Bonsal, Stephen 1865-1950

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BONSAL, Stephen 1865-1950

PERSONAL: Born March 29, 1865, in Baltimore, MD; died June 8, 1950; son of Stephen (a shipping executive) and Frances (Leigh) Bonsal; married Henrietta Morris, 1900; children: Stephen, Philip, Dudley, Richard. Education: Audited courses at universities in Heidelberg and Vienna. Hobbies and other interests: Riding, fencing.

CAREER: Journalist and civil servant. New York Herald, New York, NY, reporter, then foreign correspondent, beginning 1887. Member of U.S. Diplomatic Corps, 1893. Secretary to governor-general of the Philippines, 1913-14; American-Mexican Commission, adviser, 1916; adviser on Baltic affairs. Wartime service: Served United States in France during World War I.

AWARDS, HONORS: Pulitzer Prize in history, 1945, for Unfinished Business.


Morocco as It Is, W. H. Allen (London, England), 1894.

The Real Condition of Cuba Today, Harper (New York, NY), 1897.

The Fight for Santiago: The Story of the Soldier in the Cuban Campaign, Doubleday & McClure (New York, NY), 1899.

The Golden Horseshoe, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1906.

The American Mediterranean, Moffat, Yard (New York, NY), 1912.

Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Putnam (New York, NY), 1912.

Heyday in a Vanished World, Norton (New York, NY), 1937.

Unfinished Business, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1944.

When the French Were Here, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1945, reprinted, Kennikat Press, 1968.

Suitors and Supplicants, Prentice-Hall (New York, NY), 1946, reprinted, Kennikat Press, 1969.

The Cause of Liberty, M. Joseph (London, England), 1947.

SIDELIGHTS: Stephen Bonsal entered the journalism trade in an unconventional way—he chose the newspaper business to make money after losing much of his family fortune on a horse race. His decision would be a well-considered one, however, as Bonsal became one of the most well-regarded news writers of his generation.

Born to a shipping executive and his wife in Baltimore, Bonsal attended schools both in the United States and abroad. After "coming a cropper with a mare," as he put it, Bonsal considered joining the Foreign Legion, but settled on writing instead. Despite his lack of practical experience, the young man became a persistent presence at the New York Herald, and conspired to secure a reporting job by submitting stories. One such dispatch—about a Latin-American president escaping from a revolt of his people—caught the attention of the Herald's owner, who sent Bonsal to London as a correspondent. There the reporter mingled with prime ministers, prizefighters and other notables.

Bonsal's forte was in breaking news. In 1888 he was assigned to cover the Balkans, "to be on hand whenever and wherever anything happens," as he later recalled. Something did happen—and Bonsal was among the first to report on the racial, political, and religious conflicts that turned the Balkans into one of the world's most intensely watched hotspots. He notably reported on Turkish atrocities in Macedonia around 1890.

Disputes over salary brought Bonsal into disfavor with Herald management, who ordered him back to New York and placed him as a three-dollar-a-day "emergency man" at the city desk. That demotion was enough to end the reporter's tenure at the newspaper. He left in 1893 to serve in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, acting as secretary and charge d'affaires in Madrid, Peking and Tokyo. Reconciliation with the Herald occurred in time for Bonsal to file stories from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and the Spanish-American War. Bonsal covered several more global events in the years leading to World War I, and wrote several books during that period.

When the United States entered World War I Bonsal, a commissioned major, joined the American Expeditionary Forces in France, helping direct propaganda to weaken the morale of the Central Powers troops. Following Armistice he parlayed his international expertise into a post as adviser on Balkan affairs. Over the next several years Bonsal contributed articles to periodicals. He published a memoir of his early days as a reporter in the 1937 book Heyday in a Vanished World. Then in 1944 he published Unfinished Business, the book that would win Bonsal a Pulitzer Prize.

This diary of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was a first in its field, as Bonsal was virtually the only writer with access to the discussions of President Woodrow Wilson and his top advisers. Published as it was during the height of World War II, Unfinished Business was greeted as a well-timed reminder of the waning days of the previous conflict. In fact, "a more timely book than this could hardly be imagined," wrote Atlantic reviewer Allan Nevins. "This intimate and revealing impression of events in 1919 contains valuable sections of Vienna and Southeastern Europe, on war-ravaged Berlin, and on Washington, but its most striking pages describe what went on behind closed doors in Paris."

Bonsal's words "are those of an observer at the spot, unchanged by the perspective of the intervening years and the lessons of recent experiences," said Hans Kohn in the New York Times, who found that Unfinished Business benefits "not only in authenticity but also in weight. It is published now because the problems of that day are the problems of today. World War II is only a continuation of World War I, of business left unfinished then."

Bonsal published another book on the Paris Peace Conference—Suitors and Supplicants—and into his later years remained active in movements for world peace. On his death at age eighty-six the journalist was remembered by his peer, Arthur Krock, as a man who "would have prepared the people of the United States for what has happened to the world if they had heeded the signs he steadily pointed out to them for fifty years."



Bonsal, Stephen, Heyday in a Vanished World, Norton (New York, NY), 1937.


American History Review, July, 1944.

Atlantic, April, 1944, Allan Nevins, review of Unfinished Business.

Commonweal, March 3, 1944.

New Yorker, February 19, 1944.

New York Times, February 20, 1944, Hans Kohn, review of Unfinished Business; July 15 1945.

Saturday Review of Literature, June 16, 1945.



New York Times, June 9, 1951; June 12, 1951.*