Edward Price Bell · 1978
By Susan McMullin
Edward Price Bell was born on a farm in the backwoods portion of Parke County in southwestern Indiana on March 1, 1869.
He began his career as a journalist by becoming a printer and reporter for the Terre Haute Evening Gazette at the age of 13.
After this apprenticeship, Bell worked for newspapers in Indianapolis and St. Louis as a reporter, and in 1883 he established and began writing, editing and printing his own weekly newspaper in Rosedale, in the coal-mining district of Parke County.
His next jobs were as managing editor of the Evansville Standard, where he became local correspondent for the Chicago Daily News which he remained until 1897, sending his dispatches to both the Daily News and the old Chicago Record; and when he left the Standard, he returned to the Terre Haute paper to become managing editor.
His first “big” story was on the Chippewa Indian uprising in northern Minnesota. He later covered the race riots in North Carolina in 1898, and exposed jury bribing in Cook County, Illinois, and legislative corruption in Springfield.
Bell attended Wabash College from 1894-97 while continuing his newspaper writing, and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree. He married Mary Alice Mills in 1897 and eventually became the father of two sons and a daughter, Alice Elizabeth Price, Edward Price, and John Addison Price Bell.
In 1898, Bell arrived in Chicago and, with the help of Charles Dennis, editor for the Chicago Daily News, joined the staff of the Chicago Record.
In 1900, Victor Lawson, publisher of the Record and the Daily News, began organizing the first American foreign news service. Dennis was to coordinate the service in Chicago, and with his ability to recognize great writing was probably instrumental in getting Bell hired for the position of directing the Daily news service in London. Thus Bell became the Daily News London correspondent and then European manger of the foreign news service for the period from 1900-1922.
During this period he reported on all the major European events, including royal deaths, funerals and coronations. Bell was the first journalist to interview a British secretary of state for foreign affairs, he interviewed five British cabinet members on features of the German War (WWI), and spent much time with the British fleets, armies and flying services.
It may have been this latter contact that enabled Bell to write the Six Letters to the London Times, letters definitely foretelling America’s entry into World War I. It was during this period also that Bell lectured widely, notably to British public school boys on the importance of Anglo-American unity for the preservation of free institutions, a foreshadowing of his later work for British-American relations.
He became the highest paid journalist of his time, turning down several offers from other publishers in order to remain with the Daily News; socially accepted by British statesmen, an unusual occurrence; greatly admired by his fellow journalists; and in demand as a speaker.
Bell left his European post in 1923 and returned to America, where he began a three-year lecture tour. In 1925, he set out on a self-conceived and self-supported world tour to interview a number of world leaders on various international topics.
In late 1928, Bell was assigned to cover President-elect Herbert Hoover’s goodwill tour to Latin America. Bell retired from the Chicago Daily News in 1932, but continued to write.
In 1934 he toured the world a second time on a political mission for the Literary Digest, interviewing the premiers and foreign ministers of all the principal countries of the world except Russia, including Pope Pius XI, about the problems in achieving a lasting world peace.
Between 1935 and 1938 Bell again traveled throughout America on a peace mission of his own, lecturing on the duty of Americans to participate determinedly in the effort to organize a stable peace and to combat America’s involvement in world conflict.
In 1938 Bell became ill and was forced to contain his activities to his estate, Merrywood in Pass Christian, Mississippi, where he moved in 1936. Here, he did work on his private papers and became a long distance columnist and political editor for the Terre Haute Saturday Spectator in 1941.
Bell died at Merrywood in 1943, at the age of 74, of complications from beriberi he contracted in China while on overseas assignment, attempting to improve international relations in the Far East.
At the time of his death, Bell had been honored with degrees in Master of Arts and Doctor of Letters in 1919 by his alma mater, Wabash College, a Doctor of Laws degree from Northwestern University in 1928, and was an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Gamma Mu, Delta Tau Delta, and Sigma Delta Chi. He became Dean of Correspondents in 1910, and president of the London-based Association of American Correspondents in 1929 when he led a drive to end the British practice of keeping a tight lid on the news.
Edward Price Bell was one of the opinion that journalism and statesmanship were “natural allies” and ought to be of service to mankind as such. He considered himself to be a statesman representing the public and believed a newspaper should have the same purpose.
His main interest was in the significance and interpretation of the news and his development of this approach made him world famous.
He described himself as a “sidelight correspondent” in a letter in 1931 to Colonel Frank Knox, publisher of the Daily News after Lawson: “The sidelight man is a thinker, a slower worker (though he must not be too slow, for all journalism is quick), an expounder rather than a reporter of news, and a frequenter of the resorts of informed and thoughtful men.”
