Alicia Patterson reluctantly became a newspaper publisher in 1940 because her new husband wanted to keep her busy and out of trouble, and because she wanted to show her father that she could be as good a journalist as he was. From that timid start she created the most successful new daily newspaper of the postwar period.
The phenomenal growth of Newsday — from a makeshift plant in a former auto dealership to a position of direct competition with the New York Times in New York City — depended on two major sociological and managerial factors. One was the stunning population growth on Long Island in the years after World War II, when the combination of returning veterans and astute developers created the archetypical American suburb in Nassau and Suffolk counties, east of New York City. The other was an almost incomprehensible lack of vision by the leaders of the established New York dailies (including Patterson’s father), who failed to foresee the dimensions of that growth and took no effective steps to profit from it.
Those factors created the opportunity, and Patterson had the right combination of feistiness and journalistic instincts to take advantage of the opening. So at its heart, the history of Newsday is the story of Patterson’s personal growth, from a talented but aimless young woman into a great journalist — a process that depended heavily on her relationship with the two most important men in her life: her father, Joseph Medill Patterson; and her third husband, Harry Frank Guggenheim.
It was perhaps inevitable that Patterson would become a journalist, since the driving force in her life was the desire to please her father, and the dominant reality of his family was newspapering. That tradition went all the way back to 1819, when her great-great-grandfather James Patrick set up a small weekly, the Tuscarawas Chronicle, in New Philadelphia, Tuscarawas County, Ohio.
Her great-grandfather was Joseph Medill, a Canadian-born lawyer who married Patrick’s daughter Katharine. He left the law and took up journalism, starting with the Coshocton (Ohio) Whig, then the Cleveland Leader, and finally the foundering Chicago Tribune. From this bully pulpit he espoused the abolitionist cause, trumpeted the virtues of a young country lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, and played a major role in getting Lincoln elected to the presidency. He also served a brief term as mayor of Chicago, after the Great Fire of 1871.
If Joseph Medill was the patriarch of the Tribune dynasty, his daughters, Kate and Elinor (Nellie), were the agents of its perpetuation. Kate married Robert Sanderson McCormick, the nephew of Cyrus Hall McCormick, the inventor of the reaper and the owner of the Chicago Times, Medill’s competitor. Nellie married Robert W. Patterson, Jr., the son of an influential Chicago minister. The younger Patterson had decided against the ministry, gone into journalism, and risen to an influential position at the Tribune. With a sharp eye on the future of the dynasty, each sister pointedly named her first son after the patriarch. Kate’s was Joseph Medill McCormick, and Nellie’s was Joseph Medill Patterson.
From childhood Joseph Medill Patterson felt unworthy of his family’s wealth. Riches did not do him much good at Groton, an exclusive prep school, where his classmates poked fun at his midwestern accent and his Little Lord Fauntleroy clothing. But the taunting toughened him and spurred him to rise above his lack of natural athletic talent to play football and baseball and row in the crew. He postponed his entry into college, spending months as a cowboy in Wyoming, then entered Yale in 1897.
Following his freshman year the restless Patterson unsuccessfully sought his father’s permission to run off to the Spanish-American War. In 1900 he read about the Boxer Rebellion in China and decided to go, as a correspondent for William Randolph Hearst’s papers in New York. By the time he arrived, the rebellion was over.
Upon graduation from Yale in 1901, Patterson went to work at the Tribune, covering the police beat and later writing editorials. In late 1902 he married Alice Higinbotham, whose father was a partner in the Chicago merchandising company Marshall Field. As he was preparing for his wedding to the daughter of a society figure, Patterson was campaigning against that society, running as a reformer for a seat in the state legislature.
Patterson took office in 1903. He later decided that his father had arranged the nomination in order to get his increasingly proletarian son out of town and away from the Tribune. So Patterson left the legislature and went back to work at the Tribune, where his views clashed sharply with his father’s.
In 1905 Patterson went to Russia to cover the start of the revolution, and his dispatches to the Tribune favored the revolutionaries. Soon after this radicalizing experience, he left the Tribune to join the progressive mayoral campaign of Judge Edward Dunne. When Dunne became mayor, he made Patterson his commissioner of public works. Patterson quickly took on Chicago department-store owners over working conditions in poorly ventilated bargain basements. He escalated his war on society when his father-in-law’s employer, Field, died with a vast estate, which prompted Patterson to write an article for Collier’s condemning the rich.
In 1906 Patterson became so disgusted with the establishment that he resigned from office and publicly proclaimed that he was a Socialist. That summer he published “Confessions of a Drone,” a detailed account of his views, and announced that he was becoming a farmer. With his wife and his daughter, Elinor, he moved to a farm in Libertyville, near the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest.
At the height of Patterson’s Socialist awakening, on 15 October 1906, his second child was born. As soon as he learned that this child was also a girl, his disappointment was so acute that he slammed the door and left the house. His third child turned out to be a daughter as well, Josephine. “He had wanted a boy, instead of three daughters in succession, and that meant one of the Patterson girls would have to be his substitute son,” Alicia wrote later. Elinor was too withdrawn, well-behaved, and delicately beautiful, much like her mother. Josephine was too young. That left only Alicia.
So, from her earliest childhood Alicia went through a rigorous indoctrination into the ways of boys: riding horses, diving off high diving boards, fishing — whatever it took to please her father. “Father seemed to get a kick out of having me do dangerous things,” she told a New Yorker interviewer. “In fact, what with one thing and another, I kept getting so scared that finally I wasn’t scared of anything anymore.” In a 1959 Saturday Evening Post article she said: “Long after I had grown up, father continued to exert an almost hypnotic influence on me. I would have died rather than fail him… Psychiatrists may suggest that pa felt an ambivalence toward me, a mixture of love and hate, a desire to test my nervous system to the snapping point. All I know is that he helped to make me unafraid.”
Even before she was five years old, her parents had her doing something that few parents expect of such a young child: studying German in Berlin, along with Elinor. Despite the complication of ear surgery, Alicia survived the experience, but Elinor turned out to be much better at languages. In addition, Alicia felt that Elinor was prettier and more ladylike. “When company came and Elinor was dressed up and brought downstairs. I stayed on the nursery floor and peered through the banisters [sic] like some little wild animal, watching and hating every minute of the gaiety below,” she wrote. Patterson continued:
Father must have sensed my misery, for one day he saw me sitting on a floor and he asked me if I wouldn't go for a walk with him. It was the most wonderful invitation I had ever had. From that day on, I would have walked around the earth if he had asked me to…. I became his slave and I would wait crouched on the top of the stairs when he would come home of an evening. Then with a hoop and a holler I would hurl myself down the steps and into his arms. Obviously my abject devotion pleased him and he began to take an interest in me.
Her father had many other interests during her formative years, however. In 1908 he ran the presidential campaign of the Socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs. Patterson wrote prolifically from a Socialist perspective, including a novel, A Little Brother of the Rich (1908), which became a play in 1909, and another play, The Fourth Estate (1909). When he saw how little change socialism brought about, however, he became disenchanted.
In 1910, when his father died, Patterson took control of the Chicago Tribune, along with his cousin Robert Rutherford McCormick. The two cousins served in World War I, even though Patterson was an isolationist. After the war ended, Patterson founded the New York Daily News, a pioneering American tabloid, on 26 June 1919. Before the end of 1925 its circulation had soared past one million. That year Patterson moved to New York, leaving his wife and daughters behind in Chicago, and leaving the Tribune in the care of his cousin.
As Alicia was growing up, she demonstrated that she was her father’s daughter in more ways than one. Just as he had gone his own way in school, she exercised her right to be different. She was bright enough, but seemed to devote more of her energy to getting around the rules than to studying.
She attended the University School for Girls, near Chicago’s Oak Street Beach, and later studied at Les Fougères, a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland. The students there were not allowed to speak English. Elinor obeyed this rule, but Alicia was more slipshod. She also got around a rule banning English-language books by asking her father to send them. “There are millions of books I want to read,” she wrote him; he sent her what she wanted.
Despite her willingness to break rules, her roommate at Les Fougères thought she was quite talented. “She was intelligent, and she was very well read and very critical and had a very fine sort of analytical mind,” Marian Brown remembered. In fact, Brown thought, “she could have really amounted in the academic world to a great deal.” While Alicia was at Les Fougères, she began expressing interest in the family business. Her father had mentioned the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to her in a letter, and she wrote: “I am awfully interested in that journalism school and would like to go there awfully.”
From Les Fougères, her next stop was Saint Timothy’s School in Catonsville, Maryland. Her marks were good, but she soon got herself expelled “for general obstreperousness.” She then went to Foxcroft, in the hunt country of Virginia, which she enjoyed because she loved riding horses. She adjusted well and was graduated second in her class in 1924.
That fall, just before her eighteenth birthday, she attended a European finishing school, Miss Risser’s School for Girls, in Rome. On 4 November she cabled her father: “Complications. Six girls expelled… Cable money for passage. Distressed.” She and several of her friends had left school at midnight, had persuaded Miss Risser’s driver to take them to a café for cocktails, and had climbed back over the wall. “I guess I must have some wild blood in my veins,” she wrote her father in an apologetic letter.
Once she had been expelled, she wandered the Continent with her mother, her sister Josephine, and a tutor, who took them to see many museums and cultural spots in Europe. The following year, at the age of nineteen, she debuted at a grandiose Chicago coming-out party that marked, in effect the end of her education and the beginning of the rest of her life. “Her education is rather sketchy,” her father wrote. “She has a good enough mind, but put it on bridge and horses.
A few months after her debut Patterson took a typing course and went to work, at the age of twenty, at the Daily News, “in the corner clipping out filler items from other newspapers for use in the Sunday News,” she recalled. Her responsibilities were slight, but watching her father run the newspaper was useful: “He was geared with invisible antennae that alerted him to the shifting moods of the times. He changed the News so that it reflected and appraised those moods.” Her father got out among the people, noticing what interested them and what they were reading, which gave him an accurate sense of what people wanted in their newspaper.
Unfortunately, his example was not enough to save Patterson from making a disastrous mistake. In reporting on a divorce she mixed up the names in the story and caused a libel suit. Her father invited her to lunch in a fancy restaurant, where he fired her — on the theory that this was the best thing for her.
After a brief time at loose ends in Chicago, Patterson received a marriage proposal from James Simpson, Jr., whose father was a Marshall Field executive. From the start she seemed singularly unenthusiastic about marrying Simpson, but she did it anyway, in 1927. Even as she sailed to Europe on her honeymoon, she wrote her father, asking him to join them. In England the newlyweds disagreed so vehemently that she sent for a friend, Janet Chase, to join them. A year later Patterson left Simpson.
Although her honeymoon was contentious, it did help her journalistically. While they were in England, she wrote an article on fox hunting for Liberty, a magazine that her father had started in 1924. Later she embarked on a series of postmarriage adventures — including learning how to fly and hunting kangaroos in Australia — she wrote about these for Liberty. During this period she hunted, set women’s speed records in flying, and generally enjoyed life. Then, in late 1931, she married again.
Patterson’s second husband, Joseph W. Brooks, was a sportsman and pilot fifteen years her senior. Brooks handled the insurance for the Daily News, and he was a hunting and fishing friend of her father, who was responsible for their meeting. They began their marriage with an aerial tour of the South, and while they were away, her father bought land and outfitted a house for them in Sands Point a wealthy community on the North Shore of Long Island.
Her father also offered her a chance to come back to work at the Daily News. He suggested that she try the advertising department. She responded that she preferred the editorial side, but added: “The main thing is I want to learn the newspaper game backwards and forwards. Who knows? I might be a great publisher myself some day.”
This marriage lasted longer than the first. Patterson enjoyed hunting and fishing with Brooks and admired his physical courage and charm. In time, however, she began to feel that he was too aimless, and she grew weary of paying his gambling debts. “I began to feel restive about a life based on sports,” she said. “Joe and I grew apart.” That was when she met and began to fall in love with one of her Sands Point neighbors who was also at the end of a second marriage: Harry Frank Guggenheim.
By the time Alicia met him, Guggenheim had already compiled an impressive list of accomplishments. His family had come to America to escape anti-Semitism in Switzerland and had made a fortune in mining and smelting. Guggenheim had gone into the family business as an executive of Chile Copper, then had served as a naval officer in World War I. After the war his father, Daniel Guggenheim, had expressed a wish to give something back to America, and Harry had guided that philanthropic urge toward the development of the fledgling American aviation industry.
