Joplin’s Pulitzer Prize Winning Baseball Player

“A great gentleman, a great writer, has gone.”  So concluded an obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of the journalist Bart Howard.  Among the many newspaper writers to pass through Joplin on the staffs of the News Herald and the Globe, Howard is among the most prominent.

Bart Howard was born in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1871.  As a boy he walked the privileged halls of Phillips Exeter Academy.  He attended Williams College where he excelled at athletics.  Howard did not graduate from the school, but left early after upsetting the faculty with a paper which mocked certain giants of Greek history.  From New England Howard eventually made his way to Joplin around 1901 and found a job with the News Herald.  He initially provided coverage of Joplin’s triumphs and failures in the Missouri Valley baseball league.  Howard had developed a love for the game in college, and briefly played professionally as a left handed second baseman as a means to supplement the meager income of a young journalist.

Howard did not remain merely a sports writer, but expanded to general news coverage.  After a few years, the talented journalist was noticed by the owners of the Globe and they hired Howard away from their competitor and placed him on the editorial staff of the Globe.  At the Globe, Howard rose to the position of managing editor, and oversaw Ben H. Reese, later a managing editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Wesley Winans Stout, later an editor of the Saturday Evening Post.  It was also during his time in Joplin that Howard met and married Ann Picher, of the mining company Pichers.

For a number of years Howard worked at the Joplin Globe until once again his ability was noticed and this time hired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  In the Gateway City, he worked as a journalist before a brief return to Joplin, then found work in Columbus, Ohio and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Ultimately, Howard returned to St. Louis and the Post-Dispatch and became an editorial writer.  It was in this capacity that Howard won the Pulitzer Prize in May, 1940 for a series of four editorials entitled, “Europe’s Emperor,” “After the Battle,” “The Golden Age,” and “The Kingdom of Democracy.”  Not long after his win, Williams College opted to make their former student a Doctor of Humane Letters.

Howard was unable to enjoy his laurels.  On February 12, 1941, he collapsed at lunchtime, dead of a heart attack.  The Globe made sure to note the passage of its one time editor, a man who had traded the plush and privileged world of Massachusetts for the rough and tumble streets of Joplin.  Howard may have also been one of the few professional baseball players to ever win the coveted Pulitzer.  The Post-Dispatch printed summaries of the four editorials which had won Howard his great literary prize, and wrote lovingly of its former writer.  An editorial by the paper said of Howard’s writings:

“Behind his writings was, above all, a great and passionate love for humanity and for justice.  It was a humanitarian sense, a warm affection for all his fellows, that embraced their every activity.  He could breathe righteous indignation into his pages of copy paper, when oppression or intolerance or corruption came into the news.  The leavening shaft of humor served to debunk the pretensions of the pompous, or to reduce a raging controversy to its proper teapot proportions, but Bart Howard had a flaming sword in that typewriter when there were wrongs to oppose.”

The Post-Dispatch, as noted above, then concluded, “A great gentleman, a great writer, has gone.”

Sources: Missouri Digital Heritage, St. Louis Post Dispatch, and Joplin Daily Globe.

The Joplin American

Joplin is home to Thomas Hart Benton’s gorgeous mural, “Joplin at the Turn of the Century.” It’s rare to find someone in Joplin, or even the Tri-State region, who does not know of Benton’s affiliation with Joplin. Born April 15, 1889 in Neosho, Missouri, he spent his youth in Southwest Missouri. As a young man in his late teens, he arrived in Joplin and soon found work as a cartoonist at the Joplin American newspaper. Unfortunately for Benton, the Joplin American was a short lived enterprise. Financed by A.H. Rogers, the founder of the Southwest Missouri Railway, the paper folded. It later moved to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, where it continued on under a different name.

 Although his motives are unclear, Rogers, a Republican, most likely wanted to create a paper to counter his Democratic rival, Gilbert Barbee, who controlled the Joplin Globe. The two were political and business foes until Rogers quietly purchased the Joplin Globe out from under Barbee’s in 1910, silencing his rival for a short time. Barbee, never one to rest on his laurels, tried to launch a second paper after he lost the Globe. His second paper, the Joplin Morning Tribune, ran from 1911-1913, and often made sharp jabs at Rogers and the Globe.

However, the heyday of Barbee’s political and journalistic power was over. The Morning Tribune was shut down and Barbee went into retirement, spending time at health resorts across the country, and only periodically returning to Joplin. Upon his death in 1924, he left a generous bequest to the citizens of Joplin.

Today the name Gilbert Barbee is little remembered, save for his time as owner of both the Joplin Globe and the House of Lords, but he may have helped spark the birth of a short-lived newspaper that employed an aspiring artist who went on to become one of Missouri’s most famous sons. Ironically, no issues of the Joplin American newspaper are known to exist, but should you know of one – let us know.

