Eliza Scidmore: The Trailblazing Journalist Behind Washington’s Cherry Trees

Oxford Univ. Mar. 2023. 384p. ISBN 9780198869429. $32.95. HIST
Journalist Parsell’s debut is the first biography about pioneering woman journalist and writer Eliza Scidmore, whose vision of Japanese cherry trees along the banks of the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, became her lasting legacy. Born in 1856, Eliza moved as a child to the nation’s capital during the Civil War. She got her first big breaks in journalism covering the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia (under the pen name “Ruhamah”) and later as a popular society columnist in Washington. Voyages to Alaska and lengthy stays in Japan made her an esteemed travel writer (who befriended naturalist John Muir) and an expert in both regions. Yet, for all her fame and accomplishments—the author of seven books; National Geographic magazine’s first official woman writer, photographer, and board member; her determination to bring cherry trees to Washington, DC, despite repeated rejection; and Mount Ruhamah and Scidmore Glacier and Bay are named for her—she is relatively unknown today, due in part to the burning of her personal papers by a relative shortly after her death.
VERDICT Parsell’s readable, well-researched biography will bring Scidmore back into the limelight, appealing to readers with an interest in geography, journalism, conservation, and women’s studies.
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