Biography and History

Author, journalist, political adviser and U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, John Bartlow Martin, was born 4 August 1915 in Hamilton, Ohio, the eldest son of John W. Martin and Laura Bartlow Martin. Martin knew from a young age that he wanted to write. That passion took him to DePauw University. After graduation, he began to pursue his writing career by working as a stringer and eventually a full-time reporter for the Indianapolis Times. As Martin worked his way through the ranks at the Times, the newspaper's managing editor suggested he write for magazines. Using his early experience on the police headquarters beat, Martin began writing for Official Detective and Actual Detective. In the 1940s, Martin graduated to higher circulation magazines such as Harper's, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Collier's, and The Atlantic. Martin published They Call It North Country, the first of sixteen books in 1944. Martin's 1948 article, “The Blast in Centralia #5” in Harper's, established his national reputation.

Early in the 1950s, Martin was asked to edit a book of speeches by Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson. After Stevenson's 1952 Democratic presidential nomination, Martin joined the governor's team of speechwriters. Martin quickly became known for his skill as editorial advance man and his ability to craft the short stump speech. Martin also worked on Stevenson's 1956 presidential campaign, all the while continuing to write and publish as a freelancer.

As a result of his seven-part series in the Saturday Evening Post on the Senate labor racketeering investigation of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters Union, Martin became involved with the 1960 Kennedy campaign. After Kennedy's election, he wrote speeches for the Kennedy administration. One speech, drafted for Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, coined the phrase “vast wasteland” referring to the quality of television. Kennedy appointed Martin United States Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, a position he would hold until Kennedy's assassination. Martin went on to work on the presidential campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy but retreated from politics after Robert Kennedy's assassination.

Writing had always been Martin's primary interest, so he focused on his experiences in the Dominican Republic: Overtaken by Events (1966) and U.S. Policy in the Caribbean (1978); a two-volume biography: Adlai Stevenson of Illinois: The Life of Adlai E. Stevenson (1976) and Adlai Stevenson and the World: The Life of Adlai E. Stevenson (1977); and his memoirs It Seems Like Only Yesterday: Memoirs of Writing, Presidential Politics, and the Diplomatic Life (1986). In 1964, Martin accepted a series of visiting fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Wesleyan University; Princeton University; and the City University of New York. From 1970 to 1980 Martin taught journalism at Northwestern University in the Medill School of Journalism.

Martin died on 3 January 1987. In 1988 the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism established the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism.

Source: From the finding aid for MC151

  • W. Willard Wirtz Collection on Adlai Stevenson. 1938-2002 (inclusive), 1938-1966 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC149

    W. Willard (Bill) Wirtz was a lawyer, an arbitrator, a law professor, and served as undersecretary and secretary of labor under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He was a speechwriter for, and close advisor to, Adlai Stevenson from 1952 to 1960. The W. Willard Wirtz Collection on Adlai Stevenson documents Stevenson’s campaigns for president in 1952 and 1956, as well as Stevenson’s political activities in 1960 and in between campaigns. Because Wirtz was a speechwriter in 1952, in charge of speech content in 1956, and a close advisor and occasional speechwriter at other times, this collection most strongly documents the campaign activities of drafting speeches and fine-tuning campaign policy.

  • John Bartlow Martin Papers on Adlai Stevenson. 1966-1967 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC151

    The John Bartlow Martin Papers contain research materials compiled in preparation for the writing of Martin's two-volume biography Adlai Stevenson of Illinois: The Life of Adlai E. Stevenson (1976) and Adlai Stevenson and the World: The Life of Adlai E. Stevenson (1977). The collection illuminates Stevenson's personal life, law practice, and political and diplomatic career.