Eliza Jane Nicholson

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Eliza Jane Nicholson (Poitevent)

Also Known As: "Pearl", "Rivers", "Nicholson", "Pearl Rivers"
Birthplace: Hancock County, Mississippi, United States
Death: February 15, 1896 (52)
New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William James Poitevent and Mary Amelia Poitevent
Wife of Alva Morris Holbrook and George Nicholson
Mother of Leonard Kimball Nicholson
Sister of Capt. (CSN), Junius 'June' Poitevent; Capt. (CSN), John W. Poitevent; Samuel Russ Poitevent and Lois Poitevent

Managed by: Private User
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About Eliza Jane Nicholson


Eliza Jane Poitevent Holbrook Nicholson (1843–1896), who wrote under the nom de plume Pearl Rivers, was a Pearl Rivers (pen name of Eliza Jane Nicholson; formerly Holbrook; née Poitevent; March 11, 1843 – February 15, 1896) was an American journalist and poet, and the first female editor of a major American newspaper. After having been the literary editor of the New Orleans Times Picayune, became the owner and publisher 1876 when her elderly husband died. In 1880 she took over as managing editor, where she continued until her death in 1896.

She took the name from the Pearl River, which was located near her home in Mississippi. She did not let traditional norms hold her back from doing what she wished, and most of her newspaper work was pursued against the wishes of her family and society.

Early life and education

Eliza Jane Poitevent was born in Gainesville, Hancock, Mississippi, USA, on March 11, 1843 (some sources say 1849). She was the third child of a prosperous family of five, with a busy father and a sickly mother. She is listed on the 1850 U.S. Census as living in Beat 2 of Hancock County, Mississippi, with an age of seven and younger siblings in the household.

When she was nine years old, she moved to her aunt Jane's house in the vicinity of today's Picayune, Mississippi. Her uncle Leonard Kimball managed a plantation, a store, and a toll bridge there. She was sent to the Amite Female Seminary in Liberty, Mississippi, graduating in 1859, where she earned (or gave herself) the title of the "wildest girl in school".

Rivers' first romance was with a young man she had met while at the seminary, but this was suppressed by the headmaster and her uncle. During the American Civil War (1861–1865) she may have fallen in love with a soldier, since such a romance was described in a group of poems she wrote in 1866 for the New Orleans Times.


After the war, she began submitting her work to newspapers and magazines under the pseudonym "Pearl Rivers", and her poems were published in the New Orleans literary sheet, The South, and in the New York Home Journal and the New York Ledger. On 17 October 1866 the New Orleans daily The Picayune published her poem "A Little Bunch of Roses", the first of her work known to have been published in that paper, and after 1867 all her work was published in this paper.

During one of Rivers' visits to her grandfather in New Orleans, she met the co-owner of The Daily Picayune, Alva M. Holbrook. He asked her to become literary editor of the newspaper. She accepted the job and in May 1872 married Holbrook, who was divorced and thirty-four years her senior. The marriage was unhappy. In a letter to her first lover she confided that Holbrook "never did, and never will" love her. A month after their marriage, Holbrook's first wife returned from New York and attacked her with a pistol and a bottle of rum. This was followed by a messy and protracted court battle.

Holbrook died in bankruptcy in 1876 owing $80,000, a very large amount of money in those days. He left the newspaper to his young widow, which she continued to run. This was a courageous decision for a woman at that time. She had fallen in love with the business manager of the paper, a married man named George Nicholson. A year after Nicholson's first wife died, he married Rivers in June 1878.

Picayune owner

George Nicholson was a talented businessman who bought a 25% interest in the Daily Picayune and managed to pay down the debt and increase advertising revenue. Rivers introduced many innovations to the Daily Picayune that greatly increased circulation, making the paper one of the leading journals in the South. Among other changes, she added stories on women, sports reporting, children's pages, poetry, and literary stories. She also started a gossip column and hired Dorothy Dix, a pioneer women's advice columnist. In 1881, she hired Martha R. Field as the newspaper's first salaried woman reporter; under a pseudonym, Field wrote the popular "Catherine Cole's Letter" column and also contributed to a second column, "Women's World and Work".

The introduction of a society column on March 16, 1879, the "Society Bee", was controversial. One reader wrote that it was "shabby", "shoddy" and "shameful" to mention the name of any lady in a newspaper. But by 1890 the column had become the largest section in the Sunday edition and was widely imitated.

The visual appearance of the paper evolved. Advertising was moved out of column space and into boxes, which first appeared in June 1882. Before 1885 the paper rarely ran illustrations. By 1887 the pages were full of chalk plate drawings. The rakish and sophisticated Weather Frog appeared in cartoons from 13 January 1894, and the first political cartoon after her death on April 18, 1896. She changed the paper into a family newspaper, and, between 1880 and 1890, the circulation more than tripled while the paper grew in size and influence.