Under Harry’s guidance the family’s money had set up a model airline and weather service, established six schools of aeronautical engineering, paid for Charles Lindbergh’s cross-country tour after his flight to Paris, bankrolled the world’s first instruments-only flight, and supported Robert Goddard’s rocketry experiments, which later led to the American space program. Guggenheim had also served as ambassador to Cuba from 1929 to 1933. In his lighter hours he had begun to build a thoroughbred racing stable, Cain Hoy, named after his South Carolina plantation, where he raised cattle and timber.
By contrast, Patterson had accomplished little more than a few magazine articles, a handful of women’s flying records, some hunting trophies, and two failed marriages. In other ways, too, they could not have been more different. She was a Franklin Roosevelt liberal: he was a Herbert Hoover-Alfred Landon conservative. She was flighty and devil-may-care; he was stultifyingly serious. She had always gotten whatever money she needed from her father and had no real fiscal sense; he was shrewd and cautious with money. He was nearly forty-nine; she was not yet thirty-three.
Despite these differences, in 1939 they divorced their spouses and were married. Immediately Guggenheim began looking for something to keep her busy. Journalism seemed like a natural choice. Her father had told her that he would someday leave her in a position of power at the Daily News, and Guggenheim wanted her to run her own newspaper as training for that role. They asked one of her father’s friends, Daily News circulation director Max Annenberg, to help them find a suitable newspaper to purchase.
While they were on their honeymoon at Goddard’s rocket laboratory in New Mexico, they received a telegram from Annenberg, informing them of the availability of a small newspaper plant in Hempstead, the business hub of Nassau County, just east of New York City. At this time her family was an American newspaper dynasty. Her father ran the Daily News. His cousin Robert McCormick dominated the Chicago Tribune. His sister, Cissy Patterson , owned the Washington Times-Herald. But Alicia Patterson was not ready.
“I had terrible inferiority feelings,” she said later. “I didn’t think I had anything.” At this crucial moment her new husband performed a great service for her by insisting that they go through with the purchase. “I refused to be shaken by her plea to forget all about it,” Guggenheim wrote.
They commissioned a survey of Nassau County in order to determine whether it could support a second daily paper, in addition to the Nassau Daily Review-Star, a stuffy, lifeless broadsheet whose primary distinction was its slavish devotion to the monolithic Nassau County Republican party. Its publisher,James E. Stiles, was a Republican committeeman and close ally of the county Republican leader, J. Russel Sprague. In fact, Stiles was so loyal that when Sprague instructed him not to expand the paper’s circulation into northern Nassau County, he complied. That left an important territory ripe for potential competition.
William Mapel, a public-relations executive and former journalism professor, conducted the survey with the help of Stanton Peckham, a one-time foreign-service employee with brief journalistic experience. The weakness of the Review-Star and the growth potential of Nassau County made them both excited about the prospects for a new newspaper. But Mapel, concerned that their report would sound too optimistic, toned it down. The report, dated 23 January 1940, modestly predicted: “By the end of the second year the paper should have a paid circulation in Nassau County of 15,000 copies daily.”
So, on 5 April 1940 Harry Guggenheim agreed to the purchase, for about fifty thousand dollars, which bought a dusty collection of equipment located in a rented building that had been an auto dealership. The plant briefly had been the home of the Nassau Daily Journal, the only newspaper ever established by S. I. Newhouse. It had opened on 1 March 1939, but Newhouse had shut it down on 10 March in order to avoid a labor dispute over the distribution of the Journal that threatened to spread to his flagship, the Long Island Press.
At the time of the purchase neither Patterson’s friends nor Newhouse thought that she was likely to stick with the challenge for long. “I thought she’d see it as a toy, something to play with for a while, and that eventually I’d be able to buy it back from her,” Newhouse said. But Peckham saw past the “Alicia’s toy” theory and into her heart: “The burning ambition she had, all she gave a damn about, was to prove to her goddamn family — and she would call them her goddamn family — that she was just as good a newspaperman as any of them.”
Patterson’s less-than-serious reputation was not her only obstacle. At the start she had to confront a daunting list of tasks for a woman with no executive experience, such as getting the mothballed plant ready for operation, hiring a staff, finding a name, and designing the paper. On the question of designing she faced disagreement with her own father, a proven journalistic genius. “ I favored a tabloid despite discouragement from my father, who thought a standard size paper would be more acceptable in a suburban community where the population is considered more conservative,” she wrote. That was strange advice coming from the founder of the most successful tabloid in America. She ignored him and began designing a tabloid with the help of Fred Hauck, a commercial artist who had married her childhood friend Janet Chase.