As European manager of the first American foreign news service, Bell was a principle force behind the development of this service and his work there as well as his theories of journalism clearly formed the basis for the intensive and high quality coverage that is now given to foreign news by the press associations and major American newspapers.
Bell is also given the credit for developing the formal news interview to proportions unknown at the time.
In his search for the facts and the reasons behind them Bell went after and obtained interviews with men at levels of government that had never been approached by journalists before.
His method was to convince the lesser figures around his proposed subject of the beneficial nature of his projected interview, until, when he finally approached the man himself, the latter found himself penned in on every side by subordinates urging him to grant the interview and was finally forced to give in.
Bell’s first world tour in 1925, which he financed himself, was undertaken for the purpose of interviewing statesman and leaders of various countries on international and interracial problems, especially those centering on the Pacific.
His subjects included President Coolidge, Chancellor Marx of Germany, Premier Mussolini of Italy, Poincare, Ramsay MacDonald (Great Britain), Mackenzie King (Canada), Kato, Shidehara (Japan), and Tang shao-yi among others. These interviews are recorded in two books that Bell wrote — World Chancellories (1929) and Europe’s Economic Sunrise (1927).
On Bell’s second world tour in 1934 for the Literary Digest, he again interviewed world leaders, this time on the subject of world peace. He was probably the first, and perhaps only, journalist ever to obtain such an intensive and extensive set of interviews with such success.
Bell recorded the results of his years of experience as an internationally known and admired journalist in a book called The Basic Principles of Journalism (1940).
Lord Northcliff , a well-known British publisher, once called Bell “the best American newspaperman London has ever had.” Another source declared him to be “the greatest journalist who ever used the English language;” and the World Press News in 1929 described Bell as “about as close to the perfect newsman as it is possible to be.”
Bell’s most outstanding contributions were his
efforts for world peace. He spent years and traveled thousands of miles lecturing, interviewing and speaking privately with world leaders on the subject.
His theory of the connection between statesmanship and journalism reveals his practice of combining two jobs in one, of working for peace and international understanding as well as for quality and progress in journalism.
J.L.Gavin, editor of the London Observer, called Bell “for 30 years the best unofficial ambassador that the newer part of the English-speaking world has ever sent to the older.”
Bell’s first American tour in 1923 was an assignment from Victor Kawson to speak at colleges and civic and business groups with the purpose of educating the Midwest on the subject of internationalism — the idea of understanding and communication between all peoples of the world.
Bell’s purpose on his first world interviewing tour (1925) was to discover and publish the views of the government leaders he spoke to in the hope that this would lead to greater understanding and contribute to international cooperation.
Bell accompanied Herbert Hoover on the latter’s tour of Latin America in late 1928. As a respected senior correspondent, Bell came to know Hoover rather well and discovered that Hoover, like himself, deplored the poor relations and rivalry that then, and had for some time, existed between England and America.
An advocate of closer British-American ties for a number of years, Bell had attacked bickering between America and Britain in both the English and American press, and he now originated the idea of a conference in Washington between Hoover and Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald for the purpose of establishing good diplomatic relations between the two countries. He hoped thereby to lay the foundations for a lasting peace within the English-speaking world.
By his writings and private conversations with both Hoover and MacDonald on the subject, Bell became the catalyst for the meeting between the two leaders in 1929, which was the preliminary to the London Five-Power Naval Conference and Treaty in 1930.
For his part in this affair Bell was nominated for the 1930 Nobel Peace Prize by Baron Shidehara of Japan. Bell’s nomination was heavily supported by letters to the Nobel Committee in Oslo from statesmen, educators, scientists, and clergymen of America, Europe and Asia, and, though he did not win the Prize, Bell was said to have been nearly as proud of these letters as he would have been of the actual prize.
The authors of these letters state variously that, in added support of his nomination, Bell’s interviews with leaders in Japan and China had helped prevent a war in the Pacific in 1925, with spokesmen in Britain, Germany, Italy, France and America had eased tension after the Versailles Treaty, and that he had improved relations between North and South America by articles he wrote during his tour with Hoover in 1928.
Finally, Bell’s second world tour for the Literary Digest in 1934 and his second lecture tour of America both had world peace as their object.
Bell also published a number of other books, including Primary Diplomacy (1933), Let Us Go Seaward (1937), Studies of Great Political Personalities (1938), as well as numerous short stories in Strand Magazine. His unpublished autobiography, Seventy Years Deep, was finished in 1940.