Fred Bates Johnson · 1976

The Department of Journalism at Indiana University can be credited to an Indianapolis reporter’s desire to make more money. Fred Bates Johnson decided that a profession in which the top pay was on $29 a week was not enough. A previous graduate from Indiana University, Johnson decided to return and study law. To help him with his expenses he persuaded the university to let him teach a reporting course.

Fred Bates Johnson (1880-1963) son of Benjamin Bates Johnson, an Indiana editor, and Clara C. (Albaugh) Johnson, was born in Kokomo, Indiana, on May 17, 1880. He was educated at Earlham College and Indiana University where he received his A.B. in 1902.

After graduation from I.U., Mr. Johnson was superintendent of schools at Carlisle, Indiana, for two years before moving to Indianapolis. In 1904, Mr. Johnson worked as a reporter for the Indianapolis Sun which later became the Indianapolis Times. After a period, he went to work for the Indianapolis News where he remained as the highest paid senior reporter until 1907. He started at $6 a week and received two raises: first to $15 and then to $25. In addition to this he was paid an extra bonus of $2 for each of two scoops for which he became famous. This made his total salary of $29 a week which was the most paid to any reporter at that time.

He felt this was still not enough and thought journalism was a “chancy” profession and that courses should be offered to train people in the field. He suggested to the late Dr. William Lowe Bryan, then president of Indiana University, that the university start a school of journalism.

After a faculty study of the proposal, Dr. Bryan asked Mr. Johnson to return to the I.U. campus to be the university’s first journalism professor.

Although a course in instruction in news gathering was taught in the English department for a short time during the 1890’s, Fred Bates Johnson succeeded in getting “The Course in Journalism” added to the curriculum of Indiana University during the year 1907-1908. Also at that time the university published a suggested four-year liberal program as a preparation for journalism.

While teaching at the university, Johnson studied law and after receiving his second degree, LLB, in 1910, returned to Indianapolis to practice law.

He served in the United States Army during the Mexican Border Campaign and enlisted as a private when the United States entered World War I. He was discharged a major and served for a time as judge advocate of 38th Infantry Division of Indiana National Guard.

When he returned to Indianapolis he was named to the Indiana Public Service Commission and served it for three years. Thereafter he specialized in utilities law until his retirement in 1951. During this period Johnson also served as special counsel and attorney for the Indianapolis Times and was a member of the Indianapolis School Board between 1922 and 1926.

Johnson, a Quaker, was married to Priscilla Wagner on June 2, 1917, and they had four children — Priscilla Bates, Gaar Williams, and Frank Wagner. He was a member of the firm, Barnes and Johnson, located in the Fletcher Trust Building of Indianapolis.

Johnson was an avid reader and in 1956 presented Indiana University his collection of first editions, manuscripts, and letters of Joseph Conrad. The collection was said to be one of the most complete collections of its kind in the world.

Developing an interest in book collecting as a student, Johnson established in the Department of English a prize designed to encourage students to develop an interest in book collecting. He was the donor of prizes for the Student Book Collector’s Contest from 1939 to 1958.

In June 1959, his contributions to Indiana University were recognized with the Distinguished Service Alumni Award.

Fred Bates Johnson died April 2, 1963, in his Indianapolis home. He was 83 years old and had been in poor health for three years.


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