By Mary E. Stewart
I have no idea what my parents expected when they moved to New York for my father’s job with Today magazine. My father, William C. (Bill) Stewart , was managing editor of Today from the first issue until April 1935. This was the reason for his initial contact with Sherwood Anderson. They became friends, and my parents visited the Andersons at Ripshin. Their friendship continued even after Bill left Today and there was no business reason to maintain contact.
Bill was born in Brownwood, Texas, in 1907. He was interested in writing and drawing from an early age. He was on the staff of various publications at his high school, including serving as editor-in-chief of The Tattler, a semi-monthly magazine. Several of his drawings were included in the yearbook. He stayed in Brownwood to attend Howard Payne College and to work for the Brownwood Bulletin. He left Howard Payne after a disagreement with the faculty regarding his work on the college paper. The story I remember hearing was that he had written an article saying people should be allowed to smoke on campus, and the college did not approve of smoking or writing in favor of it. In 1928 he spent his vacation driving through the South and writing about his experiences. Shortly after this, he left the Bulletin to work for Scripps-Howard papers in Memphis and Birmingham. From the Birmingham Post, Bill went to Southbridge, Massachusetts.1
Bill’s job at Today was part of a continuing business relationship with V.V. McNitt, of the McNaught Syndicate, lasting until the mid-1950s. McNitt bought the Southbridge News in 1931 and hired Bill as managing editor. In 1932, Bill married Bernadette (Bern) Lavin of Worcester, Massachusetts. Bill returned to the Southbridge News after working for Today. The family moved to California as a result of McNitt’s purchase of the Westwood Hills Press.
Averill Harriman, Vincent Astor, and Harriman’s sister, Mrs. Mary Rumsey, were the financial backers of Today. Raymond Moley resigned as Assistant Secretary of State to become editor of Today. To answer questions as to whether Moley was leaving because of his conflicts with Secretary Hull, McNitt said that this was not a sudden decision. They had considered buying the Washington Post for Moley to edit. This did not happen because they were unwilling to pay more than $552,000 for the Post.2
Eugene Meyer bought the Post for $825,000 shortly after he resigned as governor of the Federal Reserve Board.3 McNitt was brought in as executive editor to provide journalism expertise. McNaught Syndicate handled Moley’s newspaper feature, and McNitt had worked with Mrs. Rumsey on a previous project. McNitt stayed until December 1933, and the executive editor position was vacant from that date until April 1935.
The first issue of Today (October 28, 1933) promised that Sherwood Anderson would be one of the contributors; “No Swank,” a story about Henry Wallace, appeared two weeks later. Bill’s files do not include any correspondence about “No Swank” as an article. When it was published in 1934 as part of a collection of articles under the same title, Today did not receive a review copy even after several requests. Bill wrote to Sherwood and Eleanor asking them to order a copy for Today. A copy was sent and a brief review was included on the January 26, 1935, book page of Today.
“Explain! Explain! Again Explain!,” discussing the need for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to explain his ideas to the American people, ran on December 2, 1933, as a letter to the editor. The galley proof shows that just enough was taken out to make the letter and Moley’s reply fit on one page. Moley’s answer was to tell Anderson to go travel around and send back stories that Today would print to explain the views of the people. This served to introduce the first series of articles.
“At the Mine Mouth,” from Charleston, West Virginia (December 30, 1933), was apparently not part of the series, as the CCC camp story is later referred to as the first, and a March 8, 1934, letter refers to the completion of six of the eight articles. The cover letters for both the West Virginia and CCC stories are addressed to Bill “Stuart.” By the end of January 1934, when the next article was sent in, the spelling had been corrected to Stewart. The CCC story ran February 10, and the series continued through May 26, usually every two weeks. The travel for the series was completed and the last story submitted by April 5. At this point, the letters were still business letters dealing with stories and expenses. The only unusual comment occurs in a letter (February 28, 1934) from Durham, North Carolina. Anderson was planning to go from Durham to Knoxville and said: “Will loiter along, talking it over with them. You’d better come join me.” Bill’s brief time at a Memphis paper would not have provided any business reason for such a trip, and there is no further mention of the idea.
