The Pulitzer Prize Story: News Stories, Editorials, Cartoons, and Pictures from the Pulitzer Prize Collection at Columbia University

By John Hohenberg | Go to book overview

APPENDIXES

I. THE PULITZER PRIZES:
A BRIEF HISTORY

NOTE: The following was adapted from an article in the quarterly publication, Columbia Library Columns, Vol. VI, No. 3, and is reprinted with the permission of the publishers.

Late in August, 1902, Joseph Pulitzer somewhat impulsively dictated a confidential memorandum roughing out his "germ of an idea" for a School of Journalism at Columbia University. Toward the end of this rambling, highly personal document, he said:

"Incidentally, I strongly wish the College to pay from the large income I am providing, a sum of [ ] in annual prizes to particular journalists or writers for various accomplishments, achievements and forms of excellence."

This was the genesis of the Pulitzer Prizes. That he thought well of the idea from the first is evident in the suggestion he attached to the memorandum, setting the annual sum to be provided for the prizes at $20,000 or more. It was a sizeable way to fill in a blank in a rough draft. Under the terms of agreement reached April 10, 1903 with the Trustees of Columbia University (not Columbia College, as contemplated in the memorandum), it turned out that the prize idea and prize sum estimate were both practical and durable. The influence which the Pulitzer Prizes have exerted on American letters and journalism is the best evidence of that.

At the time he concluded the first agreement with the university, Mr. Pulitzer was at the height of his fame as publisher of the "New York World" and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As was evident from his memorandum, his first concern was the school and the prizes came second. But not for long. He was soon writing to a member of the Columbia trustees:

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