Charles Edward Russell

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Charles Edward Russell
Charles E Russell ca1907.jpg
C.E. Russell, c. 1907
Born (1860-09-25)September 25, 1860
Davenport, Iowa
Died April 23, 1941(1941-04-23) (aged 80)
Washington, DC
Occupation Journalist, Writer, Politician, Civil Rights activist
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize, biography, 1928
Relatives Frederick Russell Burnham (first cousin);
Howard Burnham (first cousin)

Charles Edward Russell (September 25, 1860 in Davenport, Iowa – April 23, 1941 in Washington, DC) was an American journalist, opinion columnist, newspaper editor, and political activist. The author of a number of books of biography and social commentary, he won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for The American Orchestra and Theodore Thomas. Russell is also remembered as one of three co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


Early life[edit]

Charles Edward Russell was born in Davenport, Iowa, a transportation center located on the Mississippi River on the far eastern border of the state. His father Edward Russell was editor of the Davenport Gazette, and a noted abolitionist. The Russell family were staunchly religious Christian Evangelicals, with Charles' grandfather a Baptist minister and his father a Sunday school superintendent and a leader of the Iowa Young Men's Christian Association.[1]

Russells attended St. Johnsbury Academy, located in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for his high school education and also worked under his father while at the newspaper.[2]

Russell wrote for the Minneapolis Journal, the Detroit Tribune, the New York World, William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan, and the New York Herald. He was employed as a newspaper writer and editor in New York and Chicago from 1894 to 1902, working successively for the New York World, the New York American, and the Chicago American.[3] In 1912 he appears as one of the editors of The Coming Nation, a socialist newspaper published by J. A. Wayland and Fred D. Warren in Girard, Kansas.[4]

Muckraking journalist[edit]

Russell as drawn by Art Ward in 1912.

In his memoirs Bare Hands and Stone Walls, Russell stated that "transforming the a place where one can know some peace...some joy of living, some sense of the inexhaustible beauties of the universe in which he has been placed", was the purpose that inspired his work and his life. Russell felt very strongly about the well-being of others, after seeing the struggles that people all over New York had to undergo, these struggles included the unfair working conditions and wages in which people from all walks of life were forced to endure. People were placed into cramped working spaces with few, if any breaks. Aside from the physical conditions, most big employers did not value the well-being of their employees, especially the immigrants, with these horrendous mental images in place, Russell became inspired.[5]

Russell was one of a group of journalists at the turn of the 20th century who were called muckrakers. They investigated and reported—not with cold detachment—but with feeling and rage about the horrors of capitalism. the muckraker movement helped to jumpstart numerous reforms that included: prison conditions, railroads, church building conditions and other practices.[5]

In Soldier for the Common Good, an unpublished dissertation on Russell's life, author Donald Bragaw writes: "Historian Louis Filler has called Russell the leader of the muckrakers for contributing 'important studies in almost every field in which they ventured.' Shortly after his hiatus from writing due to the death of his first wife, Russell wrote one of his best books, "The Greatest Trust in the World," exposing the horrific ways of the meatpacking industry.[5]

Russell's reports on the corrupt practices and inhuman conditions at Chicago stock yards were the inspiration for Upton Sinclair's powerful novel The Jungle, which caused a national uproar that led to inspection reforms. Comparable to the writings of Upton Sinclair, Russell's most controversial expose was fixated on the Trinity Church, this report was detrimental to the church's reputation as it accused the church of being one of the leading slum landlords in New York City.

This accusation resulted in the church taking swift action by cleaning up or selling the worst of their properties.[5] After traveling all over the world in investigative journalism, Russell's beliefs about capitalism began to form stronger and stronger, he believed that capitalism itself was quite faulty and that the financial endeavors of the United States that led the economy were corrupt. As his convictions became deeper, Russell recognized that his beliefs were in line with that of the Socialist party, leading him to join in 1908.[5]

NAACP founder[edit]

In 1909 Russell was among 63 inspirational men and women such as Oswald Villard, William Walling, Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jane Addams, and Lillian Wald who worked together to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), formed in the aftermath of a race riot at Springfield, Illinois in August of the previous year.[6] Russell's participation in the founding of the NAACP stemmed from his experiences with violence and racism as a child. One of the most memorable experiences included his father nearly being hanged for simply opposing slavery.[5] Russell served and participated on the board of directors for the NAACP for the remainder of his life.

