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Joseph Medill Patterson
1879 - 1946

A member of the sprawling Medill newspaper family, Joseph Medill Patterson was born in Chicago in 1879. He enjoyed an affluent Gold Coast upbringing, but as a young man enjoyed slumming in the seedier parts of town. He extended his family connections by marrying Alice Higgenbotham, whose father was a partner in the Marshall Field department store; they had three daughters and adopted a son.

Joseph Medill Patterson's grandfather and namesake, Joseph Medill, was the founder of the Tribune. Medill passed the Tribune on to his son-in-law, Robert Wilson Patterson, Jr. - Joseph Medill Patterson's father.

Patterson began his newspaper career working for his father at the Tribune, but resigned over a disagreement. He retreated to a farm, where he wrote his two novels and a play. These early works, with their emphasis on the consequences of poverty and the evils of the idle rich, reflect Medill's drift toward socialism. In 1903 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives on a reform platform. The Socialist Party tried to draft him as a figurehead, but family ties proved stronger, and Patterson returned to the Tribune after his father died in 1910.

While he was editor of the Tribune from 1910 to 1925, Patterson began experimenting with the content of the front page, attempting to draw more readers by featuring more crime news. Balancing out Patterson's move toward popularization, however, was publisher Robert McCormick, who insisted on keeping the editorial page conservative.

Patterson served in the army during World War I. While he was in London, the flashy British tabloids caught his eye, and he became convinced that Americans would buy similar publications. After the war he put his idea to work in New York City, founding the Illustrated Daily News in 1919. With its large photos and lurid, gossipy stories, the Daily News was an instant hit, and Patterson devoted most of his time to developing it.

Patterson won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of editorials supporting Franklin Roosevelt's decision to run for a third term, but turned against the president when the United States got involved in World War II. In a reversal of his earlier politics, Patterson became an ardent anticommunist in the "Red Scare" of the 1920s and 30s. He divorced and remarried in 1938.


  • A Little Brother of the Rich, 1908 (novel and stage adaptation)
  • Rebellion, 1911 (novel and stage adaptation)
  • The Fourth Estate, (play, co-written with James Keely and Harriet Ford) 1909
  • By-Products, (play) 1913
  • Dope, (play) 1924
  • The Notebook of a Neutral, (articles about World War I) 1916

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