Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

In his book Henry Wallace, Harry Truman, and the Cold War, journalist-historian Richard J. Walton singled out one letter to exemplify the many messages received by Wallace in March 1947 after his speech criticizing the declaration of the “Truman Doctrine.” The letter was written by Josiah William Gitt, publisher of The Gazette and Daily in York, which would, the following year, become the only commercial newspaper in the nation to support Wallace’s bid for the presidency on the Pro­gressive Party ticket. Walton described Gitt as “publisher of The York Gazette, probably the only daily paper in the United States that consistently opposed postwar American foreign policy. If ever American journalism had a hero it was he, but, alas, his brave newspaper was published in a small Pennsylvania city and not Washington or one of the metropolitan centers. Literally, and sadly, a voice in the wilderness.”

Walton’s use of the popular phrase evoked a sense of despair, as though Gitt and his newspaper were a voice crying out in vain. Originally used in the Book of Isaiah, however, the biblical passage conveys a positive image.

There is a voice that cries:
Prepare a road for tire Lord through the wilderness,
Clear a highway across the desert for our God.

It is not about a single voice crying in the wilderness where no one will hear, but rather about a public cry of triumph and hope. Thus did J. W. Gitt and his York newspaper embody the spirit of a resilient voice in American journalism for fifty-five years, from 1915 through 1970. In geographic terms, the “wilder­ness” setting for Gitt’s newspaper was rural York County in the gently rolling hills of southcentral Pennsylvania. The region is fringed on the east by the Susquehanna River, to the west is Gettysburg. and to the north lies the state capital at Harrisburg. Tn a more relevant political sense, “wilderness” defined the con­servative atmosphere of the newspaper’s home base, the third­-class city of York. Located just eighteen miles above the Mason-Dixon Line, it is recognized by many raconteurs of colo­nial era history as the first capital of the United States.

Both the county and the town of York were settled mainly by German immigrants who treasured the isolation their distinctive language and quaint customs ensured long after the area had become a distribution center for the nearby industrial corridor of Washington-Baltimore-Philadelphia. Those commonly called “Pennsylvania Dutch” were suspicious of outsiders, especially distrusting those who came from throughout the country to work on the editorial staff of their morning newspaper. Although they might not approve of the methods by which “Jess” Gitt ran his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Germans could not label him an “outsider” since his Scottish ancestors had settled in the area in 1740.

Certainly, at least a few native Yorkers – those for whom The Gazette and Daily provided a political education – mourned its closing in October 1970, as did a far-flung community of liberal journalists across the land. Three years later, also in October, Josiah W. Gitt died at the age of eighty-nine. Tributes written by those who had heard and shared his voice characterized him as “one of the last of the personal journalists.” His eulogists mourned not only the passing of an individual, but an era as well. James Higgins, assistant editor of The Gazette and Daily from 1950 to 1970 – Gitt reserved the title of editor – wrote a piece for the New York Times in which he editorialized that the York news­paper was considered by its owner “not only as ‘his’ newspaper but as an alter ego.” Higgins expounded eloquently.

Perhaps there are publishers whose sense of identity with their news­papers is as strong as Gitt’s was. But I don’t know of any, either liberal like Gitt or conservative like, say, Colonel Bertie McCormick during his command tenure at the Chicago Tribune. However exasperating such publishers might have been to some of those who worked for them, or to any number of subscribers, their newspapers had the saving grace of character stamped all over their pages. I don’t know about The Tribune but readers of The Gazette and Daily felt that they were not just dealing with printed words but with a human being, Jess Gitt.

Much like many other turn-of-the-century Progressives with rural or small town roots, Gitt was steeped in a Lifelong belief that Jeffersonian democracy could be made to work for all of society. But what made this individual think so differently from others of his generation who could also trace their lineage to the colonial era and who could claim staunch religious upbringing, independent financial security. and solid secular education?”] don’t know what made me different,” Gitt once told an inter­viewer. “Probably my mother and Charles Dickens’ novels of social injustice.” His mother, Emma Koplin Gitt, was the daugh­ter of a liberal minister of the German Reformed Church and a college graduate, no small distinction for a woman in the 1880s. She encouraged her two children, Jess and his sister, to read whenever they had the chance, even at the breakfast table.

