Scott, Harvey W(hitefield) 1838-1910

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SCOTT, Harvey W(hitefield) 1838-1910


Born February 1, 1838, near Peoria, IL; died August 7, 1910, in Baltimore, MD; son of John Tucker (a farmer) and Anne (Roelofson) Scott; married Elizabeth Nicklin, 1865 (died); married Margaret McChesney, 1876; children: (first marriage) two sons; (second marriage) three children. Education: Pacific University, B.A. (first degree ever awarded), 1863.


Worked a variety of jobs to put himself through school, including woodcutting, team driving, and school teaching; Portland Oregonian (newspaper), editor, 1865-1910, owner from 1877; collector of customs in Portland, 1872-77; director of Associated Press, 1900-10. Military service: Washington Territory Volunteers, 1855-56, fought in the Yakima War.


Oregon Historical Society (president, 1898-1901); Lewis and Clark Exposition (president, 1903-04)


History of Portland, Oregon, D. Mason (Syracuse, NY), 1890.

Religion, Theology, and Morals, 2 volumes, compiled by Leslie M. Scott, Riverside Press (Cambridge, MD), 1917.

History of the Oregon Country (newspaper articles), 6 volumes, compiled by Leslie M. Scott, Riverside Press (Cambridge, MD), 1924.

Shakespeare (newspaper articles), compiled by Leslie M. Scott, Riverside Press (Cambridge, MD), 1928.


Harvey W. Scott was the most powerful newspaper owner and editorialist on the West Coast during the forty-five years he oversaw publication of the Portland Oregonian, from 1865 until his death in 1910. A lifelong habit of wide and voracious reading, together with a dedication to educating the pioneers of Oregon in matters of literature, religion, ethics, and history informed Scott's strongly opinionated daily editorials. Among his accomplishments is counted the transformation of Oregon from a Democratic into a predominantly Republican state; his editorials also championed the gold standard, opposed suffrage for blacks and women, fought the organization of labor and protective legislation for workers, and argued against the legal prohibition of alcohol.

Scott was one of nine children born in rural Illinois to farmers who valued the written word and encouraged their children to keep diaries. In 1852, the Scott family made the arduous journey west along the Oregon Trail, losing one of the children and Scott's mother to death along the way. They cleared land for a farm in the Willamette Valley of Oregon then moved to Puget Sound, Washington, in 1854, where another farm was established. Harvey Scott helped his father clear land, plant and harvest crops, and went to school in his spare time. For eight months, at the age of seventeen, he fought with the Washington Territory Volunteers against native Americans in the Yakima War of 1855-56, then enrolled in a college preparatory school. By 1859 he had finally earned enough credits to enroll in Pacific University, where, in 1863, he was awarded the first bachelor's degree bestowed there. Scott put himself through school by working as a teacher, team driver, and woodcutter. After graduation he continued for a time as a schoolteacher before moving to Portland, Oregon, to study law under Judge E. D. Shattuck and work as the first city librarian for the frontier town. When Shattuck was asked to write an editorial for the Portland Oregonian, he passed the job on to Scott, who wrote an impassioned diatribe on the subject of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. This early piece, which appeared April 17, 1865, "showed both his verbal strength and his youthful immoderation," wrote Lauren Kessler in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Scott's experiences farming the frontier land, supporting himself through his education by dint of hard labor, his terms as school-teacher and librarian exhibiting his love of learning and of books, are all themes that present themselves in analyses of Scott's editorial contributions to the Oregonian during the decades when he owned and ran the newspaper.

During his lifetime, Scott spoke movingly about the duty of newspapers to present their readers with facts about events of the day, but in practice he took little interest in the news section of the Oregonian. Kessler observed that "although he wrote of the responsibility of a newspaper to gather news and report on daily intelligence, Scott clearly regarded the news function of his paper as subordinate to his department, criticism and opinion." Scott's mission for his "department" of the paper revealed itself over the decades primarily taking off from his self-appointed role as educator of a barely literate pioneer readership with little access to printed materials. "His job was to contribute to the cultural education of his pioneer readers by freely instructing them in morals, philosophy, theology, literature, and history," Kessler remarked. Furthermore, Kessler continued, "Scott's early pioneer experiences forged in him a rugged individualism which translated into a host of political beliefs he expounded for more than four decades." With an apparently indomitable belief in his own opinions, Scott expounded on subjects of his choosing in the only newspaper of consequence in the American Northwest, and did so without significant editorial opposition until the turn of the twentieth century.

