Monday, March 7, 2022

Time Magazine with a SC connection

This new year is a momentous one for TIME Magazine. On March 3 they kicked off their 100th year with a countdown to their centennial birthday on March 3, 1923. The magazine is famous for its covers that make a statement about current events. The cover of volume one issue one featured Representative John Gurney Cannon. Yeah…who’s that? Well, according to Wikipedia he was a politician from Illinois and the Speaker of the House of Representative when his portrait appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. 

The news magazine was founded by Henry Luce and he remained active in the publishing and editing of the magazine until 1964 but he was more than ably assisted by South Carolinian, John Shaw Billings. John Shaw Billings II was a talented journalist who became the first managing editor of Life magazine in 1936 and remained the second-in-command of Luce's Time-Life-Fortune empire through the 1950s. Billings was also a devoted diarist and his journal ledgers are available at the South Caroliniana Library at the UofSC. Here is a look at the finding aid. (The full Time Magazine archive is at the New York Historical Society: finding aid

 Throughout the diaries Billings journals his feelings about everything and he can be very harsh in his estimation of the people he interacts with, even calling his boss, Henry Luce, “coldly impersonal”. Billings wrote everyday providing office reflections and social/at home reflections. He is equally unkind to those at work as he is to people he meets socially! However, he is always loving and kind when referring to his beloved Redcliffe. He purchased the family estate in 1935 and he writes frequently in the diaries about restoring the house and the people and families who lived nearby near Aiken, SC. He and his wife Frederica always vacationed at Redcliffe and every last bit of savings Billings acquired went into restoring the estate. Here are some images online through UofSC: John Shaw Billings digital collection. 

The collection came to my attention because researchers from around the country contact the Caroliniana for information about accessing the diaries. Some are writing books about one of the famous people in Billing’s circle; others are researching family members who worked at Time Magazine. Most conclude that it is far cheaper to hire a researcher to go through the diaries then to travel to SC and spend several days going through the diaries. One researcher was hopeful that Billings used his acerbic wit writing about her grandfather who was a reporter for the company! Billings wrote fast and furious but once you get the hang of his cursive/printing style the reading can move more smoothly. The collection is easily as informative about life in NYC during the 1940’s and 1950’s as it is about life in SC during the same time. It's pretty cool stuff that is part of SC history.

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