life of Ida Tarbell, courageous journalist & "muckraker."
1989 at the Aesthetic
Realism Foundation, 141 Greene Street, NYC 10012.
Eli Siegel has
explained, after centuries, what the deepest hope of every person
is: to like the world
on an honest or accurate
learned that the chief cause of pain in my life was that I, like every
person, also had another hope, opposed to my deepest hope.
I was asked in an
Aesthetic Realism consultation when I was 27: "Do you think you came to
a picture of the world that had too much contempt in it?" Yes, I
had. Aesthetic Realism defines contempt as "the lessening
of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one
The reason I felt so
heavy and stuck and lonely was, I began to see, because I hoped to
find flaws in the world and in people, so I could feel I was better
than them all. My desire to be superior had me not want to know or see
good in others. I often acted amenable and sweet because I wanted
people to like me, but
actually I was quite cold and selfish.
When I learned my
purpose in life was to like the world, and as I recognized and
criticized my contempt, I began to have feelings about people and the
world that made me proud and I became a kinder person. I believe it is
this education every woman is hoping for!
Tonight I will be
speaking about aspects of the life of an important woman early in the
20th century, Ida Tarbell, first widely known in 1900 for her Life
of Abraham Lincoln, and as one of the foremost "muckrakers,"
journalists who criticized economic and political injustice, for her
book The History of Standard Oil in 1904. Eli
Siegel mentions The History of Standard Oil in one
of his historic Goodbye
Profit System lectures, saying it is "one of the notable
works by a woman."
In her expose of
Standard Oil, Ida
Tarbell was passionately against injustice; and, she wrote about the
good meaning she saw in Lincoln. But in 1924 Ida Tarbell wrote a
biography praising the head of U.S. Steel, Elbert Gary, who was brutal to
of steel workers and their families, who caused people to die as he
to break The Great Steel Strike of 1919. There was something so large
good in her--but there was also in her the hope to have contempt.
She wanted to own things and other people. Here, she was like the
people she criticized who ran the large corporations of
life is important for every woman in understanding the fight in us
two opposed hopes, what effect this fight has--and the choice we can
1. The Family
and the World: Two Hopes Begin
Eli Siegel describes
in Self and
World the beginning fight in every person:
Ida Tarbell was born in
a log cabin
in Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1857, just 30 miles from where the
oil well in the world was drilled in Titusville in 1859. Her
a teacher and carpenter, saw the need for wooden tanks to store the oil
and eventually had a prosperous business, and she grew up in the midst
of the booming oil industry. That she had the desire to "see the
world as magnificently and delicately as possible" can be seen in how,
in spite of the oil-stained, blackened land with its many derricks and
debris which surrounded them, she describes in her autobiography All
In the Day's Work the hillside where she loved to play:
child has this debate:
Shall I...see the world as magnificently and as delicately as possible;
or shall I see the world as the material for victories for just me?
In her teens her
passion, she says, was for the microscope--she wanted to find "the
point of things and having that, see why and how they grew into
clothed with the
always changing beauty of trees and shrubs, the white shadflowers and
red maples, the long garlands of laurel and azalea in the spring, the
of every shade through the summer, the crimson and gold, russets and
of the fall, the frost-and-snow- draped trees of the winter.
But she also had the
desire to "see
the world as material for victories for just me." The victory in
possessing or owning shows in the earliest incident she
Her father was in Iowa when she was born and could not return because
did not have the money. When he did arrive, she was one and a half,
to the family annals, I deeply resented the intimacy between the
and my mother, so far my exclusive possession. Flinging my arms about
mother, so the story went, I cried, 'Go away, bad man.'
I know from my own
life that a little
girl can be very adept at getting exclusive attention. In an
Realism class Mr. Siegel asked me: "Do you believe there is
so precious and distinguished between you and your mother, no other
should be centrally present?" What was so precious to me, I saw,
was that I got my mother's praise for everything I did. I used my
to feel that other people didn't
exist unless they catered to me as she
I think Ida Tarbell
may have felt as I once
did, "no other person should be centrally present" in her relation with
her mother, and it made her want to get rid of her baby brother.
In her autobiography she tries to make what she did seem
She had a "curiosity" about the fact some things floated on water and
things sank, and a deep and rapid brook near their cabin "set me
to wondering what would happen to my little brother, then in dresses,
dropped in. I had to find out." She did drop her brother
and fortunately his screams brought someone to the rescue. Though
what she did is extreme, it represents an ugly hope in every
other people whom we see as interfering with our importance, not
As her life went on this hope would undermine the energy in her to know
what was true.
Part 2: Justice Is the Means to Our Greatest Hope