Patterson Family Papers 1852-1953

Identity elements

Reference code

US ILfC SC/013

Level of description



Patterson Family Papers 1852-1953




Name of creator

Biographical history

Joseph Medill Patterson (1879-1946) was the grandson of both Chicago Tribune publisher Joseph Medill and the Rev. Robert W. Patterson, long-time pastor of Chicago's Second Presbyterian Church and a founder of Lake Forest, Illinois and of educational institutions now known as Lake Forest College and Lake Foreest Academy.

Patterson attended Groton with his cousin Berty McCormick and Yale, and then both returned to Chicago by ca. 1900 and engaged in civic affairs, Patterson adopting Socialism as a cause for equalizing economic distribution while Berty led the committee that built Chicago's Sanitary canal, reversing the flow of the Chicago River to the Mississippi River system. Patterson also wrote articles on his reformist views, attacking treatment of department store women workers (his father in law was affiliated with Marshall Field & Co.), and by 1906 pointing out the enormity of Marshall Field's will. By 1908 he was publishing a novel, Little Brother of the Rich, in the same vein, while living with his growing family on a farm west of Lake Forest (now Vernon Hills), with his spouse Alice Higinbotham Patterson. His writing on early film (Saturday Evening Post, 1907) is among the earliest critical efforts on the medium. He wrote one-act and full-length plays, the Fifth Estate being one of the latter. H.L. Menchen in 1917 listed him among the writers of Chicago Literary Renaissance.

Medill had two daughters, one of whom (Elinor) married Robert W. Patterson, Jr., who became after Medill's death publisher of the Chicago Tribune. When the younger Patterson died in 1910, J. M. Patterson and his cousin, Robert R.(Berty) McCormick (a son of the other Medill daughter), took over directing the Tribune Company. They split the duties (one on one month, and the other the next, etc.). Patterson also went off on reporting trips (Pancho Villa, 1915, war-town western Europe in 1915, etc.)., and then both served in the U.S. Army after this country entered the hostilities formally in April 1917.

Returning in 1919 J. M. Patterson had been taken with the idea of the tabloid paper in London, created by Lord Beaverbrook, and the two decided that Patterson should go to New York to launch the new venture.

By 1930 Patterson was living on a new estate in Ossining, NY, on the Hudson, having separated informally from his spouse. Until then he went back and forth from Chicago to New York.

Starting in the 1910s Patterson was a pioneer in the creation of newspaper comic strips. He nurtured the creators, critiqued their work, etc. His own earlier literary and dramatic work helped him understand communicating with an audience to convey a story or story line.

Patterson worked to distribute the strips by the Tribune Syndicate, and they became major forces for selling newspapers in a highly competitive, even cut-throat, field at that time. This sub-collection documents some of rich participation in a major American genre that was a precursor of later innovations.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

The Patterson Family Papers consists of newspaper clippings; Joseph Medill Patterson's research notes about the Patterson family; obituaries; and photographs of members of the Patterson family, the staff of the Chicago Tribune, and World War I. The collection also contains a number of correspondences (type and handwritten letters, telegraphs, and typescripts) between members of the Patterson family. Of note is the large number of letters sent from Joseph Medill Patterson to his mother, Elinor Patterson (née Medill), while he was attending the Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts, dated 1891-1893. These letters discuss his day-to-day doings, make frequent mention of his homesickness and desire to leave the school, and show the extremely tight-knit relationship Patterson had with his mother. The entire collection spans a range of dates from 1825 to 1953.

System of arrangement

The Patterson Family Papers Collection has been divided into three distinct series, and each folder in Series 1 and Series 2 have been arranged chronologically:

Series 1 contains correspondences and newspaper clippings (1886-1953).

Series 2 contains scrapbooks of newspaper clippings (1905-1914).

Series 3 contains photographs (1852-circa 1940s).

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Languages of the material

  • English

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    Related archival materials

    Joseph Medill Patterson Papers

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