Socialist politician[edit]

In 1908 Russell joined the Socialist Party of America.[6]

Russell was the Socialist candidate for Governor of New York in 1910 and 1912, and for U.S. Senator from New York in 1914. He also ran for Mayor of New York City. Due to Russell's belief that Germany was an undeniable threat to the U.S., in 1915 he unexpectedly came out in support of President Woodrow Wilson's war "preparedness campaign". This decision painted Russell into a tight corner politically as the majority of the SP's rank and file remained strongly anti-war. Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs believed that Russell's decision to support Wilson's move for rearmament probably cost Russell the party's Presidential nomination in 1916. Later that year, Russell separated from his party, and became a part of a group known as "prowar socialists".[5] While Debs disagreed profoundly with Russell on the issue, he applauded him for the courage of his convictions.[7]

Russell would ultimately be expelled from the Socialist Party in 1917 over his support of American intervention in the First World War.[6]

The Root mission to Russia[edit]

Charles Edward Russell with other members of the United States diplomatic mission sent to Russia in 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson.

Aligning himself with Upton Sinclair, among others on the right wing of the party, Russell continued to agitate for "responsible...Marxian" positions inside the Socialist Party through 1917.[8]

After the February Revolution, Russell was named by Woodrow Wilson to join a mission led by Elihu Root intended to keep the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky in the war. The mission report recommended that George Creel's Committee on Public Information conduct pro-war propaganda efforts in Russia. Russell personally lobbied Wilson to use the relatively new medium of film to influence the Russian public.[9] Wilson was receptive and the Committee on Public Information subsequently developed film and distribution networks in Russia over the next few months.[10] Russell appears as himself in the 1917 film The Fall of the Romanoffs, directed by Herbert Brenon, which may have been a product of these efforts.[11]

Participation on the Root Mission was effectively a burning of bridges with the Socialist Party, which remained solidly opposed to the European war. Russell left the Socialist Party to join the Social Democratic League of America. He also worked with the AFL to help found the patriotic American Alliance for Labor and Democracy, an organization which agitated on behalf of American participation in the war among the country's workers.[12]

Later years[edit]

Russell subsequently became an editorial writer for social democratic magazine The New Leader.[13]

Death and legacy[edit]

C.E. Russell died on April 23, 1941 in Washington, DC at age 80.

Russell's papers are housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.[14]

Russell's first cousin was Frederick Russell Burnham, who became a celebrated scout and the inspiration for the boy scouts.[15]


Books and pamphlets[edit]

Charles E. Russell

Selected articles[edit]

  • "The Clergyman's Daughter," Waverly, March 1897, pg. 48.
  • "The Greatest of World’s Fairs," Munsey's, Nov. 1900, pp. 161–184.
  • "The Story of the Nineteenth Century," Munsey's, Jan. 1901, pp. 551–559.
  • "Are There Two Rudyard Kiplings?" Cosmopolitan, Oct. 1901, pp. 653–660.
  • "William Randolph Hearst," Harper's Weekly, pp. 790–792.
  • "Marshall Field, A Great Commercial Genius," Everybody's Magazine, March 1906, pp. 291–302.
  • "Mr. Hearst As I Knew Him," Ridgway's, Oct. 1906, pp. 279–291.
  • "Caste — The Curse of India," Cosmopolitan, Dec. 1906, pp. 124–135.
  • "The Growth of Caste in America," Cosmopolitan, March 1907, pp. 524–534.
  • "The Haymarket and Afterwards," Appleton's, Oct. 1907, pp. 399–412.
  • "Tenements of Trinity Church," Everybody's Magazine, June 1908, pp. 47–57.
  • "The Growing Menace of Socialism," Hampton's, Jan. 1909, pp. 119–126.
  • "Robert Marion La Follette". Human Life, July 1909, pp. 7–8, 24.
  • "The Press and the Public" La Follette's Magazine, June 4, 1910, pp. 7-8.
  • "The Remedy of the Law," Hampton's, Aug. 1910, pp. 217–230.
  • "Railroad Revolution," Pearson's Magazine, Feb. to May, 1913.
  • "The Keeping of the Kept Press," Pearson's Magazine, Jan. 1914, pp. 33–43.
  • "How Business Controls News," Pearson's Magazine, May 1914, pp. 546–557.
  • "The Revolt of the Farmers: A Lesson in Constructive Radicalism," Pearson's Magazine, April 1915, pp. 417–427.
  • "Why England Falls Down," Pearson's Magazine, Aug. 1915, pp. 201–219.
  • "The New Socialist Alignment," Harper's Magazine, March 1918, pp. 563–570.
  • "Radical Press in America," Bookman, July 1919, pp. 513–518.
  • "Collective Bargaining in the President's First Industrial Conference," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 90 (July 1920), pp. 68–69.
  • "About a 'Tolerable Autocracy,'" Young India, Aug. 1920.
  • "Is Woman Suffrage a Failure?" The Century, March 1924, pp. 724–730.
  • "Take Them or Leave Them," The Century, June 1926.
  • "An Old Reporter Looks at the Mad-House World," Scribner's Magazine, Oct. 1933, pp. 225–230.
  • "Toward the American Commonwealth: Social Democracy: Constant Gradualism as the Technique for Social Advance," Social Frontier, Oct. 1938, pp. 22–24.


