Published by: Oxford University Press
Release Date: March 1, 2023
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The first-ever biography of the pioneering female journalist who fought to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington, DC
Every age has strong, independent women who defy the gender conventions of their era to follow their hearts and minds. Eliza Scidmore was one such maverick. Born on the American frontier just before the Civil War, she rose from modest beginnings to become a journalist who roamed far and wide writing about distant places for readers back home. By her mid-20s she had visited more places than most people would see in a lifetime. By the end of the nineteenth century, her travels were so legendary she was introduced at a meeting in London as “Miss Scidmore, of everywhere.”
In what has become her best-known legacy, Scidmore carried home from Japan a big idea that helped shape the face of modern Washington: she urged the city's park officials to plant Japanese cherry trees on a reclaimed mud bank-today's Potomac Park. Though they rebuffed her suggestion several times, she finally got her way nearly three decades later thanks to the support of First Lady Helen Taft.
Scidmore was a “Forrest Gump” of her day who bore witness to many important events and rubbed elbows with famous people, from John Muir and Alexander Graham Bell to U.S presidents and Japanese leaders. She helped popularize Alaska tourism during the birth of the cruise industry, and educated readers about Japan and other places in the Far East at a time of expanding U.S. interests across the Pacific. At the early National Geographic, she made a lasting mark as the first woman to serve on its board and to publish photographs in the magazine. Around the same time, she also played an activist role in the burgeoning U.S. conservation movement. Her published work includes books on Alaska, Japan, Java, China, and India; a novel based on the Russo-Japanese War; and about 800 articles in U.S. newspapers and magazines.
Deeply researched and briskly written, this first-ever biography of Scidmore draws heavily on her own writings to follow major events of a half-century as seen through the eyes of a remarkable woman who was far ahead of her time.
“To the canon of women explorers like Gertrude Bell and Nellie Bly, add Eliza Scidmore to the list of exceptionals. This meticulously researched biography brings to life the woman whose curiosity and passion for travel bought the wonder of distant lands in words and pictures to American readers.”
—Cathy Newman, author of Women Photographers at National Geographic
“At last, the bold and adventurous Eliza Scidmore has the biography she deserves! Inspiring and well-researched, this book is a thrilling look at an incredible woman and a fascinating era in history.”
—Amy Stewart, New York Times best-selling author of The Drunken Botanist
“Parsell has brilliantly rescued Eliza Scidmore, a celebrity journalist and travel writer, from obscurity.”
—Susan Schoenbauer Thurin, author of Victorian Travelers and the Opening of China 1842–1907
“This comprehensive biography of Eliza Scidmore is full of surprises, demonstrating a legacy that extends far beyond her role in bringing the now-iconic cherry blossoms to Washington, D.C. I highly recommend this book.”
—Ann McClellan, author of Cherry Blossoms and The Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Celebration
“The interweaving of the author’s own biography with Scidmore’s history makes for a wonderful connecting of two women writers’ stories more than a century apart.”
—Julia Kuehn, The University of Hong Kong
“Parsell writes in a clear and lively style and makes thorough use of primary sources, effectively blending narrative drive with evocative detail.”
—Michelle McClellan, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan