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E.W. Scripps Papers, 1868-1926

Overview of Manuscript Collection No.117

Quantity: 70 cubic feet in 187 boxes.

Dates: 1868-1926.

Digitized Items from the Scripps Collection

Scope and Content of the Collection

The E. W. Scripps Papers are organized into the following series:

  • Series 1: Special Correspondence
    • Subseries 1.1: Incoming Letters
    • Subseries 1.2: Outgoing Letters
  • Series 2: Letterbooks
  • Series 3: General Correspondence
    • Subseries 3.1: General
    • Subseries 3.2: General – Legal
  • Series 4: Miscellany

The E. W. Scripps Papers span the years 1868-1926 with the bulk of the items concentrated in the period beginning in 1889 and lessening after 1917. The collection consists of a mixture of general and special correspondence and letterbooks. The special correspondence,(outgoing), can be cross-referenced with the letter book series which is also outgoing in nature. The letter-books run concurrently with the other correspondence and there is a small amount of duplication between the files. There is also a series of histories, prose works such as an autobiography, and assorted letters which are peripheral to E. W. Scripps. Users will quickly realize that the general part of the collection is complex and voluminous. That is, the general correspondence series is a largely unresearched collection of miscellaneous correspondence of internal letters relating to the running of the Scripps-McRae concern. This series does not include communications to and from E.W. Scripps.

The letter-books are the most beautifully organized and complete part of the collection. They begin in 1899 when E. W. Scripps was 45 years old and end shortly before his death at 72 in 1926. At that time, he was still writing to his brother, James E. and the two had not yet become estranged. Most of the files from this time are business correspondence including typewritten copies of telegrams and many financial letters. Most of the correspondence is between Scripps and members of the ‘Concern,’ the name the Scripps family used to describe their newspaper business. The business associates include Jacob Harper who was Scripps’ attorney and editor-in-chief of some of their midwest publications, Milton A. McRae who was Scripps’ ranking employee, and inner circle members Robert F. Paine and Lemuel T. Atwood. The letter-books include this correspondence from 1899-1909.

In the fall of 1909,there is the first evidence in the letter books that Scripps began writing to sugar magnate Rudolph Spreckels and sports businessman A. G. Spalding (the trio were San Diego County Highway Commissioners), forester Gifford Pinchot, journalist Lincoln Steffens, soap manufacturer Joseph Fels, MIT President Richard C. MacLaurin, William Randolph Hearst, Roy Howard, and regional politicians.

From that time Scripps was in contact with members of the Progressive movement. In both the letter-books and the special correspondence file he wrote to California Governor Hiram Johnson, Denver judge Ben Lindsey, Los Angeles municipal reformer C. D. Willard, and radical professor Scott Nearing. There are also letters to William Jennings Bryan (letters from these men will be found in the series, ‘special correspondence – incoming’) who visited Scripps at his home, Miramar.

As the mid-decade approached other prominent correspondents included President Woodrow Wilson, Clarence Darrow, Senator Robert LaFollette, Oregon political reformer William U’Ren, and prosecutor Francis Heney.

Occasionally Scripps’ language was peppered by extreme comments as in a letter to Prof. William Ritter that states, ‘I have an idea that your scientific friends are only lice after all and that like the people of Chicago, they stand more in need of being put out of existence than of being aroused to greater energy.’ Scripps was a hard man and his philosophy followed such hardness. As such, the letters show the paradoxical mix of autocrat and friend to labor.

As World War One approached Scripps served as an unofficial advisor to Newton Baker, Senator Hiram Johnson, and several other politicians. There were letters to plumbing manufacturer Charles Crane, letters to primatologist Robert Yerkes about setting up a research station and letters to jurist Louis Brandeis. There was a fair amount of inside Washington talk regarding a meeting between Scripps and President Wilson’s aide Colonel House as well as the running commentary of the internal Scripps-McRae Concern regarding President Wilson. After 1920 Scripps recorded in detail in the letter-books his meeting with President Harding.

