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A Creed for My Profession

Walter Williams, Journalist to the World

Ronald T. Farrar

Publication Year: 1999

This superb biography provides for the first time a candid look at the remarkable life of Walter Williams, the man who founded the world's first school of journalism and perhaps contributed more toward the promotion of professional journalism than any other person of his time.

Williams, the youngest of six children, was born in Boonville, Missouri, in 1864. Never an athletic child, he always had a love of books and of learning; yet, he scarcely had a high school education. He began his journalistic career as a printer's devil at seventy cents per week and eventually became editor and part- owner of a weekly in Columbia, Missouri. During his time as an editor, Williams became convinced that journalism would never reach its potential until its practitioners had the opportunity for university training in their field. After years of crusading, he established the first journalism school, on the University of Missouri campus. Later, he was chosen president of the University of Missouri, which he led with distinction during the Great Depression.

Williams was an unwavering advocate of high professional standards. His Journalist's Creed became one of the most widely circulated codes of professional ethics. Williams inspired the confidence of his fellow journalists, and he carried his message to nearly every country in which newspapers were published. Not only did he invent journalism education, he also created global organizations of journalists and spread the gospel of professionalism throughout the world. His death, in 1935, was mourned throughout the United States, and editorial tributes came from around the world. As one British editor succinctly put it, "Williams was not born to greatness. Neither was it thrust upon him. Literally, he achieved greatness."

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

I began this book at the suggestion of Beverly Jarrett, director and editor-in chief of the University of Missouri Press. She and her editorial board felt that Walter Williams belonged in the Press's Missouri Biography Series, and that I might enjoy writing about this uniquely interesting man. They were right on both counts. I never met Walter Williams-he died the summer I was born ...

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pp. 1-4

The old roadway winds through the southern highlands of Guatemala to the Pacific coast. It was one of the worst Scott Norvell had ever traveled in Central America, a region he knew well enough to write about for Time as well as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Journal o/Commerce. The old road skirts the base of Aqua Volcano, south of Antigua, and leads eventually ...

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1. Boonville

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pp. 5-17

In the summer of 1805, two sons of Daniel Boone, driven as he had been by rest less energy and adventurous spirit, pressed beyond the thin line of civilization along the Mississippi River and into the wilds of what would become central Missouri. Their objective was to find salt, which was both scarce and precious in that remote part of the world. For some months they tramped through the ...

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2. Young Walter

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pp. 18-33

The Civil War reduced the economic station of the Williams family from middle-class to poor, as it did most of Boonville.' The fighting was intense, and it was local: two significant battles and numerous raids and skirmishes were fought in the immediate region of Boonville, draining the manpower and the economy of the town and the spirits of those who were left there to cope as best ...

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3. A Toe in the Door

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pp. 34-51

In the years to come, a national magazine would describe Walter Williams as "a man who quit school at thirteen" and the New York Times would say of him: Walter Williams never had a Ph.D. degree. Nor had he a bachelor's degree. He did not have even a high school diploma. I These and similar stories that circulated freely throughout his life were both right and wrong. He did quit school at thirteen-though he would resume his studies, if sporadically, later on. He was indeed awarded a high school diploma, class of 1879. But, in the strict bureaucratic sense, where pedagogues measure achievement in terms of...

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4. Transitions

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pp. 52-66

While twenty-three-year-old Walter Williams may well have been contemplating ajournalistic federation of the world, he prudently realized the need to start with something a bit smaller and nearer at hand: his home state, for example. In Missouri, as everywhere, he was certain the newspaper stood in need of understanding and elevation. He saw the challenge to the press as personal and urgent, and he attacked it head-on. Throughout his one-year term as president of the Missouri Press Association, and editing the Boonville Advertiser all the while, he doggedly....

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5. The Most Popular Man in Columbia

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pp. 67-86

The position of country editor will compare favorably with that The sponsorship of E. W. Stephens guaranteed Walter Williams immediate access to the upper levels of Columbia's highly stratified society. For some in that sometimes distant community where newcomers could be subjected to years of patronizing delay before gaining full acceptance, he had come up ...

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6. A Door Opens, Then Closes

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pp. 87-113

Newspaper reporting was forever changed by the Civil War. That epic struggle, as Thomas Jefferson had written much earlier about a different conflict, "between rivers and mountains which must have shaken the earth itself to its center,"l made news a priceless commodity. Even the fragmentary and improbable dispatch from a harried correspondent in the field would be read with desperate intensity. The war was not only the all-important national story; it was also a poignant local story of urgent and direct concern to families everywhere. The telegraph, though...

