Catherine M.Griggs,Ph.D.
Asst. Professor of American Studies
Eckerd College

Beyond Boundaries:The Adventurous Life of Marguerite Harrison


Marguerite Harrison was a child of the Gilded Age, a time of transition in American life.

Her father made a fortune in transatlantic shipping,and her family lived in luxury in Baltimore and Europe.

Her mother came from an old-line Quaker family,but embraced the ideals of the upper-class lady. Her goal was to achieve the pinnacle of social-status for herself and her children. Marguerite Harrison wrote about the concealed pressures of an upper-class female's life during this vibrant period in American history. She wanted the fulfillment of an intellectual life, outside the conventions of upper-class tradition.

After the death of her husband,she took a job as assistant society editor for the Baltimore Sun. When the U.S. entered World War I,she grasped the opportunity to become a staff reporter,assigned to the Sun's patriotic propaganda efforts. Her heightened pa triotism led her to offer her services as an agent for the Military Intelligence Division of the U.S.Army,when she was denied access to postwar Europe as a war correspondent.!

After initial success as an agent in Germany, she was imprisoned in Bolshevik-Russia for espionage. She became a celebrity in the intense publicity that followed. Due to the efforts of prominent members of her family,she was released in exchange for Ameri can food aid to a famine stricken Russia. This incident embroiled the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union in a diplomatic confrontation, as well as stimulating discourse about journalism ethics.

Although Marguerite Harrison rejected the ideology of the women's movement of her time, over the course of her adventurous career as a reporter, foreign-correspondent, intelligence agent, travel writer, and pioneering documentary filmmaker, she developed a feminist consciousness that was rooted in the key mythic scenarios of American culture. As a woman who maintained aź feminine demeanor while enacting masculine ambitions, she destabilized cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity.

This study has explored the identity of a woman who professed the ideals of liberal feminism in order to achieve an independent,self-reliant life in the public domain.


Chapter I
Born for Trouble

Places Harrison' s life story in the context of Baltimore's Gilded Age; explores her privileged youth in the United States and Europe, and her discontent with the genteel upper-class female life embodied by her mother.

Chapter II
Coming of Age in Baltimore

Analyzes Harrison' s society,marriage in Baltimore, and her founding of Children's Hospital of Baltimore.

Chapter III
Being a Newspaperwoman

Explores the transition from society matron to staff reporter for the Baltimore Sun after the untimely death of her husband.

Chapter IV

Becoming A Spy

The story of Harrison' s combining of a career in journalism with that of an agent for Military Intelligence during WWI in order to achieve the status of war correspondent, which was forbidden to women.

Chapter V

Spying in Russia

The exciting story of her adventures in Bolshevik Russia as a spy and foreign correspondent, as well as her efforts to provide relief to Americans stranded in Moscow.

Chapter VI

Marooned in Moscow

Interpretation of Harrison's prison memoirs, as well as her memoirs of those she knew in Moscow (Louise Bryant, Alexander Berkmann, Emma Goldman etc.)

Chapter VII

Red Bear and Yellow Dragon

Harrison's transition to traveler, explorer, and magazine feature writer; her travels in Asia in the years just after WWI; her second imprisonment in Russia.

Chapter VIII

Grass: An Epic and a Homecoming

The story of the Bakhtiari expedition, consisting of Ernest Schoedsack and Merian Cooper (who went on to make King Kong, among other films), and Marguerite Harrison, the only member of the party to appear in the classic documentary film "Grass"(1925).


Harrison' s disillusionment with equality for women after the completion of "Grass"; her founding of the Society of Woman Geographers; her marriage to Arthur Blake; her later years.



Selected Works by Marguerite Harrison

Selected Works About Marguerite Harrison

Secondary Works Cited