Blended in with these letters among the letter-books are Scripps’ disquisitions. They range from Jewish culture to financial stories to the nature of womankind. Another heavily emphasized aspect to the letter-books in the 1920’s was Scripps’ creation of the Science Service which distilled into the popular press current events in science. As always, Scripps wrote a long and affectionate weekly letter to sister Ellen B.

The second major category of the collection belongs to the two series of correspondence, special correspondence and general correspondence. The special correspondence series is divided into two subseries: an incoming subseries, arranged within each year alphabetically, and an outgoing subseries, arranged chronologically. The letter-books are also outgoing correspondence and hence are arranged chronologically. They are a separate series from the special correspondence. These series span from 1889 to 1926. (The earliest letter, a copy, is to Scripps’ sister Ellen, written in 1868 when he was fourteen.) The general correspondence series consists of those letters written or received by anyone other than Scripps. It makes up the lion’s share of the series. The series is arranged chronologically; the two subseries (general and legal) merely distinguish between regular sized and oversized documents. Many of the carbon copy letters in the general correspondence series were typed on paper of poor quality and are extremely fragile.

The general correspondence series is mostly inter-concern business. The collection is particularly strong for documentation of the history of the Scrips-McRae organization. The incoming and outgoing series provide fascinating glimpses into Scripps’ life, works, and thoughts. There are many letters to and from Lincoln Steffens, William Ritter, to Progressives mentioned earlier including socialist leader Job Harriman, and even to writer Elbert Hubbard. As always, the specters of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson loom mightily in the foreground with much discussion of assessing each man’s place in history. This part of the collection will be valuable in documentation for the political, social, and journalism history of the United States in the early part of the 20th century.

The final series, Miscellany, contains all of the disquisitions (Writings, vol. I-X) and two volumes (XI-XII) of plays and stories. The series will also be useful to journalism historians who would want access first-hand to Scripps’ thoughts on his career. These materials relating to the principal events in Scripps’ life and not covered by the letters are reported in the bound manuscripts entitled History of the Scripps Concern, E. W. Scripps Autobiography, Scripps: A Self-Portrait, and The History of the Scripps League.

The collection appears complete except for letters from Ellen B. Scripps which are kept at Scripps College and letters from Scripps’ wife Nackie towards the end of his life. The duo were estranged at this point even though they corresponded. There are news clippings scattered throughout the incoming and miscellaneous letters of items of interest to Scripps. There are also memorabilia such as invitations to parties, eulogies, and documents related to Scripps included among the incoming correspondence. The papers deserve attention not only for corporate, political, and journalistic reasons, but also because E. W. Scripps himself emerges as a leader of interest whose role as a publisher, civic contributor, science entrepreneur and champion of the working man played an important role in American society.

Biographical Sketch of E. W. Scripps

Edward Willis Scripps was born near Rushville, Illinois on June 18, 1854. He was the youngest of the five children of James Mogg Scripps and his third wife, Julia (Osborn) Scripps, and the youngest of thirteen in all. His grandfather, William Arminger Scripps was a wealthy publisher of newspapers in London. His father was, for a time, a respected book binder in London who worked for Queen Victoria and other royal clients. Though educated in the public schools until he was fifteen, E. W. Scripps learned from the several hundred books his father brought from overseas. But he learned his trade from his half-brothers James E. and George Scripps, his brother Will Scripps, and his cousin John Scripps Sweeney.

His closest friend and relative was half-sister Ellen Browning Scripps, 18 years his senior. She taught him independence and individualism and provided a complementary relationship that developed and lasted throughout their lives.

When he took over the family farm at 15, due to his father’s illness, Scripps learned his talent for manipulating others to do work for him and when to grasp opportunity in hiring help. These talents would serve him well later on. After abortive attempts at being a school teacher (1872), a druggist (1873), and a window blind stenciler (1873), and after abandoning hopes for a literary career, he entered journalism following the example set by his family. Scripps began working for James E. Scripps first at the Detroit Tribune (1873) and then at the Detroit Evening News (1873).

He was very successful in circulation work and then as city editor not withstanding James E.’s taunts about Scripps’ editorial ambitions.