The design that they chose replaced the traditional vertical format with a horizontal one and eliminated the column rules, giving the paper a brighter, less cluttered look. They also did away with the pyramid system of stacking ads, which packed newspapers with dozens of little fillers, mixing ads and editorial copy in the same column. Instead, they created a cleaner, magazine-style design, with each column containing either all ads or all editorial copy.
As to staff, Patterson hired Mapel as general manager and Peckham as his assistant. Peckham became her factotum, handling details ranging in importance from buying chairs to hiring employees. Some were veterans of other papers, while some were inexperienced, such as copyboys from the Daily News who became reporters for the new paper. The staff’s strength was its enthusiasm. “In a way,” said one young reporter, Norman Lobsenz, “putting that paper together in those days was sort of like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney sitting around and saying, ‘Hey, kids, let’s put on a show.’”
Patterson’s major personnel decision was the hiring of a veteran Daily News editor, Harold Davis, as the managing editor, on the recommendation of Annenberg. This was just one example of her reliance on help from the Daily News in her paper’s infancy. During the newsprint shortages of World War II, she often had to borrow rolls of that precious commodity from her father’s paper.
At the same time that she was establishing the staff, Patterson had to find a name for the paper. Mapel and Peckham decided to make it a contest, but they nearly despaired of getting any useful entries. Patterson, apparently half in jest, told Mapel about a suggested name that had come from one of her friends, the artist Neysa McMein, who wanted to call the paper the “County Irritant.” So Mapel came up with his own suggestion, Newsday, and brought it to Patterson. “A light began shining in her eyes,” he recalled. Then all they had to do was find contestants who had submitted similar suggestions.
The paper rolled off the presses for the first time on 3 September 1940, filled with typographical errors, misplaced captions, and other glitches. “I’m afraid it looks like hell,” Patterson said. Without even noticing the mistakes, Peckham took one of the first copies off the press and delivered it by hand to Joseph Medill Patterson at the Daily News.
One of Alicia Patterson’s great disappointments in the early years of Newsday was her father’s apparent lack of interest. Although he allowed his staff to help her in many ways — except for his refusal to let her run Daily News comic strips — he did not display much enthusiasm for Newsday. At a lunch with Joseph Patterson one of his staff, Hal Burton, asked about her. “He said, ‘Oh, she’s all right. She’s got a little paper out in Hempstead, but it isn’t going anywhere,’” Burton said.
In a letter that she wrote her father in 1943 after the Daily News abruptly stopped running “Deathless Deer,” the comic strip that she and McMein had created for Newsday, Patterson complained bitterly about her father’s attitudes: “When I started Newsday I thought you would be proud and happy that I was trying to follow your lead. But it took the greatest persuasion to get you even to look at the plant. And you never take any interest anymore in anything I do.”
Her relationship with her father was deteriorating for several reasons. One was the birth of her half brother, James Patterson, the son of Joseph and his aide, Mary King, who became his second wife. Once Joseph had a son, his daughter felt that he no longer acted as if he had much need for her, the substitute son. “I know that he is the only thing in your life that matters; that to have a son has always been your one ambition,” she wrote, “Well I couldn’t help being a girl. And I tried to overcome the handicap.” Another source of friction was her marriage to Guggenheim. Joseph Patterson had not been happy when she divorced his friend Brooks, and he had been even less pleased when she married a Jew.
On top of all this, politics came between them. Throughout the Depression, Patterson had steadfastly supported Roosevelt, even when other papers, including the Chicago Tribune, attacked him. But at the end of 1940 Roosevelt proposed a lend-lease bill to allow him to provide war supplies to England. This enraged the isolationist Patterson, and he turned on Roosevelt with a vengeance. For much of World War II, Joseph, his sister, and his cousin were known as “the three furies of isolationism” because of their relentless attacks on Roosevelt. But Alicia Patterson stood her ground, and Newsday continued to support the president.
In addition to her disagreements with her father, Patterson also faced the often thorny task of negotiating with her exacting husband. Financially Guggenheim was in a position of total power, and she was completely dependent. He had paid the entire purchase price of the paper and advanced money to get it started. Her only equity was a four-thousand-dollar “participation” that he had given her. He was the owner and president, and she was the chief employee. “You will devote your time to the publication of Newsday in the capacity of editor and publisher without salary,” Guggenheim wrote, in a letter typical of his financial directives to his wife. “In lieu of salary, you are to receive one-half of the net profits to me from Newsday that may accrue in any calendar year.”
