William Marion Reedy discovered, promoted, and nurtured some of America’s most important writers during his almost thirty years as the owner and editor of Reedy's Mirror. Founded in 1891 as a gossip sheet named the Sunday Mirror, it reached a circulation of 32,250 by 1898, when the Dial’s circulation stood at 5,000, the Nation’s at 12,000, and the Atlantic’s at 7,000. In his weekly magazine, Reedy published offerings by Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, Zöe Byrd Akins, Sara Teasdale, Fannie Hurst, and Theodore Dreiser, to name only some of the better-known writers of the period. In more than one instance, Reedy discovered these talents and unstintingly encouraged them to continue their work. He also introduced American readers to a number of European authors. Masters, whose best-known work Spoon River Anthology was first published in installments in the Mirror, called him the “Boss of the Literary West.” Reedy’s accomplishments made him welcome on the East and West Coasts and in the White House of Theodore Roosevelt. He spent his entire career in St. Louis, the place of his birth.
Born on December 11, 1862, in the Irish neighborhood of Kerry Patch north of downtown, Reedy attended public schools before enrolling in Christian Brothers College. After graduation he continued his education with another group of Jesuits by completing a business degree at Saint Louis University at the age of eighteen. With the assistance of his policeman father, who worked the Bloody Third District that included Kerry Patch, Reedy found employment on the Missouri Republican. During the next decade he worked sporadically for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and sought a political post as commissioner of parks.
A large man with huge appetites for food and liquor, Reedy frequently felt the ire of the Globe-Democrat’s editor, Joseph McCullagh, for missing work because of his drinking. After one binge, Reedy awoke to find himself married to a prostitute. A quick divorce and a successful marriage in 1897 to Eulalie Bauduy, the daughter of a physician, helped turn Reedy’s life around. She died in 1901, causing Reedy to sink into a deep depression. In 1909 he married Margie Rhodes, a former madam who in 1907 had helped save the Mirror from bankruptcy. The marriage survived until Reedy’s death on July 28, 1920, though the editor received a good amount of criticism for his choice of a wife.
While known for its publication of fiction and poetry, the Mirror also served as the vehicle for Reedy’s political commentary and his well-known humor. He often combined the two to promote the single-tax ideas of Henry George, oppose Prohibition, advocate woman suffrage, and promote individual liberty. His literary criticism entertained and enlightened while reflecting an extraordinary depth and breadth of reading. His chief biographer, Max Putzel, summarized Reedy’s approach as follows: “His function as critic and editor was to bring life and letter into phase with one another, and he never lost the local, the common touch. This trait won him the admiration of a generation of writers through whom he became internationally influential.”
In its obituary for Reedy, the Globe-Democrat called him “the greatest literary figure produced by his generation.” A raconteur, Reedy came to be in such demand as a speaker that “It was not unusual for him to deliver the main address at the funeral services of friends who had made last requests for him to speak.” He died from heart disease in San Francisco after attending the 1920 Democratic National Convention. The Mirror ceased publication five weeks later.
King, Ethel M. Reflections of Reedy: A Biography of William Marion Reedy of “Reedy’s Mirror.” Brooklyn: Gerald J. Rickard, 1961.
Putzel, Max. The Man in the Mirror: William Marion Reedy and His Magazine. 1963. Repr., Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998.
"William Reedy, Noted Editor, Dies Suddenly While Visiting in San Francisco." St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 29, 1920.
Published December 22, 2023
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