Eighth Editor of the Atlantic 1872-1960


It is doubtful whether the Atlantic would have survived without the dedication and virtuosity of Ellergy Sedgwick. To it he devoted thirty years of his life. He became the owner in 1908, when the fortunes of the magazine were at a desperately low ebb; in three years’ time, with his confidence, his far-ranging interests, and his ripening judgment, he had steered the Atlantic away from the shoals and into the clear. He brought to his desk some of the very qualities which distinguished our sixth editor, Walter Hines Page, whom he greatly admired: a belief in the expanding responsibility of this country, a desire for more liberal reforms, an insistence on clear, exact writing, and a respect for scholarship. He was at his brilliant best during World War I; he early swung the full force of the magazine to the side of the Allies, and the response to his editing was immediate: the circulation tripled. During his visit to England in 1917, it was he, even more than Edward Bok, who appealed to that shy, conscientious man who was George V. He admired and published Woodrow Wilson; he believed in the League of Nations and strongly opposed our repeated lapses into insularity.

During the complacency of the 1920s his initiative was unchallenged. He was the first editor to accept a short story of Ernest Hemingway’s; he denounced the questionable practices of Wall Street in the penetrating papers by William Z. Ripley, the Harvard economist; he challenged the justice of the Sacco-Vanzetti trial; he was the first editor to face the country squarely with the religious issue and to answer it with Governor Alfred E. Smith’s ringing affirmation, “Catholic and Patriot” (May, 1927). He was sensitive to questions of faith and drew to our pages the eloquent convictions of Rufus Jones, Dean Inge, Abbet Dimnet, and Samuel McChord Crothers; the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and Paul Shorey.

He had a remarkable attraction for stories of personal adventure, such as “Black Sheep” by Jean Kenyon Mackenzie, or “The Stump Farm” by Hilda Rose. When he was reading what he believed to be a discovery, the office would echo with his shouts of “Oh, oh, oh!” or his laughter. He made many discoveries, and because he was a believer and an enthusiast, he was occasionally susceptible. “The Lincoln Letters,” a forgery, and, some would add, “The Diary of Opal Whiteley” were instances of his misplaced confidence. His support of Franco at the time of the Civil War in Spain caused the only prolonged disagreement within the office during his editorship.

Like every great editor, he relied on a cabinet of friends for some of his most essential advice; Mr. Sedgwick’s included Thomas S. Lamont, Newton D. Baker, Walter Lippmann. Judge Joseph M. Proskauer, Justice Felix Frankfurter, and Lewis W. Douglas. He retained the long loyalty of those who supported him at the outset: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, MacGregor Jenkins, Reginald Washburn, Teresa S. Fitzpatrick, and Florence Converse. The final vote was always his, and he did not delegate to juniors easily, but when trust was given, he respected, even encouraged, disagreement.

To work with Ellery Sedgwick was an education, and of his many lieutenants he inspired the affection of Charles R. Walker, Quincy Howe, Theodore Morrison, Edward A. Aswell, and Joseph Barber, Jr.; they, together with the present editor and publisher, felt at first hand his magnetism and saw the skill and decision with which he preserved the New England character of the Atlantic as he brought it to a national readership.