Eliza Jane Nicholson was an American poet and journalist, the first woman publisher of a daily newspaper in Louisiana, the New Orleans Daily Picayune. Learn more »
In 1876, Eliza Jane Nicholson became the first woman publisher of a daily metropolitan newspaper in the nation. She revolutionized the New Orleans Picayune, creating a lively, dynamic paper with feature stories, book reviews, a women’s page, an expanded Sunday edition, columns devoted to special topics (health, household hints, society), special Carnival editions with lithographs of parade floats, cartoons, and generous photographic illustrations. Nicholson herself wrote editorials, essays, dramatic monologues, and poetry under the pseudonym “Pearl Rivers.”
Born to an affluent lumbering family near Pearlington, Mississippi, on March 11, 1843, Eliza Jane Poitevent was reared on a large property in the pine woods along the Hobolochitto, a tributary of the Pearl River. She was educated at home and at the Amite Female Seminary in Liberty, Mississippi. After the Civil War, she began to publish nature-themed poetry in southern newspapers.
When she moved to New Orleans to become the first professional woman journalist in the South, her family was horrified and the men in the newsroom were hostile. In 1870, she became the literary editor of the Picayune; at that time, she dropped six years from her age in official biographies. In 1872, she married the Picayune’s owner, Colonel Alva Holbrook. At his death in 1876, she inherited an almost bankrupt newspaper that she was determined to rescue.
During Eliza Nicholson’s tenure as owner and publisher, the biggest stories at the Picayune were the end of Reconstruction (1876), a deadly yellow fever epidemic (1878), the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition (1884–85), and the massive hurricane of 1893, which rivaled Hurricanes Camille and Katrina. Nicholson’s editorial causes included improved public education, honest government, women’s rights to employment and equal pay, and animal rights.
In 1878, she married George Nicholson, the paper’s business manager. Under the Nicholsons’ leadership, the Picayune became extremely profitable, enjoying the highest circulation of any paper in the Southwest. They invested in new presses regularly, hired regional stringers and advertising salesmen, and joined the new Associated Press. Nicholson also employed and promoted the careers of several women journalists, including Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, who went on to national fame as advice columnist Dorothy Dix.
On February 15, 1896, eleven days after her husband’s death, Eliza Jane Nicholson died of influenza. The Picayune remained in the hands of the Nicholson family until a national syndicate purchased it in 1962.
Cite This Entry
Chicago Manual of Style
Brady, Patricia. "Eliza Jane Nicholson." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published December 13, 2010. http://www.knowla.org/entry/672/.
Brady, Patricia. "Eliza Jane Nicholson." KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 13 Dec 2010. Web. 22 Jan. 2017.
Would you like to learn more about this topic from books and other reading materials?
Bloom, Khaled J. The Mississippi Valley’s Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press Press, 1993.
Brady, Patricia. “Eliza Jane Nicholson: New Orleans Publisher,” in Louisiana Women, edited by Janet Allured and Judith Gentry. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009.
___. “Literary Ladies of New Orleans in the Gilded Age,” Louisiana History 33 (Spring 1992).
Bridges, Lamar Whitlow. A Study of the New Orleans Daily Picayune under Publisher Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson, 1876–1896. PhD. diss., Southern Illinois University, 1974.
Dabney, Thomas Ewing. One Hundred Great Years: The Story of the Times Picayune from its Founding to 1940. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1944.
Gilley, B. H. “A Woman for Women: Eliza Nicholson, Publisher of the New Orleans Daily Picayune,” Louisiana History 30 (Summer 1989).
Harrison, James Henry. Pearl Rivers: Publisher of the Picayune. New Orleans, LA: Department of Journalism, Tulane University, 1932.
Holditch, W. Kenneth. “‘A Creature Set Apart’: Pearl Rivers in the Piney Woods,” in Mississippi’s Piney Woods: A Human Perspective, edited by Noel Polk. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986.
Inventory of the succession of George Nicholson, Civil District Court 48–595; inventory of the succession of Eliza Jane Nicholson, CDC 48–749.
Nicholson Family Papers (MSS 219), The Historic New Orleans Collection.
Rivers, Pearl [Eliza Jane Nicholson]. Lyrics by Pearl Rivers. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1873.