A graduate of George Washington University who had a lifelong interest in archeology and southwestern culture, Emma Reh first came to work for Science Service in the mid-1920s.(1) Although her marriage to Tom Stevenson prompted her to resign in February 1926 and move to Sanant, Texas and New York City, she remained a frequent contributor through the 1930s and a close friend and correspondent of staff writers Frank Thone, Emily Davis, and Marjorie MacDill Breit, in particular.
After the 1926 move, she wrote that “It’s awful to be a woman and married because you really cannot have any plans of your own.”(2) In Texas, she helped to sell subscriptions to Science News Letter and spent a brief time working for a Hearst paper in Texas.(3) But by summer 1926, she and Stevenson had separated and after a few weeks working again for Science Service, Emma Reh (Stevenson) moved to Mexico, where she lived until 1935, eventually returning to publishing under her maiden name.(4)
Throughout her life, Reh mixed the worlds of journalism and archaeology. In Mexico, she served as a regular Science Service correspondent, submitting articles and photographs mainly related to archeology. She often submitted more than a dozen stories in a month to Emily C. Davis, the staff writer assigned to cover archaeological and anthropological news.(5) Reh's manuscripts covered such topics as the excavation of Tenayuca, preservation of prehistoric Indian sites in Mexico, analysis of Indian pottery, city planning in prehistoric Indian cities, the excavation of San Juan Teotihuacan, relics from the Inca Cemetery at Copiapo, the Seri Indians, public art education in Mexico, bricks in prehistoric American buildings, and the discovery of Santa Elena in Poco-Uinic.(6) Reh particularly enjoyed the arduous multi-week stays in Oaxaca, a region that produced frequent material for her stories.
Reh developed professional relationships with scientists and government officials in Mexico which allowed her special access to information about scientific discoveries. Other news reporters, she claimed, did not have a trustworthy reputation because of their tendency to exaggerate. Keeping pace with the booming field of archaeology in Mexico at this time, Reh sent frequent dispatches about the discoveries, particularly in Mayan regions, to Science Service. In time, she noted, this prompted other news organizations, such as The New York Times, to devote greater attention to the region in their reporting. Correspondents from these organizations often approached her for information.(7)
Reh remarked confidentially to Thone that she felt her status as a woman had both aided and hindered her. She attributed her access to some information to the chivalry of men she had encountered, remarking that “if you give them no cause to be anything else, they stay that way.” She contrasted this experience with that of an arrogant scientist from the University of Chicago whose inquiries were met repeatedly with polite, indefinite deferrals. On the other hand, she noted, she often had to convince people that “a girl could handle (woman, excuse me)” certain situations.(8) Within two years of this comment, she wrote that even this obstacle could be overcome, especially when she invoked the name of science. As she wrote to Davis, “Science is like religion in Latin America. It enables a lady to travel and do all sorts of unheard things and wear the halo at the same time. If I represented a regular paper or news service I would be thrown into the vulgar political reporter class, than whom there is none worse in Mexico, and I suppose other similar countries.”(9)
Reh believed that, as a woman, she could offer new perspectives in her approaches to discoveries. She wrote, for example, about a trip to Quintana Roo: “[O]thers [have made the trip], but no woman has, and I know I can add something new.”(10) This confident attitude toward gender and perspective was not uncommon during this period, particularly among those in anthropology. Wives of anthropologists would often produce their own scholarship regarding field sites visited with their husbands, asserting similar arguments.
After a few years, Reh found that she required an additional source of income. She secured a position at a local news organization, Mexican News Features, which also fed her desire to write about politics. Meanwhile, she established a relationship with Christian Science Monitor in the U.S. and continued to supply other U.S. news syndicates with news material. Reh remained dedicated to Science Service, however, and whenever possible would provide them with advance or exclusive reports.
Though Reh wrote primarily about physical and natural science news (including anthropology), she maintained an interest in politics and sociology. Occasionally, she placed articles touching on these areas in other publications. One such article discussed the changing status of women in Mexico. Sensitive to divisions of class, cultural background, and political orientation, Reh informed readers of The New York Times about the typical lifestyles, attitudes, and freedoms of various Mexican women.(11) She also documented the difficulties of adaptation and finding employment faced by Mexican repatriates upon their return from the United States.(12) During a temporary return to the United States in 1931, Reh worked again for Science Service, but colleague, friend, and tennis partner Frank Thone noted that she was homesick for Mexico and “the peppery politics she finds so much fun in writing about now a days.”(13) Although they sometimes kidded Reh about her desire to write on political topics, Science Service admittedly had similar interests in developments in public education and often carried her stories on such topics.
