Eliza Jane Nicholson: First Woman to Publish a Major Newspaper

Posted by on Mar 7, 2024 in Stuff You Should Know, Top Stories

Eliza Jane Nicholson was the first woman in the United States to own a major newspaper. Born Eliza Jane Poitevent, she started working in 1870 as the literary editor of the Picayune, a daily newspaper in New Orleans, Louisiana. During this time, New Orleans was the largest city in the South. It was common for newspapers at the time to print different types of literature. Poitevent published her own poems in the paper under the name Pearl Rivers. She named herself after the Pearl River that forms part of the border between Louisiana and Mississippi.  

In 1872 Poitevent married the owner of the Picayune, Colonel Alva Holbrook. She inherited the newspaper when Holbrook died in 1876. After her husband’s death, she worked to make the newspaper profitable. In 1878, she married George Nicholson, the paper’s business manager. 

Nicholson’s Contributions to the Paper 

Nicholson added features to the Picayune to attract more readers. The newspaper included information about social and cultural events, children’s pages, and women’s advice columns. She hired many women at a time when journalism was a field dominated by men. In 1894 Nicholson hired Elizabeth Meriweather Gilmer to write for the paper, and after a few years Gilmer developed an advice column under the name of Dorothy Dix. Dorothy Dix’s advice columns later appeared in newspapers throughout the world. By the 1920s Dix was the highest paid female writer in the world. 

Stack of Newspapers For Recycling
Eliza Jane Nicholson made newspaper history in the United States.

Eliza Jane Nicholson believed that it was important for newspapers to produce quality journalism. Under her leadership, stories about the final days of Reconstruction were published. (Reconstruction was the time following the Civil War when the former Confederate state governments were brought back into the Union.) Other articles covered a deadly yellow fever epidemic in 1878 and a devastating hurricane that hit the region in 1893. Newspaper essays also supported causes such as public education, women’s rights, and animal rights.  

Nicholson helped establish the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1884. In 1892 she also helped found Louisiana’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This second organization still operates in Louisiana today as the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans.  

Nicholson died from influenza four years later in 1896. The Picayune newspaper continued to be owned by the Nicholson family until it was sold to a publishing corporation in 1962.

Dig Deeper Use the Internet or the resources in your school library to learn more about Dorothy Dix. Write a short biography of her life.