The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Pulitzer, Joseph

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The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Pulitzer, Joseph

PULITZER, Joseph, journalist and philanthropist, b. in Buda-Pesth, Hungary, 10 April, 1847; d. aboard his yacht, the “Liberty,” in Charleston Harbor, S. C., 29 Oct., 1911, son of Philip and Elizabeth Pulitzer. He was educated in his native city where his father was a business man, supposedly of means, but when he died, while Joseph was still a boy, it was found that the estate was very small. In order that he might not be a burden on his mother, Joseph determined to enter the army. He applied to his uncle, who was a colonel in the Austrian army, but when he was examined as to physical fitness he was rejected because of the defect in one of his eyes. He sought to enter the army which was going to Mexico to fight for Maximilian, but was again rejected for the same reason. He tried to enlist in France and England with the same result. The Civil War was in progress in this country, and he decided to come here. It exhausted his resources to pay his passage, and he landed in Boston, Mass., in 1864 practically penniless. He knew nobody in this country and could speak only a dozen words of English. Within a few days, however, he met a fellow countryman who had just enlisted in a German cavalry regiment then being raised in this city. Men were badly needed in the Union army, and the requirements as to sharpness of vision were not as strict as in time of peace. The young Austrian was enrolled and served to the end of the war in the Lincoln Cavalry, as the regiment was called, part of the time under Sheridan. When he was mustered out at its close in New York City he was still ignorant of English, as his soldier companions had all been of foreign birth and spoke their native languages. Another Austrian who had been his close companion suggested that they go West to seek their fortunes. They went to a railroad ticket office, threw down all the money they had between them, and asked for passage as far West as their capital would take them. It was thus by chance that Mr. Pulitzer went to St. Louis. Their tickets were only to East St. Louis, Ill., across the river from the Missouri city. There was no bridge in those days, but Pulitzer made himself acquainted with the fireman on a ferryboat, and offered to do his firing if he would take him across. He not only got across by this means, but was continued at work as a fireman until he became a stevedore on the wharves of St. Louis. After alternating as stevedore and as fireman on boats plying between St. Louis and New Orleans for some time he had enough money saved to start in business as a boss stevedore in St. Louis. This was his first enterprise, and it was not a success. Its failure left him again penniless, and with his strength diminished. He applied to an employment agency for lighter work, and got a place as a coachman in a private family. Here again his defective vision proved a handicap, and after two weeks he was discharged because his employer feared he would run into something. Pulitzer vainly sought employment in every direction. There was a cholera epidemic in St. Louis and the undertakers were in need of help to bury the hundreds who died. He eagerly took up this work and was soon a foreman supervising the gangs who were digging trenches on Arsenal Island. He went from one humble employment to another until a St. Louis politician, noting his ignorance of American ways, induced him to take a post that no well-informed person would have undertaken. In the reconstruction days, after the close of the war, Missouri was largely in the hands of bushwackers and guerrillas. In order to have the charter of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad recorded in each county of the State it was necessary that the papers should be personally filed with the clerk of every county, and it was expected that the man engaged in the task would almost certainly lose his life. Pulitzer realized nothing of this and started off joyously on a horse provided for him. He completed the task and returned to St. Louis still in ignorance of the risk he had run. This experience marked the turning point in his early struggles. It gave him a knowledge which no other man then possessed of the land conditions of every county in the State, and real estate men found his services invaluable. Even during his earlier vicissitudes he had been a voracious reader and eager student and had already begun to study law. This he went ahead with rapidly, and in 1868, four years after he had landed in Boston, he was admitted to the bar. He practiced for a short time, but the profession was too slow for him. He was bursting with ambition and energy and found it impossible to confine himself to the tedious routine of a young attorney. He looked about for some manner of life in which he could bring all his suppressed energies into immediate play. He found it in journalism. He entered journalism at twenty as a reporter on the St. Louis “Westliche Post,” a German Republican newspaper, then under the editorial control of Carl Schurz. He subsequently became its managing editor, and obtained a proprietary interest. In 1878 he founded the “Post Dispatch” in that city by buying the “Dispatch” and uniting it with the “Evening Post.” He became interested in politics, and was elected to the Missouri legislature in 1869, and to the State Constitutional Convention in 1874. In 1872 he was a delegate to the Cincinnati convention which nominated Horace Greeley for the presidency, and in 1880 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and a member of its platform committee from Missouri. In 1883 he purchased the New York “World,” which, after twenty-three years of existence under various managers, had achieved no permanent success, but which in the hands of Mr. Pulitzer sprang at once into power and popularity, and became one of the most profitable newspaper properties in the United States. He was elected to Congress in 1884, but resigned a few months after taking his seat, on account of the pressure of journalistic duties. During his active business career he was in very truth a “human dynamo.” He seemingly never tired in the early