Told  /  Profile

They Were Fearless 1890s War Correspondents—and They Were Women

Were Harriet Boyd and Cora Stewart rivals in Greece in 1897? The fog of war has obscured a groundbreaking tale.

The Greco-Turkish War of 1897 was a short and ignominious conflict, waged for a mere month or so after the Greeks attempted to annex the Ottoman province of Crete. It did not, however, lack for innovations. Doctors brought X-ray machines to a theater of war for the first time in Greece. It also was the first conflict shot with a movie camera.

Yet perhaps the war’s most enduring legacy—and mystery—is the prominent part played by two American women on its front lines. Harriet Boyd was a Smith College graduate living in Athens. Cora Stewart traveled to Greece with author Stephen Crane and later became his common-law wife. (She is best known to history as “Cora Crane.”)

The two women apparently never crossed paths in Greece. But within the space of 24 hours in May 1897, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Advertiser trumpeted both Stewart and Boyd—individually and in separate articles—as being the “only” woman covering the war.

Disingenuous? Yes. Boyd and Stewart’s articles appeared in the same newspaper, after all. But two American women publishing dispatches from the same conflict was unprecedented.

Before 1897, there had been only one female war correspondent: Jane McManus Storm Cazneau, who accompanied New York Sun editor Moses Y. Beach on an official 1846 peace mission during the Mexican-American War—and then filed dispatches for that paper from U.S. General Winfield Scott’s successful siege of Vera Cruz.   

So the fact of two women offering firsthand accounts of battles and casualties for newspapers in the late nineteenth century is striking in itself. But Boyd and Stewart were more than that: They were fascinating figures in a war that offered an influential new model for how American journalists would cover future conflicts.  

However brief, the Greco-Turkish War of March and April 1897 was a formative experience for a new generation of American war correspondents. It was also a dress rehearsal for war coverage that became a key element in notorious “yellow journalism” circulation battles when the United States went to war with Spain in Cuba a year later in April 1898, when Hearst is alleged to have famously barked to Frederic Remington, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war!”