Alice Frances Britten, Globe Newsgirl

Although we often look back nostalgically on the days of the newsboy, there were also newsgirls, although it “was a department of activity not often invaded by girl folks.” Alice Frances Britten, an eleven-year-old newsgirl, was a welcome sight to the miners who lived in the Castle Rock and Brickyard Crossing neighborhoods of Joplin.  The sprightly young girl, who was described as having bright blue eyes, met the “early morning electric car from Joplin at the crossing between Midway Park and Oakland” to pick up her bundle of papers which she then carried to the homes of “the miners and gardeners of the region.”

Alice Bitten, Joplin Globe newsgirl

A sketch of Alice Britten

Originally from Texas, Britten came to Joplin where she “endured the restraint of city life, and as a result was not strong and rugged a year ago when she first undertook the task of representing The Globe in the Brickyard Crossing neighborhood.” But after a year of delivering the paper in sun, sleet, and snow, she radiated health and vitality.

Her meager earnings were deposited in a savings account “of no mean or inconsiderable proportions” which added “zest and incentive to the long and sometimes tiresome tramp over the narrow and difficult trails of the hill country.” Miners made sure to pay her for their subscriptions which was not always the case of the intercity newsboy who often got ripped off by customers.  She even delivered papers when not attending the Range School where she “fought out the difficult problems of the multiplication table and the nominative case.”

The Globe observed, “It has been said that heaven lies about us in our childhood, and surely this mythical land comes very near the Globe’s ‘girl newsboy’ as she communes with Nature during these bright spring mornings.”

Four years later in 1910, Alice F.  Britten was living on Royal Heights Road in Jasper County, Missouri, with her parents and siblings.  Her father, William, was a building contractor for mining companies, as were her three brothers.  Her mother, Ida, listed her occupation as a farmer, while her sister, Nora, taught school.  Alice, however, did not have an occupation listed.

In July, 1913, Alice Britten married James Higgins in Jasper County, Missouri, and disappears from the historical record.  No matter where Alice ended up, she surely never forgot her time as a young newsgirl, carrying the Globe to the rough and tumble mining neighborhoods where she was warmly greeted.

Source: The Joplin Globe

The 59 Year Old Newsboy They Called Dad.

On a March day in 1919, a white-haired mustached old man strode into the offices of the Joplin Globe and inquired about a position as a newsboy.  In addition to his age, the right sleeve of his jacket hung limp, his arm had been amputated many years ago.  His name was John Connell and he got the job.

John "Dad" Connell, 59 year old newspaper boy for the Joplin Globe

John "Dad" Connell, pictured here after his return to Joplin in 1919.

Life had not been kind to John Connell.  The son of Irish immigrants, he fell from a tree and broke his arm when he was eight. His father, a wealthy man, hired a physician but money was not enough to save John’s arm. It became infected, the flesh of his arm died, and had to be amputated.  When his parents passed away, Connell received an inheritance of $10,000.  Flush with cash, he operated his own business and soon married.  Life might have been a happy one, but it was not long after that his wife fell ill.  Physicians said an operation would save her, but she died in a hospital after complications from surgery.

Widowed and with his business in shambles, he moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Cleveland, but fared no better there.  His savings were soon depleted. John sought work but few businesses would hire a one-armed man. A position as a restaurant cashier was the best he could find, and such positions he held until he was hired by a Chicago portrait company to hit the road as a canvasser. And so, Fate, which had long been cruel to John Connell directed his path to Joplin.  There, Connell realized he could make more money selling the Joplin Globe than as a canvasser, and convinced the newspaper to hire a one-armed 46 year old man to join the ranks of “newsies.”

Success came quickly.  Not only did Connell excel at selling newspapers; he earned the admiration and love of his fellow newspaper boys.  Such was his success in what he called “the game,” that Connell believed he could make even more money in a big city like San Francisco. Connell departed for bigger cities and hopefully bigger fortunes.  In the larger cities and more competitive markets, he soon discovered that money was not as easily made and he bounced around the West and South, from places like Los Angeles, Denver, and New Orleans.

For thirteen years, Connell traveled the country, but never found a city like Joplin.  He returned to the city and promptly applied for the position he had left so many years ago.  Perhaps wary at first of the grandfatherly figure that joined their ranks, the newsboys soon extended affection to Connell.  He became their mediator in disputes over who had a right to a certain “corner.” Connell also dispensed advice that only a fifty-nine year old man had to young boys who grew up on the streets hawking papers. Every night at 1 a.m., Connell awoke and collected the Globe’s 2 a.m. edition to sell to workers coming off the night shift, and then later sold a later edition at 11 am.  The 1920 Federal Census found him a year older and his profession described as “newspaper distributor.”  He may have been a 60 year old one-armed newspaper boy, but Connell earned the respect of the young men he worked with and upon him they bestowed the fond sobriquet, “Dad.”

Sources: The Joplin Globe, 1920 Federal Census