A Plucky Woman

Nellie Bly

The Pittsburg Dispatch/May 31, 1885

How Miss Ober, of Opera Fame, Has Stemmed the Tide and

Made a Fortune in Six Years.

Satisfied to Rest Under Her Own Vine and Fig Tree Henceforth

A Happy Family Behind the Scene

It is shameful to state, yet the fact remains, that in this enlightened age there are many who think all labor, except housework, belittles a woman, and who look with holy horror on one who has courage enough to leave the regular routine laid down for the fairer sex and enter the manlier domain. Plenty of women will eke out a miserable existence at some so-called “light work,” while the world is full of good, comfortable places that require only energy and pluck to assume. Some few women can be named who have bravely struck out according to their own pleasure, and have succeeded. Honor to them. If there were more the world would be better.

Miss. E.H. Ober has been filling a position that was never before attempted by women—proprietor and manager of an opera company. In an interview with her week before last she said: “Six years ago I kept in Boston a theatrical bureau. Times were very dull then among ‘show people,’ so I concluded to put an opera troupe in the Boston Theatre for six weeks. Costumes were procured, and we opened with ‘Pinafore.’ It was a great success, both musically and financially. Some advised me to go on the road, and I did.”

A Woman of Nerve

Were you not afraid of failing?”

“Afraid of failing?” she repeated with a smile. “No, I was not afraid. I knew people had started out before and failed; and also knew many had started out and succeeded. So I had just the same chance as any man.”

“What arrangements do you make with your company?”

“Simply this: I pay each a stated salary. From that they must pay their board and furnish their wearing apparel. I pay all traveling expenses and furnish the entire opera outfit.”

“How much do your costumes cost?”

“For each opera we have separate costumes, and any one set will cost more than $2,500. My expenses are more than $4,000 weekly, but I have always cleared them, notwithstanding the hard times.”

“What is your opinion on women entering public life?”

“I think if they are fitted for it, all right. Women are just like men—some may be fitted for a position that another could not fill; but I say, what they can do, let them. If they have energy and pluck to start out and take care of themselves, they should be praised for doing so.”

“What treatment do you receive in dealing with the men with whom you are thrown in contact?”

“The best, the very best from managers, landlords, and all. I cannot complain of one thing. My sister always travels with me as an assistant.”

“Will it not be hard to settle down after traveling constantly foir six years?”

“No, I cannot say it will. I was content to travel, now I have made enough to keep me comfortable my entire life, so why should I worry to earn more. Of course I have not made a great fortune, and men might not count me wealthy, but I have earned plenty to last me the rest of my life, and it has been all made with the Boston Ideals.”

“Do you not feel sorry to separate from them?”

“Yes, we are like one big family. We never quarrel, we are all fond of one another, and so it will be hard to part. I have yet a good many people who started with me six years ago. Among the leading ones are Miss Burton, and Messrs. Karl, Whitney, Barnabee and Forthingham.”

“Have you sold your title yet?”

“No, but next season there will still be a Boston Ideal Opera Company.”

Behind the Scenes

On Friday evening, just after the second act, the company all came to the waiting room, where the interview took place. Tom Karl tipped back his hat and leaned gracefully against the side of the door, meanwhile chatting with lover-like devotion, that none can better assume, to a pretty chorus girl. W. H. MacDonald, who was not playing, sauntered leisurely in, humming an opera air and looking every inch the handsome “Duke,” minus tights and black velvet tunic, substituting therefore a black suit and high silk hat. Lady Pamela, Geraldine Ulmar, held the train of her night dress gracefully over her arm, while she looked and talked bewitchingly to Lorenzo, chief of the carbiniers. Herndon Morsell. Miss Matilde Phillips, dressed in black silk, leaned back in her chair majestically, while crowding in merry groups were several girls and men dressed in pretty costumes. Lord Rosburg, H.C. Barnabee, taking Miss Carrie Endicott by the hand in a fatherly sort of way, led her forward before a veiled object. Mr. Pond removed the cloth, and Mr. Barnabee, in his most pleasant manner, presented the gift in the name of the Boston Ideals, with their best wishes for the happiness of Miss Endicott, who is presently to embark upon the matrimonial sea. The clever speech was received with hearty applause. Miss Carrie was quite overcome, and timidly thanked them in a quivering voice. Afterward she affectionately embraced many of the lady members.

The shrill cry of “Act’s on!” interrupted this pleasant incident. Some ran for the stage, some settled down to sew, and some examined the clock, which was bought from a leading jeweler in town, and served to show the strangers what handsome things Pittsburg can furnish. Many said they never saw a prettier one even in Eastern cities. Attached to it was a card tablet with names of the company.

“You see,” said Miss Ober, “how industrious my girls are. Between acts they sew, make their clothes, do fancy work and are always employed.”

And so they were sitting around on boxes, trunks and chairs working their fingers nimbly, meanwhile talking gaily to some of their male companions. They were a bright and jolly family. Not a frown or cross word was seen or heard, and they appeared devotedly attached to each other.

(Source: Nellie Bly: The Pioneer Woman Journalist at http://www.nellieblyonline.com/herwriting)

The works of Nellie Bly and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism.