Oswald Garrison Villard

views updated Jun 11 2018

Oswald Garrison Villard

Editor of the "Nation" magazine, Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949) was one of the foremost American liberals of the 20th century. He was noted for his moralistic, uncompromising commitment to pacifism and minority rights.

Oswald Garrison Villard was born in Germany on Mar. 13, 1872. From his father, who emigrated to America and became a journalist and then a wealthy railroad magnate and financier, he learned a commitment to capitalism and the ideas of 19th-century laissez-faire liberalism. From his mother, the favorite daughter of abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, he acquired a rigid, almost puritanical, moralism. Villard was educated at private schools and Harvard. After a brief apprenticeship on a Philadelphia paper, in 1897 he joined the staff of the New York Evening Post, which his father happened to own. He soon rose to editorial prominence on the paper and, after his father's death, became owner and publisher.

During his time with the Post Villard carved out an unconventional political position. Along with many others of his class and outlook, he condemned America's imperial ambitions as displayed by the Spanish-American War, but he began to move toward pacifism. He joined his father in supporting the rights of women (his mother was a dedicated leader in this battle) but also championed the rights of African-Americans, Jews, and other minority groups. He departed from traditional laissez-faire thought and defended the right of workers to organize into labor unions and to strike.

A sincere pacifist, Villard opposed American participation in World War I. In 1918, with war fever at its height, the pressure on Villard and the Post to form "patriotic" readers and advertisers had become financially unbearable, and he was forced to sell it. When the war ended, he attacked the Treaty of Versailles, claiming that its unjust nature proved his contentions about the unjust nature of the war.

Villard had retained ownership of the weekly edition of the Post, the Nation, and continued to use this as the personal organ for his views until 1932, when he gave up ownership but continued to contribute. During the 1920s Villard's Nation was one of the few strong voices of liberalism in the United States. Although its circulation was only about 25, 000 its influence was great.

Villard remained a favorite of many liberals into the 1930s, when he supported Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. However, at the end of this decade his pacifism again isolated him. He refused to support rearmament and aid to the Allies during World War II, and in June 1940 the Nation stopped printing his weekly signed articles. He continued to oppose the war after Pearl Harbor and rapidly isolated himself from the mainstream. On Oct. 1, 1949, he died in New York City, a still uncompromising, but embittered, man.

Further Reading

The best biography of Villard is Michael Wreszin, Oswald Garrison Villard: Pacifist at War (1965), which contains a bibliography. Dollena Joy Humes, Oswald Garrison Villard: Liberal of the 1920's (1960), has useful summations of Villard's positions on various issues during the 1920's, but it is not as insightful as Wreszin's book, which covers Villard's whole career.

Additional Sources

Humes, Dollena Joy, Oswald Garrison Villard, liberal of the 1920's, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977, 1960. □

Villard, Oswald and Fanny Garrison

views updated May 23 2018

Villard, Oswald and Fanny Garrison, pacifists, antiracists, and feminists.This mother and son team carried on the political tradition of Fanny Garrison Villard's father, reformer William Lloyd Garrison.

Fanny Garrison (1844–1928) married the German‐born business entrepreneur and newspaperman Henry Villard in 1866. Her adult political work had begun with efforts to help newly freed slaves during Reconstruction. She continued her charity work through the Diet Kitchen Association (dedicated to improving nutrition for the poor), the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, and the Woman's Exchange. In 1898, both she and her youngest son, Oswald (1872–1949), spoke against the imperialist position taken by the United States in the Spanish‐American War. In 1914, both became active in the anti–World War I movement. Fanny acted through the Woman's Peace Party and the suffrage movement; Oswald, for a time, through the Fellowship of Reconciliation. More notably, Oswald, like his grandfather, voiced his antiwar sentiment as a journalist and publisher, first via the New York Evening Post and then the Nation (founded in part by his uncle, Wendell).

Fanny's voice continued from 1919 to her death in 1928 through the Women's Peace Society, an “absolutely” pacifist organization. Oswald also stood for pacifism to his death in 1949. Both were also among the founders and activists of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
[See also Peace and Antiwar Movements.]


D. Joy Humes , Oswald Garrison Villard: Liberal of the 1920's, 1960.
Michael Wreszin , Oswald Garrison Villard: Pacifist at War, 1965. (There is currently no biographical study of Fanny Garrison Villard.)

Harriet Hyman Alonso