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Joseph Medill (April 6, 1823 – March 16, 1899) was an American newspaper editor and publisher, and politician. He was co-owner and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, and was mayor of Chicago, Illinois.


Medill was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. In 1853, Medill and Edwin Cowles started a newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio: the Leader (later absorbed by the Plain Dealer). In 1854, he was asked to become managing editor of the Tribune by its part-owner, Captain J. D. Webster. Medill was further encouraged to come to Chicago by Dr. Charles H. Ray of Galena, Illinois, and editor Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune.

In 1855, Medill sold his interest in the Leader to Cowles, and bought the Tribune in partnership with Dr. Ray and Cowles' brother Alfred.[1]

Under Medill's management, the Tribune flourished, becoming one of the largest newspapers in Chicago. Medill served as its managing editor until 1864, when Horace White became editor-in-chief. At that time Medill left day-to-day operations of the Tribune for political activities.

However, White clashed with Medill over the Presidential election of 1872. So, in 1873 Medill bought additional equity from Cowles and from White, becoming majority owner. In 1874 he replaced White as editor-in-chief. Medill served as editor-in-chief until his death.

Political activity[]

Under Medill, the Tribune became the leading Republican newspaper in Chicago. Though probably holding what would now be considered racist views, Medill was strongly anti-slavery, supporting both the Free-Soil cause and Abolitionism. Medill was a major supporter of Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s. Medill and the Tribune were instrumental in Lincoln's nomination for the Presidency, and were equally supportive of the Union cause during the American Civil War. The Tribune's chief adversary through this period was the Chicago Times, which supported the Democrats.

In 1864, Medill left the Tribune editorship for political activity, which occupied him for the next ten years. He was appointed by President Grant to the first Civil Service Commission. In 1870, he was elected as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional convention. In 1871, after the Great Chicago Fire, Medill was elected mayor of Chicago as candidate of the temporary "Fireproof" party, serving for two years. As mayor, Medill gained more power for the mayor's office, created Chicago's first public library, enforced blue laws and reformed the police and fire departments. However, the stress of the job broke down his health. In August 1873, he appointed Lester L. Bond as Acting Mayor for the remaining 3½ months of his term, and went to Europe on a convalescent tour.

Medill was a strong Republican loyalist, who supported President Grant for re-election in 1872. The breach with White came because White supported the breakaway Liberal Republicans, reformists who nominated Horace Greeley for President. It was also at this time that Medill broke with Greeley.


Medill had two daughters: Kate and Elinor (Nellie).

Nellie married Tribune reporter Robert W. Patterson Jr. Their children Joseph and Cissy were also successful newspaper publishers.

Kate married diplomat Robert Sanderson McCormick. He was the nephew of Cyrus McCormick, founder of the Chicago Times and Medill's long-time adversary. Their sons Joseph M. McCormick and Robert R. McCormick both served as heads of the Tribune.


Medill's descendants include many prominent figures in American newspaper publishing.

  • Grandson Joseph Medill Patterson founded the New York Daily News
  • Granddaughter Cissy Patterson became editor of the Washington Herald and later publisher of the Herald and the Washington Times.
  • Great-granddaughter Alicia Patterson founded and edited Newsday.
  • Grandson Joseph M. McCormick was publisher of the Tribune for four years, and later a U.S. Senator.
  • Grandson Robert R. McCormick succeeded his brother Joseph at the Tribune, where he was publisher for almost 50 years.

Medill acquired a large country estate in Wheaton, Illinois It was later occupied by his grandson, Robert R. McCormick, who named it "Cantigny". The Cantigny estate is now a park and museum facility, open to the public.

Medill Avenue, an east-west street on Chicago's north side, is named for him.

The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University is named after Joseph Medill. The School presents the annual Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism, which bears Joseph Medill's likeness.


  1. Rushton, Wyatt (1916). Joseph Medill and the Chicago Tribune (thesis). University of Wisconsin-Madison via Google Books full view. Retrieved 2007-10-24.  and White, James Terry (1895). The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Being the History of the United States. James T. White & Company, via New York Public Library via Google Books full view. Retrieved 2007-10-24. 

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