Gilmer, Elizabeth Meriwether

Gilmer, Elizabeth Meriwether (Dorothy Dix, pen name)

(1861–1951) journalist, women's rights pioneer; born in Montgomery County, Tenn. She had a difficult youth due to the illness and early death of her mother and the strains of the Civil War. After a bit of formal schooling, she married George Gilmer (1882); their 47-year marriage was most unhappy; often sick, he became incapacitated and died in a mental hospital. She lived apart from him for many of those years and turned to writing fiction and sketches for newspapers. She joined the staff of the New Orleans Daily Picayune (1894–1901), beginning a weekly column under the name "Dorothy Dix" in 1895; among the mixture of topics she wrote about were some on women's situations, and women began writing to her. In 1901 she was hired by William Randolph Hearst to report on Carry Nation and that year she went to New York to work for Hearst's New York Journal (1901–17). She became nationally known for her reporting on sensational cases while also continuing her columns that attracted letters that she personally answered. During these years she also came to take an increasingly active part in the women's suffrage cause. In 1917 she joined the Wheeler Newspaper Syndicate, returned to New Orleans, and continued writing her nationally syndicated column based on letters from readers and her responses; with an estimated 60 million readers who wrote her 400–500 letters a day, she continued her column until 1949, personally answering much of her mail and also writing seven books. Dismissed by some as a "sob sister," she has come to be recognized for providing an important outlet for ordinary women to air their concerns.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.