Have you ever heard of the village of Hatch Hollow in Amity Township, Erie County? I have because I grew up near to there, but any resemblance to a village is long gone.
This map of Amity Township from 1855 shows the landowners at the time. The Township is located between Wattsburg and Union City. The “Hollow” is on the intersection of Wattsburg and modern-day Arbuckle Roads.
There is one person of national significance who grew up in this rural area, Ida Tarbell.
Born in a log cabin in 1857, Miss Tarbell broke the rules of society and decided to never marry and therefore remain economically self-reliant. In 1860, at the age of thirteen, her family moved from Erie County to Rouseville, near Titusville, to take advantage of the growing petroleum industry as her father was a tank builder. This oil boom town today has a population of around four hundred people and oil drilling is no longer the main economic factor.
Ida was the only woman who entered Meadville’s Allegheny College in 1876, graduating in 1880 with a degree in Biology.
She moved to Titusville and began writing for the “The Chautauquan” a Titusville publication. Always moving forward, Tarbell moved to Paris, France, to write about people, dead or alive, and sell her work to American newspapers there. She caught the eye of S.S. McClure, owner of McClure’s magazine, who convinced her to return to the United States to write for his popular publication. President Theodore Roosevelt called McClure’s writers “muckrakers” because they “raked in a field of muck” for their research on topics of the day. Society’s ills were the topics discussed in their magazine articles and cures for those ills were often the result. For example, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1903 may not have occurred without the Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle” and the public outcry that followed.
Among the various articles Ida wrote, her series on the Standard Oil Company, established by John D. Rockefeller, was her most famous. In 1902, the series was turned into “The History of the Standard Oil Company”, a book which eventually led to an investigation of the company. Federal laws resulted, creating a more equitable business environment.
Ida later went on to serve on the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense in 1917 (women were not granted the right to vote until 1920!); was President for 28-years of the Pen & Brush, a group of 250 women writers and artists; and was on the staff of the Red Cross Magazine. She died at the age of 86 in 1944 and is buried in Connecticut.
The legacy of Ida Tarbell continues to this day in Titusville. This year the Titusville Oil Festival will be held on August 12th and 13th. I went a few years ago and had a grand time with the vendors, food, and history of the community. I also toured the Ida Tarbell House in town which is preserved as an historic site. As big business consolidates (think about Amazon, and Twitter) and as current “muckrakers” write about them, our federal government may have to again echo the sentiments of Ida, a local lady who made it big in changing the ways we live.
This blog could not have been written without the book “Erie History – The Women’s Story” written and edited by Sabina Freeman and Margaret Tenpas. This invaluable resource is available for study at the Hagen History Center as well as the Blasco Library’s Heritage room.