Their father, Clinton Jacob Gitt, had been educated at Frank­lin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but instead of fulfilling his original desire to study law, went to work in the family dry goods store in Hanover, southwest of York on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. He died an alcoholic when Jess was only twelve – the reason his son became a lifelong teetotaler and, more importantly, the reason why he refused liquor adver­tisements in his newspaper. After Jess Gitt graduated from Franklin and Marshall in 1904, his grandfather sent him to the University of Pennsylvania’s law school in Philadelphia. Four years later he was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.

The young lawyer found the courtroom oppressive and re­strictive, and did not relish the idea of defending clients he knew to be guilty. Nor did he believe that truth would always prevail in the court of law. Eventually he began to fill in as a court reporter for The York Gazette, the town’s morning newspaper purchased in 1909 by his uncle, Harry N. Gitt. The newspaper. which could trace its lineage to 1795 and the founding of a German weekly, Die York Gazette, was on the verge of bankruptcy because the elder Gitt was not gifted with business acumen. Finances – or the lack thereof – forced Harry Gitt to dismiss his nephew as court reporter. However, on the advice of a Philadelphia lawyer, young Gitt and his senior law partner. Allen C. Weist, purchased The York Gazette on January 1, 1915. In June 1918, they acquired The York Daily, the morning newspaper published by the York Dispatch Company. They combined the two newspapers to cre­ate The Gazette and Daily. Although Weist served as president of the York Gazette Company, J. W. Gitt had obtained controlling interest in the business.

The Gazette and Daily‘s statement of purpose, outlined in its first edition of June 24, 1918, emphasized that the owners would strive to publish “the news all the time, without fear or favor, bias or prejudice.” Those dozen words remained the newspaper’s front page motto for more than a half-century. The publishers’ inaugural statement was as highly principled as it was idealistic.

…We shall stand fearlessly for right and justice, under all circum­stance and toward all persons, no matter how powerful the forces on the other side may be.

It is our belief that a newspaper is a public servant and that to be permanently successful it must be faithful to the interests of the public if serves. It dare not be selfish. It dare not be mercenary. For its continued success, if for no other reason, must it persistently and sincerely labor on behalf of that public which it serves.

J. W. Gitt later became a member of the American Judicature Society and sat on Pennsylvania’s advisory board of the Commis­sion on Law and Social Action. But he never returned to the practice of law. “I got to writing editorials, and I never did go back,” he explained many years later. In fact, he continued to express his editorial voice through the newspaper’s closing year. One of those editorials, published on January 30, 1970, summa­rized his convictions as a lifelong progressive.

It is free enterprise which is responsible for the continued use of the internal gasoline combustion automobile which is fast making our cities unfit to live in or near. It is free enterprise which permits other manu­facturers to belch forth from their chimneys fumes polluted with danger­ous sulphur and other poisonous chemicals.

It is free enterprise that cut down our trees and destroyed so much of our lumber and paper mill requirements. Regardless of the future. It is free enterprise that overgrazes our grass lands. And if is free enterprise that stops disarmament efforts or did to protect the profits of armament of manufacturers.

Some of us have realized for sometime what a blight free enterprise has been. Others of us are just commencing to realize it. It is becoming too late to call those who want an end to it Communists or something similar thereto. It just doesn’t work any longer.

