Edward Bellamy began his writing career in newspapers, penning editorials and literature reviews for newspapers in New York City and Springfield, Massachusetts, before co-founding two newspapers of his own. What drew him to newspapers, even after he had gained success as a writer of fiction?
The second half of the nineteenth century brought significant changes to the American newspaper industry. For example, in the 1860s, journalists began directly quoting sources in their articles, establishing the practice of interviewing as we know it today. The offerings of newspapers in the United States also became more diverse, reflecting demographic changes in the population. Now that the cost of production was lower than before, people with different backgrounds and interests—many of whom faced prejudice and discrimination from major newspapers—had more opportunities to establish their own publications. Daily newspapers became especially popular, and revenue from advertising and improvements in transportation also allowed publishers to sell their papers at affordable rates and reach a wider audience. The front page became the place to catch readers’ attentions with bold headlines, and features such as sports pages, advice columns, and comic strips made their debuts in the 1880s.1
Edward Bellamy’s earliest professional experience with newspapers came in 1871, when, following the publication of an article in The Golden Age, his cousin, William Packer, helped him obtain a position writing editorials for the New York Evening Post. After learning of potential openings on the staffs of both the Springfield Union and Springfield Republican from his father, he returned to Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, in June of 1872 and accepted a position as editorial writer and literary editor with the Union. In this role until December of 1877, his columns address a wide variety of topics, ranging from politics and economics to religion and society. 2
Stepping away from newspaper work because of poor health, Bellamy nevertheless returned to the industry in 1880—after a couple of years of publishing fiction—to establish a triweekly paper called the Penny News with his brother, Charles. More liberal in its leaning than the Union and the Republican, it found an audience among the working class. After a few months it was so popular that it became a daily paper called the Springfield Daily News. Edward turned over his interest in the paper to Charles the following year, but his influence on the earliest issues was evident, as columns sometimes echoed ideas and themes that could also be found in his notebooks and earlier editorials. Consistent in his views, he then fleshed out these same ideas about a better, more fair society in his 1888 bestseller, Looking Backward: 2000-1887.3
As early as the 1870s, Bellamy recognized that “[t]he newspaper has, as it were, organized the intellect of humanity and wields and directs its convictions, emotions, sympathies.” It is not surprising, then, that following the success of his best known work, he once again turned to the newspaper as a vehicle for further sharing his ideas. In 1889, a group of supporters had started a monthly magazine called the Nationalist, named after Bellamy’s plan for a better society. A year and a half later, knowing that the magazine was in financial difficulty and likely to cease publication, Bellamy developed an idea for a weekly newspaper that would focus more broadly on the Nationalist movement and its accomplishments. Explaining the idea to supporter and fellow writer Thomas Wentworth Higginson, he emphasized that it would address “all the ways by which men and women are thinking out and working out solutions of industrial and social problems.” Based in Boston, this new paper published its first issue in January of 1891 under the name the New Nation.4
As with his other newspaper work, Bellamy’s time with the New Nation was not very long; a combination of financial difficulties and the writer’s failing health contributed to the paper’s end in 1894. In that relatively short time, however, the paper documented efforts to nationalize industries and enact various social reforms, noted unfortunate occurrences that would not have been able to happen in an ideal society, and aligned itself with the growing People’s Party, whose platform reflected the influence of Bellamy’s work. One of the most notable features of the publication was the occasional column, “Talks on Nationalism,” which was written as fictional conversations between the Nationalist Mr. Smith and a series of character types (a minister, a banker, a farmer, etc.) to explain the principles of Nationalism in more accessible terms.5
Although Bellamy only lived for another four years and devoted much of that time to writing a sequel to Looking Backward, he had not left the world of periodicals completely behind. In 1898, just a few months before he died, he put one last plan into motion, incorporating the New Nation Publishing Company in Denver, Colorado, where he was staying in an attempt to recover his health. Along with several other directors, among whom was labor leader Eugene V. Debs, Bellamy announced plans to publish a weekly magazine in the same vein as his former weekly in Boston. He died before the first issue was published, but one is left to wonder whether his writing would have taken an even more political turn had he lived a longer life.6
- Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communication (New York: Basic Books, 2004) 148, 251-4.
- Sylvia Bowman, The Year 2000 (New York: Bookman Associates, 1958) 38-40.
- Bowman, 41; Arthur E. Morgan, Edward Bellamy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944) 63, 127-8.
- “The Function of the Newspaper,” Springfield Daily Union, May 7, 1874; Bowman, 126, 129, 130; Edward Bellamy to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, December 21, 1890, MS Am 1162.10 (51), Thomas Wentworth Higginson correspondence, 1843-1911, Houghton Library, Harvard University, https://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.HOUGH:10859959?n=121 (accessed June 13, 2021).
- Bowman, 131-3.
- “Western News,” New Castle Nonpareil (New Castle, Colorado), March 3, 1898, 1, in Colorado Historic Newspapers, https://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/?a=d&d=NCP18980303.2.1 (accessed June 13, 2021); Morgan, 70.