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William T. Evjue

A 1931 portrait of Evjue

William T. Evjue can be characterized as Madison's most prominent liberal-minded newspaper proprietor. He was born on October 10, 1882 in Merrill, Wisconsin, went to Merrill high school, and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin in 1902. After graduating in 1905, Evjue became a reporter at the Milwaukee Sentinel, and from 1908 to 1911 he worked at the Chicago Record Herald. He returned to Madison in 1911 when he was offered the position of managing editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. In 1913 he married Zillah Bagley. 

When his position at the newspaper ended Evjue spent a few years as business manager before returning to journalism as founding editor of the Capital Times in 1917, which he financed with a twenty thousand dollar loan. In the first issue Evjue set forth the paper's ideal: the Capital Times was to be a "people's newspaper," dedicated to the public interest and to good government." His motto was "the public interest always must be placed above private interest," and he modeled the paper as a progressive medium for the purposes of revealing 'bad government' and corruption. He crusaded against a supposed 'epidemic of slot machines' in the 1940s, lobbying against special interests, exposing KKK activities and members, and spotlighting state mismanagement of taxes. Evjue was also an early critic of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, writing scathing rebukes of McCarthy's demagogic attacks on political opponents. When Badger Broadcasting—which Evjue founded in 1931 shortly after becoming an NBC affiliate—applied for a television license in 1952 after the 'freeze' had ended, the company was denied reportedly as a partial reprimand for Evjue's political outspokenness.

Evjue was politically active himself, serving as a member of the Wisconsin assembly from 1917 to 1919, and as director of the Republican State Central Committee of Wisconsin from 1920-1924, followed by an appointment as chairman of the new Progressive Party in 1934. He maintained a relationship with the LaFollette family through this time, and it can be argued that his status in Madison media history can help explain how the perception of Madison as a liberal bastion came to be. At the time he applied for a television license there were fewer than five 'liberal' ownership newspapers, with Evjue certainly being the most vocal and visible of any small market presses.

The Wisconsin Historical Society features a 160 box archive of Evjue's personal, business, and radio dealings. Correspondence highlights includes letters from the LaFollettes, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Carl Sandburg, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Robert Allen. Also present are extensive memorabilia, financial records, journalistic documents, and political writings.

Digital Documents

Letter from Robert M. LaFollette, Sr., 1917

Handwritten note from LaFollette, 1918

Letter from Robert LaFollette, Jr., 1926

Letter from President Harry Truman, 1948

Letter from Truman, 1952

Letter from Senator John F. Kennedy, 1958

Handwritten note from Senator Kennedy, 1959

Inauguration invitation

Related Links

Capital Times (wikipedia)

TIME Magazine on Evjue, 1946

Finding Aid for William Evjue collection, WHS

Meyer, "Footsteps in Newsprint"

Evjue Foundation