(This post continues my exploration of how American journalists covered the Irish revolution. Visit the project landing page to access earlier work and resources. MH)
The United States’ April 1917 entry into the First World War had two immediate impacts on Ireland: increased scrutiny of Irish American efforts to support the revolution in ally Britain’s backyard, first exposed a year earlier during the Easter Rising; and more American newspaper correspondents based in London to cover the arrival and battlefield engagements of U.S. troops on the continent. In addition to their eastward journeys across the English Channel from Dover to Calais, these reporters also travelled westward across the Irish Sea, usually boarding the overnight mail boats from Holyhead to Dublin.
Arthur H. Gleason was among the first American journalists to assess post-Rising Irish nationalism within the British Empire. Born in 1878 in Newark, N.J., he graduated from Yale University in 1901 and joined the New York Tribune as a reporter. For 10 years from 1903 Gleason worked as a writer and editor at Cosmopolitan, Country Life in America, and Collier’s Weekly magazines. At the outbreak of the war in 1914, he joined the Red Cross and served with the Hector Munro Ambulance Corps in Belgium. Gleason was briefly captured by the Germans, but managed to escape and report his observations of the front lines, including several popular books about the war, notably Golden Lads, co-written with his wife.“Arthur Gleason papers, 1863-1931”, MSS18382, Library of Congress, and multiple newspaper obituaries.
Gleason rejoined the Tribune in 1916 as a European correspondent as U.S. entry into the war became inevitable. Arthur Draper, another of the paper’s London correspondents, had covered the Rising in Dublin. He was “an outspoken proponent of including interpretation in foreign news reports,” rather than the just-the-facts presentation of the wire services.(2017) Modern Foreign Correspondents after World War I: The New York Evening Post‘s David Lawrence and Simeon Strunsky, American Journalism, 34:3, pp. 313-332. Gleason wrote a series of articles for the Tribune‘s op-ed pages that aimed to educate readers about war conditions in Great Britain. He also produced articles on the same topic for Century Magazine. This work was collected nearly word-for-word as the book Inside the British Isles, published in spring 1917.
Gleason made what he described as a “brief visit” to Ireland, apparently before the end of 1916, to detail nationalist restiveness. “Sane opinion in Ireland is well aware that in any solution Ireland remains inside the federation of the British commonwealth,” he wrote, “but the status toward which the intelligent Irish work is that of a self-governing nation, like the free colonies.”Arthur Gleason, Inside The British Isle (New York: The Century Co., 1917), p. 173.
Gleason’s analysis focused more on economic, market, and labor conditions than politics. He reported:
The real Irish question is poverty. … The slums of Irish cities are among the worst in Europe. … Many of the farms are too small for economic working, and what there is of them is not good enough soil. Much of the best tillage remains in the hands of landlords and is used for grazing instead of the production of crops. The hope of Ireland lies in trade unionism, education, and cooperation. Ireland’s real problem is to increase production and distribute prosperity.Ibid, pp. 206-209, and “Poverty: The Real Irish Question”, New York Tribune, April 11, 1917.
Gleason viewed wealthy Irish Americans as an important source of this hope. At the time of his visit, he “found Ireland stimulated” by the news that Henry Ford proposed building a tractor factory in Cork city, near the industrialist’s ancestral homeland. The reporter continued:
If the very rumor (of Ford’s plant) has given cheer to an underpaid population, how much new hope will flow in if Irish Americans whose hearts bleed for Ireland will invest some of their money in Irish agriculture and industry. A few million dollars invested where the heart is will relieve a pressure on Ireland, which today is resulting in bad housing, undernourishment, overwork and an undue proportion of pauperism. The real Irish question is not solved by political wrangling and chronically jangled nerves inside the island, nor by hot temper at long distance. The Irish Americans who have planted the tradition of Ireland’s wrongs inside the United States are two generations out of date. … American money is not needed for nationalist propaganda. It is needed for agricultural and industrial development. Our rich Irish Americans can do an immense service to Ireland. They can aid to set her free. But not by parliamentary debates, speech-making campaigns, and pitiful abortive rebellions. They can set her free by standing security for land improvement, better housing, the purchase of machinery and fertilizer plants.
Gleason interviewed and quoted English social and economic academics such as Graham Wallas, Sir Alfred Eckhard Zimmern, and Sir George G. Butler. He also discussed matters with Irish nationalist writers and journalists James Stephens and George William Russell, known by the pseudonym AE, and he quoted Ulster leader Sir Edward Carson. Gleason did not meet or mention Sinn Féin leaders Arthur Griffith, Eamon de Valera, and Michael Collins, who were incarcerated by the British at the time.
Gleason spoke with Dublin-born Lord Northcliffe, a powerful press baron of London’s Fleet Street. The reporter devoted one of his Tribune op-eds and a chapter of his book to a comparison of the British, Irish, and American press. He wrote:
I think the little independent spirited Irish weeklies are admirable. They sass the censor and the Lord Lieutenant and the (Dublin) Castle. I met some of the editors—poor men and honest, editing and writing papers in which they believe. They seem to me worth all the sleek, timid New York crowd put together. … A man believes something hard, and, being Irish, he has the knack of statement, so he publishes a paper.Inside, p. 263, and “A Batch of Papers”, New York Tribune, May 10, 1917.
Privately, Gleason shared drafts of his Irish reporting with key sources for their approval before publication, a common practice at the time but anathema to most modern journalists. His regular correspondents included Butler and Lord Eustace Percy, a British diplomat.
“Butler has handed me your article on Ireland: neither of us feel quite comfortable about making ourselves responsible for it to the extent of giving it special facilities for transmission to America as it stands at present,” Percy wrote to Gleason, then living in Hove, Sussex, on the English Channel coastline 65 miles south of London. “My criticism of your article is not that it is hostile to this country (though I think that is the net effect of it) but that it is not really calculated to enlighten America. … You are carrying coals to Newscastle in writing for America sentimental impressionism about great political problems.”Percy to Gleason, Dec. 28, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.
Gleason replied two days later.Gleason to Percy, Dec. 30, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers. He agreed to make some “modifications” to the content and withdraw other passages from his Tribune and Century dispatches; but not from the book, which he argued provided fuller context of the relationship between the two islands. “I want the article to be passed,” Gleason wrote, an acknowledgement of the realities of war-time censorship in Britain, which would soon to be duplicated in America. “I think you will agree I have met you seven eighths of the way.”
Gleason bristled at Percy’s charge of sentimental impressionism. “That which is excellent in Belgium and Serbia does not become ‘sentimental’ or selfish in Poland or Ireland. It merely remains the same principal for which French and English (and soon Americas) are fighting—the right of self-government.”
Gleason’s reporting from Ireland was subject to further editing. Soon after the publication of Inside The British Isles, he wrote to Douglas Z. Doty, editor at the Century publishing company, to complain that “heavy hunks” of content totaling 16 pages had been cut from the manuscript. “Everything that explains the state of mind, everything that voices the young men, has disappeared,” Gleason complained. “Poems, quotations, the statement of a young rebel to me, all have disappeared.”Gleason to Doty, June 4, 1917, Arthur Gleason papers.
He questioned whether the missing material resulted from “editorial exigency” in New York or censorship by the British Foreign Office, which he claimed had approved the manuscript. The missing material, according to Gleason, included quotes from several Irish political leaders, among them Helena Malony, a 1916 Easter Rising participant and member of Cumann na mBan, the Irish republican women’s paramilitary organization. Malony’s feminism and labor activism were especially relevant to Gleason’s broader social and economic interests.
Also missing from the book, Gleason wrote, were his analysis of the Dublin rebellion; a tribute to the Gaelic League and similar Irish organizations; a poem written by executed Rising leader Pádraic Pearse; and references to The White Headed Boy, a 1916 comedy drama by Irish playwright Lennox Robinson.
Nevertheless, Inside the British Isles won praise on both sides of the Atlantic. “It is welcome as a contribution to the discussion which is not merely of interest to Ireland, but to thousands of Irish well-wishers and sympathizers in this country,” said one American review.”The Irish Problem”, Buffalo (N.Y.) News, Aug. 27, 1917. An advertisement in the Irish press (image) collected several favorable reviews.
Gleason returned to America as Irish separatists launched a guerilla war against the British military and police in Ireland. He continued to work on labor and economic issues through the New York-based Bureau of Industrial Research and with social reformer Paul Underwood Kellogg. They co-authored British Labor and the War in 1919. But Gleason’s insights about Ireland were called upon again in late 1920.
Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of the weekly liberal journal the Nation, organized the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland on behalf of pro-Irish interests. He invited dozens of U.S. senators, state governors, big city mayors, college presidents and professors, religious leaders, newspaper editors, and other prominent citizens to form and oversee the eight-member panel of inquiry, which was not affiliated with the U.S. government. Villard and his supporters also intended to send a five-member investigative team to Ireland, including Gleason.
Other members of the proposed delegation included:
- Major Oliver P. Newman, a journalist, sociologist, former Washington, D.C. commissioner and U.S. Army veteran of the Great War;
- Rev. Norman Thomas, a Presbyterian minister, socialist political candidate, and publisher of the World Tomorrow;
- James H. Mauer, a progressive labor leader and president of the Pennsylvania State Federation of Labor; and
- Robert Morse Lovett, dean of the University of Chicago.
For several weeks in November and December 1920 the New York Tribune, Gleason’s former employer, and other American newspapers published conflicting reports about whether the group would, or would not, be issued passports to visit Ireland; based on the approval or objections of the U.S. or British governments. The dispute continued as the commission, which included Newman, Thomas, and Mauer, opened public hearings on conditions in Ireland at a Washington hotel.
Privately, Gleason was skeptical of the investigative delegation to which he was publicly named. “Unless the strongest kind of commission is sent to England and Ireland, it will be better to send none at all,” he wrote to Villard. “To send a half dozen unknown or slightly known persons will injure the cause of good-will you have at heart. The work will be discredited, or treated with indifference and irony.”Gleason to Villard, Nov. 24, 1920, in Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323), Harvard University, Box 37, Irish Commission, 1920-1921.
Gleason subsequently complained there were too many socialists in the proposed group, with “no bishop, no judge, no ‘big’ business man. So idealistic a commission will not avail.”Ibid. “Since writing the above…” handwritten on same letter.
The proposed delegation scuttled by the time the commission concluded its hearings in January 1921. A month later another group of American investigators travelled to Ireland as part of an overlapping effort called the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. This group’s account of distress in Ireland was released within days of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland report based on the Washington hearing testimony. Pro-Irish supporters cheered the two narratives critical of British rule; the British government condemned both reports as exaggerations and fabrications; and U.S. officials mostly tried to remain neutral and outside the fray.See my earlier posts American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921, and American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921.
Though unstated in his letter to Villard, Gleason’s reluctance to join the proposed Irish delegation also might have been based on his skepticism of Irish American political meddling in the conflict, though he encouraged economic investment, as noted above. In his 1917 book, Gleason wrote:
The irreconcilable Irish in America had seemed to me a set of men “scrapping” volubly for the sake of words and dissension. … (It is) the bitterness of Roman Catholic pulpits in Boston and Chicago, the railings of mass meetings in New York, the irresponsible perorations of Irish-American politicians that chiefly threatens the future of Ireland. … (Progressive British people) cannot and will not accept from America the last and worst doctrine of reaction.Inside, pp. 173, 191.
It does not appear that Gleason wrote more about Ireland after 1917. The island was partitioned in 1921 as the war with Britain ended and devolved into the year-long Irish civil war. The revolutionary period that began at Easter 1916 ended in May 1923.
Gleason died of meningitis on Dec. 30, 1923, two weeks after his 45th birthday. He is buried in Washington, D.C.
|↑1||“Arthur Gleason papers, 1863-1931”, MSS18382, Library of Congress, and multiple newspaper obituaries.|
|↑2||(2017) Modern Foreign Correspondents after World War I: The New York Evening Post‘s David Lawrence and Simeon Strunsky, American Journalism, 34:3, pp. 313-332.|
|↑3||Arthur Gleason, Inside The British Isle (New York: The Century Co., 1917), p. 173.|
|↑4||Ibid, pp. 206-209, and “Poverty: The Real Irish Question”, New York Tribune, April 11, 1917.|
|↑5||Inside, p. 263, and “A Batch of Papers”, New York Tribune, May 10, 1917.|
|↑6||Percy to Gleason, Dec. 28, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.|
|↑7||Gleason to Percy, Dec. 30, 1916, Arthur Gleason papers.|
|↑8||Gleason to Doty, June 4, 1917, Arthur Gleason papers.|
|↑9||”The Irish Problem”, Buffalo (N.Y.) News, Aug. 27, 1917.|
|↑10||Gleason to Villard, Nov. 24, 1920, in Oswald Garrison Villard Papers, 1872-1949 (MS Am 1323), Harvard University, Box 37, Irish Commission, 1920-1921.|
|↑11||Ibid. “Since writing the above…” handwritten on same letter.|
|↑12||See my earlier posts American investigators visit Ireland, February 1921, and American visitors describe ‘Distress in Ireland,’ April 1921.|
|↑13||Inside, pp. 173, 191.|