The first-ever biography of the pioneering female journalist who fought to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington, DC
Every age has strong, independent women who defy the gender conventions of their era to follow their hearts and minds. Eliza Scidmore was one such maverick. Born on the American frontier just before the Civil War, she rose from modest beginnings to become a journalist who roamed far and wide writing about distant places for readers back home. By her mid-20s she had visited more places than most people would see in a lifetime. By the end of the nineteenth century, her travels were so legendary she was introduced at a meeting in London as "Miss Scidmore, of everywhere".
In what has become her best-known legacy, Scidmore carried home from Japan a big idea that helped shape the face of modern Washington: she urged the city's park officials to plant Japanese cherry trees on a reclaimed mud bank-today's Potomac Park. Though they rebuffed her suggestion several times, she finally got her way nearly three decades later thanks to the support of First Lady Helen Taft.
Scidmore was a "Forrest Gump" of her day who bore witness to many important events and rubbed elbows with famous people, from John Muir and Alexander Graham Bell to U.S presidents and Japanese leaders. She helped popularize Alaska tourism during the birth of the cruise industry, and educated readers about Japan and other places in the Far East at a time of expanding U.S. interests across the Pacific. At the early National Geographic, she made a lasting mark as the first woman to serve on its board and to publish photographs in the magazine. Around the same time, she also played an activist role in the burgeoning U.S. conservation movement. Her published work includes books on Alaska, Japan, Java, China, and India; a novel based on the Russo-Japanese War; and about 800 articles in U.S. newspapers and magazines.
Deeply researched and briskly written, this first-ever biography of Scidmore draws heavily on her own writings to follow major events of a half-century as seen through the eyes of a remarkable woman who was far ahead of her time.
Prologue: A Grave in Yokohama
Part One: Foundations
1. Child of the Frontier
2. A Fresh Start
3. World's Fair
4. “Lady Writer”
5. Inside Passage to Alaska
6. The Potomac Flats
Part Two: Far and Wide
7. Jinrikishas in Japan
8. A Singular Vision
9. Among the Scientists
10. A Voice for Conservation
11. New Highway to the East
12. “Miss Scidmore, of Everywhere”
13. Trouble in China
14. Eyes on Japan
Part Three: A Dream Realized
15. “The World and All That Is in It”
16. Field of Cherries
17. An Ally in the White House
18. Up in Smoke
19. “Mrs. Taft Plants Tree”
20. War and Peace
Epilogue: At Home in the World
Diana Pabst Parsell is a professional writer, editor, and former journalist who has worked at National Geographic, the National Institutes of Health, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and The Washington Post, as well as at several environmental research centers in Southeast Asia. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and Johns Hopkins University, she received a Mayborn Fellowship in Biography and the Biographers International Organization 2017 Hazel Rowley Prize. She lives with her husband in Falls Church, Virginia.
"Parsell has brilliantly rescued Eliza Scidmore, a celebrity journalist and travel writer, from obscurity. Her family background and character are intriguing, and the biography is packed with cultural and historical detail that positions Scidmore as a professional with friends in the highest positions in many fields, both in the United States and the Far East. In addition to the long and complicated saga of her role in securing Japanese cherry trees for Washington D. C., she is especially esteemed for her books about Alaska and Japan, and her instrumental work for National Geographic magazine."
– Susan Schoenbauer Thurin, author of Victorian Travelers and the Opening of China 1842-1907
"Diana Parsell's meticulous biography of the important, intrepid though still sadly under-researched and insufficiently known Eliza Scidmore, will be an invaluable resource for travel writing scholars and students. The interweaving of the author's own biography with Scidmore's history makes for a wonderful connecting of two women writers' stories more than a century apart."
– Julia Kuehn, The University of Hong Kong
"Parsell writes in a clear and lively style and makes thorough use of primary sources, effectively blending narrative drive with evocative detail."
– Michelle McClellan, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan
"A riveting read, this comprehensive biography of Eliza Scidmore is full of surprises, demonstrating a legacy that extends far beyond her role in bringing the now-iconic cherry blossoms to Washington, D.C. Through prodigious research and vivid writing, Diana Parsell brings to life the dynamic period from America's Gilded Age into the 1920s, when Scidmore was an eyewitness to major world events. I highly recommend this book."
– Ann McClellan, author of Cherry Blossoms and The Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Celebration
"One part writer, one part adventurer, one part cultural ambassador, and 100% tenacious – and at a time when women were supposed to linger in the shadows – Eliza Scidmore literally changed the landscape of the nation's capital. In this terrific biography, Diana Parsell's obsessive quest to piece together Scidmore's extraordinary life moves this forgotten journalist from footnote to center stage."
– Lisa Napoli, author of Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR