Biography of William A. Kelsoe

William Austin Kelsoe was born in Greenville, Bond county, Illinois, February 1, 1851. Upon the death of his mother, a few weeks later, he was committed to the care of Mrs. Sarah Phelps, of Pocahontas, in the same county, and her daughters, one of whom is now Mrs. Kate L. Doubt, a resident of St. Louis. From the age of two years until he reached manhood he was a member of the family of William and Martha Greenwood Watkins and lived with them in Pocahontas, Greenville, Vandalia and East St. Louis, Illinois, also for three years on a farm a few miles northeast of Highland, Illinois. His father, Alexander Kelsoe, circuit clerk of Bond county for twelve years, died in January, 1862, and Mr. Watkins, who was his mother’s brother, was appointed his guardian. He attended the public schools of three of the towns named and also the Greenville Institute, a private school for boys conducted by Rev. Samuel W. Marston, father of Edgar L. Marston, a St. Louis attorney in the ’80s and now a prominent New York banker.

Mr. Kelsoe entered McKendree College, Lebanon, Illinois, in the fall of 1866 and during the winter of 1870-1 he taught a country school in St. Clair county, Illinois. In 1872 he received the degree of A. B. from McKendree and three years later that of A. M., the intervening time being spent, for the most part, at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, which he entered in 1872 with one of his McKendree classmates, Dr. A. C. Bernays, later internationally famous as a surgeon, and Robert Luedeking, later dean of the medical department of Washington University, St. Louis. At Heidelberg Mr. Kelsoe studied philology and old German literature under Professor Bartsch, history and literature under Professor von Treitschke, international law under Professor Bluntschli, the master works of literature under Professor Kuno Fischer and physics under Professor Kirchhoff, all men celebrated in their respective fields of education.

Mr. Kelsoe’s newspaper career, barring spasmodic efforts on country weeklies and a college paper, began as a reporter of the St. Louis Dispatch (the present Post-Dispatch in its early evolution) in August, 1874, under Stilson Hutchins, the owner of the paper then, and Walter B. Stevens, the city editor. Since then he has served in practically every field of reporting and in many editorial positions-local, telegraph, commercial, financial, sporting, exchange, Sunday, railroad, East St. Louis, St. Louis county, book reviewing, literary, political, insurance, and as acting managing editor and editorial writer. He worked on the morning Times and the evening Dispatch with Major John N. Edwards before and on the Times-Journal with Major Emory S. Foster after the celebrated Edwards-Foster duel (in 1875) ; also with Colonel “Pat” Donan (Major Edwards’ brother-in-law), Colonel J. H. R. Cundiff, George Alfred Townsend, Joseph Pulitzer (a special writer for the Times under Stilson Hutchins), Eugene and Roswell Field, John Benton Carter (Commodore Rolingpin), William Vincent Byars, Alexander Russell Webb and other newspaper men of national reputation. During his six years’ service with the morning Times and Times-Journal (and Times again, the paper dropping the affix during Colonel Cundiff’s administration) Mr. Stevens was his city editor. Then, for six years (with a brief interval) Mr. Kelsoe served as city editor of the Missouri Republican, where, with the aid of a loyal staff of reporters never surpassed in efficiency in St. Louis, or elsewhere, he was enabled, he says, to make a record which brought him offers of a like position or one of higher rank with a larger salary, as well as more responsibility from four other St. Louis dailies and two of another city, but he did not need the higher pay, cared little for honors and was seeking relief from (not additional) responsibility. With a break of three years, during which he worked on evening papers, Mr. Kelsoe served twelve years, in all, on the Republican and Republic, the last three as an editorial writer under Charles H. Jones, William Vincent Byars, Charles W. Knapp and Joseph A. Graham.

Mr. Kelsoe’s ‘service for the Globe-Democrat began in 1896 under J. B. McCullagh and H. B. Wandell and continued after Mr. McCullagh’s death at the close of 1896 under Henry King. He first covered hotels and politics and later had charge of the commercial, financial and insurance news departments, also acting as night city editor a couple of years and taking Mr. Wandell’s place in his absence. In the summer of 1901 he accepted a position under W. B. Stevens, then secretary of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, and for the next four and a half years he was manager of the Local Press Bureau of the World’s Fair, continuing the work under President D. R. Francis and Mr. Stevens for a year after the close of the exposition, when he returned to the Globe-Democrat. The chief task of the exposition’s local press bureau was to supply the local press and newspaper correspondents in St. Louis with news of the fair (in its making, during the fair and later), for which a large force of reporters and writers, as well as directing editors, typists, stenographers, copy readers, mimeographers and other workers, was necessary. Besides a daily record, consisting sometimes of nearly a hundred pages of mimeo. graphed copy, a summary of the week’s news was sent, up to the opening of the exposition, to about one hundred and fifty weekly papers, and a large number also to American consuls and our exposition’s representatives in foreign countries. The bureau also furnished practically all of the reading matter (except advertisements) and the illustrations of a monthly publication, the World’s Fair Bulletin the property of Colin M. Selph. John C. Lebens, William C. McCarty and Thomas M. Kemp, assistant managers of the Local Press Bureau, had charge of the assignment book and the work of the reporters.

Mr. Kelsoe had also some valuable newspaper experience while connected (but for much shorter periods) with three evening dailies, the Volksblatt in 1876 (while working for Mr. Stevens on the morning Times and the affiliated evening Dispatch), the Star-Sayings in 1890 and the present evening Times in 1907. Besides the first year with the old Dispatch, he worked for two years and over for the paper after it evolved into the present Post-Dispatch, under Joseph Pulitzer, Sr., and when he left the evening Times early in June, 1907, it was to begin his longest period of service with one paper, the Post-Dispatch, with which he is still (in 1921) connected, his work now being under George S. Johns, who has charge of the editorial page.

While with the Republican (and Republic) in the ’80s Mr. Kelsoe acted also as correspondent for leading papers of several other cities, serving the New York World, Philadelphia Press, Boston Herald, Cincinnati Enquirer, Chicago Times and Times Democrat, the Pittsburg Commercial-Gazette, and occasionally papers in Cleveland, Detroit, Louisville, New Orleans, Kansas City, Denver and the elder Hearst’s Examiner of San Francisco. Late in the ’70s he wrote a weekly letter of St. Louis and Missouri news and gossip for the New Orleans Democrat, which attracted considerable attention in the south-a newspaper legacy from Ferg. Ferris, who followed Stilson Hutchins to Washington city in the spring of 1877.

Mr. Kelsoe’s greatest public service, not counting his newspaper work (including his press work for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition) was the passage of an ordinance requiring street railway companies to run cars all night (owl-car service). The story was told by the St. Louis Star in one of the paper’s Sunday editions in 1906. George W. Eads must be credited for the publication of not only that article, covering an entire front page, but also for one printed by the same paper in 1901, telling how Mr. Kelsoe and his city editor on the Times-Journal (W. B. Stevens) became locally famous as pedestrians at a walking match, the reporter being kindly taken home after the contest by Eugene Field and his brother Roswell in a carriage. Mr. Kelsoe made a tour of Mexico in the fall of 1891 with a delegation of St. Louis merchants, all members of the city’s Spanish Club, for the Post-Dispatch, F. D. White (now manager of the New York World) being then managing editor of Joseph Pulitzer’s St. Louis paper. In the following summer Mr. White sent him to the Altgeld convention at Springfield, Illinois, for the Post-Dispatch, and in 1896 J. B. McCullagh sent him for the Globe-Democrat to another gubernatorial convention at another Springfield, called to select the republican nominee for the office held by W. J. Stone, then governor of Missouri. With him at the Missouri convention was Alfred H. Messing (now manager of one of Mr. Hearst’s Chicago papers) and to him Mr. Kelsoe gives the credit of picking the winner in a fleld of “probable winners.” That was the Lewis convention. In the same year (1896) the subject of this sketch worked under W. B. Stevens for the Globe-Democrat at the Bryan convention at Chicago, being the only working member of the press favored with a seat on the platform during the five days (or any day) of the convention-an achievement made possible, he says, by the badge of authority presented to him by the sergeant-at-arms, Colonel John I. Martin.

Mr. Kelsoe’s interview with Patti, the prima donna, February 24, 1884, for the Missouri Republican, was reprinted by City Editor Francis D. Papin in the Republic of October 6, 1919, a few weeks before the sale of the paper to the Globe-Democrat. His article on the Lord Byron story of Harriet Beecher Stowe was published by F. R. O’Neil, when managing editor of the Republican, in that paper, January 22, 1888, the centennial anniversary of the poet’s birth. His report of the famous fifteeninning, nothing-nothing, practically errorless baseball game played in St. Louis May 1, 1877, between the St. Louis Browns and the Syracuse Stars was used by the Globe-Democrat Sunday, April 29, 1906. One of his financial articles written for Henry King and the same paper (Globe-Democrat) early in the presidential campaign of 1900 was used by the Missouri state republican committee in Its campaign book that year. One of his biggest four courts “scoops” was the exclusive publication by the Post-Dispatch, of a sensational grand jury report in the summer of 1900. His account of a night spent with the doctors and yellow fever patients at Quarantine Hospital below the city in the fall of 1878 was printed by the morning Times of the next day. His report of a river convention at Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois, in the summer of 1881 was an assignment from William Hyde at the suggestion of the St. Louis Merchants’ Exchange, which sent a large delegation of its members to the convention. His “Reise-Erinnerungen,” written for the Old German Students’ Society of St. Louis, telling of a ride over the Austrian Alps in 1873 and some unusual experiences at the Vienna World’s Fair, where he unexpectedly met the emperors of Austria and Germany, was printed in the Westliche Post of November 20, 1910. and some years later was translated into English by Richard I . Stokes. Mr. Kelsoe’s translation of an address by Emil Castelar, of Spain, for William Vincent Byars was published in the “World’s Best Orations” (ten large volumes of orations compiled and edited by Mr. Byars). An article of newspaper reminiscences written for the St. Louis Republic appeared in the centennial edition of that paper (issue of July 12, 1908), and one about the late William Marion Reedy was printed in Reedy’s Mirror of August 19, 1920. Carlos F. Hurd’s review of Mr. Kelsoe’s contribution to the edition of the Greenville (111.) Advocate in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the founding of that city, was printed in the PostDispatch of September 30, 1916. All of his spare time now is being given to a record of St. Louis news and newspaper and of the city’s newspaper work and workers in the ‘709.

