Newton D. Baker by Philip W. Porter

Newton D. Baker, who was the official head of the Cleveland Democrats during the twenties and well into the thirties, was one of the few Cleveland political figures to become a nationally known statesman. He was called by President Wilson to become secretary of war before the United States got into World War I, and bore the entire responsibility for mobilizing an army from scratch, setting up the draft, and sending an expeditionary force of one million men to fight in France. After the war, drained emotionally and physically, he returned to Cleveland, but he remained active after Wilson’s death.

He was the unquestioned leader of Ohio Democrats at national conventions and kept such close contact with the national scene that in 1932, he had strong backing in both north and south for the presidential nomination. Had Roosevelt not been nominated on an early ballot, Baker stood a good chance of being chosen as a compromise candidate.

By any standard, Baker was one of the great men of his time. After he returned to Cleveland, he was always in demand to hold unpaid, nonpolitical civic jobs, and he continued to take a strong hand in Democratic party affairs, for he believed that good citizens ought to involve themselves in organized politics and government. He was revered by all newspaper men who came in contact with him, because he was simple, unpretentious, sincere and always approachable, a perfect example of the fact that the biggest men in government, industry, and the professions are the easiest to deal with. It isn’t always easy to get through their cordon of secretaries and assistants, but when you meet the big man face to face, he goes direct to the point and gives a straight answer. He will expect you to treat all confidential matters confidentially, but he puts on no airs, doesn’t give out the old double-talk. This was Newton D. Baker.

Baker’s unblemished principles made him the ideal teammate for the pragmatic Gongwer. Baker was always available to pronounce the principles, and take the high road, while Gongwer took the low road and attended to the patronage, the endorsements, the nuts and bolts of party management, without having to make speeches. Gongwer idolized Baker, but he also appreciated how useful Baker was to him as a party boss. Baker held the official position of chairman of the central committee, but Gongwer was chairman of the executive committee. Baker made statements and speeches. Gongwer made decisions and backed candidates. Baker approved completely of Gongwer’s decisions; he had no illusions about the necessity for a party boss. The Democrats were lucky to have them both; the Republicans had no such elder statesman as Baker. They left all the problems to Maschke, who made no pretense to being a statesman.

Baker came to Cleveland from Martinsburg, West Virginia, where he grew up as a Democrat; his ancestors had been Confederates. He joined Tom L. Johnson early, and was city solicitor, then law director. When Johnson died, Baker was the natural heir to run for mayor. When Wilson chose him for secretary of war, Baker was known as a pacifist. Wilson was not concerned about that; he needed a man of integrity.

When he returned to Cleveland, Baker was tired, middle-aged, disillusioned, and nearly broke. He had spent so many years in government that he had had no opportunity to accumulate money. So he organized a new law firm with two old Democratic friends — Joseph C. Hostetler, who had originally come from a farm in Tuscarawas County, and Thomas L. Sidlo, a bright young man who had been in Baker’s cabinet as service director. The firm soon attracted affluent corporate clients, and today is still one of the most influential and largest in Cleveland (although no one named Baker, Hostetler or Sidlo is still with the firm). PD editor Erie Hopwood was a close friend and client of Newton Baker; so was Elbert H. Baker (no relation), chairman of the Plain Dealer board.

Baker had a small, slight body, but a big mind. He was only a few inches more than five feet tall, was slender and lightweight. In addition to an amazing intellectual capacity, he had a deep, melodious voice and an uncanny ability to speak in complete, convincing sentences without a note in front of him. He simply knew exactly what he wanted to say, and how to say it; and he said it in the most mellow tones, which came out without the least bit of phoniness, unlike most orators.

Baker was a most approachable man, completely without deviousness or stuffiness. It was always easy to get to see him; all that was needed was to get his secretary to make a date. The secretary was usually a young law student or a newly graduated lawyer. (One of his most competent and popular secretaries was Henry S. Brainard, who later became city law director and after that, counsel for the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company.)

Baker was so short that he literally could, and would, curl up in a big office chair, and tuck one foot under him. He regularly smoked a big-bowled pipe. He was calm and even-tempered and went out of his way to be kind to young people. He was never without a book near at hand, usually some tome on history or philosophy. He was continually learning, and never wanted to waste a moment. He was often seen in a hotel corridor, waiting his turn to speak, quietly reading a book. He had plenty of books — not just law books, but reading-type books — in his office.

Everyone who heard Baker speak marveled at how he could extemporaneously come forth with the most cogent, well-reasoned, well-phrased arguments, without notes. He had such mental discipline that he arrayed his thoughts beforehand and knew how to express them for the most telling effect. He never prepared a text.

He was a tremendously effective courtroom lawyer. A1though he did not appear often in court, when he did it was worth paying admission to hear. One such time was when he defended Editor Louis B. Seltzer and Chief Editorial Writer Carlton K. Matson of the Press against a charge of contempt of court laid on them by Common Pleas Judge Fred P. Walther. The Press had severely rebuked Judge Walther for giving a light slap on the wrist to a defendant in a gambling case that involved Sheriff John M. Sulzmann (sheriffs were always in the grease with Cleveland newspapers). Walther took offense and cited the two editors for contempt. Baker, who was the Press’s lawyer as well as the Plain Dealer’s, appeared personally to defend them.

Baker’s cross-examination was superb, and his demolition of the judge’s reasons for citing the editors was icy, logical, and devastating. He went about as far as a lawyer could without saying in so many words that the judge was incompetent, ill-advised, or both. He made Walther seem like a pretentious fool. Finally, the irritated judge said, “Mr. Baker, are you expressing contempt for this court?” Baker, poker-faced, said firmly, “No, your honor, I am trying to conceal it.” (Walther found the editors guilty, but the court of appeals, after hearing Baker, freed the two.)

Baker used to enjoy telling of the sage advice he got from an old-timer, a brilliant courtroom lawyer, Matt Excell, when he was just a kid breaking in. Excell told him what emphasis to use in addressing a jury. “If the facts are on your side, argue the law,” advised Excell. “If the law is on your side, argue the facts. If neither the law nor the facts are on your side, confuse them, Newtie, confuse them.” Such smart tactics are still being used.

Baker was a man of broad culture. He was a music lover and supporter of the Cleveland Orchestra. (Mrs. Baker was an accomplished concert pianist.) He was deeply interested in education, and was offered the presidency of both Ohio State University and Western Reserve, but he preferred to stay with his law practice. He did serve as chairman of the board of trustees at Reserve, and was also on the board at Ohio State. The Newton D. Baker Hall now contains the dean’s and other administrative offices at Reserve, and there is a Baker Hall, a men’s dormitory, at Ohio State.

Cleveland lost its number one citizen when his heart gave out in 1937.

(His son, Newton D. (Jack) Baker II, has been administrator of the Lakeview Cemetery Association for several years, and his wife Phyllis, is active in Cleveland Orchestra and charitable efforts.)

Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw
by Philip W. Porter
retired executive editor of the Plain Dealer


Courtesy of CSU Special Collections

Transcript of Newton D. Baker’s famous League of Nation’s Speech delivered 6/28/1924

Transcript of Newton D. Baker’s famous League of Nation’s Speech delivered at the Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 28, 1924.

From William Allen White’s book, “Politics: The Citizen’s Business” White, William Allen, 1868-1944. New York, The Macmillan company, 1924 

The .pdf is here

Here is final portion of speech:

At the outset I stated that no subject on earth was of so much importance to me as this (League of Nations). Why? I am a middle-aged man and I shall never be called upon again for any profitable service in any other war, even though one were to come tomorrow. I am past the military age, but I have memories. 


On battlefields in Europe I closed the eyes of soldiers in American uniform who were dying and who whispered to me messages to bring to their mothers. I talked with them about death in battle, and oh, they were superb and splendid; never a complaint; never a regret; willing to go if only two things might be, —one that mother might know that they had died bravely and the other that somebody would pick up their sacrifice and build on this earth a permanent temple of peace in which the triumphant intellect and spirit of man would forever dwell in harmony, taking away from the children of other generations the curse and menace of that bloody fight. If I could have kept those boys in this country I would have done it. 


The accident of a strange and perverse fate called upon me, who loved the life of youth, called upon me to come to your homes and ask you to give me your sons that I might send them into these deadly places. And I watched them and shrank with fear and anxiety for them, and I welcomed the living back, oh, with such unutterable relief and joy, and I swore an obligation to the dead that in season and out, by day and by night, in church, in political meeting, in the market place, I intended to lift up my voice always and ever until their sacrifices were really perfected. 


I have one other debt—I beg your patience while I pay it. I served Woodrow Wilson for five years. He is standing at the throne of a God whose approval he won and has received. As he looks down from there I say to him: “I did my best. I am doing it now. You are still the captain of my soul.” 


I feel his spirit here palpably about us. He is standing here, speaking through my weak voice. His presence—not that crippled, shrunken, broken figure that I last saw—but the great, majestic leader is standing here, using me to say to you, “Save mankind! Do America’s duty!”

