Early Life and Education
Ida Minerva Tarbell was born to Esther Ann and Franklin Summer Tarbell in Erie County of Pennsylvania on November 5, 1857. Her family moved to Titusville, Pa. – the heart of the burgeoning oil district– when she was thirteen years old. Her father had seized the opportunity and started his own oil business, so as a child, Ida Tarbell was always drenched in oil.
In school, young Ida Tarbell was not always the most assiduous of students, claiming “I went because I was sent, and had no interest in what went on .” However, after being reprimanded by her teacher, Tarbell became more diligent in her studies; another motivating factor for her change was the fact that she didn’t want to limit herself by giving up her dreams and marrying young – the path her mother had taken. Ida graduated from Titusville High School at the top of her class and, in a time where few coeducational colleges were open, Ida Tarbell’s father allowed her to attend Allegheny College in Meadville, PA.
At Allegheny College, Ida studied biology, hoping to one day become a teacher. This dream did come true: she graduated from Allegheny in 1880 and moved to Poland, Ohio to take up a teaching job. While teaching in Poland, Ms. Tarbell wanted to excel in the natural sciences and one day work as “a biologist, a microscopist, and finally…a college professor…in her favorite field .” This was a short-lived dream, however, as her mother’s declining health forced Ms. Tarbell to give up teaching and return home.