During the 1920s, the organization's director, Edwin E. Slosson, encouraged Reh's ambition to write a book, even though it involved a topic outside the interests of Science Service. She considered, though never realized, a plan to write about the perspectives and experience of individuals in various social locations in Mexico, ranging from high ranking politicians to market women. Reh wrote to Slosson, “I thought how nice it would be if some one were really able to express how these people down here live, and feel. I was not sure I could, but I thought maybe they might be able to themselves.”(14)
In an effort to keep informed about developments in anthropology and archeology, Reh persuaded Emily C. Davis to mail her information and occasionally requested natural and social science books from the Science Service library.(15) In 1933, she joined the Yucatan-British Honduras-Chiapas expedition group. With the group members, she read research literature in various relevant fields in preparation for the trip, taking a more active role in the research process. For instance, she attempted to document vocabulary from Tlapanecan and Amusgo languages as well as details about the "idol-worship" she perceived in the region.(16)
Reh eventually returned to live and work in the United States. In 1935, backed by a glowing recommendation from Science Service, she obtained a job with the Soil Conservation Service (SCS). By 1936, her work with the SCS led to relocation to participate in projects in Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. Her work during the late 1930s addressed food consumption and related patterns or problems in various communities, including the Navaho.(17) She later assisted the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations with similar work in Latin America.(18) Other work of hers resulted in a publication about food problems in rural Paraguay.(19)
Emma Reh, like many of her former co-workers, possessed a keen interest in science writing and public outreach, as well as in the scientific and academic research. She serves as another example of a woman who pursued successful careers in both interests.
(1) Emma Reh is listed as a senior in the 1917 George Washington University yearbook, The Cherry tree; thanks to Jennifer King at the GWU Library for this information.
(2) Record Unit 7091, Box 108, Folder 1, undated letter (ca. mid-1926), from Emma Reh Stevenson to Watson Davis. Typically, her letters addressed to one individual were circulated to among the staff.
(4) Emma Reh continued to write as Emma Reh Stevenson until her divorce was finalized in 1931.
(5) Record Unit 7091, Box 140, Folder 8, various correspondence dated 1931 and 1932 between Emma Reh and Emily C. Davis.
(6) Record Unit 7091, Box 108, Folder 1, Science Service manuscript record sheets containing titles of various news story manuscripts and photographs submitted to Science Service by Emma Reh Stevenson, from various dates in 1928.
(7) Record Unit 7091, Box 168, Folder 9, various correspondence.
(8) Record Unit 7091, Box 108, Folder 1, letter dated November 7, 1927, from Emma Reh Stevenson to Frank Thone.
(9) Record Unit 7091, Box 120, Folder 3, letter dated January 1929, from Emma Reh Stevenson to Watson Davis.
(10) Ibid., letter dated February 4, 1930, from Emma Reh Stevenson to Watson Davis.
(11) Emma Reh Stevenson, "Slow Emancipation of the Mexican Woman: The Mexican Indian Woman Is a 'Man of All Work',” The New York Times, December 21, 1930, p. 76.
(12) Emma Reh Stevenson, "The Emigrant Comes Home," The Graphic Survey, Volume 66, No. 3, May 1, 1931.
(13) Record Unit 7091, Box 126, Folder 3, letter dated November 21, 1931, from Frank Thone to Janet Howard.
(14) Record Unit 7091, Box 120, Folder 3, letter dated September 15, 1928, from Emma Reh Stevenson to E.E. Slosson.
(15) Record Unit 7091, Box 201, Folder 5, letter dated November 25, 1938, from Emma Reh to Frank Thone; Record Unit 7091, Box 149, Folder 10, letter dated July 8, 1933, from Emma Reh to Emily C. Davis.
(16) Record Unit 7091, Box 148, Folder 10, various correspondence.
(17) U.S. Soil Conservation Service Surveys. Ms 190. Rio Grande Historical Collections. New Mexico State University Library. See Box 32.
(18) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Food Composition Tables, 1949. Available online: http://www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/docrep/x5557e/x5557e00.htm
(19) Emma Reh, Paraguayan Rural Life - A Survey of Food Problems - 1943-1945 (Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1975) [Reprint of 1946 edition published by Institute of Inter-American Affairs, Food Supply Division.]