Skip to main content
Select Source:

David Graham Phillips

David Graham Phillips

The interests of David Graham Phillips (1867-1911), American journalist and novelist, ranged from the plight of women to corruption in Congress.

David Graham Phillips was born on Oct. 31, 1867, in Madison, Ind. During his happy and comfortable childhood he developed especially close ties to his older sister Carolyn. After high school Phillips entered Asbury (DePauw) University, where he roomed with the future U.S. senator Albert J. Beveridge, a man whom Phillips considered a symbol of the success that can come from hard work. When Beveridge graduated, Phillips went to Princeton, where he received a degree in 1887.

After college Phillips began working on the staff of the Cincinnati Times-Star. He wrote for a succession of newspapers, culminating his newspaper career as editorial writer for the New York World. His first novel, The Great God Success (1901), published under the pseudonym John Graham, won acclaim from popular critics and encouraged him to leave the World in 1902 to devote himself to "serious" writing. From then on he worked long hours on a regular daily schedule, writing 22 more novels, a play, and a series of essays.

Many of Phillips's novels employ journalistic techniques to examine the "hidden" story behind a dramatic situation, but this often results in pasteboard characterizations. He was interested in a variety of social problems. In The Second Generation (1907) he contrasts the evils of inherited wealth with the virtues of the working class. The Plum Tree (1905), Light Fingered Gentry (1907), and The Conflict (1911) consider the corruption of power and money that accompanied the rise of American democracy. He dealt with the social and economic situation of women in Old Wives for New (1908), The Hungry Heart (1909), The Price She Paid (1912), and his best-known novel, Susan Lenox (1917), the story of the rise to success of an illegitimate country girl turned prostitute.

Phillips's essays exposing corruption and greed in Congress, "The Treason of the Senate" (1906), appeared in Cosmopolitan and immediately brought reactions from men in power. His work was called sensational and distorted, and he acquired the title of muckraker. But he had little taste for bucking public opinion and so returned to fiction.

On Jan. 23, 1911, Phillips was shot by a mentally ill violinist who believed that Phillips's novel The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig (1909) had libelously portrayed his family. Phillips died the next day. His sister Carolyn, with whom he had lived for years, prepared his last works for posthumous publication.

Further Reading

Abe C. Ravitz, David Graham Phillips (1966), is biographical and evaluative. Kenneth S. Lynn's excellent The Dream of Success: A Study of the Modern American Imagination (1955) contains a chapter on Phillips. Isaac F. Marcosson, David Graham Phillips and His Times (1932), remains useful for its account of Phillips's journalistic work. Louis Filler, Crusaders for American Liberalism (1939), describes the whole muckraking movement.

Additional Sources

Filler, Louis, Voice of the democracy: a critical biography of David Graham Phillips, journalist, novelist, progressive, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"David Graham Phillips." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"David Graham Phillips." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/david-graham-phillips

"David Graham Phillips." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/david-graham-phillips

Phillips, David Graham

David Graham Phillips, 1867–1911, American writer, b. Madison, Ind., grad. College of New Jersey (now Princeton), 1887. He worked as a newspaper reporter in Cincinnati and New York City, rising to editorial rank on the New York World, for which he wrote until 1902. Phillips became noted as a muckraker and was famous as the author of a series of sensational articles exposing corruption in the U.S. Senate that appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine (1906). He also wrote articles for the Saturday Evening Post and other journals of the period. Phillips's novels, powerful although often crude, deal with corruptive influences in society and general social problems, such as the status of women. Among them are The Great God Success (1901), The Conflict (1911), and Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (1917). Phillips was murdered by a young musician who accused him of having cast literary slurs on his family.

See study by A. C. Ravitz (1966); I. F. Marcosson, David Graham Phillips and His Times (1932).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Phillips, David Graham." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Phillips, David Graham." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/phillips-david-graham

"Phillips, David Graham." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/phillips-david-graham