Eliza Poitevent Nicholson – A Woman Ahead of Her Time

(From Along the Gulf.)

“One of the most noted residents of Waveland is Mrs. Eliza J. Nicholson—better known under the nom de plume of “Pearl Rivers”—the proprietor of the New Orleans Daily Picayune, one of the most popular and powerful journals in the South.  Mrs. Nicholson’s summer home, called “Fort Nicholson,” is situated on the beach of Waveland, near Nicholson Avenue, overlooking the Bay of St. Louis [actually the Mississippi Sound].  The spacious house is of modern architecture, with broad galleries surrounding, and is in the center of a beautiful lawn with winding, shell-bedded drives on either side. 

“Mrs. Nicholson’s girlhood life was spent in a rambling old country house, near the brown waters of the Pearl River.  She was the only child on the place; a lonesome child with the heart of a poet, she took to the beautiful Southern woods and made them her sanctuary.  A born poet, it was not long before she found her voice and began to sing, full and sweet, the fairy stories of the woods.  These songs reached out in the world, and the wise and gray heads of other poets were listeners to the little one’s songs of nature.

“She became a contributor to the New York Home Journal and other papers of high standing, and the name of “Pearl Rivers” became one that is held dear by the many who have read her exquisite verse.  She is the poet laureate of the birds and flowers of the South.  Her poems and fantasies of the birds and flowers of the pine scented Mississippi woodlands are the very airy ephemera and cobweb daintiness of poetic thought—so dainty are some of them that they might have been etched with a thorn on the petal of a dog rose bloom. 

“’Pearl Rivers’ first published article was accepted by Mr. John W. Overall, now editor of the New York Mercury, from whom she received the confirmation of her own hope that she was born to be a writer.

“While still living in the country the free, luxurious life of the daughter of a wealthy Southern gentleman, Miss Poitevent received an invitation from the editor of the Picayune  to come to New Orleans as the literary of his paper.  A newspaper woman was then unheard of in the South, and it is pleasant to know that the foremost woman editor of the South today was also the South’s pioneer woman journalist.

“Miss Poitevent went on the staff of the Picayune with a salary of $25 a week.  The work suited her, and she found herself possessed of that rare faculty in woman—the journalistic faculty.

After a time, she married the owner of the Picayune [George Nicholson].  When he died, she found herself with nothing but a big, unwieldy newspaper, almost swamped in a sea of debt.  The idea of turning her back on this new duty did not occur to the new owner.  She gathered about her a brilliant staff of writers, went faithfully and patiently to her ‘desk’s dead wood,’ worked early and late, was both economical and enterprising, and after years of struggle won her battle and made her paper a foremost power in the South, yielding her a handsome, steady income.  To those in her employ she is always kind and courteous, and her staff honor her and work for her with enthusiasm.  Of late years the cares of conducting a great journal have made the  composition of much poetry impossible, but Pearl Rivers has found time to write two grand poems that have received the highest praise from eminent critics.  They are ‘Hagar’ and ‘Leah,’ noted for their strength in narration and beauty of language, and are destined to live in literature.  In 1878 Pearl Rivers married Mr. George Nicholson, and in their hospitable and happy home are the poems of which this gentle poet is proudest—her two sons, Leonard and Yorke. 

Mr. George Nicholson is a native of Leeds, England.  He came to New Orleans in 1842 and shortly afterward went into the service of the Picayune, first as carrier and assistant mail clerk and successfully served as counter clerk, collector, and cashier.  He was afterward made business manager, continuing under all the administrations of the paper.  He finally became part owner of the paper and by his marriage with Mrs. Nicholson became associated with his wife in the publication of the Daily and Weekly Picayune under the firm name of Nicholson & Co.”

Eliza Poitevent Nicholson died of influenza in New Orleans at age fifty-two on February 15, 1896, the same illness to which her husband had succumbed just two weeks earlier.


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