Friday, February 17, 2017

Teacher and Newspaper Operator Frances Roberts, and Her Sister Nellie [otd 02/17]

Newspaper owner and publisher Frances Ida Roberts was born February 17, 1860, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her sister Nellie had been born in 1844. Their grandfather and father both ran newspapers, the grandfather in Kentucky and Indiana.
Early printing press.
Library of Congress.

Both girls learned the newspaper business from the ground up. Thus, as a pre-teen, Frances helped set type at her father's print shop. Toward the end of her high school years, she studied piano at a music institute in Missouri.

With that as a side speciality, around 1879 she found work as a school teacher. Between school sessions, she helped at her father's newspaper.

About that same time, Nellie married a newspaperman and thereafter stayed in the business as printer, editor, writer, and every other duty that came along. Over the next few years, the couple ran newspapers in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Tennessee. Then, in 1887, they started a newspaper in Harney County, Oregon.

That same year, Frances moved to a teaching position in Oregon. A year later, her father also resettled there. He founded a newspaper in Harney County to serve Burns and the surrounding region.

In 1889, Frances claimed a homestead near Baker City. The next five years were busy ones: She had to build the required dwelling and cultivate a portion of the tract, and build fences to keep stock out of the crops. Meanwhile, she lived on the tiny stipend earned by teaching at a small country school a mile or so from her place.

In fact, for 15-20 years, Frances taught at schools in eastern Oregon and also across the border in western Idaho. Again– for a change of pace from teaching – Frances worked at her father’s paper, and for others.

Nellie’s husband died in 1900, and the women’s father three years later. Frances went into the newspaper business herself in 1906. Nellie, who was then 62 years old, perhaps did not feel up to running a paper on her own. With Nellie as Associate Editor, they ran a successful newspaper in Oregon for three years, then Frances sold that and invested in a Boise publication.

Roberts held that interest for only a year, probably while she explored investment possibilities in the Boise Valley. She then sold her share of the Boise publication and started the Star Courier newspaper in Star, Idaho. (Star is about fifteen miles west of downtown Boise.)
Star Interurban Depot, ca 1910. photo.

Star was then a "coming town," especially after it became a stop on the Interurban Railway between Boise and Caldwell. Besides serving valley farmers, Star was a junction point for traffic to and from the Payette River settlements north of the Boise Valley.

The weekly Star Courier served Star and the adjacent towns of Eagle and Middleton. After a few years, however, they apparently tired of the business and sold it. Interviewed by the Idaho Statesman (April 27, 1914), Nellie said, “I am 70 years young, and glad to retire in time to put in shape for publication several books.”

Afterwards, they moved to a home near Cove, Oregon (12-14 miles east of LeGrande). Frances died there in March 1929, and Nellie about ten year later.
References: [French]
Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers, The Library of Congress (online).
"History of Star," City of Star, web site.

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