The York editor and publisher was staunchly opposed to what he called “free enterprise monopoly.” Like other progressives, he believed that government should regulate mammoth corpora­tions and make them work in the public interest. Gitt probably had long thought of himself as a progressive capitalist, but he really began to define that term through editorials during the presidential campaign of 1948. Although he shared common values with other progressive thinkers of the early years of this century, Gitt was far ahead of many in several areas, such as his internationalist viewpoint. Even before 1916, when Pres. Wood­row Wilson began to openly support the League of Nations, Gitt had joined a group of individuals to promote the concept of a “League of Nations to Enforce Peace.” Gitt invariably supported Wilson in his first published presidential endorsement, which appeared in the The York Gazette in 1916.

In a survey of the backgrounds and careers of two hundred and sixty leaders of the Progressive Party of 19U, historian Alfred D. Chandler discovered that many of them were urban and middle class, and in rural areas editors and lawyers domi­nated the party’s leadership. Obviously, Gitt filled both occupa­tional categories, but in many ways he, too, conformed to a profile of early twentieth century Progressives. “The right to think for oneself is one of the most precious of human privi­leges:’ began one of Gitt’s editorials explaining his ideas on pro­gressivism in 1947. Individual self-worth and self-reliance in the best Jeffersonian tradition were values held in high esteem by progressives. They believed that free education should be availa­ble for everyone so that “the masses” would work peaceably toward an equitable society for all. Along those lines, Gitt cer­tainly thought of his newspaper as an educational tool, and not merely as a medium to disseminate information.

As much as Progressives disliked big business, they also dis­trusted large cities. Many of them had grown up in rural Amer­ica but later found it necessary to work in urban centers. Jess Gitt, however, refused to move The Gazette and Daily to a more urban – and presumably more liberal – environment, although he was asked to do so many times by admirers who wanted the newspaper and its publisher to attain greater national prominence. He was offered the opportunity to run the liberal daily PM in New York, but he responded by succinctly informing the publication’s publisher, Marshall Field, that he did not want to live in “that damn big city.”

Many Progressives were raised by deeply religious families, although often they did not continue to practice religion as adults. Gitt had been raised in the German Reformed Church, but later in life became interested in the Unitarian Church. He frequently said that the editorial policy of The Gazette and Daily was based on the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. The proselytizing zeal of many progressives was a natural outgrowth of their reli­gious backgrounds.

A cornerstone for the editorial policy of Gitt’s newspaper was “an international peace-keeping organization to abolish war and substitute arbitration and negotiation and justice.” In addition to ardently supporting the League of Nations, and later the United Nations, Gitt believed that the foreign policy of the United States should encourage peace and good will. He insisted on peaceful co-existence with Russia long before detente became a household word. In line with his internationalism, Gitt wanted a more equi­table distribution of wealth in other countries, as well as at home. He thought American-style capitalism should be con­tained within the nation’s boundaries, however, and constantly argued against what he saw as the federal government’s imperi­alistic policies.

The Gazette and Daily was one of the first daily newspapers in the United States to warn that the country should not become involved in a war in Indochina. In the early 1940s Gitt prophe­sied that such a war would be inevitable unless American foreign policy changed drastically. An editorial published in September 1950 was especially poignant.

The damage that is done when our Congress votes funds for a Franco or when we give aid and comfort to a Chiang Kai-shek or put our ap­proval on French colonialism in Indochina is incalculable. The people of Asia want no more of colonialism …. When they see us backing these and other oppressors instead of demonstrating that democracy means social justice, physical well-being and spiritual freedom, we are losing, no matter how great our military strength or our wealth and capacity to produce.

Progressive Party followers stressed the need for a strong national leader able to guide the people and the nation on a truly international course. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt fulfilled that role through two world wars. Following World War II, Henry Agar Wallace was seen as the last – and only -hope for the perpetuation of progressive ideals. Those three individuals, along with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, were Gitt’s personal heroes, and he lined the walls of his study with their photographs and sketches. A small bust of Wallace remains to this day – two decades after Gitt’s death – on the fireplace mantle of the publisher’s book-lined study in his house near Hanover. It is a silent tribute to the individual who Gitt favored as the presidential candidate most capable of turn­ing the United States away from an ever-growing imperialistic

