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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Ingham, Harvey
(September 8, 1858–August 21, 1949)

–postmaster, lawyer, regent, and newspaper editor—was born in a log cabin along Black Cat Creek in Kossuth County, near present-day Algona, Iowa, the oldest of eight children of William H. and Caroline (Rice) Ingham, natives of New York State. He was educated first at home by his mother and then at public schools in Algona. After graduating from high school in 1876, Ingham took a train trip to Philadelphia for the national centennial observance. That trip sensitized him to racial inequality, which he fought against for the remainder of his life. Ingham attended the State University of Iowa, earning a B.A. in 1880 and a law degree in 1881.

    In 1879 he began his journalism career writing editorials for the student newspaper, the Vidette. Upon completing his law degree, he returned home to Algona to edit the Upper Des Moines, a weekly Republican newspaper. As his editorial writing skills began to attract a wide readership, he was also appointed the town's postmaster and served in that capacity from 1898 to 1902, when he left Algona for Des Moines. In 1900 Ingham was appointed to a six-year term on the State Board of Education.

    When Ingham had returned to Algona from the State University of Iowa, he had renewed his acquaintance with fellow Algona citizen and the new superintendent of schools, 22-year-old Gardner Cowles, who owned a rival newspaper. Ingham wrote scathing editorials about Cowles serving as both the school superintendent and a newspaper publisher. Cowles eventually sold his newspaper and left the superintendent position to pursue a career with his father-in-law in banking. Despite the rivalry, the two men became good friends and eventual business partners in Des Moines in 1903, when they bought the Des Moines Register and Leader, where Ingham had served as editor since leaving Algona. The paper was on the brink of financial collapse when Ingham wired Cowles to come to Des Moines and purchase a controlling interest in the Register and Leader, which he did in November 1903. Eventually, Ingham became Cowles's partner and purchased from Cowles part of the stock in the company. They later bought out their struggling popular competitor, the Des Moines Tribune, to form the Des Moines Register and Tribune, which adopted the slogan, "The newspaper Iowa depends upon," and eventually won a Pulitzer Prize.

    The partnership with Cowles provided Ingham with financial stability to focus his writing talents, especially his editorial writing, full time at the newspaper, as Cowles handled the finances and marketing of the paper. Within a short time, Ingham's editorial skills and Cowles's business acumen combined to achieve a wide readership and financial security. Ingham's reporting philosophy was best summed up in these words to a young reporter about to cover a sensitive story concerning well-to-do Des Moines citizens: "Write the truth, and let the chips fall where they may."People may have disagreed with Ingham over the years, but they knew he was sincere and honest, and the readership of the paper never declined, even during the Great Depression.

    A progressive Republican, Ingham was attracted to Theodore Roosevelt's progressive philosophy and reigning in of the great trusts, so he supported Roosevelt's presidential runs both as a Republican candidate and as the nominee of the Bull Moose Party. He also supported Democrat Woodrow Wilson's attempt to convince the United States to join the League of Nations, remarking, "The wisest nationalism the American citizen will ever show will be the nationalism that is international."Ingham was careful not to make the newspaper a Republican mouthpiece; instead, breaking with traditional newspaper practices of the time, he kept it independent, allowing him to support the best candidates and policies as he saw them regardless of political party.

    Ingham continued as editor at the Register and Tribune for 40 years. His editorials became legendary for their thought-provoking ideas. He continued to write a personal column into his late 80s.

    Ingham was honored throughout his life with awards and calls for his leadership on committees and boards. Grinnell and Morn ingside colleges granted him honorary degrees. In 1927 he was elected national honorary president of Sigma Delta Chi journalistic fraternity, and that same year the Carnegie Peace Foundation chose him to join 23 other American editors to survey conditions in Europe. Drake University called on him to serve as a trustee, and in 1934 initiated him into the university's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1946, at the insistence of fellow Drake trustee and partner, Gardner Cowles Sr., the university began planning a new science building to be named Harvey Ingham Hall. It opened in 1949, but Ingham, at 90, was too ill to attend. He died at age 90 and was buried in the Resthaven Cemetery in West Des Moines.

    On October 23, 1894, Ingham had married Nellie Emily Hepburn. They had three sons.
Sources include Arthur B. Ingham, The Ingham Family: A Biography and Genealogy (1968), held at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines; George Mills, Harvey Ingham and Gardner Cowles, Sr.: Things Don't Just Happen (1977); Johnson Brigham, History of Des Moines and Polk County (1911); Who Was Who in America, vol. 2; and an obituary in the Des Moines Sunday Register, 7/24/1949.
Contributor: Dale A. Vande Haar

Cite as: Vande Haar, Dale A. "Ingham, Harvey" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 17 December 2017