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Medill, Joseph, 1823-1899



  • Existence: 1823 - 1899


Canadian-American newspaper editor, publisher, and Republican Party politician. He was co-owner and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, and Mayor of Chicago from after the Great Fire of 1871 until 1873.

Joseph Medill was born on April 6, 1823, in Saint John, New Brunswick, British North America. He read law in Ohio and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1846. Medill married Katherine "Kitty" Patrick on September 2, 1852; they had three daughters: Katherine, Elinor and Josephine.

In 1853, Medill and Edwin Cowles started the Leader, a newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio. (It was later absorbed by the Plain Dealer.) In 1855, Medill sold his interest in the Leader to Cowles and bought the Tribune in partnership with Dr. Ray and Alfred Cowles (Edwin's brother).

Under Medill, the Tribune became the leading Republican newspaper in Chicago. Medill was strongly anti-slavery, supporting both the Free-Soil cause and Abolitionism. Medill was a major supporter of Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s. Medill and the Tribune were instrumental in Lincoln's presidential nomination, and were equally supportive of the Union cause during the American Civil War. The Tribune's chief adversary through this period was the Chicago Times, which supported the Democrats.

In 1864, Medill left the Tribune editorship for political activity, which occupied him for the next ten years. He was appointed by President Grant to the first Civil Service Commission. In 1870, he was elected as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional convention. In 1871, after the Great Chicago Fire, Medill was elected mayor of Chicago as candidate of the temporary "Fireproof" party, serving for two years. As mayor, Medill gained more power for the mayor's office, created Chicago's first public library, enforced blue laws, and reformed the police and fire departments. But the stress of the job impaired his health. In August 1873, he appointed Lester L. Bond as Acting Mayor for the remaining 3 1/2 months of his term, and went to Europe on a convalescent tour.

Medill was a strong Republican loyalist who supported President Grant for re-election in 1872. The breach with White came because White supported the breakaway Liberal Republicans, reformists who nominated Horace Greeley for president. It was also at this time that Medill broke with Greeley.

Under Medill's management, the Tribune flourished, becoming one of the largest newspapers in Chicago. Medill served as its managing editor until 1864, when Horace White became editor-in-chief. At that time Medill left day-to-day operations of the Tribune for political activities.

But White clashed with Medill over the presidential election of 1872. So, in 1873 Medill bought additional equity from Cowles and from White, becoming majority owner. In 1874, he replaced White as editor-in-chief. Medill served as editor-in-chief until his death.

Medill died in San Antonio, Texas, on March 16, 1899. The Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University is named in his honor.

Found in 7 Collections and/or Records:

Medill family correspondence

Identifier: IV-4

Correspondence among members of the Medill, Patterson and McCormick families, chiefly involving Joseph Medill (managing editor of the Chicago Tribune) and his wife, Katherine Patrick Medill.

Dates: 1834 - 1899

Joseph Medill (1823-1899) archives

Identifier: III-10

Letters to Joseph Medill (managing editor of the Chicago Tribune), some of Medill's early writings, and documents related to Joseph Medill and Katharine Medill

Dates: 1840 - 1899

Joseph Medill (1823-1899) estate, miscellaneous papers

Identifier: III-24

Miscellaneous papers concerning the administration of the Joseph Medill Trust (Medill was managing editor of the Chicago Tribune)

Dates: 1899 - 1938

Joseph Medill (1823-1899) letters to Abraham Lincoln in the Library of Congress (copies)

Identifier: III-23
Scope and Contents This collection consists of photocopies and transcripts of letters from Joseph Medill to Abraham Lincoln, written between 1858 and 1865.The collection spans seven critical years in Lincoln's political career, from his unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1858, to the period following his re-election to the presidency in 1864 and before his assassination on April 14, 1865. Medill had no hesitancy in giving advice to Lincoln in almost all phases of his career: how...
Dates: 1858 - 1865

Joseph Medill (1823-1899) papers

Identifier: III-9

Letters to and from Joseph Medill, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune

Dates: 1850 - 1899

Joseph Medill (1823-1899). Papers relating to the administration of his estate

Identifier: III-27

Papers concerning the estate of Joseph Medill (managing editor of the Chicago Tribune)

Dates: 1861 - 1910

Eleanor Medill Patterson Papers

Identifier: VI-5

The Eleanor Medill (Cissy) Patterson Papers consist chiefly of Medill, McCormick and Patterson family correspondence, Joseph Medill business and political letters, Chicago Tribune historical material, and a collection of letters of Joseph Medill and others to and from important people. The papers cover the years 1846-1910, approximately, with most of the material falling in the 1850-1899 period

Dates: 1846 - 1910