Leaving an Endowment

As his ability to watchdog over his paper declined during the 1890s, Pulitzer began to look for ways to ensure his work would be reflected in the future. In 1892, he approached Seth Low, President of Columbia University, with a plan for a school of journalism. Low presented the plan to the school's trustees, but they declined Pulitzer's money.

J.P.'s Chatwold estate.
J.P.'s Chatwold estate.
In the summer of 1902 at his expansive Chatwold estate in Bar Harbor, Maine, Pulitzer dictated a rough plan for endowing a school of journalism to Columbia University. "My idea," he stated, "is to recognize that journalism is, or ought to be, one of the great and intellectual professions. . . ." 48  That year, he re-opened negotiations with the school, which had appointed a new president in the interim. Nicolas Murray Butler received the plan more warmly, even though he must have worried that a journalism school would adversely affect Columbia's reputation.

Pulitzer's 1902 outline for the journalism school included a provision for "annual prizes to particular journalists or writers for various accomplishments, achievements, and forms of excellence." 49  He realized in 1904 that he would put off the execution of his plan until after his death to avoid squabbling over details with Butler, whose strong will matched his own. Pulitzer also decided that the prizes would not be awarded until the journalism school was up and running successfully for three years. Thus, the Columbia School of Journalism opened in 1912, one year following the death of its benefactor. The first prizes were awarded in 1917.

Pulitzer's belief in a newspaper's independence has been reflected in his prize ever since. Seventy-six of the awards in journalism have gone to articles which exposed government graft and corruption, and articles on civil liberties abuses have garnered thirty-six awards. 50 

J.P. walks with his son Ralph in New York.
J.P. walks with his son Ralph in
New York.

A typical award-winning article contains the classic elements of a World crusade. It is fascinating, it educates readers and, most of all, it is a scoop. 51  It exemplifies the type of news reporting Pulitzer loved. "I hate the idea of passing away known only as the proprietor of a paper," the publisher wrote to his doctor and personal friend, George Hosmer. 52 

No one would have forgotten the man who revolutionized the newspaper industry at the turn of the century, regardless of what he endowed. But Pulitzer, who had bought and sold so many newspapers to get his start in St. Louis, knew that he had staked his claim in a transient business. His will put his son, Ralph, in charge of the World. By 1931, the newspaper was bought by the Scripps-Howard chain and turned into the World-Telegram. The formidable World building, which at the time of its construction had been the tallest structure in New York, was razed in 1955 to make room for a new approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. 53 

The Post-Dispatch, which Pulitzer had tried to sell so many times, has lasted to the present day. Friends in St. Louis approached possible buyers in his stead as early as 1885. Charles Gibson wrote, "I had a business talk yesterday with [George W.] Fishback concerning the purchase of the Post-Dispatch . . . . I said it was useless to talk to you about any price less than $500,000." 54  Pulitzer's son, Joseph, served as an able proprietor of the Post-Dispatch following his father's death. The newspaper, the Pulitzer Prize and the Columbia School of Journalism reflect the values of the man who wrote the words, "Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy" on the newsroom wall.