Among Scott's favorite topics was regional history, which he hoped would help his readers "develop pride in their own past and grasp what for Scott was the ultimate historical lesson: hard work leads to success." In 1890 Scott edited and contributed to a History of Portland, Oregon. After his death, a son, Leslie M. Scott, collected his father's editorials, essays, and speeches on the history of Oregon into six volumes, titled History of the Oregon Country. Leslie Scott collected two volumes of his father's writings on religion in Religion, Theology, and Morals, and another volume full of Harvey Scott's writings on Shakespeare. Scott's outspokenness on these topics was matched by his opinionated stance on politics—local, state, and national. In the half century he wrote on the topic, he unfailingly supported the Republican ticket on matters of the day, speaking out for American expansionism, against Chinese immigration, against the organization of labor into unions and the institution of laws protecting workers, against the prohibition of alcohol—as detrimental to business interests—and for what was called "sound money," that is, adherence to the gold standard, an issue he fought over and over for three decades and for which he is attributed with carrying Oregon, alone among the western states.

By the turn of the twentieth century, however, Scott's opinions, particularly on political matters, were beginning to seem out of step with what a significant number of Oregonians believed. A rival newspaper, the Oregon Journal, with a Democrat at the helm, became the first serious competition Scott's Oregonian had ever experienced under his editorship. Scott came out strongly on issues such as initiative and referendum—which allowed ordinary citizens to place petitions on the ballot for the general populace to vote on—and direct primaries, both of which Scott opposed as detrimental to the interests of the Republican party and both of which were instituted in Oregon in the early years of the twentieth century. Scott was also against the enfranchisement of women, and through the power of his paper was able to see an amendment to the state constitution on the issue defeated in 1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, and 1910. The amendment passed in 1912, two years after Scott's death. Ironically, the crusade for the women's vote in Oregon was led by Scott's elder sister, Abigail Scott Duniway, who wrote, edited, and published a weekly pro-suffrage newspaper from 1871 to 1887 called the New Northwest. Her powerful brother's unstinting opposition to her cause, or, just as damaging, his refusal to comment on the issue in his paper at all, was inspired by his belief that women voters would support the kinds of government aid—for example in the form of workman's compensation—that Scott abhorred, and perhaps by a sense of competition he felt with an older sibling and fellow newspaper publisher. Despite some defeats in later years, at the time of his death in 1910, Scott "was the undisputed leader of Oregon journalism," Kessler wrote. In later years the editorialist was offered the prospect of several political positions, but, acknowledging the unprecedented power he held in print, would not consider stepping down into a post of mere political influence.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 23: American Newspaper Journalists, 1873-1900, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.

Downs, Robert B., and Jane B. Downs, Journalists of the United States, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 1991.

Gaston, Joseph, The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811-1912, S. J. Clarke (Chicago, IL), 1912.

Horner, Joseph B., Oregon History and Early Literature, J. K. Gill (Portland, OR), 1919.

Notson, Robert C., Making the Day Begin: A Story of the Oregonian, Oregonian Publishing Co. (Portland, OR), 1976.

Portrait and Bibliographic Record of the Willamette Valley, Oregon, Chapman (Chicago, IL), 1903.

Turnbull, George S., History of the Oregon Newspapers, Binford & Mort (Portland, OR), 1939.


Journalism Quarterly, January, 1929, pp. 1-10; December, 1938, pp. 359-369.

Oregon Historical Quarterly, June, 1913, pp. 87-133; September, 1937, pp. 251-264; September, 1969, pp. 197-232.*

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Scott, Harvey W(hitefield) 1838-1910

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