Alicia Patterson (October 15, 1906 – July 2, 1963) was the founder and editor of Newsday, one of the most successful post-war newspapers in the 1940s. The daughter of Joseph Medill Patterson, the founder of the New York Daily News, and the great-granddaughter of Joseph Medill, owner of the Chicago Tribune and mayor of Chicago, Patterson found her calling late in life when her third husband, Harry Guggenheim, encouraged her to pursue news editing as a way to keep busy; Patterson quickly found her own niche in a family full of successful publishers. Throughout her lifetime, she and husband agreed that Newsday should remain a Long Island paper to prevent it from coming into direct competition with her father’s New York Daily News.
Alicia Patterson was a powerful force in her time. Her influential Newsday remained one of the most popular newspapers of the post-war period of the 1940s. She was a strong advocate for community relations in Long Island, New York. Her support of Veteran housing, her encouragement of aggressive investigatory reporting, and her interest in Presidential politics helped to shape the era of which she was a part of.
Although Alicia Patterson often used the power of the media to express her personal political opinions, since her husband's sympathies differed from hers the paper itself remained remarkably balanced. In using the paper to promote developments that were for the benefit of her community as a whole, Alicia Patterson's contribution to society was substantial.
Alicia Patterson was born into a wealthy, influential Chicago family on October 15, 1906, the second of three daughters. Her father, Joseph Medill Patterson, distraught upon hearing of the birth of yet another daughter, retreated from the Patterson house for days. However, it was not long until Alicia assumed the role of a son and accompanied her father hunting, riding, and fishing.
By the time she was five years old, Alicia was sent with her older sister Elinor to Berlin, Germany, where they were to study the German language; Alicia remained in her studies despite undergoing complicated ear surgery. Following her time in Berlin, Alicia attended Chicago’s University School for Girls, and later, Les Fougeres, a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland. Following Les Fougeres, Alicia attended Saint Timothy’s School in Catonsville, Maryland, where she was expelled for bad behavior. She then attended the Foxcroft School in Virginia, where she graduated in 1924. Following her graduation, Alicia attended Miss Risser’s School for Girls, a European finishing school in Rome, Italy. Lasting only a month, Alicia was again expelled. She finished the year traveling Europe with her mother, younger sister Josephine, and a tutor.
Upon her return to Chicago at the age of 19, Alicia was debuted at a grandiose Chicago coming-out party. Following her debut, Alicia went to work with her father at the Daily News. Having so badly botched a news article that ended in a libel suit against the newspaper, her father soon fired her.
In 1927, Alicia married James Simpson, Jr., the son of a wealthy Marshall Field department store executive. The couple honeymooned in Europe, quarreling so badly that Alicia sent for a friend to join them. One year later, Alicia left Simpson for a series of post-marriage adventures throughout Australia. There, she hunted kangaroos and learned to fly, setting various women’s speed records in aviation.
In late 1931, Alicia married her second husband, Joseph W. Brooks, a friend of her father’s and more than 15 years her senior. The couple lived happily in a house purchased by her father in Sands Point, Long Island. However, in less than a decade, the marriage was over. Alicia had taken an interest in a wealthy Sand Point neighbor, Harry Frank Guggenheim.
In 1939, both Alicia and Guggenheim divorced their spouses and were married. Guggenheim, also more than 15 years her senior, had come to America from Switzerland. Having made a fortune in mining and smelting, Guggenheim also served as a naval officer in World War I before working to develop the American aviation industry and serving as ambassador to Cuba from 1929 to 1933. In contrast, Alicia had experienced little more than a life of leisure.
Following their marriage, Guggenheim encouraged Alicia to pursue a career in journalism. Consulting her father’s business executives to find a ready market, on April 5, 1940, Guggenheim purchased the former Nassau Daily Journal of Nassau County, New York. Guggenheim hoped to establish a competitive newspaper to contend with the highly conservative Nassau Daily Review-Star, and left Alicia to run it.
She changed its name to Newsday and launched the tabloid. Under her leadership, Newsday became a locally focused paper that nonetheless provided the national and international coverage that allowed it to quickly surpass the circulation of its competitor, the Nassau Review-Star. Throughout her career, Alicia’s Newsday grew into a position of direct competition with the New York Times. Though many historians attribute this to the large population growth on Long Island that followed World War II, it was as much a result of her managerial shrewdness.
