The Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association (Galesburg, IL) is pleased to introduce to our viewers a new series featuring the life & works of Carl Sandburg, entitled
"Letters from a Docent" by Dr. John W. Quinley.  ENJOY!

Carl Sandburg Portrait Before the Chicago Daily News

Letters from a Docent #2
2 January 2024

by Dr. John W. Quinley
John W. Quinley

Dr. John W. Quinley, a retired college administrator and faculty member, was raised in Maywood, Illinois, just a few blocks away from where Sandburg lived 30 years earlier. He served as a docent for Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site for several years, and is the author of Discovering Carl Sandburg: The Eclectic Life of an American Icon  (2022). He and his wife, Melissa, live in Hendersonville, North Carolina, just a few miles from Sandburg's former home.



22 January 2024


Carl Sandburg at the Chicago Day Book (1913)


Carl Sandburg at the Chicago Day Book (1913)

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, CARL 13820


Before the Chicago Daily News

By John W. Quinley


Newspapers are to start a fire with, if you have the wood.

Newspapers are to wrap up with and then unwrap.

Newspapers are to sit on at a picnic.

Newspapers are terrible when terrible things happen.

Newspapers tell beforehand what is going to happen—maybe.

Newspapers are to throw away today and wait till tomorrow comes.

Sandburg is best known in journalism as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Daily News. He worked there for twelve years, intermittently from 1917 to 1932. But his days with the press started much earlier, and he took on other positions besides reporting.


As a soldier during the Spanish-American War in 1898, he wrote firsthand accounts from his posting in Puerto Rico for the Galesburg Evening Mail. After the war, he wrote, formatted, and edited the Lombard College newspaper and yearbook. And for a brief time after college, he penned a social interest column “Inklings and Idlings” for his hometown paper.


After leaving Galesburg for Chicago in 1905, Sandburg worked for a variety of print media: Unity, a magazine of the Unitarian Church; To-Morrow, a small magazine that provided room and board, but no salary; Lyceumite, a periodical for platform artists where he was an associate editor and advertising man; and System: The Magazine of Business, where his left-leaning ideas got him fired.


In 1907, Sandburg accepted a position with the Social-Democratic Party in Wisconsin where he authored articles and pamphlets for the party and wrote columns and poems for the International Socialist Review. Three years later as the private secretary for the socialist mayor of Milwaukee, he freelanced articles for three Milwaukee newspapers and became city editor of the Social-Democratic Herald. He moved back to Chicago in 1912, where he took a position with The World, a socialist daily. But the paper soon folded, and Sandburg was out of a job. He then worked short-term for the American Artisan & Hardware Record, and a Hearst newspaper that he left after the editors pressured him to slant his writing toward conservative interests.


The most consequential newspaper position Sandburg held early in his career (1913 to 1917) was as senior writer for the Day Book, a progressive newspaper that accepted no advertising. While the conservative press pushed frugality as the antidote for the struggles of workers, Sandburg wrote “As wages run in most industries today, the poor don’t have a chance to know the value of a dollar because they live on nickels and dimes. They eat fried mush when they need eggs.”


At his core, Sandburg was a newspaper man. He worked for over a dozen presses and worked a variety of jobs for newspapers. The requisite research and direct style of news reporting shaped his later writings as poet and historian.


Thanks for reading.


John Quinley is the author of Discovering Carl Sandburg: The Eclectic Life of an American Icon and is a former docent at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Membership in the Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association

If you enjoy reading Letters from a Docent, Sandburg's Hometown, Inklings & Idlings and our CSHSA Website & Facebook pages, we'd love to have your support as a contributing member of the Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association.


 No.  Date Title
1 8 Jan 2024 Poet of the People
2 22 Jan 2024 Before the Chicago Daily News
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