Winifred Bonfils “Annie Laurie”
Winifred Bonfils was a contemporary of Nellie Bly. In 1889 she bluffed her way onto the staff of Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, and in honor of her fellow newswoman adopted the pen name Annie Laurie (a name that was also taken from a song). Annie’s first assignment was a flower show, but like Nellie Bly, she would not settle for life on the society page. Whereas, Nellie Bly became famous for feigning madness, Annie Laurie hit it big when she staged a fainting spell on Market Street. Her intent was to test the Emergency services in the city. She found them… lacking. Annie Laurie’s story resulted in a major scandal and the institution of the ambulance system in San Francisco.
The following is an excerpt from the article:
“After being hauled into a prison van and jolted over the cobbles, she is forced to drink hot mustard water on general principles – the acting police surgeon laughs when he hears about it, and suggests a thrashing to make her take the dose – he bruises her shoulder because she resists his hurting her head, and wants to strip her down.
“The woman who fainted on the street and was roughly dragged into the vehicle and jolted away over the rough cobbles, was the Examiner’s Annie Laurie. She had been sent to write up how a woman unfortunate enough to be taken sick or injured on the public streets of San Francisco in the year of civilization 1890, is treated by those who are paid to care for the unfortunate and suffering.
“Had Annie Laurie been run over by a street-car and been cut and mangled the treatment she received would have been just the same. It took twenty minutes for her to reach the hospital, more than time enough for a person to bleed to death from a wound that would not be at all serious if attended to at once…” You can read the full article here.
In 1900, the day after the devastating Galveston Hurricane, Annie Laurie disguised herself as a boy, slipped past the police barricade, and was the first non-Galveston (and only woman) reporter on the scene. The disaster killed somewhere between 6,000-12,000 people and leveled the city. Bodies were still floating through the streets. Her exclusive reports caused Hearst to send relief supplies by train. (A surprising number of women dressed as men. You can find reports scattered throughout newspaper archives.)
During her fifty years as a reporter, Annie Laurie used her column to organize relief efforts, charities, and raise public concern for various issues (from lepers, to children, to polygamists), she bluffed her way into President Harrison’s campaign train to get an interview, reported on social injustices, and also reported from Europe during WWI.
Some notable quotes:
“A woman has a distinct advantage over a man in reporting if she has sense. . . . Men always are good to women.”
“I’d rather smell the printer’s ink and hear the presses go around than go to any grand opera in the world.”
“I’m not a sob sister or special writer, I’m just a plain, practical, all-around newspaper woman.”
To be continued…