Editor of the "Nation" magazine, Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949) was one of the foremost American liberals of the 20th century. He was noted for his moralistic, uncompromising commitment to pacifism and minority rights.
Oswald Garrison Villard was born in Germany on Mar. 13, 1872. From his father, who emigrated to America and became a journalist and then a wealthy railroad magnate and financier, he learned a commitment to capitalism and the ideas of 19th-century laissez-faire liberalism. From his mother, the favorite daughter of abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, he acquired a rigid, almost puritanical, moralism. Villard was educated at private schools and Harvard. After a brief apprenticeship on a Philadelphia paper, in 1897 he joined the staff of the New York Evening Post, which his father happened to own. He soon rose to editorial prominence on the paper and, after his father's death, became owner and publisher.
During his time with the Post Villard carved out an unconventional political position. Along with many others of his class and outlook, he condemned America's imperial ambitions as displayed by the Spanish-American War, but he began to move toward pacifism. He joined his father in supporting the rights of women (his mother was a dedicated leader in this battle) but also championed the rights of African-Americans, Jews, and other minority groups. He departed from traditional laissez-faire thought and defended the right of workers to organize into labor unions and to strike.
A sincere pacifist, Villard opposed American participation in World War I. In 1918, with war fever at its height, the pressure on Villard and the Post to form "patriotic" readers and advertisers had become financially unbearable, and he was forced to sell it. When the war ended, he attacked the Treaty of Versailles, claiming that its unjust nature proved his contentions about the unjust nature of the war.
Villard had retained ownership of the weekly edition of the Post, the Nation, and continued to use this as the personal organ for his views until 1932, when he gave up ownership but continued to contribute. During the 1920s Villard's Nation was one of the few strong voices of liberalism in the United States. Although its circulation was only about 25, 000 its influence was great.
Villard remained a favorite of many liberals into the 1930s, when he supported Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. However, at the end of this decade his pacifism again isolated him. He refused to support rearmament and aid to the Allies during World War II, and in June 1940 the Nation stopped printing his weekly signed articles. He continued to oppose the war after Pearl Harbor and rapidly isolated himself from the mainstream. On Oct. 1, 1949, he died in New York City, a still uncompromising, but embittered, man.
The best biography of Villard is Michael Wreszin, Oswald Garrison Villard: Pacifist at War (1965), which contains a bibliography. Dollena Joy Humes, Oswald Garrison Villard: Liberal of the 1920's (1960), has useful summations of Villard's positions on various issues during the 1920's, but it is not as insightful as Wreszin's book, which covers Villard's whole career.
Humes, Dollena Joy, Oswald Garrison Villard, liberal of the 1920's, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977, 1960. □