Bill and Bern made three visits to Ripshin. The first was in 1934. The others were in 1935 and 1938. In May 1934, when Anderson asked Bill to send Today to Ripshin during the summer, he included an invitation to visit. Today generally did not carry fiction, but an updated letter from Bill suggests that Anderson send in a story for use during the summer and also says that he hopes to take advantage of the invitation to visit. The June 22 letter acknowledging receipt of the story (“Virginia Justice,” Today, July 21, 1934), again mentions a hope to visit. The visit apparently occurred in late July, as Bill’s July 12 letter to the Andersons thanks them for travel directions and mentions a Friday night or Saturday morning arrival. None of the photographs of Ripshin in the family album are dated 1934.
In April 1934, Anderson had written to Bill suggesting he discuss with Moley the idea of Anderson visiting Cleveland to interview those who had been industrial and banking leaders in 1925-29. Nothing further is mentioned about this, but August letters mention a proposal for a trip around the Midwest in the fall. This trip was approved, and the first article, “Sherwood Anderson Goes Home,” ran on December 8. It was about small-town Ohio. An article on Floyd B. Olson, governor of Minnesota, was modified to delete information on Olson’s background that had been covered in two articles by Fred Kelly. According to Bill’s letter to Eleanor, neither writer had known the other was working on Olson, but when Anderson’s article ran, the readers were told this was the conclusion of a three-part series.
After the Middle West trip, the Andersons headed for Brownsville, Texas. Bill, as a Texan, never really got used to the grapefruit available in the Northeast. It was picked green, shipped in ice cars, and never ripened properly.
The story on the Rio Grande Valley, “Valley Apart,” appeared on April 20, 1935. This was the first issue of Today that did not list William C. Stewart as managing editor. There had been changes at the magazine; a January letter mentioned that W.P. Beazell (the assistant editor) had left and Bill had been given additional duties. A newspaper clipping in the Stewart files says that on April 9 Filmore Hyde, who had been assistant editor of News-Week, would become executive editor of Today. The clipping also mentions that William Stewart would be returning to the McNaught Syndicate. The executive editor position had been vacant since McNitt had returned to the Syndicate. The changes were continuing in June when Fred Kelly wrote to Bill that he was out because of the “new policy.” Kelly had traveled for Today, reporting from Austria and the Soviet Union as well as doing domestic stories. Today eventually was merged into Newsweek. Who Was Who says that Moley was editor of Today 1933-37 and contributing editor of Newsweek 1937-68.4
Puzzled America did not have an acknowledgment that some articles had appeared in Today. When Anderson wrote to Roger Sergel (April 24, 1935,) about this and said that this “will cost me my job with them, as Moley is terribly sensitive to slights,”5 he already knew that Bill was no longer with Today. Bill had written, at the end of March, that he would be leaving Today for reasons he would tell him later. Anderson’s reply was: “It’s odd. Eleanor had a hunch. As she was going down stairs she suddenly got the conviction that you were no longer at Today and there, at the hotel desk, was your letter.” I don’t remember hearing any discussion of the changes at Today or my father’s reason for leaving. I know that he gave Moley as a reference years later when McNitt sold his paper in Los Angeles, so apparently the departure was not hostile.
The Stewarts went to Ripshin Farm again in 1935. Other guests were there at the same time including Waldi Van Eck, from Holland, and Elise and Julius Friend, from New Orleans. Most of the photos from that trip are of Sherwood with his dog.
