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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Waymack, William Wesley
(October 18, 1888–November 5, 1960)

–Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and liberal internationalist–devoted much of his career to seeking economic parity for depressed farmer in Iowa and the Midwest, alleviating the conditions of farm tenancy, and advocating a global economy.

    Following the Civil War, William Edward Waymack and Emma Julia (Oberheim) Waymack migrated from Virginia to Savanna, Illinois, where William Wesley was born. After grade school, he lived with maternal grandparents at Mount Carroll, Illinois. Upon graduation from high school in 1904, Waymack was employed by the Milwaukee Railroad for four years, and then attended Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, where he earned a B.A. (1911). He married Elsie Jeannette Lord the same year. One child, Edward Randolph, was born in 1912.

    Waymack entered the newspaper business as a reporter and editorial writer with the Sioux City Journal from 1911 to 1918. But his employment by the Des Moines Register and Tribune as chief editorial writer in 1918 marked the real beginning of an illustrious career. Not by accident, Waymack's Wilsonian outlook coincided with that of Gardiner Cowles Sr., who purchased the Register and Tribune in 1903 and built it into Iowa's dominant paper. Waymack was promoted to the post of editor of the editorial section in 1931; was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1938; and became company vice president in 1939, editor in 1943, and, in 1944, a member of the board of Cowles Broadcasting.

    In the depression environment of the 1930s, Waymack won recognition for advocating amelioration of the farm problem by securing a better economic balance between the industrialized Northeast and the agrarian Midwest. While a Republican, he accepted the need for the New Deal agricultural programs, despite reservations about their centralizing tendencies. His support for Secretary of State Cordell Hull's reciprocal trade agreements program stemmed from his conviction that no permanent remedy for depressed farm prices was possible absent reopened international markets. It would not suffice to hate Roosevelt, he argued; the GOP needed a substantive agricultural program. While he pressed Republican candidates for the presidency to adopt alternatives to crop controls, he became disenchanted with the contradictory proposals on agricultural relief in the GOP's 1936 and 1940 platforms and the campaigns led by Alf Landon and Wendell Willkie.

    Like William Allen White, an inexhaustible correspondent and organizer in Kansas, Waymack was a man of broad interests and an activist. He founded or served as director of numerous local and national organizations related to agriculture, civil liberties, world peace, and religious tolerance. Fearful of renewed warfare, he promoted educational campaigns at the state and regional levels aimed at countering the isolationist and nationalistic climate of the interwar period. Conscious of internal and external threats to the nation's constitutional fabric, he deplored both the rise of dictatorships in Europe and the emergence of self-contained decision making dominated by interest groups in Washington. He acknowledged the need to accommodate the centrifugal tendencies of the 20th century, but preferred greater influence on public policy from enlightened liberals.

    Engaged in a war of ideas, Waymack joined with other Wilsonian internationalists in forming the Economic Policy Committee to promote open markets as essential to economic recovery from the Great Depression and to attainment of world peace. With the outbreak of the Second World War, many in the group–Waymack, Will Clayton, and Dean G. Acheson among them–advocated support for the Allied and British causes. The same group was instrumental in shaping postwar policy. Waymack served on the board of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and was actively involved in Freedom House, founded to promote civil liberties worldwide.

    Waymack entered public service initially through the President's Committee on Farm Tenancy (1936-1937) and on Iowa Governor Nelson Kraschel 's Farm Tenancy Committee, subsequently with membership on the Federal Reserve Board of Chicago (1941-1946) and several wartime agencies, including the War Labor Board (1942) and the Midwest Regional Commission of the National Resources Planning Board. When President Harry Truman appointed him to the newly created Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a civilian agency that succeeded to wartime military control, he had to terminate his association with the Des Moines Register and Tribune. Confronted by ill health, Waymack resigned from the AEC in 1948 and returned to his beloved 275-acre farm in Adel, 30 miles west of Des Moines.
Sources Waymack's papers, located at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, are the principal source for his diverse career. Obituaries appear in the New York Times and the Des Moines Register, 11/6/1960. His association with the Des Moines Register and Tribune is described in George Mills, Harvey Ingham and Gardner Cowles, Sr.: Things Don't Just Happen (1977); and William Friedricks, Covering Iowa: The History of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, 1849–1985 (2000).
Contributor: Elliott A. Rosen

Cite as: Rosen, Elliott A. "Waymack, William Wesley" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017