Newton D. Baker Eulogy Delivered by Raymond D. Fosdick in 1937

Delivered by Raymond D. Fosdick in 1937

Newton D. Baker

An address delivered at a memorial service in Cleveland, Ohio


ANYONE WHO attempts to understand the secret of Newton Baker’s amazing career must start, it seems to me, with this fact in mind : Mr. Baker had a full measure of the versatility of genius. He held one of those master-keys which unlock the doors of so many kinds of treasure houses. He was at once a great lawyer and a great public administrator. He was a distinguished scholar and writer, and perhaps the most eloquent and effective public speaker of his generation. He was a profound student of human problems and an active participant in every progressive type of social work.

In an attempted interpretation of Mr. Baker we have to start with this prodigal gift of talents, the amazing variety and vivacity of his mental energy. In the catholicity of his tastes and interests he resembled no one that I know of in the public life of America, present or past with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson. Those of us who crossed the ocean with him during the war remember the extraordinary scope of his reading. He read constantly everything he could put his hands on biographies, histories, literary criticism, detective stories. Even a book on the technique of gasoline engines seemed to hold for him a peculiar charm. At all times his intellectual curiosity was inexhaustible. You who knew him so well here in Cleveland will recall the quick eagerness with which his imagination fastened upon any new fact, caught its bearings and clothed it with color.

How a man can have such diverse interests and talents and still keep his balance and serenity is one of the mysteries of human personality. But with Mr. Baker balance and serenity were part of the texture of the man himself. As was said of Mr. Balfour, “his mind always retained its clear, tranquil outlook upon the human scene and its inexhaustible pleasure in the processes of thought.” This tranquil outlook was perhaps Mr. Baker’s most distinguishing characteristic. Whatever he touched, he touched with genius, but it was not the genius of the virtuoso. Rather it was genius framed in tolerance and simplicity, and anchored in the deep calm of his own spirit.

Genius and great talents do not always, indeed do not often, go easily with a capacity for friendship. With Mr. Baker, his affection for his friends knew no limits. He remembered everything that concerned them, and gave to all alike, high or low, famous or unknown, the wealth of his understanding. How often, in all the crushing responsibilities of his life, he found time to sit down and write a letter in long hand to a friend a gay, sparkling letter, perhaps, about some personal incident which had come to his attention, or a letter which showed a flash of his brilliant capacity for characterization. There must be literally hundreds of these longhand letters of his in existence, scattered around the world among his hundreds of friends. Like good conversation, letter writing, particularly among busy men, is a lost art. With Mr. Baker human contacts meant so much and were so essential to his outgoing spirit, that although he was one of the hardest working men I ever knew, he refused to sacrifice to busy interests the gracious art of friendship.

It is impossible on an occasion like this to describe the broad sweep of his talents and capacities or to cover the contributions that he made to the tone and quality of citizenship and to the meaning of public service. With so many facets to his life one is tempted to linger in admiration before them all. But as history writes the record he will be remembered, I would suppose, primarily for his supreme contribution to his country as Secretary of War. Those of us who were intimately associated with him in the War Department remember him there as a very simple and very modest man, a man who in his heart hated the pomp and power of the position assigned to him, but whose performance from start to finish was shot through with character and greatness which far too seldom attach to leaders of democratic effort. He brought to his task a mind as sharp and keen as any that has been seen in public office in our time. Indeed his mind was one of those rare combinations in which swift perception is balanced by judgment, and clarity and sanity run hand in hand. It was undoubtedly this quality which so attracted President Wilson to Mr. Baker, for Wilson loved above everything else an orderly and incisive mind.

But there was another quality which went along with Mr. Baker’s amazing lucidity and balance: he had a capacity for firmness, for decisiveness, which one hardly suspected on meeting him for the first time. Perhaps the secret lay in the fact that he was the son of one of Jeb Stuart’s old troopers. He looked like a quiet type of student, but his looks were deceptive. Beneath a scholar’s face, he had a will like iron and an ability to say “No” in a soft tone that left no doubt in the hearer’s mind that the question was definitely settled. There never was any misunderstanding as to whose hand was on the helm in the War Department. It was a quiet, unostentatious firmness, but it was rock-like in its solidity. This was one of the mysteries of his personality ; for the men by whom Mr. Baker was surrounded in the War Department were not pigmies ; they were not self-effacing “yes-men.” The army does not turn out that type of person. There were Bliss and March as Chiefs of Staff – – both of them powerful, dynamic characters. There were men like Crowder and Crozier and Goethals and Hugh Johnson. There was Pershing overseas who spoke from the shoulder and was accustomed to authority. And among them all moved Mr. Baker physically a little man, who never pounded a table and never raised his voice, but who intellectually was the acknowledged master of them all.

