Winifred Bonfils

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Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils, 1913

Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils (October 14, 1863, Chilton, Wisconsin – May 25, 1936, San Francisco, California) was an American reporter and columnist,[1] under the pen name Annie Laurie, a reference to her mother's favorite lullaby.[2] She also wrote under the name Winifred Black.[3]


Bonfils wrote for William Randolph Hearst's news syndicate writing as Winifred Black, and for the San Francisco Examiner as Annie Laurie. She was one of the most prominent "sob sisters", a label given female reporters who wrote human interest stories. Her first husband was Orlow Black, and her second was publisher Charles Bonfils.

After writing to the Chicago Tribune, she was hired for a short time then in 1890 she found work at the San Francisco Examiner.

She is famous for staging a fainting on the street to test emergency services in San Francisco, which were found wanting, resulting in a major scandal and institution of ambulance service. In 1900, she dressed as a boy and was the first reporter on the line at the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. She delivered an exclusive and Hearst sent relief supplies by train.

She covered the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and had a front row seat at the murder trial of Harry Thaw in 1907. Her coverage of the trial and descriptions of Thaw's wife Evelyn Nesbit earned her the label of "sob sister".[4]

She reported from Europe during the First World War, later becoming a columnist.

She wrote a biography of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, The Life and Personality of Phoebe Apperson Hearst.

The name "Annie Laurie" was a tribute to her contemporary Nellie Bly.


Born Winifred Sweet in Chilton, Wisconsin,[5] she was the daughter of Civil War General Benjamin Sweet.[5] Winifred grew up in Chicago, IL, attending a number of private schools there. After attempting a career as an actress, became a journalist, writing for a short time in Chicago before landing a job at the San Francisco Examiner. In 1892 she married fellow yellow journalist Arlow Black. Their marriage lasted five years, after which she moved to Denver, CO.[6]

She was married in June 1891 to Orlow Black, a fellow worker on a morning San Francisco newspaper. They had one son in 1892. On September 13, 1897, she filed for divorce, charging Black with cruelty. "The divorce complaint pictures Mrs. Black as the breadwinner of the family."[7]

Her funeral was a civic ceremony in San Francisco, with her body lying in state in the City Hall. She was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California.[5]


  1. ^ Time magazine (28 October 1935)
  2. ^ Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary
  3. ^ "Mrs. Winifred Bonfils Is Called by Death". The Daily Inter Lake. May 26, 1936. p. 7. Retrieved February 21, 2016 – via  open access publication - free to read
  4. ^ Avis Berman and Francis Parker (1979). "Women in Communications". In O'Neill, Lois Decker. The Women's Book of World Records and Achievements. Anchor Press. pp. 439–440. ISBN 0-385-12733-2. The Greatest Sob Sister of Them All 
  5. ^ a b c "Tablet Suggested to Honor Memory of 'Annie Laurie'". Oshkosh Daily Northwestern. June 2, 1936. p. 4. Retrieved February 21, 2016 – via  open access publication - free to read
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ "'Annie Laurie' Sues," San Francisco Chronicle, September 14, 1897, page 14 Library card required

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