(1872 to 1960)
Claim to fame: Longtime editor of The Atlantic Monthly
Quote: “An editor should believe in his magazine. The trouble is many of them don’t. You see all sorts of balderdash in the appeals they make to their readers. ‘Our readers edit our magazine. It is they who tell us what to put in.’ That is the sort of thing politicians say to their constituents. It is worse than nonsense. It is a lie.”
Another one: “At the heart of the competitive system is a wild and whirling center, where dog eats dog, and throats are cut with suavity and dispatch. Very close to the heart of the tempest lies the magazine business.”
Life in 200 words or less: The Atlantic Monthly was already over half a century old when Ellery Sedgwick became its editor in 1909, fulfilling an ambition he had supposedly harbored since his sophomore year of college. Though he had worked for several other magazines, Sedgwick didn’t waste any time climbing the Atlantic’s masthead; instead, he bought the magazine and soon installed himself as its chief editor.
Unlike many magazine owners who fancy themselves as editors, however, Sedgwick was the real thing. As the New York Times noted on his death, “Sedgwick directed the magazine, then of small circulation, so that it grew into a national social and political force.”
Frederick Lewis Allen, an author and onetime editor of Harper’s, said Sedgwick intended that his magazine “face the whole of life, its riddles, its adventures; the critical questions of the day, the problems of the human heart; and that no subject should be taboo if only it were discussed with urbanity.”
Sedgwick would hold the job for 30 years and sell the magazine the following year. He titled his memoirs, “The Happy Profession,” by which he meant magazine editing.
For more: “The Happy Profession” (Little, Brown and Co.), which Sedgwick published in 1946, covers his Atlantic years as well as earlier stints at magazines such as Leslie’s Monthly and McClure’s. His papers are at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Incidentally, other members of the accomplished Sedgwick clan include the writer John, the actress Kyra, and the ill-fated but much-publicized Andy Warhol protégé, Edie. -- Greg Daugherty, 11/08