Mr. Kelsoe was one of the founders of the St. Louis Ethical Society and a member of its first board of directors, their object being, not to antagonize the churches but to collaborate with them in their ethical work. He served many years in the directory of the Schiller Literary Society (Schiller-Vereln) and was a member of the city’s first Theosophical Society, and the old Missouri Gymnasium (having earlier in life been an acrobat, as well as an all-round athlete and ball player). He has been a member of several press clubs and of other social, fraternal, and scientific literary organizations, including the Psychical Research Society (national), the Papyrus Club, German Society, Old German Students’ Society, Legion of Honor and Masonic Mutual Benefit Society.

Many of Mr. Kelsoe’s summer vacations were passed with Mrs. Kelsoe in traveling. They made a tour of Mexico and took a month for a California trip; visited Canada and the New England states, and Key West and Galveston; viewed American landscapes from the summits of Mount Washington, Lookout Mountain and Pike’s Peak; and sailed up and down and across the “Big Lakes,” up and down the Mississippi river and some of its tributaries, along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and across the Gulf of Mexico in different ways.

Mrs. Kelsoe was Miss Frida Hillgaertner when they first met in 1871 at Lebanon, Illinois, the seat of McKendree College. She had lived in Dubuque, Iowa, and St. Louis after leaving Chicago, her native city, and her home was then in Kansas City, Missouri, where she and Mr. Kelsoe were married in 1877. Her father, Dr. George Hillgaertner, a fellow Revolutionist in Germany with Carl Schurz practiced law in Switzerland after his escape from his home in Frankenthal, Rhenish Bavaria, where he had been condemned to death and his property confiscated. In 1851 the Doctor came to America, and in a short time was prominent here as the editorial head of the Chicago Staats Zeitung, later as a public speaker in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois in two presidential campaigns, and during the Civil war as a writer on the St. Louis German press. A long illness followed and Dr. Hillgaertner died to October, 1865, as stated in a biographical sketch of Mrs. Kelsoe’s father in W. B. Stevens’ history of St. Louis. Mrs. Kelsoe’s mother was Miss Helen von Roden, of Chicago, a descendant of Baron von Roden and Baron von Freytag, of Hanover, Germany, the former being a.relative of Count von Wrode (another spelling of the family name), of Vienna. Considerable other information about Mrs. Kelsoe’s parents and herself was given in a memorial booklet gotten out soon after her death, June 16, 1920. Their only child, Stephen Hillgaertner Kelsoe, is now connected with the St. Louis public library.

Mr. Kelsoe’s American ancestors came, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from Europe (for the most part, from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, one branch of the family from Denmark and Germany) and settled in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, some of them, or their children, later moving west to Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee (the native state of Mr. Kelsoe’s father). The final “e” in “Kelsoe” was added to the name in the eighteenth century, presumably to have the spelling correspond to that of Kehoe, Defoe, Bludsoe, Monroe and other names ending in “oe.” The parents of Mr. Kelsoe’s paternal grandfather, Archibald Kelsoe, (who settled in Humphreys county, Tennessee, late in the eighteenth century) were from Virginia, where the family name was spelled Kelso, like that of the historic Scotch town of Kelso, near Edinburgh, and like that of the Kelsos mentioned in “Wilson’s Border Tales of Scotland.” Archibald’s wife was a North Carolina Houston (also spelled Huston).

Mr. Kelsoe’s mother, Elizabeth Alderman Watkins, a native of Athen, Ohio, and, like Alexander Kelsoe, a school teacher before their marriage, was a daughter of Mathew Watkins, a soldier of the American Revolution and an early Ohio river pilot, and a granddaughter of Watkins, a soldier of the American Revolution, as was one of her mother’s ancestors of the Massachusetts-New York-Ohio Alderman family.



Stevens, Walter B. Centennial History of Missouri (The Center State) One Hundred Years In The Union 1820-1921 Vol 6. St. Louis-Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company. 1921.

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