Meet the woman who won a bet starting a Manistee newspaper in 1920

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It would be difficult in the space allotted to this column to mention all of Marie Nelson Lee’s accomplishments, let alone her immediate family. As such, this article will primarily focus on her time in Manistee, where she accomplished one of her most significant feats… publishing The Salt City Voice.

Marie Nelson was born in Toledo, Ohio on June 1, 1865 and grew up to be an excellent speaker and singer and when she was not performing she was employed as a teacher of elocution – also known as a manner of speaking clearly and in a manner expressive.

After joining the Fred G. Andrews Co., a traveling acting troupe made up largely of friends and family, Marie married journalist and fellow actor Clarence Lee on February 6, 1889.

The couple, along with their three children – Robert, Rowland and Zahrah – would eventually come to reside in Manistee – a fourth child, son Donald, was said to have been born in Manistee – where CW had been appointed editor of the new Manistee Daily News in 1894 .

Marie Nelson Lee is photographed in 1898.

Photo Submitted/Manistee County Historical Museum

With Marie’s background in writing, speaking and singing, it seemed that no matter where she and her family settled, she would become actively involved in various community affairs, including women’s suffrage issues, the teaching of prayer techniques, writing as well as the organization of theatrical productions while singing and playing. in them to boot.

With her husband as editor of the Daily News and her brother-in-law, Clayton Lee, working as a reporter, Marie also worked side-by-side with them as editor of the women’s and social departments.

In 1900, the Lee family’s tenure in Manistee was ending; however, this did not necessarily mean that Mary had stopped looking for challenges.

As such, a bet was made between Marie and several men – including her husband – who bet her that she could not set up and publish a newspaper on her own for six months and end up with a capital of $100 at the end of those six months. month. Needless to say, Marie won the bet.

What follows is an entertaining account, written in 1920, of the history of the creation of this newspaper, named The Salt City Voice.


The story, titled “A Brief Story of the Birth of the Salt City Voice”, was written by Marie Nelson Lee, who was also a founding member of the Michigan Women’s Press Club, and is made available through descendants of the Lee family:

“Long years ago, 20 to be exact, I took a bet. RD Curtis, director of the Associated Press in Detroit and CW Lee.

“Our home was then in Manistee, Michigan, known to its promoters as the largest salt pit in the Salt City of the Inland Seas. Manistee was not a country town, but a small town.

“Its lumber and salt interests had given its promoters the opportunity to also say that Manistee had more millionaires per capita than any city of its size in the United States.

“Lumber was in decline, as was Manistee, from a business perspective. Mr. Lee was transferring his business interests to a more vigorous area, but the children and I had to stay until the school closed. I had been identified with Mr. Lee in his newspaper, the Manistee Daily News, and the bet was, ostensibly, my desire to continue to work actively in the newspaper.

“Really, I wished I had an experience to base a story on. That fact I always kept to myself, though. One evening, thinking about things at night, and in the morning, there was a separate plan whole, bursting to be put into action.

“Mr. McKelvie and Mr. Curtis were our guests (and the plan was a third guest) at the breakfast table. Mr. McKelvie said: “I have great confidence in you, Mrs. Lee, I feel your plan is visionary (but) the thing cannot be done.”

“Mr. Curtis said, ‘This town has gone over the top of the hill and is coming down. Your plan won’t work.

“Mr. Lee said, ‘It can’t be, dear lady, it would cost a fortune, the town is dead.’

“Then the bet was made – sweets for a new hat each for the gentlemen. I had to start a Sunday paper in Manistee, with no capital, and run it for at least 6 months and have at least $100 to its credit at the end of that period.

“The American Press Association, through Mr. McKelvie, was to provide me with plaques, and the Associated Press Association, through Mr. Curtis, was to provide me with a pony report after 6 o’clock on Saturday night . They had to give me a week’s initial credit—that is, I had to pay for the first mailing when I ordered the second, and absolutely all expenses had to be paid for out of newspaper revenue.

“Their parting remarks as to what kind of hats they wanted and the hope that I really liked candy and their chuckle ‘it can’t be done, dear lady, it can’t be done’ resonated still in the room, as I prepared to do so.