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7. Breakthrough

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pp. 114-131

For Walter Williams, being "inside" of the particular power structure that mattered most to him meant only one thing: a seat on the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri. There was no pathway toward the creation, and funding, of a school of journalism that did not lead straight through the curators. Created in 1839 as an unofficial steering committee to establish and govern the University of Missouri, the Board of Curators later came under control of the state government. Individual curators were confirmed by the legislature or, when the legislature was not in session, appointed by the governor. Because of the difficulties in obtaining a quorum for the meetings...

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8. "We Must Begin"

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pp. 132-144

Though he hardly would have thought so at the time, the long wait, the eight years after the curators' disingenuous vote in 1898 to establish, but not fund, a chair in journalism, in the end proved a good thing for Walter Williams. Criticism of the notion of college training for journalists, vigorous and widespread initially, had largely played itself out. By 1908, scoffing at the ...

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9. For Worse—and for Betterment

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pp. 145-157

Soon after he took over the Columbia Daily Tribune in 1905, Edwin Moss Watson joined his fellow Missouri Press Association members in the campaign to promote the creation of a School of Journalism at the state university. Though Watson's support was less exuberant than some, it was nevertheless genuine. In one editorial on the subject, he wrote: There is a tendency among old-fashioned newspaper men to sneer at colleges of journalism. Many people...

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10. Losses—and a Gain

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pp. 158-175

There were no signs or rules posted in the School of Journalism's quarters in Switzler Hall. None were needed. "Dean Williams set the example by his personality, demeanor, conduct, and appearance," a former student explained. "His deep concern permeated everyone and everything in his environment." "When I first saw Dean Williams," another student wrote later, "I thought he must be 70 years old. " 'No,' someone told me. He's about 50." Actually, he was in his mid-forties at the time. I Williams's grave manner epitomized the dignity he insisted the school must present to the world...

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11. Sara

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pp. 176-191

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new building were held on May 8, 1919, with young Ward A. Neff shoveling up the first sod, and on September I, 1920, Jay H. Neff Hall was dedicated. It was a handsome redbrick structure, well situated on a shaded, gentle slope at the northeast comer of the campus quadrangle, and designed with care to integrate the classroom teaching and ...

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12. "I Believe in the Profession . . ."

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pp. 192-206

Williams's marriage proposal to Sara Lockwood that summer of 1927 appeared on the surface to be an act of spontaneous ardor-Sara herself thought so-but in fact the dean had been pondering the decision for some time. I And, characteristically, he had sought the counsel of others. "Now as to the advisability of a new Mrs. Dean," wrote F. M. Flynn, a School of Journalism alumnus then working in Tokyo, in response to a query from Williams, "I do not believe your judgment will go wrong on so important a decision as this. If it means happiness and comfort and help to you, I would say 'bravo' ... Nothing can break the hold you have on the...

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13. Depression

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pp. 207-223

By just about any standard of measurement, Stratton D. Brooks's seven-year presidency ofthe University of Missouri was a disappointment. In his previous job, as president of the University of Oklahoma, he had earned widespread respect for his deft leadership style and aggressive, determined resistance to politicians who were out to inflict the spoils system on that state's major institutions of higher learning. His grit traveled well to Missouri, but his management skill, alas, seemingly had not. He was also unlucky. Through no fault of his own, he was hammered by the press...

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14. "As Much as Any Man"

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pp. 224-234

The funeral was held in the ivy-covered First Presbyterian Church where Williams had served as an elder for forty-one years. Hundreds of friends and acquaintances were assembled well before the ten o'clock service began, their automobiles lining the streets for blocks around. The church sanctuary, which Williams once had filled Sunday after Sunday with his Bible class, was heavily banked with lilies, roses, gladiolas, and asters, and even the window ledges were covered with floral arrangements.! The stores of Columbia were closed for much of that warm Wednesday morning, and classes at the university were dismissed. The university bell...

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pp. 235-238

Life went on. A grief-stricken Sara, whose eight-year marriage to Walter Williams had been her happiest dream come true, now confided that she "felt ... my house and my life are in great confusion. Despite the long months of knowing that I would some day be alone, Walter's going left me so bewildered everything seemed unstable. I loved him so dearly, we were such constant ...


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pp. 239-242


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pp. 243-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780826260413
E-ISBN-10: 0826260411
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826211880
Print-ISBN-10: 0826211887

Page Count: 268
Illustrations: illus
Publication Year: 1999

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Historians -- United States -- Biography.
  • College presidents -- United States -- Biography.
  • Journalists -- United States -- Biography
  • Williams, Walter, 1864-1935.
  • Missouri -- Biography.
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