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Behind theTimes, Ahead of theTimes
Henry Jarvis Raymond, UVM 1840, founded The New York Times 150 years ago with a new vision for journalism

Before the Pentagon Papers, the Pulitzers, and the motto “all the news that’s fit to print,” The New York Times was known for its founder, Henry Jarvis Raymond, University of Vermont class of 1840. Raymond was the paper’s editor and advocate — and perhaps the first truly modern newspaperman. Now, as the Times celebrates its sesquicentennial, we celebrate Raymond: Vermonter and New Yorker, journalist and politician, family man and rogue.

Understanding Raymond’s importance requires some historical context, which may be why he is one of the least-known great American journalists. Most newspapers in Raymond’s day read like talk-radio political rantings combined with scandals lurid enough to embarrass the National Enquirer. Enter Raymond, who shunned gossip and refused to consistently advocate a single political view. This was revolutionary for newspapers, but personally difficult for Raymond. “Such a course,” he said ruefully, “offends all by turns.”
Raymond’s career began when he left Burlington for New York and a job with the legendary editor Horace Greeley. Greeley’s radical politics (and stingy paychecks) stirred Raymond’s ambitions; he temporarily left journalism in 1848 to join the New York state assembly. In 1851, after nearly a decade of trying, he gathered enough money to found the Times. The paper grew quickly, attracting readers who appreciated its objectivity and decorum, but Raymond remained obsessed with politics. He helped Lincoln prepare his presidential platform, and served a term in Congress in 1865. While in office, he tried to negotiate a compromise version of Civil War reconstruction, a hopeless pursuit that cost him re-election, and his paper subscribers and advertisers.

Raymond died in 1869, at age 49, under unclear circumstances. One story holds that he had a heart attack at the apartment of his lover, actress Rose Eytinge, who, a contemporary reported, used Raymond’s love letters against him as “instruments of torture” when their affair soured. Another version has Raymond taken home from a party after becoming unduly affected by a glass of champagne. His companions mistook the symptoms of a stroke for intoxication and dragged him home, where he died before morning.

Despite Raymond’s mysterious demise — ironically, it became a scandal of the sort he wouldn’t have written about — his legacy extends far beyond founding a newspaper that has prospered for 150 years. “There can be no question of the extraordinary merit of Raymond the editor,” writes William Rentschler, an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee. “He set a pattern for journalism to which thoughtful, conscientious editors seek to adhere today. [He] was the prophet and progenitor of the best of modern journalism.”

Henry? Just as there’s a bit of mystery surrounding Henry Jarvis Raymond’s death, so it goes with his memorial bust at UVM. For years, (since 1947 at least, according to Professor Emerita Betty Bandel) the bust pictured has been displayed at the university above a brass plaque with the name and achievements of Henry Jarvis Raymond. But, upon closer inspection, a sticker on back identifies the sculpture as a likeness of Chester A. Arthur, 21st president of the United States and a native son of Vermont. Tracing a Fleming Museum ID number yields the same name. But then there’s that hairline, which seems to whisper, “Raymond,” and how did a president get on a journalist’s plinth in the first place?

Unravel the mystery for us and the VQ staff will take the lucky winner on an all-expenses-paid tour of the Waterman Building’s Memorial Lounge to view Henry or Chester in person.

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