“I’m a Jeffersonian Democrat as were all the Gitts, rich or poor, from way back. But I wasn’t so interested in the Democratic Party as l was in the good of the country,” Gitt once said. In 1924, The Gazette and Daily endorsed Progressive Party candidate Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and in 1928 Gitt voted for Norman Thomas for president, because he thought Democrat Alfred E. Smith was running a “wet” ticket. By 1932 when Franklin D. Roosevelt came along, Gitt and a few Washington political fig­ures were attempting to organize a third party. The Gazette and Daily did not endorse a candidate in 1932, and some speculate that Gitt did not vote for Roosevelt but, instead, wrote in the name of a personal choice. By the following presidential election however, Gitt and his newspaper solidly backed Roosevelt and his New Deal.

Jess Gitt could not accept Harry S. Truman as President Roosevelt’s successor and grew determined that FDR’s more progressive former vice president should assume the leadership of political forces that wanted to turn the country away from a Cold War position. In December 1947, Gitt was a member of a small committee of the Progressive Citizens of America which met with Henry Wallace in New York to urge him to accept the nomination on a third party ticket. Wallace, President Truman’s complete antithesis, announced during a nationwide radio broadcast on December 29, 1947, that he was accepting the can­didacy for the presidency on the Progressive Party’s ticket.

The Progressive Party of Pennsylvania was formally organized at a convention in York on March 7, 1948. J. W. Gitt was elected state chairman by the more than twenty-five hundred delegates. The York County publisher also was to become “the heaviest donor to the Progressive coffers,” according to Curtis D. MacDougall in his definitive study of the Progressive Party of 1948, the three-volume Gideon’s Army. Henry Wallace gave the keynote address at the formation of the “historic independent party for Pennsylvania,” to be headquartered in Harrisburg. The speech, in which he said Gitt had persuaded him to run by stressing “the need for a new political alignment in America,” was published in its entirety in Common Sense, a four-page tab­loid produced by The Gazette and Daily at monthly intervals throughout the campaign.

Philadelphia was chosen as the site of the new party’s found­ing convention, which convened on July 23, 1948 (see “Letters to the Editor” in the summer 1992 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage). As chairman of the host group, Gitt gave a brief welcoming ad­dress in which he alluded to the red-baiting which would inten­sify as the campaign progressed.

We are not going to be diverted from our historically necessary task by fear or timidity because of hysteria whipped up by reaction, or smoke screens or loud whispers created or circulated by unscrupulous influ­ences which would have one believe that love of peace and liberty and following the dictates of one’s conscience is not in the American Tradition.

His growing public involvement with the Progressive Party precipitated the serious red-baiting of him – and his newspaper. In his native York County, he was respected on golf courses and in board rooms as a skilled sportsman and capable businessman. As the publisher of The Gazette and Daily, however, he was often slandered by those who could not understand that to give Com­munists the right to express their ideas did not mean that one had to agree with them politically. This red-baiting continued throughout the Cold War era of the 1950s and on through the 1960s, as the newspaper unfailingly took its stand against the Vietnam War and upheld the rights of Black Americans as citi­zens. Not only were Gitt and his newspaper red-baited, but so were members of the staff who were known – or only suspected – to hold beliefs similar to the paper’s editorial policies.

In their book about the National Guardian, a progressive news­weekly in New York which Gitt helped to establish in summer 1948, Cedric Belfrage and James Aronson discussed the precious few Who had the courage to withstand assaults on intellectual freedom. “Josiah Gitt was among the few Americans of some stature who stood up with Wallace in defiance of red-baiting,” Belfrage noted. “[n each geographical and occupational area there was one or a handful of these – ranging politically from loyal Rooseveltian to socialist – though all wouldn’t stay the course.”

But Jess Gitt was one who did stay the course.

