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Marquis Childs

January 3, 2012

Marquis (MARK-us) William Childs was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and native Iowan. Childs was born in 1901 in Clinton, Iowa. He received his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1923 and completed his M.A in at the University of Iowa in 1925. Childs spent most of his career at the Saint Louis Post Dispatch after 1926. He began as a feature writer and eventually joined the newspaper’s Washington bureau in 1934. He became a syndicated news columnist in 19445, after gaining an international reputation with the bestselling book “Sweden – The Middle Way”. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary (the first of its kind) in 1970. He is the author of 12 books. Including nonfiction regarding political, foreign and economic issues along with three novels and a “biography” of the Mississippi. Childs passed away on June 31, 1990.

Early Life and Ties to Iowa

Childs recalls his hometown of Clinton, Iowa, very fondly. In a 1951 essay titled “The Town I Like – Clinton, Iowa” he describes the town and how dramatically it changed just in his lifetime. He also reveals a sense of regret for his youth’s image of Clinton as “a decaying, sleepy river town that would die away” and some insight into the nature of his generation:

“Most of my generation left the town. […] We thought we were very superior. I sometimes feel that we have made a mistake. I have a feeling that most of us never put down roots. Those who stayed behind do seem to belong. […] They have continued to live in a rhythm that is natural and right.”

“I go back whenever I have the opportunity” says Childs […] there is still an embracing warmth of friendliness.” He describes being a Clintonite as being part of a club. “I do a certain amount of speaking around the country and there is hardly ever an audience […] from which someone does not come up afterward and say ‘Don’t you remember me?’, ‘I come from Clinton’.” The reminiscence that follows is, for Childs, what is unique about being from Clinton – “as we talk that rich and bountiful time comes to life again.”

When Childs was working towards his Master’s degree at the University of Iowa he taught in the English department, which likely contributed to his brief concern with the decision to become a journalist. At one point he considered taking advantage of the prestigious Writer’s Workshop at the University and pursuing a career in creative writing. But Child’s career was perfectly positioned during the height of American journalism and that is exactly where his talent led him. Childs also met his first wife, Lue Prentiss, in Iowa City. (As a side note, Lue Prentiss’s father was a professor of medicine at the University of Iowa.)

Childs was very popular on the lecture circuit later in his career, especially at the University of Iowa. He frequently returned to Iowa City to lecture, per the request of the faculty at the university, and he was always delighted by the opportunity to return to his home state. Childs regularly received invitations from Mr. Earl Harper, the Director of the College of Fine Arts, to return to the university to lecture. In one letter to Mr. Harper, Childs is discussing travel logistics between Washington D. C. and Iowa City, he wrote, “If it is a fine day I would much rather fly since then I would have more time in Iowa City.” Childs also gave the graduation speech to the class of 1969, the commencement is titled “Mass Man in a Technological Society” and can be read in full at the University of Iowa Special Collections.

Career

Child’s early career was marked by his longstanding relationship with the Saint Louis Post Dispatch. His position at the Post Dispatch served as a springboard for his career and it was during his first six years working for the newspaper that Childs took the series of trips to Sweden that inspired the bestselling book Sweden – The Middle Way. The book’s significance was reaffirmed when President Franklin D. Roosevelt referenced it as part of his inspiration for the creation of the 1936 commission sent to study the role of cooperatives there. Although Sweden – The Middle Way marked Childs’ move into literary distinction, he was publishing consistently prior to the publication in The Post Dispatch, along with other pamphlets regarding his series of Sweden’s social and economic advancements, and several essays and articles published in Harper’s magazine beginning in the early 1930’s. His articles that appeared in Harper’s are archived here.

Childs began his time at the Post Dispatch’s Washington bureau in 1934. During that time he accompanied President Roosevelt on his 1936 re-election campaign. Childs’ first novel Washington Calling was published shortly after that in 1937. This marked another period of extensive travel and journalistic activity for Childs, he spend time in Spain and Mexico and went on to publish several books in the early 1940’s. In 1945 he won the Distinguished Service in Journalism award at the University of Missouri and was granted a Sigma Delta Chi Award by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Childs continued to work as a correspondent for The Saint Louis Post Dispatch until his retirement 1974 and worked as a contributing editor long thereafter. His column, also titled “Washington Calling” was syndicated in 1944 and at its height appeared in over 200 newspapers. In 1970, Childs was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary. The award was given not only for his exemplary journalistic accomplishments but also for his reporting during the Vietnam War in 1969. His continued criticism of the war landed him on President Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List.” A prize for commentary has been awarded each year since Child received it. Childs passed away in the Spring of 1990 and was buried in his hometown of Clinton.

 

Sources

Brennan, Elizabeth A., and Elizabeth C. Clarage. "Marquis Wiliam Childs Profile." Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 1999. 55. Print.

"UI Pulitzer Prize Winners - Marquis Childs." The University of Iowa Alumni Association. From The Des Moines Register (now Unavailable). Web. 26 Oct. 2011. http://www.iowalum.com/pulitzerPrize/childs.html

Saxon, Wolfgang. "Marquis W. Childs Is Dead at 87; Won a Pulitzer for Commentary." The New York Times 02 July 1990. The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Web. 26 Oct. 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/07/02/obituaries/marquis-w-childs-is-dead-at...

Rabe, Robert A. "Reporter in a Troubled World." Diss. University of Wisconsin, 2012. Abstract. Marshall University. Web. 26 Oct. 2011. http://mupfc.marshall.edu/~rabe/Childs.htm

Marquis Willam Childs Papers. University of Iowa Special Collections, Main Library, University of Iowa.