Russell played himself in the 1917 film The Fall of the Romanoffs, a dramatization of the Russian revolution and the influence of Rasputin on the Russian royal family.[16]


  1. ^ Robert Miraldi, The Pen is Mightier: The Muckraking Life of Charles Edward Russell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003; pg. 23.
  2. ^ Lloyd J. Graybar, "Charles Edward Russell" in John D. Buenker and Edward R. Kantowicz (eds.), Historical Dictionary of the Progressive Era, 1890-1920. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988; pg. 411.
  3. ^ Lloyd J. Graybar, "Charles Edward Russell," pp. 411-412.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Robert Miraldi, "Charles Edward Russell," National Biography Online.
  6. ^ a b c Lloyd J. Graybar, "Charles Edward Russell," pg. 412.
  7. ^ Eugene V. Debs, "Russell and his War Views," Letter to the Editor of The American Socialist, [Chicago], v. 2, no. 29, whole no. 169 (January 29, 1916), p. 4.
  8. ^ W.J. Ghent, et al., "Democratic Defense: A Practical Program for Socialism," Socialist Party Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 2 (March 1917), pg. 14.
  9. ^ James D. Startt, "American Film Propaganda in Revolutionary Russia," Prologue magazine, vol. 30, no. 3 (Fall 1998). See also: "Motion-Picture Publicity: It's Relation to Aiding the Work of the Industrial Commission Which Has Been Sent to Russia," June 17, 1917. Charles Edward Russell Papers, Box 7. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
  10. ^ George Creel, "Plans for American Cooperation to Preserve and Strengthen the Morale of the Civil Population of Russia," enclosed in Creel to Woodrow Wilson, June [Aug.] 20, 1917. Published in Arthur S. Link (ed.), The Papers of Woodrow Wilson: Volume 42: April 7-June 23, 1917. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983; pg. 463.
  11. ^ Charles Edward Russell on IMDb
  12. ^ Max Shachtman, "The Second International in the War," New International, vol. 1, no. 2 (Aug. 1934), pp. 43-47.
  13. ^ Max Shachtman and James Burnham, "Intellectuals in Retreat III: The Actual Program," New International, vol. 5, no. 1 (Jan. 1939), pp. 3-22.
  14. ^ Miraldi, The Pen is Mightier, pg. ix.
  15. ^ Frederick Russell Burnham, Scouting on Two Continents. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1926; pg. 2 and passim.
  16. ^ The Fall of the Romanoffs on IMDb

Further reading[edit]

  • Barrett, James R. (2002). Work and Community in the Jungle: Chicago's Packinghouse Workers, 1894–1922. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. 
  • Merriam, Charles E. (1919). "American Publicity in Italy". American Political Science Review. 13 (4): 541–555. 
  • Miraldi, Robert (2003). The Pen is Mightier: The Muckraking Life of Charles Edward Russell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 
  • Ruotsila, Markku (2006). "Neoconservatism Prefigured: The Social Democratic League of America and the Anticommunists of the Anglo-American Right, 1917–21". Journal of American Studies. 40 (2): 327–345. JSTOR 27557795. 
  • Schultz, Stanley K. (1965). "The Morality of Politics: The Muckrakers' Vision of Democracy". Journal of American History. 52 (3): 527–547. JSTOR 1890846. 
  • Thompson, J. A. (1971). "American Progressive Publicists and the First World War, 1914–1917". Journal of American History. 58 (2): 364–383. JSTOR 1917605. 

External links[edit]