days of the “World's” upbuilding. He reached the office in the morning, frequently before any of the members of his staff appeared, and remained after the paper had gone to press, and the last lingering night editor and copy-reader and reporter had departed. Subsequent to his blindness Mr. Pulitzer cultivated an already remarkable knowledge of art and its history, and could talk most ably upon the characteristics and qualities of not only our leading American sculptors and painters, but of the old masters. He was especially fond of portraits of distinguished men, notably those by famous painters. He was also a great lover of music and one of unusual taste and appreciation; he loved to talk on music, and nothing ao soothed him as its strains. In his Now York, Bar Harbor, and Jekyll Island houses he had among his attendants a skilled pianist, and devoted sometimes several hours a day to listening to Wagner, whom of all composers he preferred, to Beethoven and other great musicians. By his will Mr. Pulitzer ratified a previous gift to Columbia University of $1,000,000 for the establishment of a school of journalism under an agreement with the trustees of the university, and also ratified an agreement for an additional $1,000,000, and directed that it should be paid by his executors to Columbia University. In his bequest, Mr. Pulitzer expressed the desire that music by Beethoven, Wagner and Liszt, his “favorite” composers, should be largely represented on its program. The Philharmonic Society was organized in December, 1842, when music was in its infancy in this country. At that time Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer had just become musical directors in Berlin, Wagner had returned to Germany from Paris, and his “Rienzi” was first given. No one presumes to say in whose mind the idea for the Philharmonic Society originated. But to the organizing ability of Ureli Corelli Hill, a violinist of note, and Anthony Reiff, professor of the Blind Institution, the realization of it is largely due. One of the difficulties which the Society felt most keenly in the early years was the lack of a proper place in which to give their concerts. Several applications to the Legislature to incorporate the Society failed, the second one in 1846, and it was not until 22 February, 1853, eleven years after its foundation, that it finally received its charter of incorporation was stated to be the “cultivation and performance of instrumental music.” One of the determining factors in the present security of the Society have been the bequests of the late Mr. Pulitzer. In addition to his bequests to Columbia University Mr. Pulitzer bequeathed $500,000 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and $500,000 to the Philharmonic Society of New York. The School of Journalism in Columbia University, New York City, on the Pulitzer Foundation, opened 30 September, 1912. On 1 November, 1916, it had in all 180 students, of whom 36 were women. Divided by classes, there were 69 in the first-year class, 43 in the second-year class, 43 in the third-year class, and 25 in the fourth-year class. Of the women who will take their degrees in the School of Journalism, 17 are in Barnard, and 8 of the men at present registered in Columbia College are taking courses in the School of Journalism. Of the first-year class entering in the fall of 1916, 55 are men and 10 are women. Of this number, 43 men entered on examination and 11 under the provision laid down by the late Joseph Pulitzer in his gift, that students of maturity, experience and marked fitness should be admitted without examination. Of the women, 10 entered Barnard College, to be there two years, on examination. Admission without examination, as Mr. Pulitzer expected, has enabled a number of journalists to enter the school. On pursuing courses for two years with credit, these students are admitted to candidacy for the degree of Bachelor of Literature in Journalism. This degree was conferred on 24 graduates in the course at the last commencement of Columbia University; of the fourth-year class, 18 were in the school last year in the third-year class, and are graduates of other colleges. In 1918 the school will be placed on a full professional standing. Five years will be required for a degree from the high school, the first two in college and the last three in the School of Journalism. This will permit the addition of another year of professional study. The total attendance grows steadily year by year and establishes the leading position of the school among institutions of its kind in this or any other country. The number attending is greater in proportion to the number of journalists in the country than is the number attending the law and medical courses in Columbia University in proportion to the number of those practicing law and medicine. In September, 1913, the school entered its new building, for which $500,000 was provided by Mr. Pulitzer's bequest. The building is excellently equipped in every way for training in journalistic work, and contains a reference library, files of a hundred daily papers, American and foreign, and a morgue of 400,000 newspaper clippings made under the supervision of the Director during the last thirty years. No step in professional education has attracted wider public attention or awakened a more general approval in the American press. When Mr. Pulitzer proposed the school twelve years ago its plans, purposes and need were all challenged. From the announcement of the appointment in February, 1912, of its Director, Talcott Williams, formerly of “The New York World” staff and for thirty-eight years in active journalism, to its successful opening and full operation of the school has commanded the confidence of newspapers and journalists. One-third of its teaching staff of twenty-five have been in active service on newspapers. A devoted father, he was deeply interested in the future of his children and in the manner and matter of their education. Mr. Pulitzer was a great journalist, a rarely many-sided man, a curious mingling of qualities, a marvel of the union of physical force and mental energy, with an intellect of rare power and perspicacity. Mr. Pulitzer married 20 June, 1878, Kate Davis, of Washington, D. C.

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