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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Mott, Frank Luther
(April 4, 1886–October 23, 1964)

–journalist, historian, author, editor, professor, and longtime university administrator—is best remembered as the author of American Journalism, The News in America, and A History of American Magazines. Over the course of his career, he wrote more than a dozen books and 100 articles in scholarly journals and popular periodicals. Although he began as a writer of fiction and short stories, Mott later achieved recognition for his comprehensive histories of American newspapers and magazines. Mott is also celebrated as one of the founders of journalism education for his texts, teaching methods, and administrative acumen that gave the nascent field academic credence. During his 30-year career as dean of the schools of journalism at the state universities of Iowa and Missouri, he did more than any other individual to raise such programs to a level comparable to that of other professional schools.

    Mott was born in What Cheer, Iowa, the son of newspaper publisher David Charles Mott and Mary E. (Tipton) Mott. As a young man, he imbibed nearly every facet of the newspaper business by spending almost every waking hour at his father's newspapers. He studied literature and philosophy at Simpson College before transferring to the University of Chicago, where he received bachelor's and master's degrees in English. In 1910 he married Vera H. Ingram, with whom he had one daughter, Mildred Mott (Wedel). He spent the next 10 years as publisher and editor of the Marengo Republican and the Grand Junction Globe. While pursuing a Ph.D. at Columbia University, Mott taught at Simpson College and at the State University of Iowa, where he served as coeditor of Midland magazine.

    In 1921 Mott became professor of journalism and director of the State University of Iowa School of Journalism. In 1942 he became dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he built the graduate program and raised the academic requirements for both students and faculty. As a classroom teacher, Mott enjoyed almost legendary status among his students, entertaining them with his rhetorical and dramatic skills. Mott often used historical accounts to demonstrate the operation of journalistic principles. His graduate seminar met informally once a week in his own home. As chief of the journalism section of the army's American University of Biarritz, France, after World War II, Mott participated in a specialized training program for journalists in the U.S. military. He also served as an adviser to General Douglas MacArthur's staff, aiding Japanese leaders in establishing schools for journalism education.

    Mott's writing career began in 1917 with the publication of Six Prophets of the Midwest. In 1921 he produced a widely reprinted short story titled "The Man with a Good Face."In 1926 he published Rewards of Reading and in 1935 collaborated with famed Iowa artist Grant Wood on Revolt against the City. His American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States through 250 Years, 1690- 1940, originally published in 1941, reigned as the standard textbook for several decades. Mott's masterpiece, the five-volume History of American Magazines, provided scholars with a detailed chronology of the country's greatest editors and assessed their influence. In 1939 he received the Pulitzer Prize for History for volumes two and three, and in 1957 he garnered the Bancroft Prize for History for the fourth volume, which covered the years from 1885 through 1905. The unfinished fifth volume, published posthumously in 1968, completed what endured for decades as the definitive history of American magazines.

    In between volumes, Mott published Jefferson and the Press, Golden Multitudes, and The News in America. His monograph A Free Press, written in 1958, lauded the crucial importance of the free press in a democracy. In 1962 he published a series of personal sketches of midwestern small towns titled Time Enough: Essays in Autobiography. In addition, Mott served as editor-in-chief of Journalism Quarterly, the first scholarly journal in the field, from 1930 through 1934, and as chair of the National Council for Research in Journalism from 1934 through 1938. In 1929 he became the first elected president of the American Association of Schools and Departments of Journalism, and, teaming with public opinion pioneer George Gallup, founded Quill and Scroll, the high school honor society in journalism. Productive and involved to the end, Mott finished The Missouri Reader, a collection of stories, essays, poems, sketches, and folk tales just before his death at age 78.
Sources The Papers of Frank Luther Mott are in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, and in the Western Manuscript Collection of the State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia. The most complete assessment of Mott's career is Max Lawrence Marshall, "Frank Luther Mott: Journalism Educator" (Ph.D. diss., University of Missouri, 1968). Brief summaries of his life can be found in the Columbia Missourian, 10/23/1964; Kansas City Star, 10/23/1964; and New York Times, 10/24/1964.
Contributor: John D. Buenker

Cite as: Buenker, John D. "Mott, Frank Luther" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017