Under Rivers, the paper fought corruption, gave strong opinions on public works on the Mississippi, supported railroad construction, advocated political changes and took other principled stands. But the paper reflected the views of its readers. It was hostile to the Negro Republican Party, publishing editorials in the 1890s in favor of disenfranchising negroes on the basis that they were "unfit to vote, ignorant, shiftless, depraved and criminal-minded", and would be controlled by a "ring" of white politicians. The Picayune reported Negro lynchings casually.


Rivers became the first president of the National Woman's Press Association in 1884, and became the first honorary member of the New York Women's Press Club. In March 1886, the editor of the New York magazine Forest and Stream invited "Mr. E.J. Nicholson" to be vice-president of the Audubon Society. Two weeks later, the editor apologized for assuming Rivers was a man and ranking her with the "inferior sex".

A lover of animals, Rivers wrote editorials criticizing dog fighting and the beating of horses and mules. She was a driving force in launching the New Orleans Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1888.

Personal life and death

Her husband caught influenza and died in New Orleans. Rivers died of the same disease two weeks later, on February 15, 1896, leaving two teenage children.

Literary achievements



Pearl Rivers, the pen name of Eliza Jane Poitevent Holbrook Nicholson, began public life as a poet but achieved prominence by becoming the first woman in the United States to own and publish an important daily newspaper, the New Orleans Picayune. Born in Gainesville, Mississippi, on 11 March 1843 (some sources say 1849), Eliza Jane Poitevent was one of eight children born to William J. Poitevent and Mary A. Russ Poitevent. In 1852 she went to live with an aunt and uncle on the banks of the Hobolochitto Creek, twenty-five miles away. With no playmates on the estate, Poitevent made friends with the birds and animals that populated the surrounding Piney Woods.

At age fifteen Poitevent went to the Amite Female Seminary in Liberty, Mississippi. When she graduated in July 1859, she had already taken Pearl Rivers as her pseudonym and embarked on a career as a poet. By 1869 she had two poems published in a southern anthology, and more began regularly appearing in the New York Home Journal, the New York Ledger, the New Orleans Times, and the New Orleans Picayune.

While visiting her maternal grandfather, Samuel Potter Russ, in New Orleans, Poitevent met the owner of the Picayune, Col. Alva Morris Holbrook. A short time later Holbrook invited her to join his staff as a literary editor for a salary of twenty-five dollars a week. Despite her family’s objections that such work was not proper for a lady of her social standing, Poitevent accepted the position. She became the first woman in New Orleans and one of the first in the South to earn a living working on a newspaper.

In January 1872 Holbrook sold the paper to a group of New Orleans businessmen. The following May, the recently divorced Holbrook, age sixty-four, married the twenty-nine-year-old Poitevent at her grandparents’ home. The Picayune began to fail under its new management, and by 1873 Holbrook had regained control. However, he died on 4 January 1876, leaving Eliza Holbrook the Daily Picayune, its eighty thousand dollars in debt, and two hundred thousand dollars in lawsuits against the paper. She could declare bankruptcy and take the one thousand dollars the law allowed her as a widow, or she could attempt to restore the paper. Her family urged her to return to Mississippi, and for more than two months she weighed her options. But when the paper’s longtime business manager, Englishman George Nicholson, promised his help, she decided to stay. In March 1876 Eliza announced the change of management and set forth her policies. While the Picayune would remain an independent journal free of political influence, it would seek to reach beyond its limited male readership to become a family paper. In June, Nicholson furthered his support by assuming a quarter interest in the paper.

In 1878, following the death of his first wife, George Nicholson and Eliza Holbrook married. With George overseeing business matters and Eliza in charge of content, the paper became a success, and by 1887 it was debt-free and turning a profit.

During the two decades the Picayune was under her direction, Eliza Nicholson inaugurated many features that became standard. Among the most significant was an expanded Sunday edition intended to appeal to a wide range of readers. In 1879 she introduced New Orleans’s first society column, the Society Bee, which reported the week’s social events. Other regular Sunday attractions included Woman’s World and Work, Lilliput Land (for children), sports coverage, and comics.

The Picayune also regularly featured fashion, household hints, political commentary and cartoons, theater gossip, and reviews of books and art. Both the number of pictures and the amount of advertising increased. Beginning in 1894 the paper featured the “weather prophet”—a cartoon sketch of a dapper frog who would carry an umbrella or a fan to suggest the day’s forecast. That year Eliza Nicholson also hired Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, who was soon famous as advice columnist Dorothy Dix. Nicholson also used the Picayune to campaign for social and governmental reform. The strong stand she took against mistreating animals in editorials and in a section, “Nature’s Dumb Nobility,” so influenced public opinion that in October 1888 New Orleans residents founded a chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In 1873 Pearl Rivers published Lyrics, a collection of short poetry. Her next publications—two long dramatic monologues, “Hagar” and “Leah” that appeared in Cosmopolitan in 1883 and 1884—differed in tone and outlook from the early work. The change was not surprising: a decade in journalism had made Rivers a shrewd and capable businesswoman who wrote with passion and intensity.

George Nicholson died on 4 February 1896 from complications following an influenza outbreak; eleven days later, his wife, too, succumbed. During their time at the helm, the Picayune had more than doubled in circulation and had become a newspaper with national importance.