Patterson also maintained a career in comics, creating the character Deathless Deer with artist Neysa McMein.
In 1963, Alicia was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. Refusing to change her lifestyle, she opted for surgery. She died on the operating table on July 2, 1963, at the age of 57.
Newsday opened on September 3, 1940, the first edition rife with typographical errors, misplaced captions, and various glitches. During the infancy of her newspaper, Alicia relied heavily upon help from her father’s New York Daily News, hiring veteran editors, and borrowing printing supplies.
However, Alicia staged her first minor victory in 1941, by campaigning against the Nassau Review-Star for custody of legal advertising. Newsday argued that they could provide this service to the public at a lower cost, and that the Nassau Review-Star had for long taken advantage of its readers with its inflated prices. Finally, in 1944, Newsday was legally granted such rights; the young newspaper had gained a hold.
Newsday gained further dominance by supporting the need for cheap, mass-produced American homes to account for the large number of War Veterans returning from World War II. Newsday avidly supported the movement for mass assembly-line housing constructions, known as the Levitt plan. Key editorials and widespread public support encouraged the town board to approve the plan, enabling the construction company, Levitt & Sons, to build what would be known as Levittown.
This marked a large victory for Newsday, in particular for Alicia’s managing editor Alan Hathway, a former editor of her father’s, who served as the key operative in the Newsday Levittown campaign. Alicia recognized Hathway’s journalistic skill, allowing him significant freedoms in his reporting of local politics.
During this period, Alicia’s relationship significantly deteriorated with her father. After his death in 1946, Joseph Medill Patterson did not, as expected, leave any portion of the Daily News to his daughter. He did, however, leave her enough money to attempt to purchase a share of Newsday from her husband. The marriage, now crumbling, revolved significantly around the ownership of the now influential newspaper. Guggenheim responded by offering Alicia only 49 percent of the newspaper, and maintained the majority of the newspaper’s operational control. On more than one occasion, the couple lay on the brink of divorce. However Alicia remained in the marriage for the benefit of the newspaper, and by 1949, Newsday had surpassed the 100,000 circulation mark.
Following this success, managing editor Alan Hathway became the driving force behind Newsday’s investigation of William DeKoning, a corrupt union boss operating throughout the Long Island construction industry. Hathway’s investigation won Newsday its first Pulitzer Prize in 1954, and established a pattern of aggressive investigative reporting.
Alicia Patterson allowed her employees great freedom in their investigatory pursuits; however, she took a personal interest in presidential politics, supporting the presidential campaign of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Alicia herself interviewed Eisenhower in Europe, returning to Newsday to circulate “WE LIKE IKE” buttons. Despite her support for Eisenhower, Alicia maintained a close relationship with his opponent, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, even backing his later presidential run in 1956.
Alicia also supported the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy in 1960, to the disapproval of her husband who supported the Republican Richard Nixon. Often times, opposing editorials from the couple would appear in the same issue of Newsday. After his eventual victory, Alicia requested President Kennedy to close Mitchel Field, a former military airbase that was in works to be converted into a general aviation airport. Though Alicia herself was an avid aviator, she believed the area to be too heavily developed and ultimately unsafe. At her request, President Kennedy closed the field.
Though she was born in Chicago, Alicia Patterson was a strong advocate for the community relations of Long Island, New York. Her influential Newsday remained one of the most popular newspapers of the post-war period of the 1940s. Her support of Veteran housing, her encouragement of aggressive investigatory reporting, and her interest in Presidential politics helped to shape the era of which she was a part. Though one of her greatest disappointments was her father’s lack of interest in her personal career in journalism, Alicia Patterson emerged as a skillful editor and astute businesswoman. Today, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, established in her memory, presents an annual prize to mid-career journalists such as herself.
Throughout her lifetime, she and husband agreed that Newsday should remain a Long Island paper to prevent it from coming into direct competition with her father’s New York Daily News. However after her death and the sale of the newspaper to the Times Mirror Company (which later merged with the Tribune Company) Newsday launched a New York City paper which stood in direct competition with her father’s legacy.
- Chambers, Deborah. 2004. Women and Journalism. Routledge. ISBN 0415274451
- Hamill, Pete. 1998. News Is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345425286
- Stevens, John. 1991. Sensationalism and the New York Press. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231073968
All links retrieved November 14, 2016.
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