It was indeed an incredible performance. Here was a man who, while he had made an indelible impression on his city and his state, was not known to the nation at large when he came to Washington. In his first interview with newspapermen he was put down as a spineless pacifist who would last but a few months. They prophesied that the lions in the War Department and the tigers in Congress would soon eat him up. By sheer force of character, by the incisiveness and drive of his own mind he not only gained the ascendency over Congress and the army, but he mastered the administration of the largest collective enterprise in which this country has ever been involved.

And he performed this miracle with the quiet modesty and the serenity of spirit that were so characteristic of him. He never seemed excited and never was harassed. Even when things were blackest when, for example, he was himself the target of cruel, baseless charges he never lost his temper or his equanimity. He was utterly without cynicism. He was too judicial to be vindictive, too completely master of himself to be betrayed into anger. His spirit was cast in too large a mould for pettiness or vanity. I am quite sure that he never said anything bitter or unkind about anybody. He had the philosophic capacity to sit back and contemplate himself and the world with perspective and a quiet humor.

With him modesty and courage went hand in hand. He was the type of man who never wanted credit when things went right. On those occasions it was always somebody else who was responsible it was Pershing, it was Bliss, it was March. But if things went wrong, as they frequently did in the conduct of so gigantic an enterprise, then as Secretary of War he insisted on assuming the entire responsibility. I remember once that with some feeling of indignation a few of us tried to get him to dissociate himself from responsibility for an incident for which he was being widely attacked, but with which he had had nothing whatever to do. All we could get from him was the laughing comment: “What’s a Secretary of War for if it isn’t to take the gaff?”

This was Newton Baker. He had a fine carelessness about his own reputation. He asked for nothing except the privilege of serving. He wanted no reward.

Lord Morley said of Gladstone: “He so lived and wrought that he kept the soul alive in England.” It is to few men in public office or in

private life that such a tribute can be paid. But this was Newton Baker’s contribution to his generation. Here in Cleveland, here in Ohio, here in the United States, he was one of that small band that kept the soul alive. If even one of our universities, every four years or so, were able to turn out a Newton Baker, we could face the future with less foreboding. With that kind of genius for great citizenship, with that type of clarity and vision, the world of today and of tomorrow would not seem so troubled and so dark. But talents such as he possessed cannot be manufactured. They come from some alchemy of the human spirit which we do not understand. All that we can hope for is that from the same mysterious source America will produce other leaders like Newton Baker to keep the soul of this country alive.

Newton D. Baker and the Adult Education Movement

Article about Newton D. Baker and his strong belief in continuing education for adults

From the Ohio Historical Journal

The link is here


Volume 95

Back to Volume Contents


Newton D. Baker and the Adult Education Movement

In 1921, Newton D. Baker returned from his cabinet position to

practice law in Cleveland, Ohio, his adopted hometown. He had

completed the mammoth job of organizing the nation to fight a war

and, then, of dismantling the bulk of the war machine when the

fighting was over. Before going to Washington as Woodrow Wilson’s

Secretary of War, Baker had been a progressive Cleveland politician,

serving as city solicitor during Tom Johnson’s administration and

then as mayor himself. Coming back to Cleveland, he savored his re-

turn to private life where he could reenter his profession and work for

his favorite causes. Guided by his experience in politics and govern-

ment, he decided to make adult education his major civic commit-

ment. Through his knowledge, his stature, and his influence, he was

able to advance the development of adult education as few other in-

dividuals could.

The more Baker reflected on his governmental roles, the more the

indispensability of education in a democracy became a guiding be-

lief. From his Cleveland government experience he reminisced about

Tom Johnson’s tent meetings which took place in every part of the

city, educating people about the issues of the day on which they

would have to make decisions. From his war experience Baker laud-

ed a variety of camp educational and recreation programs, especially

the amazing American Expeditionary Force University. The latter be-

came a symbol to him of the general population’s thirst for education.

During his years as a citizen-educator, Baker frequently referred to

the AEF University as evidence of the desire of adults for further ed-

ucation. In a sense, this university provided him his first opportunity

to lend his power and influence to the development of an adult ed-


120                                                OHIO HISTORY

ucation institution. The Army established the AEF University at

Beaune, France, in early 1919 to begin the resumption of an interrupt-

ed education for some of the two million soldiers who were in Europe

waiting for transport home. Its short life lasted for three months-the

spring term of 1919. At its high point, the AEF University had thir-

teen colleges and almost ten thousand soldier-students. Instructors

came from the Army as well as from the homefront; many had taught

in the nation’s major universities and colleges during peacetime.1 Aft-

er examining the University’s physical plan and courses of study,

Baker wrote the superintendent:

I find myself even further amazed than I was when I visited the University.