American newspaper publisher, journalist and poet. Name variations: Eliza Jane Poitevent; Eliza Jane Holbrook; (pseudonym) Pearl Rivers. Born Eliza Jane Poitevent on March 11, 1849, in Hancock County, Mississippi; died on February 15, 1896, in New Orleans, Louisiana; daughter of William James Poitevent (a lumberman and shipbuilder) and Mary Amelia (Russ) Poitevent; graduated from the Female Seminary of Amite, Louisiana, 1867; married Alva M. Holbrook (an editor and newspaper publisher), on May 18, 1872 (died 1876); married George Nicholson (a newspaper business manager), on June 27, 1878 (died 1896); children: (second marriage) Leonard Kimball (b. 1881); Yorke Poitevent Tucker (b. 1883).

Published poetry in writing anthology (1869); became literary editor of the New Orleans Picayune (1870); became publisher of the Picayune after husband's death (1876); elected president of the Women's National Press Association (1884); became first honorary member of the New York Woman's Press Club.

Born into a large family in Hancock County, Mississippi, in 1849, Eliza Jane Nicholson was raised by her aunt and uncle on their farm, due to her mother's weak health. She started writing poetry in her early teens, and at 18, after graduating from the Amite Female Seminary in Louisiana, began submitting poetry to magazines and newspapers. These poems were signed "Pearl Rivers," a pen name taken from the river that ran by her parents' property. Nicholson's work soon appeared in the New York Home Journal, the New Orleans Times, and what would become the focus of her career, the New Orleans Picayune. (The paper had been named by its founders after a Spanish coin worth 6¼ cents to underscore the fact that it cost less than its competitors.) By the time she was 20, she had been featured in an anthology of Southern authors.

The editor and owner of the Picayune was a transplanted Northerner named Alva Morris Holbrook, whom Nicholson met while on a visit to her grandfather in New Orleans. Holbrook, who was 41 years her elder, soon offered her the job of literary editor for the newspaper, which she accepted around 1870 despite opposition from her family. She lived with her grandfather and was paid $25 per week for work which included preparing the Sunday paper's literary section and choosing which poems would be published in the daily editions. Despite their age difference, Nicholson and Holbrook established a personal as well as a professional relationship. They were married in 1872, shortly after Holbrook had sold the Picayune to allow Nicholson to pursue her poetry.

However, she had time only to publish a collection of her poems, Lyrics (1873), before the paper reverted to Holbrook, because the new owners were unable to keep it afloat. Nicholson and her husband returned to newspaper work, and a little more than a year later, when she was 26, Holbrook died. She inherited ownership of the Picayune as well as its $80,000 debt. Once again ignoring the wishes of her parents, she rejected their advice to liquidate and instead took control of the newspaper.

Now the first woman in the Deep South to be publisher of a major newspaper, Nicholson set the paper's course in her opening editorial: the Picayune would be an independent, anti-Reconstruction newspaper for the whole family. With the paper's editor José Quintero and its business manager George Nicholson, who became co-owner when she married him in 1878, she added special departments for women and children, and in 1879 began running a column of society news. (This innovation was at first resisted in conservative New Orleans, but later became quite popular.) The paper's contents grew to include fashion, household hints, theater gossip, medical advice, a complaint department and comics, and Sunday editions frequently published fiction by noted writers, including Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, and Frank Stockton. Nicholson also used the paper to champion such causes as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the free night school run by Sophie B. Wright (1866–1912). Although her new husband was 30 years her senior, they seem to have had both a good marriage and a good working relationship; with Nicholson overseeing editorial content and George supervising business matters, the paper paid off all its debt and more than tripled its circulation.

Although Nicholson apparently was not an advocate for women's suffrage, she believed that women should be self-sufficient, and was a strong supporter of women in the newspaper business. Among those whom she hired were Martha R. Field , who became a special correspondent to Washington, D.C., and other cities, and Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer , who was working at the Picayune when she began writing the advice column that would later make her a national figure as Dorothy Dix. In 1884, Nicholson was elected president of the Women's National Press Association and was the first honorary member of the New York Woman's Press Club. (Also in the 1880s, apparently, residents in a small community newly joined to the railroad asked her to rename their town; she did so, and Picayune, Mississippi, now a small city some 35 miles from New Orleans, is believed to be the first town in America named after a newspaper.)

As the Picayune grew increasingly successful, she spent more of her time at her summer home in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, with her husband and two young sons. She also resumed writing poetry. She was in the midst of preparing a collected edition of her work when her husband died of influenza. Ten days later, on February 15, 1896, Nicholson died in New Orleans of the same disease. She was 46. Renamed the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1914 after a series of mergers, the newspaper continues to publish daily. Arrangements Nicholson made prior to her death ensured that her sons would gain control of the paper when they came of age, and her eldest, Leonard K. Nicholson, served as publisher from 1922 to 1952.

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Eliza Jane Nicholson's Timeline

March 11, 1843
Hancock County, Mississippi, United States
January 11, 1881
New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, United States
February 15, 1896
Age 52
New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, United States