“Valley Apart” mentioned houses on wheels and described one that had been built by its owner, a man from Kansas. “The house was what it was, built on an automobile truck chassis, It had a kitchen, with a regular farm kitchen stove, the stovepipe going up through the ceiling, and a very comfortable-seeming sleeping and living room” (“Valley Apart,” Today, March 20, 1935, p. 22). Early in 1936, Anderson wrote to Bill suggesting that Bill and Bern travel around America, possibly in a little house attached to the car. The idea was that Bill could write about what he saw from the point of view of a tourist. Years later, when Bill sent a copy of this and other letters to Eleanor, he commented that his response had probably been that Sherwood could do a better job with this idea. Whatever Bill had said, Anderson was almost apologetic: “You got me wrong about that other thing. It came into my head as a thing you and Bern might do to give you more freedom. Suppose I take to wandering so naturally I think everyone would like it.” Bill also said that Ernie Pyle did something similar for United Features.
The Stewarts also visited Ripshin in 1938. In June, Eleanor had invited them to come sometime after July 20. They drove down from Southbridge in a Rolls Royce. The car made it into Anderson’s diary and also into a photo under some trees at Ripshin. It had originally belonged to Albert B. Wells, also of Southbridge. Rolls Royce had a plant in Springfield, about thirty miles from Southbridge. Wells had the car built to his specifications when business at the plant was slow in the early 1930s. He took the car to his other home in Southern California for awhile. When he decided to sell it, he took it back to Southbridge and sold it through the local Chrysler dealer.6 The last picture of the Rolls in the Stewart family album is dated 1940. When the Stewarts left Ripshin on July 29, 1938, Sherwood’s diary says they were “very satisfactory guests.” On August 3, Eleanor wrote asking for the “negative of the picture of Sherwood and the dog.” Bill sent the negatives for two pictures and promised to send a set of pictures from the recent trip. In the collection of letters edited by Howard Mumford Jones, the picture opposite page 402 is dated 1938. However, the wording of Eleanor’s letter and Bill’s reply indicate it is from the 1935 trip. Also it is in the family album with pictures labeled 1935, and the border on the print matches the 1935 rather than the 1938 prints. The 1938 pictures include several in the chairs that tip upside down.
The August 3 letter also says “Sherwood got your picture yesterday and took it to be framed.” This was a picture Bill sent as part of the “rogues gallery” at Ripshin. When Bill wrote to Eleanor after Sherwood’s death in 1941, he mentioned that they had just missed each other in New York. The letter also referred to pictures taken three years before including one of Eleanor in the chair that tipped over backwards. He expressed the hope that Mary could meet Eleanor right side up. This did happen when Eleanor made a trip to the West Coast for the YWCA, after we had moved to California.
My father had always been interested in history. A book he mentioned to Sherwood was never published, but some of the research may have been the basis for newspaper articles. After moving to California, Bill began tracing his family and found that his people had lived in the Virginia hills, before moving on. His research was published by state historical societies and the National Genealogical Society, but he never had a chance to return to Virginia. Bill continued his newspaper work and was employed by the Los Angeles Times when he died in 1968. Bern stayed in California and died in 1989.
The photos on the wall and in the album made it clear to me as a child that Sherwood Anderson was an author my parents had known. As far as I remember, we did not read any of his stories in school. In fact, when I mentioned his name in a class, the teacher thought I was talking about Robert Sherwood. “Stolen Day” is included in the anthology my seventh grade classes use. My students enjoy seeing pictures, so I show the ones I have, including Sherwood with his dog.
1. Brownwood Bulletin February 28, 1933, various undated clippings
2.Editor & Publisher, September 2, 1933.
3. Deborah Davis, Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and the Washington Post (New York: Harcourt Brace Janovich, 1979), p, 55.
4. Who Was Who in America, vol. 6, 1974-76, 288.
5. Letters of Sherwood Anderson, ed. Howard Mumford Jones and Walter B. Rideout (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953), 313.
6. Albert B. Wells “Sequel to the Story of a Gallant Old Rolls Royce,” Westwood Hills Press, letter, no date.