Although he wrote her frequent memos about her fiscal responsibilities, for the most part he left the journalism to her. It was clear, however, that this would always be a difficult balancing act. Within weeks after the first issue of Newsday, for example, they wrote opposing columns about the presidential campaign. She supported Roosevelt, and he backed Wendell Willkie. That would not be the only such editorial schizophrenia.
Once America entered the war, the relationship between Guggenheim and his wife changed geographically. He rejoined the navy and was assigned to command a naval air station in New Jersey. That left her to cope with the wartime problems of newsprint and staff shortages. As the government drafted the men, their replacements were often women. Throughout her career she encouraged women at the paper, long before the rise of feminism — though she never appointed a woman to a top editorial post. “The best thing that ever happened to me professionally was working for Alicia Patterson, a woman who believed that a woman reporter could do anything,” said Bonnie Angelo, who came to Newsday in 1953.
While Guggenheim was away, Patterson showed on several occasions that she could confidently run the paper on her own. One such instance was her battle with the Review-Star. The Republicans had loaded its coffers by awarding it governmental legal ads, which Stiles made even more lucrative by using larger-than-usual type. Newsday argued editorially that this was costing the taxpayer extra money and that Newsday could run the ads cheaper. After relentlessly pounding both her rival paper and the ruling Republicans, she broke the Review-Star monopoly on the ads, obtaining a share of them for Newsday. That was the beginning of the end for the Review-Star, which was falling behind Newsday in circulation. It folded in 1953.
She also made a significant personnel decision during the war years, revolving around Alan Hathway, a makeup editor at the Daily News who was a friend of Harold Davis, her managing editor. Hathway began to do part-time makeup work at Newsday, and in 1942 he became city editor. In early 1944 Davis left to go back to the Daily News, and Patterson elevated Hathway to managing editor.
Hathway was loud, crude, and often drunk, a figure directly from the 1920’s school of high-energy, low-ethics journalism immortalized in the play The Front Page (1928), by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. He was a man of egregious excess, and Patterson often failed to rein him in as tightly as she should have. But for the next quarter century, Hathway’s energy and doggedness played a major role in lifting Newsday above the level of a small country newspaper to exert a profound influence on its community.
In the postwar period Hathway led a crusade to provide adequate housing for veterans. The Republicans saw the veterans as New York City Democrats and were in no hurry to import more of them to Long Island. Hathway joined forces with a developer, Levitt and Sons, which proposed to build cheap, mass-produced housing. They planned to build on slabs, without basements, but the town of Hempstead required basements in all new homes. Newsday pounded the drums until Hempstead changed its ordinance, and the Levitts built a community that became known as Levittown, which started the phenomenal growth of Long Island. Newsday profited heavily from that growth, selling ads to all the merchants who wanted to sell homes, appliances, and cars to the wave of new residents.
For Patterson, the most profound event that followed the war was the death of her father, who had achieved his caustic wish of outliving Roosevelt, then had descended in a spiral of uncontrolled drinking. He did not, as he had once promised his daughter, leave her a position of power at the Daily News. But he did leave her money, which enabled her to write Guggenheim a letter asking him to sell her a share of the paper that she had been running for six years. In reply, her wrote her: “As you know, I desire to retain a controlling interest in the enterprise, and accordingly I am prepared to sell you a 49 percent interest in NEWSDAY, which on the overall value of $165,000, comes to $80,850.”
For the rest of their marriage, that 2 percent was a source of constant contention. Guggenheim’s personality required that he have control, and Patterson chafed under his domination. That dispute exacerbated the problems in their marriage. It had been an odd match from the start, and the physical aspect of their relationship had begun to cool within a few years. Then, soon after her father;s death in 1946, another complication arose: Adlai E. Stevenson.
Patterson had first known Stevenson when she was a young woman in Chicago. There are even some accounts that he proposed marriage to her. “They enjoyed each other’s sprightly minds,” said Stevenson’s sister, Buffie Ives. “She was one of the first girls he was in love with.” But Stevenson had married Ellen Borden, one of Patterson’s classmates. He had become a lawyer, worked in the Roosevelt administration, become a leader of the internationalists in the debate over isolationism before World War II, and come to New York in late 1946 as a representative to the first United Nations General Assembly. It was about then that he and Patterson crossed paths again.