“A phone call brought to my house, in less than half an hour, a young and brilliant teacher, Etta Gould, who had had the experience of doing specials for the local newspapers. A member of our own family, a 17-year-old niece, Frances Nelson, was the other victim. They, with myself, were to constitute the team of the future newspaper.

“Never had I had so much fun or worked so hard as I did during the life of Salt City Voice when we decided to call the newspaper.
“Manistee had no inbound Sunday trains until 10:30 p.m. Sunday evening, so no Sunday papers, but two early morning outbound trains would carry The Voice to out-of-town subscribers.

“We had no printing press, no office, no support; our only strengths were boundless optimism, enthusiasm, fun spirit and limited knowledge of the newspaper game. I quickly coached my assistants on the self-help regimen I had developed during my nightly struggle with the problem and assigned them to potential advertisers as I began to convince owners of the single town printing press not attached to any of the newspaper factories, that they had to undertake the biggest job in the history of their printing press.

“The work office was a long, high-ceilinged room above the post office (453-455 River St.). It was moldy, dusty, dirty, rusty, festooned with large ropes of cobwebs, and gave off many noxious odors – kerosene, wood smoke, tobacco smoke, spittoons, and printer ink. The three owners were a lazy old man, his 30-year-old so-called socialist son, and a journeyman printer to whom the truth was a myth. Micawber, Coxie, Anninias, we nicknamed them.

“The clincher in favor of the real work of the three was the promise of liberal cash payments. With my third degree victims on the prospect of real work, I took a cab to the station to inform Mr. Curtis and Mr. McKelvie, who were leaving at 12:30 p.m., that we were ready for business and expected prompt service from their organizations.

“On the way home, I bought a long-handled broom, scrub brush, soap and cleaning bucket, listing the merchant for an 18-inch space. I also bought a screen and I I sold 12″ to this merchant. At the bookstore, I got some stationery and office supplies and reserved 20” of Voice space for the owner. In each store, to be at the height of my bet, I opened an account in the name of Voice.

“I met the girls and sent them home for lunch and rushed back to the print shop. It was locked. I sat on the steps to write texts for our letterheads and our advertising contracts.

“During my brief discussions with the girls, we decided that time was too precious to try to dig up the dust of ages in this store, and concluded to clean our corner and windows, make desks, bring a rug or two from home, mask our corner and call the place Boffins Bower We have to do the work ourselves so we save money Girls came downstairs after lunch, arrived with rags cleaning and

“The windows were opened, the long broom swung into action and the game began.

“The slogan we came up with for The Voice was ‘A Sunday paper that doesn’t violate the Sabbath.’ But of the 27 issues published, only one left the press before midnight. There were times when I, at least, was on duty from 8 a.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday. The girls, in the early hours after midnight, played checkers with Micawber or slept on the make-up tables, made up in coats and overcoats put together while Micawber snored peacefully in his old walnut chair before the faithful, rusty, old Slab Eater.

“The Slab Eater, let me just say it, is rightfully named Manistee’s pioneering stove. It bore the proud distinction of being the city’s first manufactured product – a long-reaching barrel-shaped body with an ugly mouth slit, from which a huge lower lip protruded, exposing the teeth of trash-devouring coals. of the Manistee. sawmills – a product of lumber camp who cursed, smoked and spat in unison with his human companions. It was very local and very human, the old Slab Eater.

Marie and her family left Manistee for Indiana in 1900. Several years later, the Lee family would finally find themselves in New York City where CW became a public relations man dealing with utility companies.

Over time, Marie remained active in the national movement for women’s suffrage as well as in the world of arts and culture.

In 1921, she compiled a collection of her poems, which had been published in newspapers across the country, in a book titled “By Special Request”, which contained poems each selected by a close friend or family member. to be included in the book.

On June 8, 1953, Marie Nelson Lee died in Los Angeles and was buried in Glendale-Forest Lawn Cemetery next to her husband.

However, how and why did Marie and her husband end up residing in Los Angeles? Next week, we’ll answer that question when we start taking a look at the next generation of the Lee family.

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Museum. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 231-723-5531.

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