Marcus Walter Williams was born on July 2, 1864, the youngest child of Marcus and Mary Jane Littlepage Williams. A thin, delicate child, he was taught to read at an early age and preferred reading, studying plants, and conducting experiments in an improvised chemistry lab to sports.
Walter, as he preferred to be called, stopped going to school at the age of thirteen after the death of both his parents. He went to work as a printer’s devil at the “Boonville Topic” for 75 cents a week and learned the business from the bottom up.
A quick study and good at his job, he moved up quickly and was editor of the “Boonville Advertiser” at the age of twenty and, less than five years later, he was one of the owners.
Williams was the youngest ever to be elected president of the Missouri Press Association when he was twenty. That same year, Governor David R. Francis hired him as bookkeeper at the Missouri State Penitentiary, but the warden soon let him go.
Williams was almost immediately hired by E. W. Stephens to be editor of the “Columbia Herald.”
While at the “Herald,” Williams met Hulda Harned and the two were married on June 30, 1892. Their union was blessed with two sons and a daughter. In 1898, he helped found the State Historical Society of Missouri.
Williams was chosen by the 1904 World’s Fair Commission to write “The State of Missouri” to promote and highlight the state and its heritage. As publicity director, he was assigned the task of promoting the fair to an international audience. For nine months, he traveled twenty-five thousand miles and visited twenty-seven countries.
After much urging, the first School of Journalism in the world was approved in 1906. As first dean, Williams had to create the curriculum from scratch with the first students arriving in September 1908. In 1914, Williams wrote The Journalists Creed which advocated truth in reporting, freedom of the press, and the belief that the press should serve the best interests of the public.
Williams lost his wife from an unknown illness on April 9, 1918. Nine years later he married Sara Lockwood.
When the University’s president was fired in 1930, Williams was appointed the new president. Despite his lack of formal education, Williams guided the University through the Great Depression.
Already diagnosed with cancer, Williams resigned as president on July 2, 1935. He died later that month on July 29.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008. She has covered the War Between the States, U.S. history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org.