In the years that followed — as her marital problems continued and Stevenson’s own marriage ended in divorce in 1949 — and for many years after that, Patterson and Stevenson developed and sustained a relationship of great warmth and intimacy. In its early years that relationship seems to have included sexual intimacy. Whether that is true or not, their friendship was remarkable not for its physical dimension, but for its constancy and intellectual depth. Stevenson admired Patterson and relied on her judgment as his career turned from diplomacy to politics, and he contemplated running for governor. In her own marriage her political views contrasted sharply with her husband’s, but Patterson’s political views were compatible with Stevenson’s and he relied strongly on her advice as he began to navigate Illinois politics.
Over the years the chief obstacle to their friendship was geography. After his brief stay at the United Nations, he was in Illinois, and she was in New York. They managed to meet occasionally — at his farm in Libertyville, near the farm where she had grown up; in Chicago; at the governor’s mansion in Springfield; and at her hunting lodge in Georgia. But their primary means of communication was the mail. Although only a handful of Patterson’s letters to Stevenson survive, she preserved a large collection of his letters to her. These have been a crucial source for his biographers, partly because they provide a window into his relationship with Patterson, but more significantly because he trusted her so much that he confided in her his deepest thoughts about politics and life.
This profound friendship caused Patterson serious problems during the 1952 presidential campaign. Since shortly after World War II, she had been editorially urging Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to run for the presidency. Newsday, in fact, had played a role in a rally on Long Island and another at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, which finally helped persuade Eisenhower to run. But then President Harry Truman decided not to run for reelection and tried to persuade Stevenson to run in his place. Stevenson was torn between remaining governor and seeking the presidency, and he sought Patterson’s advice in his letters. it was in a letter to Patterson, in fact, that he first hinted that he might accept a draft.
Once Stevenson decided to run for president, Patterson faced a dilemma. She could hardly back down from her often-repeated support for Eisenhower, but she loved Stevenson. So the Newsday editorials reflected this duality: “We feel that the country needs a change of administration, needs a Republican President — in short, needs Eisenhower. Nevertheless, an honest appraisal of Adlai E. Stevenson makes clear that if the nation prefers another Democrat, Stevenson will make a magnificent president.”
Throughout the campaign the editorials maintained this evenhanded approach. Although Patterson could not endorse Stevenson over Eisenhower, she did help her friend in other ways. She sponsored a dinner for Stevenson at a New York restaurant, for example, to introduce him to influential publishers. Guggenheim did not attend, but he sent a telegram that made his own position clear: “Tell Adlai how sorry I am not to be able to dine with him. I would like to dine with him anywhere — even in the White House — if we are both guests of Ike.”
Soon after the dinner Patterson entered a hospital, and doctors discovered that she had colon cancer. But she was back at her desk when Newsday ran the editorial endorsing Eisenhower, closing with a recommendation that, if he won, Eisenhower should appoint Stevenson to run the UN delegation. When Stevenson lost, she sent him a conciliatory telegram. He later responded: “Don’t worry about Newsday. I had hoped, of course, but I also understand your situation vis a vis Harry.” In 1951, when she had told him she was contemplating divorce, Stevenson had counseled her not to be hasty.
When Stevenson ran again in 1956, Guggenheim assumed that his wife would again endorse Eisenhower, and he confidently made that prediction to his friend Leonard Hall, chairman of the Republican National Committee. But she shocked him by endorsing Stevenson. A struggle for editorial control followed at Newsday; Guggenheim and Patterson both used attorneys. The legal discussions continued while she was in Africa, on a tour with Stevenson and other friends. At the end of 1957 she typed out a resignation statement:
We have prospered rather than suffered under the theory that journalistic independence and integrity precede balance sheets and business considerations. However in recent months — at the peak of Newsday’s success — Harry Guggenheim has increasingly attempted to take control over the journalistic product which he formally can control by virtue of his 51% stock interest.
My choice was painfully simple. I could stay and preside over the gradual disintegration of those journalistic principles which I believe have make Newsday. I have chosen to resign because I cannot be a part of transforming a living newspaper put out by journalists into a balance sheet controlled by businessmen.