A series of letters between Gitt and Wallace several years after the 1948 campaign disclosed that they had come to believe that a major reason for the Progressive candidate’s stinging defeat at the polls was the Communist support which the party had re­ceived at the time. In a note to Gitt dated July 10, 1956, Wallace commented: “What a shambles the Communists made out of a movement which would have been a strong and helpful influ­ence in American life!” During the campaign the two had refused to succumb to red-baiting when the tactic was used so forcefully against them; it is also probably true that in the begin­ning the Progressives needed the Communists’ organizational expertise to help launch their new party. To purge them later, as historian Norman Markowitz has remarked, “would have been an abject surrender to the cold-war liberals and would have re­moved a major reason for the party’s existence.” The “cold-war liberals” included the Americans for Democratic Action, which accused members of the Progressive Party of being Communist dupes. In the eyes of the Progressives, a capitulation to those pressures would have meant a weakening of the democratic process.

A member of The Gazette and Daily‘s editorial staff recalled how his boss stood up to the red-baiting, but also pointed to the reason for his break with the Progressive Party. John T. Hough, now editor and publisher of Cape Cod’s Falmouth Enterprise, vividly remembers Gitt’s stance on the issues of the day.

J. W. hated to be called a Communist dupe, because it suggested he was stupid. But he refused to panic and stubbornly refused to disavow Communist sympathy at a time when this took courage. A few Communists hung around. Maybe he didn’t know they were – or care; but in the news room we knew them. He finally jumped the Communist line when the Korean war broke out, writing an editorial which his staff greeted with relief and delight.

Gitt’s editorials on the “Korean crisis” brimmed with anguish because Russia had done something to upset world peace. He called for the United States to “firmly stand back of the United Nations and insist that the dispute be adjusted through United Nations offices.” His belief in the United Nations as a keeper of world peace was total, and he did not question that Russia or North Korea was the aggressor. Yet he did not feel comfortable in giving complete support to South Korea either. “The South Ko­rean government on behalf of which American troops are in combat,” Gitt editorialized in July 1950, “is no more a government of the people, by the people and for the people than was the China government of Chiang Kai-shek.”

After much soul searching, both Jess Gitt and Henry Wallace resigned from the Progressive Party in summer 1950. They could not – and did not – agree with the party’s executive committee when it criticized the U. N. Security Council’s call for armed resistance in Korea. Wallace resigned from the Progressive Party on August 8, 1950, when it became evident that the executive committee would stand behind its resolution. Many of the re­maining non-Communist members in the party’s national leader­ship also resigned. Gitt had resigned several weeks before Wallace, although his official letter of resignation has not been found. A letter from Wallace to Gitt dated July 11, 1950, men­tioned his struggle with the executive committee. “The boys want me to urge you to withdraw your resignation … They are sincere and I am sincere but we just don’t believe the same things now that our country has blundered into war. I am for my country and the UN.”

Four years of publishing Wallace’s speeches and articles about the third party movement – for which there had been so much hope on the part of progressives in post-World War II America – had ended for The Gazette and Daily. Gitt’s disassociation from the Progressive Party seemed to emotionally drain him. His personal correspondence diminished drastically after 1950, and he began to leave more of the editorial writing to James Higgins. But Gitt retired less from public life than did his political idol, who retired to his farm in New York and continued the hybridization experiments which had helped him to be named Secre­tary of Agriculture during Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term. Wallace died far from the public eye on November 18, 1965.

Outing the fifties and through the sixties, Jess Gitt continued supporting progressive causes through his newspaper, both in editorials and through straight news coverage. The Gazette and Daily was one of the first newspapers in the country to warn against the dangers of nuclear power plants. York is sandwiched between the plants at Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island. Ironically, the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island occurred on Gitt’s birthdate, March 28. Just five days after the incident, the Hanover Public Library opened a special exhibition to commemo­rate the centenary of the birth of Albert Einstein, which featured editorials by Gitt; cartoons by the newspaper’s cartoonist, Walt Partymiller; and a series of letters between Gitt and Einstein about forming a York committee to work with the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists on educating the public about nuclear energy.

