Teaching Students About Ida Tarbell


Ida Tarbell, a prominent figure in the field of investigative journalism, was an American writer who used her skills and dedication to bring change to society. As educators, we must ensure that students are aware of her significance and the impact she had on journalism and female empowerment. This article will discuss Ida Tarbell’s life and accomplishments, emphasizing the importance of including her in students’ education.

Early Life

Born on November 5, 1857, in Pennsylvania, Ida Minerva Tarbell was raised amidst the booming oil industry. Her father was an oil producer and refiner, which eventually led to her disdain for unfair business practices taking place in the corporate world. From a young age, Ida was bright and curious; she went on to attend Allegheny College in 1876, making her one of few women to receive higher education at that time.

Journalism Career:

After graduation, Tarbell began working as a teacher but soon decided to pursue a career in journalism. She started writing for The Chautauquan magazine before getting a job with McClure’s Magazine in 1894. Here, she rose to prominence with her groundbreaking investigative work on Abraham Lincoln and John D. Rockefeller.

Exposing Standard Oil:

Perhaps the most significant work of Ida Tarbell’s career is her exposé of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. Through extensive research and analysis of thousands of documents, Tarbell uncovered Rockefeller’s ruthless business practices that allowed his monopoly to thrive. Published as a serialized article from 1902 to 1904, “The History of the Standard Oil Company” not only exposed corruption but paved the way for new antitrust regulations in the United States. Her fearless determination during this investigation established her as one of America’s leading muckraking journalists.

Impact on Women’s Rights:

Ida Tarbell also played an essential role in advancing women’s rights. As a pioneer in her field, she broke stereotypes by refuting the notion that women could not succeed in journalism or handle challenging topics. Despite her own reservations on suffrage, Tarbell’s achievements opened doors for future female journalists and shaped the landscape for women in the early 20th century.

Teaching Students About Ida Tarbell:

Educators should emphasize the importance of Ida Tarbell’s investigative work, which led to significant changes in business practices and journalism. Students should learn about her perseverance, dedication, and fearlessness in tackling major issues of her time. Moreover, teachers can highlight her achievements as a trailblazer for future female journalists while also discussing her complex views on women’s suffrage.


By teaching students about Ida Tarbell, we preserve the legacy of a courageous and intrepid woman who made significant contributions to society through her investigative journalism. Recognizing her life and accomplishments provides an opportunity to inspire students to follow their passions and cultivate their sense of curiosity and determination.

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