In the end, though, Patterson backed down and decided to stay. That decision did not, however, end the friction with her husband. In the next presidential campaign, they once again differed sharply.
Once it was clear that Stevenson could not obtain the Democratic nomination for a third time, Patterson decided to support Senator John F. Kennedy for the presidency. Guggenheim strongly preferred Richard M. Nixon. During the campaign she ran editorials for Kennedy, and he wrote columns for Nixon. At the end of the race the editorial page featured a signed note from Patterson: “The opinions of this newspaper are expressed in the editorial column. Today we endorse John F. Kennedy for President of the United States… In a column on the opposite page my husband, Harry F. Guggenheim, president of Newsday, states his personal endorsement of Vice President Richard M. Nixon for President.”
Long Island profited from Patterson’s Choice. Once Kennedy was in the White house, he invited her and her aide, William Woestendiek, to have lunch with him there. During the lunch she argued against the use of Mitchel Field, a former air force base near Newsday, as a general-aviation airport. At that lunch Kennedy called Najeeb Halaby, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and instructed him not to pursue the use of the base as an airport. Patterson’s personal diplomacy with the president made that prime land available for other purposes, such as a campus for Nassau Community College. In the years after that lunch Newsday carried hundreds of stories about the controversies surrounding the use of the land.
That was not the only example of Patterson changing the shape of Long Island. On another occasion she thwarted the plans of Robert Moses to build a road the length of Fire Island. Moses was one of the sacred cows at Newsday, and he originally got support for this road from Hathway, who owned property on Fire Island. But many people felt it would have been an environmental disaster, and they managed to persuade Patterson. Once Newsday turned against the idea, it was dead. “She really did represent Long Island,” said her friend Phyllis Cerf Wagner. “She felt so fiercely about it as if she’d grown up there…. It was her child, as the newspaper was her child.
Patterson was an ever-present parent to that child. She knew most of her employees by name, starting at the little plant in Hempstead and even when they moved into a plant built especially for Newsday in Garden City. She was often in the newsroom, with her glasses perched on top of her head. And when Newsday needed a firm hand, she applied that too. For example, right after the paper won its first Pulitzer Prize — in 1954, for an investigation of corrupt labor leader William DeKoning, Sr. — she refused to let the paper rest on its laurels. Instead, she reached out to hire people with a more cosmopolitan view of the world, such as Time magazine journalist Richard Clurman, who had written the cover story about her and Newsday after the Pulitzer Prize. In that period she pushed to professionalize the paper in many areas, such as the handling of copy at night.
As a journalist she and excellent instincts and a fine sense of a good story. As a manager she showed some strange quirks. She made Clurman her “editorial director,” for example, giving him control over the editorial pages and the Washington bureau — an odd construct that in effect narrowed Hathway’s power. Hathway had served her well in the paper’s early years, but she was apparently reluctant to let him control the paper’s national coverage and image. Throughout her career she kept a “palace guard” of journalists who worked closely with her and stood somewhat outside the normal chain of command. She also had some editorial pet concerns, such as protection of the whooping crane. Even though she was a hunter, she was a great lover of animals, and the paper reflected that by running many animal stories.
The one thing that Patterson did not seem able to master was marriage. Her relationship with Guggenheim was strained throughout most of their time together. Still, in his own way he had high regard for her. Despite all their conflict, he intended to leave her in his will the thing she wanted so much: majority control of Newsday. He had every reason to believe that he would die before she did, since he was sixteen years older. But in 1963 she suffered from an ulcer. Rather than alter her life-style, she opted for surgery. After the operation doctors could not stop her bleeding, and she died on 2 July 1963 at the age of fifty-six.
During her lifetime she and Guggenheim agreed that Newsday should remain a Long Island paper and not venture into New York City. But after her death — and after Guggenheim sold the paper to the Times Mirror Company — Newsday started a New York City paper. which put it in direct competition with the paper that her father founded, the Daily News. She had always wanted to show her father that she could be a good journalist. The irony is that long after both Pattersons were dead, Newsday and the Daily News were competing in the same high-stakes game.
“She was the greatest newspaperman I’ve ever known,” said Jack Mann, one of her editors. “I don’t know if she could dictate a lead on a fire, or write a 5/42 italic headline, but in spirit, she was the best newspaperman I’ve ever known.