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Tarbell, Ida Minerva

in: People

Ida Minerva Tarbell: Journalist & Muckraker

By Catherine A. Paul


Ida Tarbell Library of Congress LC-USZ62-117944
Ida Tarbell
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID cph 3c17944

Ida Minerva Tarbell was an American journalist and lecturer best known for her work, The History of the Standard Oil Company (1904). The History of the Standard Oil Company is one of the most thorough accounts of the rise of the business monopoly and its corrupt practices. She was born November 5, 1857 in Erie Pennsylvania and died January 6, 1944 in Bridgeport, Connecticut (Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.).

Tarbell attended Allegheny College and then taught briefly before becoming an editor for The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle in 1883. Then, in 1891, Tarbell left for Paris to study history and wrote articles for American magazines to support herself. In 1894, Tarbell was hired by S.S. McClure, founder of McClure’s Magazine. She wrote her famous piece, The History of the Standard Oil Company as a serial for McClure’s, which contributed to the growing trend of muckraking journalism (Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.). Her inspiration to write about Standard Oil largely stemmed from her family’s involvement in the oil industry and her childhood, having grown up in the oil region of western Pennsylvania. This region was divided into two groups: the monopolistic Standard Oil Company and independent oil drillers, including her father. She believed that Standard Oil was personally responsible for ruining her father’s business (Randolph, 1999).

Tarbell stayed on with McClure’s until 1906, when she became the co-owner and co-editor of American Magazine until 1915. Then, she began lecturer and wrote several biographies. Later, Tarbell served on many governmental committees dedicated to addressing defense and unemployment. Her autobiography, All in the Day’s Work, was published in 1939 (Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.). This autobiography focused on her career rather than her personal life, indicating not only her pride in her work as something worthwhile, but also her belief in work as a salvation, especially for young women hoping to escape the bonds and expectations of marriage (Tompkins, 1974).


These volumes may also be read through the Internet Archive. Vol. 1; Vol. 2


Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Ida Tarbell: American journalist. In Encyclopedia Britannica online. Retrieved from

Randolph, J. D. (1999). A notable Pennsylvanian: Ida Minerva Tarbell, 1857-1944. Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, 66(2), 215-241. doi:

Tompkins, M. E. (1974). Ida M. Tarbell. New York, NY: Twayne Publishers.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Paul, C. A. (2017). Ida Minerva Tarbell: Journalist & muckraker. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from

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