Suche Menü

„Hap-Hazard“ By kate Field

Mary Katheriene “Kate” Field, an American 19th century freelance journalist, travel writer, actor and lecturer, was born on October 1st, 1839 in St. Louis, Missouri into a family of actors. She got her education in New England, where she lived with her wealthy uncle and aunt. Later, she studied abroad in Florence and London, “[where] her artistic culture was matured” (McGee). In Italy, she started to write her first articles as an Italian correspondent and sent them to the American newspapers. She’s known to be “one of the first women to [ever] contribute to the Atlantic Monthly in the 1860s” (Scharnhorst 159). Field mainly worked for the New York Tribune and New York Herald. All in all, she published about three thousand articles, reviews and editorials and became especially known for her dispatches to Tribune about Charles Dickens’ lectures in 1867/68. As it was not common for a woman to be present in the public (and especially scientistic) sphere, she was heavily discriminated, e.g. Field was not allowed to meet Dickens before or after his lectures and she was paid significantly less for her columns in contrast to her male colleagues. In spring 1869, she began her lecturing career and was praised for “her moderation and feminine decorum during her performances” (Scharnhorst 161).

“[B]ecause Miss Field takes up her work with quietness and courtesy […] because she does not denounce, nor bully nor demand, because she illustrates her belief that any woman, like any man, appearing as a public speaker, is bound to give her hearers the highest result of her culture, that her appearance on the platform is earnestly to be welcome” (Reid in Scharnhorst 162)

On her journalistic journey through Europe, she wrote various articles. Especially her reports from England were “more widely read than the items Twain sent the Herald” (Scharnhorst 168). In 1873, Kate Field published her famous book “Hap-Hazard”. In between 1890 and 1895, Field established her weekly paper Kate Field’s Washington.

Generally, it is known that she supported abolition and the rights of freed slaves and opposed prohibition as well as universal suffrage as in her opinion, only educated and Native Americans should have the right to vote (Cummis 286/87).

Kate Field died on Hawaii on May 19th, 1896 of pneumonia. After her death, the New York Tribune described her as “one of the best-known women in America” (Scharnhorst 174).

Hap-Hazard consists of her articles written for The New York Tribune and The American Register of Paris. In the first part of the book she describes her experiences and remarks as a lecturer whereas the second part of the book deals with her travel writing during her stay in Europe.


In Hap-Hazard it becomes obvious that Field depicts an example of the American New Woman but still conveys some reactionary views on the concept of Womanhood.

According to Patterson, the concept of New Womanhood constantly changed throughout history (1). However, this article only focuses on the period between the 1880s and 1900s. At that point of time, the New American Women were mostly associated with suffragists. One of the main aims of New Womanhood were economical independence of women, the right to participate in the public sphere and the possibility for women to fulfill themselves as individuals. Furthermore, a significant number of New Women supported social or sexual purity as they believed “society and the race would improve if the ethics of pure, altruistic, rational woman prevailed rather than those of lustful, competitive man” (Patterson 8). Another meaningful formation within the New Womanhood was the Women’s Club Movement, whose participants aimed to educate other women on social, political or cultural issues. In any case, the New Women worked towards a new and better future.

At the very beginning of the book, Field states “I am persuaded that a woman can go anywhere and do anything” (11) which shows that she does truly believe in the freedom and independence of women. However, she makes it clear that this freedom is only given if a woman “conducts herself properly” (11). This makes it very much clear that she still sticks to the old conviction that women should be well-behaved and properly mannered. Ironically, Field herself is viewed as unfeminine by other women, since “she never can keep still, always going to theaters and reporting the plays, […]  drives fast horses and […] smoke[s]” (41). On page 12, she again praises women by explaining how well they “can rescue [themselves]” and get through life without the help of any men. Thereby she opposes men as being a “tyrant” (11) to “lovely [women]” (12). The adjective “lovely” is used ironically to express women’s supposed weakness and helplessness. Simultaneously, Field criticizes how men and women are both born with the same features – muscles and brain. However, in the presence of men, women seem to completely fail to use their own god-given qualities and completely rely on men to do everything for them (12).

During one of her stays in a hotel, Field becomes witness to a quarrel between a married couple. She seems utterly shocked by the wife’s behavior towards her husband: “Never before had I seen a henpecked husband” (26). She compares this scenery with domestic abuse against women by using a simile “It is almost as horrible a spectacle as seeing a man beat his wife” (26). Although she views domestic violence as a “horrible […] spectacle” (26), she also legitimizes it for certain cases: “for I believe that some wives do deserve beating, — this one, for example.” (26). To highlight the discrepancy between the woman’s behavior and her appearance, Field again uses the word “loveliness” ironically (26).

On page 167, Field makes use of parallelisms “Women sing in public, act in public, read in public; why, then, should they not speak?” to shed a light on the fact that women are already active in public and that there therefore is no reason to forbid them to speak. Then she comes up with multiple reasons why women are born speakers and uses the stylistic device of enumeration “Women are more impulsive, more sympathetic, more persuasive” (168) to convince the reader of women’s naturally given gifts. Nevertheless, Field puts a lot of stress on female appearance “Women are born more graceful; they have the great gift of beauty and the great privilege of dress” (168) which seems contradictory to the idea of emphasizing women’s intellectual side.

In conclusion, Kate Field supports women’s rights, just like an ideal American New Woman would do, but still some of her views are based on a regressive and outdated perception of women.

Primary Sources:

Field, Kate. Hap-Hazard. J. R. Osgood and Co., 1873.

McGee, W.J., and Martin F. Morris. “In Memoriam: Kate Field, 1840–1896. Joseph Meredith Toner, 1825–1896.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., vol. 1, 1897, pp. 171–84.

Secondary Sources:

Scharnhorst, Gary. “Kate Field on Thoreau.” The Concord Saunterer, vol. 9, 2001, pp. 140–45.

Scharnhorst, Gary. “Kate Field and the ‘New York Tribune.’” American Periodicals, vol. 14, no. 2, 2004, pp. 159–78

The American New Woman Revisited: A Reader, 1894–1930. Edited by Martha H. Patterson, Rutgers UP, 2008.


„Kate Field.“ The New York Public Library Digital Collections,

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Pflichtfelder sind mit * markiert.