The Gazette and Daily also was one of the first newspapers to sound the alarm about the hazards of cigarette smoking, long before the U.S. Surgeon General linked it with cancer. The news­paper also printed the decisions of the Federal Trade Commis­sion, which sometimes cost the newspaper advertising. One giant supermarket chain, Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (“the A & P”), withdrew all advertising because the newspaper pub­lished a story detailing an unfavorable ruling against it. That editorial decision by Jess Gitt probably – more than any other – landed The Gazette and Daily on George Seldes’ list of “great small-town newspapers.” Seldes had begun printing the Federal Trade Commission’s rulings in his newsletter as early as the 1940s. His praise for Gitt over the years was boundless.

Acclaim and accolades for The Gazette and Daily came from throughout the world, as did requests for subscriptions. Progres­sives realized it was one of the few newspapers, possibly the only daily, where they could read a non-official point of view. The newspaper’s second editorial page became an outlet for writers who had difficulty publishing during the era of Joe McCarthy. The establishment press realized it could learn from the The Gazette and Daily‘s clean, well-balanced make-up, unique in a newspaper of tabloid size (to which it had changed to save newsprint during World War II). In 1958, The Gazette and Daily was awarded the prestigious N. W. Ayer’s “The Ayer Cup,” the all-class first prize for “excellence in typography, make-up and printing.” It was the only tabloid ever to garner that coveted distinction.

Throughout the years many articles were written about Jess Gitt’s unusual York County newspaper. Almost all were threaded with a tone of admiration, no matter the writer’s political beliefs or persuasions. But probably none summarized what they ad­mired better than a letter Gitt received in November 1970, after he had sold the newspaper plant and retired the Gazette part of the banner. (The new owner published as the York Daily Record.) A New York writer who had been active in the Progressive Party, Daniel S. Gillmor, had read an article about the newspaper’s demise in The Nation. Gitt had tried to hide the fact that he was bothered by so few sentiments from his hometown readers. “I just tried to do my best,” he said. “But I like what the Dutch baker said when the folks wouldn’t eat his bread, ‘Apparently, it was none too good.'” But Gillmor had the last word.

I have just read Jim Higgins’ obit of The Gazette and Daily, including the last line quoting your story of the Dutch baker. Jess, the loaf you baked all these years was too rich for their blood, too whole the wheat, too lacking in fake additives, and assorted adulterants. How could you expect to compete with Wonder Bread journalism? Hell, you wouldn’t have tried.


For Further Reading

Belfrage, Cedric, and James Aronson. Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian, 1948-1967. New York: Co­lumbia University Press, 1978.

Higgins, James. “Good-by. Mr. Gitt.” New York Times. December 23, 1973.

____. “Jess Gitt’s Gazette.” The Nation. November 16, 1970.

Hofstadter, Richard. The Age of Reform. New York: Vintage Books, 1955.

MacDougall, Curtis D. Gideon’s Army. New York: Marzani and Munsell, 1965.

Markowitz, Norman D. The Rise and Fall of The People’s Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948. New York: The Free Press, 1973.

Olson, McKinley C., ed. J. W. Gitt’s Sweet Land of Liberty. New York: Jerome S. Ozer, Publisher, Inc., 1975.

Walto11, Richard]. Henry Wallace, Harry Truman, and the Cold War. New York: The Viking Press, 1976.


Mary A Hamilton is an associate professor of the department of mass communication at St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, New York, from which she received lier bachelor of arts degree in journalism in 1959. She taught for three years at the Pennsylvania State Univer­sity, University Park, before joining the university faculty in 1982. From 1963 through 1966, the author worked as a reporter for J. W. Gitt’s The Gazette and Daily, which she cites as the highlight of her fifteen year publishing career. She is currently writing a biography of Gitt, the subject of her dissertation for her doctorate in American Stud­ies awarded by Michigan State University in 1980. This article origi­nated as a paper given several years at a conference of the American Cultural Association.