Monday, August 21, 2023

“Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks” by Susan Croce Kelly

For my two introductory reporting courses in journalism school, I had the teacher said to be the toughest of the faculty. And he was. His classes tended to weed out anyone who wasn’t fully committed (which the school administrators were less than pleased with). A typo, a grammatical error, a factual error – all earned an automatic F on the assignment. He often did calisthenics during timed in-class assignments and even sang opera on occasion – to teach us to avoid distractions and to focus.  

Yes, he was a piece of work. And yes, he taught us speed, accuracy, focus and a deeply reverential attitude toward what we were studying.


I think of him often when I read the newspaper today. He wouldn’t recognize what’s happened to journalism. Neither do I, when any given news story provides opinion with a thin veneer of news. That would have earned an automatic F.


The kind of journalism I do recognize is that of Lucile Morris Upton (1898-1992). She didn’t attend journalism school, although she wanted to. She started out as a teacher, and it was seemingly only by happenstance that she found herself writing for newspapers in New Mexico, Colorado, and Springfield, Mo. She wrote at a time when most reporters and editors didn’t have journalism degrees. She understood the place of a newspaper in the community. And little if anything would stand in the way of her from getting the story.


Susan Croce Kelly

Upton’s story is wonderfully told by writer Susan Croce Kelly in Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks: The Life and Times of Lucile Morris Upton. The biography a part of the Ozark Series published by the University of Arkansas Press. (Technically, the Ozark region includes a large chunk of southern Missouri – St. Louis is considered the foothills; northern Arkansas; a small part of southeastern Oklahoma; and even a sliver of Kansas.)


Upton is best-known for her work in Missouri, based in Springfield, but she cut her journalistic teeth in New Mexico and Colorado. She was even offered a foreign correspondent position in London, but she eventually turned it down. Her career wasn’t a straight-line trajectory. She taught school, she wrote for newspapers, she taught again and reported again, she retired after getting married but returned to do columns for writers on leave and during World War II. She covered some of the most significant stories in 20th century Missouri and even national history.


And she did more than report. She championed the Ozark region, helping to develop it as a tourism destination. She wrote an acclaimed book on the Baldknobbers, a group of vigilantes who operated after the Civil War and became a law unto themselves. She helped Greene County, Missouri, turn the Nathan Boone home into a landmark (he’s the son of Daniel). And she was instrumental in having Wilson’s Creek, the site of the second major battle of the Civil War, incorporated into the National Park Service.


She was close to her two brothers and their children. She married in her late 30s; her husband J.B. Upton died in 1947 following a heart attack; they’d been married only nine years. She pressed on and continued to work in the newspaper business for decades after.


Susan Croce Kelly, the author, is herself a former reporter for the Springfield News and Leader and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. She previously published Route 66: The Highway and Its People and is the managing editor of Ozarks Watch at Missouri State University’s Ozarks Studies Institute


The woman was a presence, and Kelly is perhaps the ideal writer to tell her story. Not only does the author have her own extensive Ozarks and journalism background, she also is a relative of Upton’s. She interviewed numerous people throughout the region, and she provides a well-done context for the events of Upton’s life.


By the end of Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks, the reader has a finely drawn portrait of a woman dedicated to a newspaper career, a champion of her region, and a solid sense of the practice of journalism through much of the 20thcentury.

Some Monday Readings


Back to the New Jeffersonianism: A Review of Tyranny Inc. – Hamilton Craig at Front Porch Republic.


Corrosive Curation: Against the politicization of museums – Lara Brown at The Critic Magazine.


Inside the Model of St. Paul’s – Spitalfields Life. 


Who is Kaleo Manuel? Maui Water Official Faces Scrutiny Over Fire Response – Giulia Carbonaro at Newsweek

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