After a fateful trip to Europe in 1878 in which Scripps decided he would become a rich and important leader who cared for the power not the limelight, he became founder, editor and publisher of the Cleveland Penny Press. He received financial support from James E. and George Scripps.

Once the Press was doing well financially, Scripps tried to create an efficient organization in St. Louis. But his Evening Chronicle was no match for Joseph Pulitzer’s Post-Dispatch. He left St. Louis unsuccessful because, as Oliver Knight writes, ‘as general manager of a newspaper, he yet lacked the acumen to assail an established and conservative city of St. Louis’ 350,000 population with a newspaper of a type that flourished best in a smaller industrial city riding the crest of a growth wave.’ He also did not get along with people, including James E. In 1883 he moved bases to edit the Cincinnati Post and joined forces with Milton A. McRae, an advertising manager. Though men of opposite character McRae enjoyed a public face, Scripps preferred the background the two began a long association and made the POST a success.

In 1885 Scripps married Nackie Benson Holtsinger, daughter of the Reverend Samuel K. Holtsinger, a Presbyterian minister in West Chester, Ohio. Within the first year of marriage, Nackie gave birth to their first child, James George (1886), followed by John Paul (1888), Dolla Blair (1890), Edward Willis (1891), Robert Paine (1895), and Nackey Elizabeth (1898). Scripps ruled his family with an iron hand, often requiring his children to sign contracts with him.

Scripps often ran his business from his homes. He was an autocratic champion of the working class who employed absolute control. In 1888 he formed the Scripps League made up of the Scripps family’s four papers. He continuously clashed with James E. over matters such as the expansion of DETROIT EVENING NEWS. In 1890 the brothers parted for good, with James retaining the Detroit paper. Scripps founded his estate, Miramar, outside of San Diego, CA and formed the Scripps-McRae league. According to Oliver Knight, Scripps was then filled with ‘the poison of hatred and revenge’ against James E. His resentment was lightened by the effort involved in building Miramar. By 1895 Scripps began the growth of his newspaper chain into the greatest number of daily papers yet founded by one person. He and his associates began thirty-two papers and acquired fifteen others. In 1902 he started the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) to supply his papers and others with features and editorial material. The NEA was the first newspaper syndicate connected with a chain of daily papers and is currently a large syndicate. In 1907 he established the United Press Associations, which eventually became United Press International. It was an independent news gathering company which was the first press association to operate in connection with a chain of daily papers. Its main competitor was the Associated Press. He also started Science Service which explained science news for newspapers.

Scripps believed that newspapers should be impartial and dedicated to the common man. A fair sense of the kind of person Scripps was can be gathered from how he approvingly quoted in his letters a philosopher who wrote that he would die for the common man, but be damned if he would live with him.

By 1908 he lived mostly in retirement and began writing his disquisitions which were meant to be writings more serious than an essay which probed an issue in depth. He expanded his interest in politics. He counted among his friends forester and conservationist Gifford Pinchot, who was Gov. of Pennsylvania from 1923-1927, 1931-1935; Hiram Johnson, who was Gov. of California from 1911-1917, U. S. Senator from 1917-1945; Clarence Darrow; Lincoln Steffens; and William Jennings Bryan. He engendered a friendship with Professor William E. Ritter of the University of California and, with their interest in science, Scripps started what is now the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla, CA.

In 1920 he returned from retirement and in 1922 formed Scripps Howard which replaced the Scripps-McRae League. The change in names followed a rift between the two men that concerned the guardianship of a joint Scripps-McRae grandson. The Howard referred to is Roy W. Howard, a native of Butler County, Ohio. Howard was a noteworthy reporter, president of UPI, chairman of the board of NEA, and editorial director of Scripps Howard.

E. W. Scripps spent the last years of his life roaming the world aboard the yachts, the Kemah and the Ohio. He called himself the ‘hermit of the seas.’ He died, aboard the Ohio, off the coast of Liberia, on March 12, 1926 at age 72, and was buried at sea.