When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day. These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits. I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.
Day 12: Rena Whitney was the city’s first female newspaper publisher…
Sara Ann McLagan may have been the first female publisher of a daily newspaper (Vancouver Daily World) in Vancouver, however, the title for the first female publisher of a newspaper in the city goes to Rena Whitney. Like McLagan, who took over as publisher after the death of her husband, John McLagan, in 1901, Whitney took the helm at the weekly paper, the Mount Pleasant Advocate, after the death of her husband publisher Mayo Whitney in March of 1900.
The Advocate was established April 8, 1899, by newspaper publisher/editor and lawyer, (Charles) Mayo Whitney. Whitney originally from Massachusetts moved to British Columbia with his first wife Laura and son Charles Francis Whitney sometime in the late 1880s. By 1890, the Whitneys had settled in Courtenay, B.C. where Mayo and his son Charles (Frank) started a newspaper, the Courtenay Weekly News. After the death of Laura Whitney on December 22, 1893 in New Westminster, the Whitney father and son team continue to run the newspaper in Courtenay until at least 1895. They drop off the radar until 1899, when widower Mayo Whitney and his second wife Rena show up living in Mount Pleasant and publishing the Mount Pleasant Advocate.
The Advocate newspaper office was located at 2525 Westminster Avenue (Main Street) in the heart of the Mount Pleasant village. “Devoted to the interests of Mt. Pleasant and South Vancouver”, the paper was not known for its hard-hitting news, but was nonetheless an important part of the growing community of Mount Pleasant.
Sadly, there is not much known about Rena Whitney. The 1901 Canada Census for Vancouver reveals that Rena Whitney was born in the U.S.*, on July 3 1854, was a widow, working as a newspaper publisher, and living with her son, Ralph Cummings (from a previous marriage), a printer, who was born September 24, 1878. Ralph worked at the newspaper with his mother, first as a printer and later as the Advocate manager.
Rena Whitney sold the Advocate in early 1908 due to health reasons. The Vancouver Daily World item (above) explains that she left the city for California. Unfortunately, this is the last information we hear about this intriguing woman who was part of Vancouver’s newspaper history.
*Update: An archivist friend of mine located Rena Whitney’s California 1934 death certificate it appears that she stayed in Los Angeles with her sister for the remainder of her life. The death certificate also revealed that she was born in the US not NS (Nova Scotia) as I previously stated.
Fun Fact: The first female publisher/editor in Canada was Mary Ann Shadd Cary who ran an anti-slavery newspaper called The Provincial Freeman (1853-1860).