Henry Watterson

Henry Watterson, journalist and proponent of the New South ideology, was among the last great voices in the era of personal journalism. Watterson played several journalistic roles in Tennessee before moving to Kentucky, where he would gain national recognition as a forceful spokesman for both the South and the Democratic Party while editing the Louisville Courier-Journal from 1868 to 1919.

Watterson was born February 16, 1840, in Washington, D.C., while his father Harvey Watterson, a Shelbyville lawyer and Beech Grove native, served in Congress. His mother, Talitha, was from Spring Hill. The family enjoyed close ties to President Andrew Jackson.

At age twelve Watterson edited his school newspaper. At sixteen he used a press donated by his father to produce a paper he called the New Era. Seeking a literary career that would never materialize, he went to New York in 1856, moving to Washington in 1858 and working for several publications in both cities. He returned to Tennessee in 1861.

Politically opposed to secession, Watterson reluctantly served brief stints in the Confederate army during the Civil War while intermittently holding editing posts on four papers, including the Nashville Banner and the Chattanooga Rebel. After the war, he edited the Cincinnati Evening Post for six months.

In September 1865 Watterson returned to Nashville to marry Rebecca Ewing and become editor and part owner of the Banner. There he began his “New Departure” campaign urging national reconciliation, a campaign he would continue in Louisville after 1868. He retired in 1919, unable to reconcile with Courier-Journal owner Robert Bingham over the League of Nations. Watterson died December 22, 1921, in Florida.

Suggested Reading

Joseph Frazier Wall, Henry Watterson: Reconstructed Rebel (1956)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Henry Watterson
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date April 24, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018