Walter Hines Page (Magill's Literary Annual 1978)
Walter Hines Page, though usually remembered today as Woodrow Wilson’s ambassador to England during World War I, made his most significant contribution to late nineteenth century and early twentieth century America as an advocate of the “New South” and sectional reconciliation, as a magazine editor, and as a Progressive reformer. It is to the credit of author John Milton Cooper, Jr., that this exquisitely written critical biography elucidates in rich detail Page’s earlier fascinating career without minimizing Page’s diplomatic service.
Walter Hines Page was born in 1855 in a village near Raleigh, North Carolina. He attended boarding school, received collegiate training at Trinity College and Randolph-Macon College, and pursued graduate work at The Johns Hopkins University. He dropped out of Johns Hopkins and drifted through a variety of journalistic positions, including stints as editor of or contributor to The Age (a weekly magazine), St. Joseph (Missouri) Gazette, New York World, Boston Post, and International Review. In 1883, he started his own weekly newspaper, the Raleigh State Chronicle.
Page moved to New York City in 1885, and after a brief stint on the staff of the New York Evening Post, joined the Forum as business manager (and later editor), where he instituted numerous journalistic innovations, particularly in investigative reporting. Cooper labels Page a muckraking pathbreaker, citing a series of articles he commissioned in 1891 assessing urban school conditions in thirty-six cities. Page also stimulated an ongoing “magazine revolution” by slashing the Forum sale price in half, being shrewdly cognizant that there was a waiting middle-class, upwardly mobile metropolitan readership anxious to consider the views of prominent figures which the Forum emphasized so much in its columns. He also refocused the Forum’s advertising toward the same readers by carrying numerous school advertisements and specializing in directories of private schools and colleges.
Disappointed in efforts to gain ownership of the Forum, Page joined Houghton, Mifflin & Company in 1895, and strengthened its subsidiary Atlantic Monthly’s coverage of political, social, and economic questions. In 1899, Page and Frank N. Doubleday established Doubleday, Page & Company, which became one of the most successful publishing houses in the United States, turning out, among its best sellers, Ellen Glasgow’s The Voice of the People, Frank Norris’ The Octopus, Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, and Thomas Dixon’s historical fiction.
By the time Woodrow Wilson appointed him ambassador to England in March, 1913, Page was a nationally known public speaker and reform advocate. He had gained the reputation of educational reformer, through membership on The Johns Hopkins Alumni Council and the Columbia University Teachers College board of trustees, and by participation in the Southern Education Board, the General Education Board, the Jeanes Fund, and the Slater Fund. A confidant of President Theodore Roosevelt, Page served on Roosevelt’s Commission on Country Life, an ineffective effort to revitalize rural American society. Page also played an instrumental role in the crusade to eradicate hookworm.
Page’s varied public experience, however, provided little preparation for the subtleties of diplomacy, and Cooper pronounces the Tar Heeler’s World War I mission to England a failure. Page’s Anglophilism ran so uncontrolled that, despite a longterm Page-Wilson friendship and intellectual alliance, the President came to discount Page’s reliability, ignore his dispatches, and use Colonel Edward House to bypass the Ambassador in transactions with the English government. Ironically, Page’s prejudices undermined his own aspiration to induce American entry into the war on the Allied side, because the British government, encouraged by his passivity, failed to revise those blockade policies which impeded an Anglo-American alliance.
Although Page spent virtually his entire adult life in the North and overseas, Cooper convincingly presents his Southernism as the key to his career, arguing that “the South always remained Walter Page’s spiritual home,” that the region occupied his mind “more than any other subject,” and that Page became a “selfappointed but recognized ambassador from the South to the North.” Page dreamed of reconciling each region to the other, and pressed for a common nationality, denouncing those practices disruptive to sectional harmony such as lynchings of blacks in the South. Naïvely optimistic, Page argued in the Redeemer tradition (an ideology which Cooper fails to relate properly to Page’s views) that Southern whites would treat blacks better if Northerners removed themselves from the Southern racial scene. Page assumed that education, including vocational training for blacks, would create sectional progress and a mecca of racial goodwill. Page’s only novel, The Southerner (1909), mirrored its author’s real-life preoccupation with sectional questions by dwelling on themes such as the Lost Cause, Southern religion, and Southern race relations.
Cooper explains Page’s fixation with sectional relations and the meaning of Southernism as an outgrowth of Page’s family background and his upbringing....
(The entire section is 2230 words.)
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