The completeness of the work is, of course, apparent…. The big idea,

however, is the university itself and I find my mind dwelling with delighted

interest on what seems to me its permanent influence and value.2

Indeed, part of that “permanent influence” seemed evident to Baker

some ten years later when, after describing the AEF University, he

said, “Since that time the demand for education in the United States

has been so great that all the resources of the nation can scarcely suf-

fice to meet it.”3

Many of Baker’s later efforts to expand adult education succeeded

because of help he received through two associates from his Wash-

ington years, Frederick P. Keppel and Raymond B. Fosdick, who re-

mained friends and colleagues throughout his life. Fosdick was a

New York attorney, active in Democratic politics, who had repre-

sented the Secretary of War on the Mexican border where he im-

proved moral and health conditions at the camps established during

General Pershing’s expedition there. Baker then appointed Fosdick

Chairman of the Commission on Training Camp Activities during

World War I. In that role Fosdick’s successful efforts to involve the

YMCA, the Red Cross, the American Library Association, and oth-

er organizations in providing social, recreational, and educational op-

portunities led Baker to reflect that, “Your contribution to America’s

part in it all (the war) deserves to be ranked next after that of Wilson

and Pershing….”4

1. John Erskine, Memory of Certain Persons (Philadelphia, 1947), Chapter 32,

“Beune,” 311-37.

2. Baker to Col. Ira L. Reeves, 27 April 1919, American Expeditionary Force Univer-

sity Papers, Box 352, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

3. Newton D. Baker, “As A Bystander Sees It: Some Aspects of Adult Education,”

Journal of Adult Education, 1 (October, 1929), 366.

4. Baker to Raymond B. Fosdick, 20 December 1924, Newton D. Baker Papers, Con-

tainer 99, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


Newton D. Baker                                           121

Fosdick returned to New York to practice law, and in 1921 became

a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and the General Education

Board. In that role he was able to provide consultation concerning

funding and other elements relating to Baker’s civic concerns.

Also playing an influential role was Frederick Keppel, who had

served as Baker’s Assistant Secretary of War. In 1923, Keppel became

Executive Director of the Carnegie Corporation, and he placed adult

education prominently on the Corporation’s agenda. Cleveland Col-

lege and Cleveland’s Adult Education Association, through Baker’s

efforts, were for years to benefit significantly from Carnegie Corpora-

tion grants.

Baker’s long-standing interest in adult education developed into a

heavy personal involvement by 1924. That year saw a change in his

priorities from fighting for United States entry into the League of

Nations to building new educational institutions. The Democratic

party’s failure to adopt a strong, pro-League platform plank and the

subsequent Republican victory finally convinced him that the coun-

try was unwilling to commit itself to the League. Through education,

Americans might develop an interest and belief in participation in

such an international body.

In turning his energies to adult education, Baker joined a move-

ment that was expanding during the mid-twenties. Many of the ex-

isting institutions and programs of adult education had been estab-

lished in earlier waves of interest. Existing as foundations for the

future development of adult higher education were the Chautauqua

Literary and Scientific Circle and the Chautauqua summer schools

established during the 1870s and 1880s, and university extension

programs, particularly those inaugurated at the University of Wiscon-

sin in 1891 and at the University of Chicago in 1892. The move of pop-

ulation to the cities, which resulted in an urban majority in the Unit-

ed States by 1920, stimulated a spurt in the growth of extension

programs and evening colleges during the twenties.5 For example,

City College of New York opened evening courses in 1909 with 201

students; by 1924 it had 8,000 evening students. Buffalo opened eve-

ning classes in 1923 with 150 more students than anticipated.6 During

the decade, local adult education coordinating councils also began


5. Malcolm S. Knowles, The Adult Education Movement in the United States (New

York, 1962) 35-38, 46-50. 83-90.

6. George Zook, Chairman of Survey Commission, Survey of Higher Education in

Cleveland (Cleveland, The Cleveland Foundation, 1925), 432-36.


