Samuel Bowles

The most noted member of an American newspaper family, Samuel Bowles (1826-1878) earned his reputation of fierce independence at a time when newspapers existed largely by means of partisan political support.

Samuel Bowles was born in Springfield, Mass., on Feb. 9, 1826, seventeen months after his father had founded the Weekly Republican. His father came from New England stock dating back to 1640. His mother was a descendant of Miles Standish. Even tempered and possessed of a quick, incisive mind, young Sam grew up in an early rising, hard-working, religious household.

Sam wanted to go to college, but at the age of 17 his father made him an office boy at the Republican. The elder Bowles wanted his son to be a printer, but Sam had neither the skill nor the inclination for it. He did, however, have the skill of persuasion. He talked his father into establishing the Daily Republican (March 27, 1844); his father agreed to the daily only if Sam took the "main responsibility of working and pushing it." The daily started as an evening paper but shifted to a morning publication a year later.

In the same year Bowles married a Springfield schoolmate, Mary Schermerhorn of Geneva, N.Y. Two years later he obtained half-ownership of the Republican through a $10, 000 inheritance.

By midcentury Bowles, a Whig about to turn Republican, was a power in Massachusetts and was beginning to acquire a national name for being an honest, impartial editor. By 1855 the Republican abandoned the Whig party. In July, Bowles called for a new party and participated in the organization of the Republican party.

Bowles's appearance at mid-life was impressive. He had a substantial beard, an intelligent forehead, and shaggy, projecting brows that partially masked his dark, luminous eyes. His gaze was penetrating, and although he was startlingly direct most of the time, he was a master of the art of listening.

Plagued all his life with intestinal illness, Bowles in later life was beset with headaches and sleeplessness. His vitality began to ebb when he was only 34. Sciatica and dyspepsia caused him to lose sleep and made him moody and severe.

Merriam, in The Life and Times of Samuel Bowles (1885), concisely sums up Bowles's influence: "The great achievement of Samuel Bowles was that he built up under the limitations of a country town a paying newspaper which expressed the editor's personal opinions, bound by no party, by no school, by no clique." According to a competing editor, Bowles published "the truth as he understood it." Once he had the information it had to be "uttered at all costs." He always insisted that although he was an individual, the Republican was a public servant.

Bowles stressed accuracy and condensation long before they became important to newspaper editing. "Put it all in the first sentence, " Bowles said, antedating most editors and all professors of journalism. "Don't suppose that anyone will read through six lines of bad rhetoric to get a crumb of news at the end, " he frequently told his young protégés. In every part of the paper, Merriam states, Bowles pruned away verbiage remorselessly.

In 1877 Bowles was stricken by a series of paralytic attacks. In the weeks remaining to him, he put his affairs in order. He died on Jan. 16, 1878.


Further Reading on Samuel Bowles

The best biography of Bowles is George S. Merriam's detailed, uncritical, and turgid account, The Life and Times of Samuel Bowles (2 vols., 1885). Merriam drew from the pages of the Springfield Republican and from the personal correspondence of members of the Bowles family. Far less detailed and less laborious is Richard Hooker, The Story of an Independent Newspaper: One Hundred Years of the Springfield Republican (1924). Hooker drew chiefly from Merriam and the Republican, but also gathered odds and ends from minor sources to bring the Bowles family story up to 1915. Frank L. Mott, American Journalism: A History, 1690-1960 (3d ed. 1962), is recommended for general background.


Additional Biography Sources

Merriam, George Spring, The life and times of Samuel Bowles, New York, The Century co., 1885.

Weisner, Stephen G., Embattled editor: the life of Samuel Bowles, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986.