Richard Harding Davis

New York Journal front page with pictures of reporter Davis and artist RemingtonRichard Harding Davis became America’s best-known war correspondent of the early twentieth century, perhaps its best-known journalist, and probably one of its best-known faces — at a time when reporters were often anonymous and a “byline” suggested elite status.

When he covered Cuba on the eve of the Spanish American War, Hearst’s New York Journal put his name and picture where readers were sure to  see them.

He was a second-generation journalist on both sides: His father, Lemuel Clarke Davis, was an author and newspaper editor. His mother, Rebecca Harding Davis, also wrote for major newspapers, but became famous for an influential novel that portrayed the real problems of workers in a dangerous industry.

Along with his parental role models, Richard Harding Davis had great courage and a great profile.  Here’s a summary, from an essay about another journalist’s and autobiography:

Richard Harding Davis portrait in 1890s-style high collar and tie

Richard Harding Davis

Until his death in 1916, the handsome Richard Harding Davis was America’s idea of the journalist as hero and model (literally the model for Charles Dana Gibson’s ‘Gibson Man‘). Finley Peter Dunne said that Davis probably knew more ‘waiters, generals, actors, and princes’ than any man who ever lived.'” (Schroth, R.A., In Search of Theodore White: The Journalist as Autobiographer, Worldview Magazine, 1980)

Davis wrote for several newspapers and was managing editor of Harper’s Weekly. He “corresponded” from Europe, Africa, South America and the American West, charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt, and gave Americans a vivid and romantic picture of “the journalist,”  both in his own career, his autobiographical writing, and his fiction.

The latter included Gallegher: A Newspaper Story, about a young newsman charismatic enough to be the hero of a Disney program, and “The Reporter Who Made Himself King,” picturing another fictional turn-of-the-century reporter’s career, with an opening that I especially like for its image of the combination of enthusiasm and cynicism in the business.

He describes his own First Newspaper Experiences, including getting fired from an early job, in that linked chapter of the Adventures & Letters of Richard Harding Davis, available at the University of Virginia’s etext project, among other places.

(Davis’s fiction, autobiographical writings and other works are out of copyright and available in several formats from Project Gutenberg, Google Books and the Internet Archive. The Google Books page even offers “covers” for the books below.)