122                                            OHIO HISTORY

to develop, and Cleveland’s Adult Education Association is often

thought to have been the first of these. Further, when the Carnegie

Corporation added adult education to its list of activities in 1923, it

sponsored a series of regional meetings which led to the formation of

the American Association for Adult Education in 1926. The Carnegie

Corporation channeled many grants through this organization during

the next 15 years.7

As Baker joined this wave of expansion, his activities on behalf of

adult education ranged from policy formulation and fund-raising, typ-

ical of a board member, to direct involvement in teaching. A review

of his activities reveals five roles he played in advancing the cause of

adult education: organizational development, promotion, finance,

program development, annd instruction. The first three were certain-

ly responsibilities of the leadership positions he held; the last two re-

sulted from his personal commitments, concerns, and causes.

Baker’s opportunity to build a major new adult education institu-

tion came a few years after his return to Cleveland. The Board of

Trustees of Western Reserve University counted Baker a member

from 1916, but he was not able to attend meetings regularly until he

returned to Cleveland in 1921. In 1924, officials of Western Reserve

University and neighboring Case School of Applied Science asked

the Cleveland Foundation to study the area’s needs for higher ed-

ucation, the extent to which the two schools were meeting those

needs, the extent of necessary supplements, and the nature of a per-

manent, cooperative organization which could provide expanded

educational opportunities. The Foundation had been conducting a

series of community-wide surveys to prepare for spending income

from the “great accumulations of funds” it was directed to adminis-

ter. It agreed to carry out the higher education survey and obtained

from the U.S. Commissioner of Education the services of George

Zook who served as the local Commission Chairman. The results of

the survey indicated that Cleveland, a major business and industrial

center, was behind comparable cities, such as Philadelphia and

Pittsburgh, in the educational opportunities available to its people.8

The report offered a number of recommendations, including the es-

tablishment of a collegiate-level evening program. Discussions and ne-

gotiations occurred among several educational institutions, and Bak-

er, as President of the Western Reserve University Trustees, played a

7. Knowles, 94-95, 177.

8. Zook, Introduction, 44.



124                                                   OHIO HISTORY

significant leadership role in the decision making. He guided the cre-

ation of the evening college through complicated negotiations among

three institutions-Western Reserve University, Case, and the

YMCA, the last of which eventually remained unaffiliated. The out-

come was the incorporation, on July 29, 1925, of Cleveland College, in

affiliation with Western Reserve University and Case School of Ap-

plied Science.9 Situated downtown, several miles away from its two

parent institutions, Cleveland College offered late afternoon and eve-

ning classes to working adults and morning classes to recent high

school graduates who either could not afford to attend residential

colleges or did not quite meet their admissions requirements. Baker

served on this Board of Trustees until his death, was its president for

many of those years, and made the College his major priority.10

9. Corporate Records and Proceedings of Cleveland College, 29 July 1925, 5, Case Western Reserve University Archives, Cleveland, Ohio. (Hereafter cited as Corporate Records.)

10. Cleveland College reached its zenith with the heavy enrollments of veterans after World War II. In 1953, Western Reserve University officials decided to move the College to the main University campus, and in 1973 the College’s existence ended when it was merged with two other undergraduate colleges into Western Reserve College of Case Western Reserve University. See C. H. Cramer, Case Western Reserve:A History of the University, 1926-1976 (Boston, 1976), 129-34.

While Cleveland College was in the process of birth, Cleve-

land’s adult educators from schools, voluntary agencies, libraries,

churches and other groups had been meeting to share ideas and re-

sources. In 1925, they formed the Cleveland Forum Council which,

the following year, became the Education Extension Council; by

1927 the Adult Education Association was formed as the Council’s

successor. Baker served as president of this association in 1928 and

1929 and took an active role in its growth and activities. National or-

ganizers also looked to him, and when a group seeking a national or-

ganization met in Cleveland in 1925, Baker was an active participant.

The conference created a framework for the American Association of

Adult Education, which was officially founded the following year in

Chicago. 11

Baker’s active role in Cleveland’s adult education institutions and

his national contacts led him to national and international recognition

in the adult education movement. In the spring of 1929, Keppel wrote

Baker, “There’s great excitement in these parts about the possibility

of getting you to go to the World Conference on Adult Education in

Cambridge next August.” Baker did indeed attend the conference

and gave an address, published later in the Journal of Adult Educa-

tion under the title, “As a Bystander Sees It: Some Aspects of Adult

Education.” He spoke about the importance of adult education to

civilization and of the demand for education coming from the people,

citing again the experience with American soldiers in Europe, and

the creation of the American Expeditionary Force University. Morse

Cartwright, Director of the American Association for Adult Educa-

tion, wrote Baker after the conference:

I can’t begin to tell you how much pleasure you gave us all by your atten-

dance of the Cambridge conference. To me, your address was the high point

of the conference and in itself justified the presence of the American official


The following spring the members of the AAAE elected Baker presi-


11. Letters, minutes, and reports pertaining to organizational efforts on behalf of

adult education are located in the Baker Papers, Containers 17, 60, and 91. The

Cleveland Adult Education Associations’ “Six Year Report,” written in 1931, reviews

the changes in the name of the organization (Container 60). It refers to an “Open Forum

Speakers Bureau” which is apparently the same group that is labeled the “Cleveland

Forum Council” in a report prepared in 1926 (Container 91).

