Pantagraph reporter Folsom has become an award-winning short story writer | Story

In her 1923 short story “Natural Selection,” Elizabeth Irons Folsom recounts the doomed love story between tough working-class Larry Quold and wealthy Marcia May.

The McLean County History Museum holds no photographs of Elizabeth Irons Folsom. This sketch began appearing in Pantagraph articles as early as 1926, and it accompanied his 1935 obituary.


“You wouldn’t understand me or me,” Marcia told Larry. “I have generations of culture behind me. I don’t say it like a snob would. I say it because it’s true. What do you have?”

“Nothing but myself,” Larry said. “That’s not enough for you, is it?” »

“Today, yes. Tomorrow, yes. Next year and the rest, no,” she replies. “I know that love is one thing and marriage is another. Love is a passion between two. Marriage is an endless adjustment to the ways of a class. Only fools say complete love makes a happy marriage. Love is – well, just love. And the marriage is alive. And oh, Larry! Life is so much more than love, isn’t it?

Needless to say, this love story doesn’t end happily ever after.

Folsom, a Pantagraph court reporter turned award-winning author, was a badass. Although her writing sometimes veered into the sentimental, she could be as sharp as the real lawmen, prosecutors, and criminals she covered in McLean County.

Born in Peoria around 1862, “Lizzie” Irons moved to Bloomington with her parents, Charles and Ettie Irons, when she was still a child. She graduated from Bloomington High School in 1879 and two years later married Percy Folsom, publicity manager for The Pantagraph. After 19 years together, the two separated for unknown reasons around 1900.

Pantograph building

This circa 1910 photo shows what was then The Pantagraph building at the corner of Madison and Washington streets in downtown Bloomington. Longtime Pantagraph owner William O. Davis had this building constructed in 1875. As the newspaper continued to expand, a third floor was added in 1887. Elizabeth Irons Folsom worked in this building during her career of 14 years at the newspaper. This building served as the home of the Pantagraph until 1935 when the building was gradually demolished and a new Art Deco building was erected around it. Pantagraph Media moved to 205 N. Main St., Bloomington, in 2019.


With her marriage kaput, Folsom appealed to Pantagraph editor WO Davis for a job, considering she now had to support herself and her ailing mother Ettie.

“I was afraid he would assign me to company reporting,” Folsom recalled. “I don’t think I could have endured that. It was too effeminate. Instead, she would spend most of her 14-year career at the Pantagraph covering the courts.

“The work was not light,” she added. “It meant sitting through days of disillusioning drama, seeing life stripped bare to the bone, having all the Pollyanna burned in me and something else, harder, colder, more sophisticated and bitter, burned.”

Folsom often had to go out at 3 a.m. to get the details of a murder case or try to get a cab or walk in the middle of the night to report a fire miles from her downtown home.

Deadlines were ubiquitous and the hours long, but the characters and incidents Folsom encountered as a journalist proved a boon to his fiction. “I’m not sorry for those years; they were a necessary basis for the work to come,” she said.

By all accounts, she was an exceptional journalist, but when her eyesight began to fail (as it did with her mother and maternal grandparents), Folsom turned to writing fiction as a means of alternative support.

Davis advised against the career change. “You’ll spoil a good court reporter,” he told her, “into a bad fiction writer.” Still, Davis was unaware of the extent of Folsom’s vision deterioration. “He didn’t understand what I was facing during the dark hours of the night,” she said.

Folsom’s first published short story appeared in Munsey’s Magazine (an entirely fictional monthly magazine in New York City) in 1914. Folsom often recounted that she wrote her first short story while traveling to Chicago by train that year . An idea came to her during the trip and she put it down on paper.

When she got to Chicago, Folsom sent it to Munsey’s and they bought it. The magazine sent him a check and with that check, a request for more stories.

“It was written with no serious expectation of going anywhere, but to pass the hours of a train journey,” she recalled many years later. Her next eight stories were sold to that same magazine.

By the end of 1919, Folsom was living in New York and had over 60 short stories published in his name. This was the golden age of weekly and monthly magazines, many of which featured page after page of short stories and longer serialized novels.

She was very persistent in getting editors to review her stories and publish them. One of his stories was rejected 35 times before being published by a magazine that had previously rejected it.

Folsom didn’t just write one type of story; she has published stories on a variety of topics. She described her style of writing as one that used real people “with unusual personalities and a real setting, but the rest was fictional”.

She even used court cases she reported on during her time as a court reporter to draw inspiration for some of her stories. Also, she wrote the last paragraph of one of her stories first and when “a story germ came along”, the opening paragraph came with it.

His catchy stories have appeared in “American Magazine”, “Good Housekeeping”, “McClure’s” and other titles. In an era long before broadcast and cable television (not to mention the Internet), the reading public had an insatiable appetite for these magazines, which meant that short story writers like Folsom enjoyed an inordinate readership. mostly unimaginable in today’s media environment.

In 1924, Folsom received the O. Henry Award for best short story under 3,000 words. The winner, “Towers of Fame”, appeared in the August 1923 issue of McClure’s. His award made headlines across the country and all of his friends and family in Bloomington were very proud of his accomplishments.

Folsom also wrote two novels – “Free” (1925) and “Mad Rapture” (1926), both published by Macaulay Co. of New York.

In August 1930, Folsom (who at the time was in his late 60s), married Chicago stockbroker William Fox.

Around 1934, Folsom Fox’s health took a precipitous turn for the worse. She spent her final year at the Kankakee Public Mental Health Hospital, passing away on March 2, 1935, at the age of 73. She was interred in what is now Evergreen Memorial Cemetery on the south side of Bloomington. As with her mother, Elizabeth Irons Folsom Fox was buried in an unmarked grave, but in the family plot of their friends Theodore and Carrie Braley.

Pieces From Our Past is a weekly column from the McLean County Museum of History. Bill Kemp is a librarian at the museum. Candace Summers, director of community education at the museum, contributed to this report.