Chicago has a deep-rooted heritage of literary organizations and The Society of Midland Authors is one the most prestigious. The organization was founded by Hamlin Garland, poet Harriet Monroe, Clarence Darrow, George Ade, Edna Ferber and others on April 24, 1915 and Hobart Chatfield-Taylor was elected as its first president. The illustrious event was noted in the January 1 to June 30, 1915 issue of The Dial. At the time, neither Chicago nor the Society was taken very seriously in Eastern literary circles, but the author of the letter to the magazine was a resident and supporter of Chicago's offerings:
An Ancient Journalistic Jest
(To the Editor of The Dial.)
It has long been the fashion of the Eastern press to make the word Chicago synonymous with pork, wheat, and wind, and to refuse to admit the possibility of culture. I have sometimes wondered how far this convention is due to the Chicago daily newspapers themselves.
Recently a serious association of writers, the Society of Midland Authors, completed its organization in this city. Its founders were Messrs. Hamlin Garland, H. C. Chatfield-Taylor, William Allen White, Emerson Hough, and others equally prominent, and its roll contains the names of nearly all the well-known writers in the Middle West. The morning after the meeting one of our leading dailies gave the new society a column with the heading, "Thrill Spillers Feast and Play: Stuff Selling Well." The article began with the ancient jest reclothed in the following form: "Chicago, the city of wheat corners and meat trusts, witnessed another naughty combine when twenty-six authors wiggled their fingers at the Sherman anti-trust law and corraled all of the divine afflatus," etc.
Probably an article written in just this vein could not have appeared in a reputable newspaper of any other American city large enough to form the headquarters of such an organization. It is not an isolated case, but has been repeated in one form or another in the news columns of nearly all of the Chicago dailies when the subject of authorship is approached. I do not refer to the review columns; they are for the most part admirably managed, and are, on the whole, the equal of any in the country.
It is not to be supposed that the authors themselves take these good-natured slaps with great seriousness. They may smile rather wearily at the antiquity of the jest, and let it pass. But the newspapers that assume this attitude toward literature arc giving color to the laugh that has always been raised in the East against Chicago culture. If the Chicago dailies are to be regarded as the makers of public opinion, they should take different ground than this; if they are to be considered as the reflex of public opinion, they should have some regard for the increasingly large number of citizens who wish to see Chicago freed from its ancient stigma.
There are some who hope that the time is coming when the men and women who write books will not be regarded by our city press as a subject only for merriment.
Walter Taylor Field (1861-1939)
Chicago, April 28,1915.
Walter Taylor Field was a Chicago author himself and, no doubt, was a member of the Society. He is known for his children's readers such as The Young and Field Literary Readers: A Primer and First Reader (1916)and The Field First Reader (1921) among others.
Note: In a few weeks I will be returning to DePaul University to - finally - complete a long over due Bachelor's degree. I have enrolled in a class titled, "Chicago Authors." It is being taught by a former president of the Society. As Charlie Brown would say, "Oh good grief!"
Did I mention that Carl Sandburg and Jane Addams were members at one time?
The Society of Midland Authors