John Siddall’s first essay as editor of the American Magazine was an appeal for women’s suffrage. He may have a had a personal reason for doing so–a Minnie Siddall from Ohio was an at-large member of the Ohio delegation to the Democratic National convention in 1924. Presumably she was a suffragette nine years before that—would she have had some influence on John’s stance on the question? It’s a rare surname. Give the relative closeness of Toledo, where Minnie hailed from, and Oberlin, where John was born, there would almost have to be some degree of kinship there.
But John would not have needed a suffragette relation to influence his take on the matter. He’d been affiliated with progressive causes for years.
John McAlpin Siddall was hired in 1903 by the muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell as a researcher for her expose on Standard Oil. He was working in Cleveland as an associate editor of The Chataquan magazine at the time, the publication that Tarbell helped to create and had written for 20 years earlier. He remained a prot?g? of hers for the rest of his life, following Tarbell first to McClure’s magazine, then to the American Magazine. With her help he became editor of that magazine in 1915 and remained in that position until 1923, when I suspect he learned of the cancer that would kill him. He died that year.
Ida Tarbell said this about John Siddall in her autobiography, All In The Day’s Work.
“I have never known any one in or out of the profession with his omnivorous curiosity about human beings and their ways. He had enormous admiration for achievement of any sort, the thing done whatever its nature or trend. His interest in humankind was not diluted by any desire to save the world. It included all men. He had a shrewd conviction that putting things down as they are did more to save the world than any crusade. His instincts were entirely healthy and decent. The magazine was bound to be what we call wholesome. Very quickly he put his impress on the new journal, made it a fine commercial success.”
What intrigues me is that Siddall has the air of the lead character in a historical novel, a man who rubs shoulders with the famous but leaves no mark on history of his own. Due to his association with Tarbell, he would have been an intimate of the most famous turn of the century muckrakers, as they were dubbed by Theodore Roosevelt, and his 8 years at American Magazine would have put him in touch with almost an entire generation of American writers. His photo was taken by one of the most famous photographers of his day, Arnold Genthe, and an entire stanza of a poem was devoted to him by John Reed, a notorious radical poet and journalist, a personal friend of Lenin’s, and subject of the 1981 Warren Beatty film Reds.
Comes SIDDALL with a cynic lip up-curled,–
SIDDALL, our dormer window on the World!
Kind-eyed behind his glasses, best of friends,
With the World’s foibles at his finger-ends.
Roars out a jest, and praises with a damn,
And pricks our bubbles with an epigram;
SIDDALL, as sensible as he is keen,–
The high-brow low-brow of the Magazine;
“The SPORTING EDITOR has joined the bunch”
Cries he “Here’s NORRIS, and it’s time for lunch.”
Yes, I know a little bit more about John Siddall today than I did yesterday. But that’s almost everything that is known about him, and none of it is collected into one place. I seem to have become his biographer by default.