EW Scripps: The Man Behind the Print

Note: Bridget Dickerson, BA ’13, English, is a student collections access assistant in the Libraries’ Digital Initiatives unit. Bridget built a E.W. Scripps Pinterest board as well as authoring this post. Here she writes about discovering the personal side of newspaper publisher and J-School namesake E.W. Scripps through her job. The Libraries Mahn Center for Archives & Special Collections holds the personal papers of E.W. Scripps, some of which are available online.

As an Ohio University student, the name Scripps is a part of one’s vocabulary. E.W. Scripps was a much more interesting man than just the last name of our university’s well-known journalism school. Born in 1854 into a family involved in the newspaper business, Scripps specialized in inexpensive papers aimed at the working class, such as the Cleveland Press. He gained a wide audience at a time when news media was limited to what was read in the newspapers. It was said that during the presidential election in 1912 he had about 70% of the country’s voting population as his audience.

In 1889, E.W. Scripps left the midwest for southern California, where he continued to run his newspaper empire through communication avenues such as letter or telegram. A man who did not appreciate the limelight, Scripps enjoyed much of his later years on his yacht and at sea, which I found evident in many of his letters to friends and family members. Never did he seek a utopian lifestyle, he stated in a disquisition also from 1912, that “The trouble with most Utopias is that they are not obtainable, and that even providing they are obtained, they are undesirable.”

The Digital Initiatives’ landing page links to the collection of E.W. Scripps’ personal documents that begin in 1868 and end with his death in 1926. Not only are there letters written to his family members and business partners, but also a collection of photographs so visitors can put a face to the names they read. A photo of one of E.W. Scripps’ secretaries exemplifies how it was mostly a male dominated position at the time, as well as an opportunity for one to move up in the business.

As I skimmed through his outgoing letters, I gained interest in reading each more closely. It was as if each letter had a story of its own. An early letter written in 1883 differed greatly in style from a letter written in 1914 which shows the advancement and use of typewriters and secretaries. An example of his personal correspondence discussing politics is this letter to Wilson supporter William Jennings Bryan discussing the 1912 presidential candidates.

I found the most interesting aspect of the online collection to be Scripps’ essays, which he called “disquisitions.” Within these writings, we see his most inner personal thoughts, gain a better understanding of the time period, and develop a greater general understanding of E.W. Scripps. Each had a title explaining the content within the disquisition, which were sent to his peers who may have interest in the subject. He spoke of the future of the Scripps papers, advancing democracy, as well as socialism. I read a good amount of these disquisitions and found that Scripps had a great deal of opinions and thoughts running through his head as he dictated them to his secretaries. We get a sense for the time period as he talks about the Los Angeles Times bombing when he writes about belligerent rights in class warfare.

It was fascinating being able to look through the documents first hand and read the ones that played a role in the success of E.W. Scripps newspaper empire. The easy access to the Digital Initiative’s website allows anyone to view these personal letters and photos as well as the pinboard I created on the Ohio University Digital Initiatives Pinterest.