12. Keppel to Baker, 4 April 1929, Baker Papers, Container 138. Baker, “A Bystander

Sees It,” 366. Cartwright to Baker, 30 September 1929, Baker Papers, Container 20.


Newton D. Baker                                              125

dent for 1930-1931. Professional educators saw Baker’s name and

prestige alone as major assets. Cartwright assured him:

The duties of the position will not be onerous, but your sponsorship of the

adult education movement in accepting this position, we believe, will be ef-

fective and worthwhile.

Baker apparently could have served another term, but Cartwright re-

ported that he “refused a proffer of re-election . . . because of his ac-

ceptance of the office of Trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New

York where, he said, he could be of even greater service to adult ed-


Funding adult education was always a major concern, and Baker

used his considerable influence in fund raising for several adult edu-

cation efforts, but particularly for Cleveland College. His initial task

was to help raise the money necessary to open the College. Contacts

with other evening colleges had convinced Cleveland leaders that

the College would be self-supporting in three to six years (an incor-

rect forecast, as it turned out). Until self-sufficiency occurred, the or-

ganizers needed guarantors to cover costs which student fees would

not meet. They set a goal of obtaining one hundred people to guaran-

tee up to $500 each for three years. Many of the individuals ap-

proached were friends and colleagues of Baker. Baker wrote a letter

requesting guarantees from them which accompanied a statement

prepared by the acting dean concerning the plans and purposes of

the College. The College obtained seventy-two guarantors for the

first year, but in 1927 the trustees decided to try to reach a total of

100 to 150. Baker chaired the Trustees’ Committee on Guarantors and

joined the other trustees in writing to people on the list whom he

knew well.14

In the meantime, Baker also sought a major gift from Ellen B.

Scripps, for whose family he provided legal services. Miss Scripps’

main interest was Scripps College in California, but she provided an

early donation of $25,000 in securities; this was the amount required

by the State of Ohio to start a degree-granting institution and made

the initial organization of the College possible.15

If fund raising was demanding in the twenties, it was even more

pressing after the financial crash in 1929. Enrollments fell more than

13. Cartwright to Baker, 19 May 1930, Baker Papers, Container 20. “Newton Diehl

Baker” (obituary), Journal of Adult Education, 10 (January, 1938), 108-09.

14. Corporate Records, 12 April 1927, 55; 13 April 1928, 63.

15. Corporate Records, 30 November 1925, 32.


126                                                 OHIO HISTORY

50 percent between fall, 1929, and fall, 1930. Because Cleveland Col-

lege was a college of Western Reserve University, the University had

helped to underwrite some of the expenses; but the University was

also hard-hit by the depression, and both institutions were seeking

funds. In 1932, Baker led a major effort to save Cleveland College fi-

nancially because, as he wrote to one associate, “Cleveland College is

my baby.” To another he wrote, “I am a trustee of Cleveland College

and, in a certain sense, the one person responsible for its organization

and maintenance.”16 Many other activities were set aside to focus on

keeping Cleveland College afloat.

The Carnegie Corporation promised a grant for $50,000 if the Col-

lege could raise the remainder of the funds to cover its deficit of

$180,000. The Board hired a public relations firm to help, and by

June 1932 it had raised almost $146,000.17 The following winter more

turmoil occurred when the Guardian Trust Bank failed with $32,000

of Cleveland College money in it. Fortunately, Mrs. Blossom, one of

the benefactors, had not yet paid the second half of her annual con-

tribution, and she was able to obtain $5,000 which paid 40 percent of

the March salaries; a “life-saver,” Baker called it.18

Frequently, Baker would urge that the College move ahead with

some plan for which funds were uncertain, stating that he would

guarantee the amount. Often he found the money among donors or

foundations, but a College summary shows that his own giving over

ten years was $22,115, with the largest amounts provided in 1931-1932

and 1933-1934. In one case, he raised money to renovate the auditori-

um so that the foreign policy lecturer could teach his students in a

proper environment. In another case, he offered to pay $2,500 toward

the College’s rent so that an anticipated surplus in 1937 could go to-

ward improving faculty salaries.19

Baker might well have limited himself to the organizational, pro-

motional, and financial issues of Cleveland adult education agencies

and kept busy enough. However, he had a strong interest in the pro-

16. Baker to Robert M. Lester, 4 December 1931, Baker Papers, Container 68. Baker

to Robert Scripps, 5 June 1933, Baker Papers, Container 69.

