The sound of a whip on a silent slave’s back opens Troublesome Jane, an original 1949 Cavalcade of America episode about editor Jane Grey Swisshelm launching an abolitionist newspaper in Minnesota before the Civil War. (“Aren’t there any hacksaws in Minnesota,” is her first question on seeing a slave in her new state.)
She was also the first woman to cover a story from the Senate press gallery, but that was before this episode in her life.
“Big sister, literary amazon, female abolitionist, why you can’t be up to the five-foot mark… I was good and scared after all we heard about you, Jane…”
That’s her brother-in-law talking, before she learns about a Missouri slave owner who has been bringing his slaves north to work his property. The brother-in-law just happens to own a printing press, which is the beginning of some dramatic confrontations and an emotional conclusion.
The story is based on an episode in Swisshelm’s life reported in the 1950 book Female Persuasion: Six strong-minded women by Margaret Farrand Thorp.
For a more recent biography, see the 2014 volume Jane Grey Swisshelm: An Unconventional Life, 1815-1884 by Sylvia D. Hoffert.
In the Cavalcade episode, Swisshelm is played by Ruth Hussey, whom newspaper-movie fans may know as the independent-minded photojournalist in the The Philadelphia Story, which was also adapted for radio several times, at least once with Hussey recreating her Academy-Award-nominated role.
Note: Thanks to Radford University Professor Bill Kovarik and his students for inviting me to talk about “JHeroes: Newspaper Heroes on the Air” in class today, which set me off editing pages and reviving broken links, and discovering I had never given this episode a Cavalcade a space of its own, but made it a long section of a page about women profiled in the series, most of whom I had already written about elsewhere.