Charles Edward Russell

Charles Edward Russell (1860-1941), American writer and reformer, was a leading Socialist and muckraker.

Charles Edward Russell was born in Davenport, lowa, on Sept. 25, 1860, the son of the abolitionist editor of the Davenport Gazette. Charles learned newspaper skills and attended the St. Johnsbury (Vt.) Academy, from which he graduated in 1881. He then returned to become the Gazette's managing editor. He later became an editor in Minneapolis and Detroit and then moved on to New York City. In 1894 he was city editor of Joseph Pulitzer's World and then a Hearst editor in New York and Chicago.

During his newspaper years Russell was interested in democratic politics; in Populist, single-tax, and other causes; and in music, theater, and poetry. In 1902 his health broke, and he left newspaper work. After traveling abroad, he returned to begin a literary career. His first book, Such Stuff as Dreams (1902), was a volume of verses. Thomas Chatterton: The Marvelous Boy (1908) retraced the writings and career of the English poet.

Meanwhile a literature of protest (muckraking) had appeared on the American scene, and Russell found himself part of it. The Greatest Trust in the World (1905) muckraked the beef trust in Chicago. In the popular magazines he effectively exposed a wide range of social evils, from New York church-owned slums to southern prison camps. The Uprising of the Many (1907) and Lawless Wealth (1908) summed up some of the reasons why he joined the Socialist party. His writings earned him a national reputation. He campaigned for governor, mayor, and U.S. senator in New York State. In 1916 he declined the Socialist party's presidential nomination.

Russell sided with the Allied Powers during World War I and was expelled from the Socialist party. An admirer of Woodrow Wilson, he became a member in 1917 of the American diplomatic mission to revolutionary Russia. Unchained Russia (1918), After the Whirlwind (1919), and Bolshevism and the United States (1919) were earnest but perishable efforts to interpret the revolution. The Story of the Non-partisan League (1920) and The Outlook for the Philippines (1922) were Russell's efforts to rejoin the reform movement. As early as 1912, he had begun his memoirs in The Passing Show. Julia Marlowe: Her Life and Art (1926) was an outgrowth of his interest in the arts, as was The American Orchestra and Theodore Thomas (1927), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.

Russell was eventually reconciled with the right wing of the Socialist party. He was a member of Clarence Darrow's National Recovery Administration Review Board and a staunch defender of oppressed people. He died in Washington, D.C., on April 23, 1941.


Further Reading on Charles Edward Russell

Russell's autobiography, Bare Hands and Stone Walls: Some Recollections of a Sideline Reformer (1933), throws light on his causes and attitudes. He figures significantly in Louis Filler, Crusaders for American Liberalism (1939; new ed. 1950).