Publishing Pioneer

A granddaughter tells the story of her legendary grandmother and newspaperwoman

The heroine of this narrative could well have been an early role model for Peggy Lee's 1962 feminist song, "I'm a Woman." Angela Hutchinson Hammer had to continually overcome the gender card in order to show she was strong enough and smart enough to earn the title, Arizona's Pioneer Newspaperwoman.

One hundred years ago, with her marriage dissolved and desperate to find a way to feed her children, Hammer bought a handpress, ink and typefonts and began printing a small tabloid newspaper--a move that signaled the beginning of a 28-year career in printing and publishing. She succeeded not because of, but despite, her gender. Publishing was traditionally a male-dominated career field, but she managed to prevail against long odds that included intense competition, numerous crushing setbacks, an exhausting workload and little in the way of financial recompense. Despite it all, her actions will remind readers of the old Weeble Wobble punching-bag figure that continually got knocked down--but popped back up every time with a smile on its face.

Arizona native Betty E. Hammer Joy, a granddaughter, pens what she terms a "truthful history written for the lay reader." The former schoolteacher accomplishes this, noting: "I discovered that many students seemed to think Arizona's pioneers were only lawmen, outlaws, ranchers, miners or women who stayed home to have babies and darn socks. How often I wished for lively, readable stories of the accomplishments of our early women."

Her "Gramma" was seen as an easy target by unscrupulous men scrambling to capitalize on generally shady deals; they frequently underestimated Angela Hammer--and ended up licking wounds to their pride, pocketbook or both.

A true daughter of the West, Angela was born in a tiny Nevada mining hamlet and arrived in the Arizona territory at the age of 12. She grew up in mining camps and taught for a bit. When economic necessity called for a job change, she got introduced to publishing by folding newsprint brochures and typesetting in the late 1880s. When she purchased the Wickenburg Miner in 1905, spending half of her $500 divorce settlement to do so, she had no idea the transaction would thrust her into forefront of power struggles occurring during the early days of our statehood. Detractors called her purchase of the Miner, then a free copper company advertising sheet, "a pig in a poke," despite the paper's banner boast, "$2 per year and worth it."

"I promise not to write anything that shouldn't be said," Hammer vowed. Because she was outspoken on all major issues from water to civic improvement, she wrote about all of them with honesty and passion. "Like all editors and publishers who controlled the public's only source of information, Angela helped guide Arizona's first steps into statehood," the author writes. With a bit of family loyalty, she notes: "Unlike many papers financed by the mines, railroads, or politicians, Angela's papers remained independent." For nearly three decades, Hammer managed to function in a field that brought little in the way of financial rewards (but a lot in the way of workload) as she crusaded for her vision of civic good.

Her desire to make things better even took her on a short and ill-fated detour from publishing to politics. Although women's suffrage had come to Arizona along with statehood in 1912, women did not gain the constitutional right to vote until 1920. Nonetheless, Hammer tossed her bonnet into the Pinal County legislative race in 1918, long before other female contemporaries even contemplated activity in the political arena.

When Hammer wrote the final -30- to her newspaper career, she commented with her usual candor: "I have enjoyed the work even though it took me through troubled times and to the threshold of disaster. Now I'm ready to bend my efforts along other lines of endeavor, which have been beckoning for a long time." In the 1940s, still employing the two-fingered hunt-and-peck method she had used to pound out stories on her typewriter, she began to record the memories of her life's journey that began with horse-and-buggy days in 1870 and ended with jet airplanes in the early 1950s.

Although her independent newspapers brought Hammer personal hardship and little in the way of financial largesse, after her death in 1952, the newspaper industry paid tribute to her courage in paving the way for other women: She was named as the first woman to enter the Arizona Newspaper Hall of Fame. In 1983, she was again honored posthumously with an award for women who contributed to Arizona's progress--induction into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame.

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