17. Notes, 1932 and 1933, Baker Papers, Container 66.

18. Baker to Ellis, 16 March 1933, Cleveland College, Baker File, Case Western Re-

serve University Archives, Cleveland, Ohio.

19. Baker to Sidney S. Wilson (University Treasurer), 6 August 1931, Baker Papers,

Container 65. Baker to Wilson, 12 September 1933, Baker Papers, Container 66. Notes

on conversations with Baker by Western Reserve University President Leutner, Octo-

ber through December, 1937, and “Contributions of Newton D. Baker to Western Re-

serve University,” Office files of Pres. W. G. Leutner, 1DB8 #3, Case Western Reserve

University Archives.


Newton D. Baker                                              127

grams themselves. As a trustee of Cleveland College, Baker had defi-

nite ideas about the curriculum. He took the opportunity to reply to a

questionnaire which Director A. Caswell Ellis sent to business lead-

ers in September 1926 regarding their employees’ needs for higher

education and the areas of priority for instruction. Baker responded:

My own interest in Cleveland College centers around courses in English. I re-

sent the fact that in England students are taught to read, write and speak

better English than they are in the United States and as I regard that gift or

faculty the very ultimate foundation of all culture, I am particularly anxious to

have Cleveland College give increasingly effective courses in it.20

The following year, the trustees of Cleveland College voted Baker

chairman of a committee of three to confer with officers of the local

American Institute of Banking about the possibility of having the

College take over courses offered by the Institute. Ellis viewed this

as a significant step toward establishing a great School of Business

Administration.21 Baker and Ellis also viewed the banking program

as an opportunity to work on a major concern of adult educators-

defining the nature of special curricula for adults.

Baker’s special curriculum interests lay in the area of public affairs,

and he suggested several programs to Ellis. In one letter, he won-

dered whether the College could give a course of instruction for

parole and probation officers. There was no part of the field of crim-

inal law, he said, “in which it is so important to have trained and

intelligent operatives.” He saw the job as “extremely delicate, requir-

ing knowledge of psychology and human relations. …” This train-

ing, plus a police school which he discussed with Ellis several days

before, seemed important in order to provide trained people “for the

tasks upon which our social welfare specially depends.” Baker also

passed on to Ellis a suggestion from a colleague that a military training

unit be established at Cleveland College. He recommended that,

“since we have no athletics in our Cleveland College work, it seems to

me it might be wise to offer them this opportunity if the schedule can

be worked out.”22

Baker was especially knowledgeable about foreign relations and

gave such programs personal attention. The Foreign Affairs Council of

Cleveland was, for several years, affiliated with the Adult Education

Association, of which Baker was president. (The Adult Education

Association was, in turn, affiliated with Cleveland College for a time.)

20. Baker to Ellis, 14 September 1926, Baker Papers, Container 65.

21. Corporate Records, 9 March 1927, 49.

22. Baker to Ellis, 22 June 1929 and 20 July 1929, Baker Papers, Container 66.


128                                              OHIO HISTORY

Each year the Council sponsored an Institute on Foreign Affairs to

which Baker gave direct assistance. He commented on program

plans, participated on the program, suggested other speakers, and

often contacted them. He frequently saw these events as furthering

foreign policy goals in which he was interested. In one letter to a

prospective speaker for an Institute on Anglo-American relations, he


The whole scheme of this Institute is mine and I got up in order that we

might have a sympathetic discussion of Anglo-American relations at a time

when the Naval Conference is about to meet in London and when the World

Court project is about to be decided in this country.23

Here was a clear example of the impact he thought adult education

could have on public decision making.

The real test of any program is its presentation, and Baker was a

lecturer in great demand. In response to his frequent invitations to

speak, he established two rules by which he guided himself. First,

he stated that he rarely gave advance acceptances due to the de-

mands of his law practice. On occasions when he did accept, he cau-

tioned the hosts about the possibility of cancellation. Second, he

accepted no fees for speaking, but if the host institution insisted

on paying, he contributed the money to a favorite cause, usually to

Cleveland College. Despite his limited time for speaking, he generally

did participate in meetings he thought important. He almost always

had a spot on the program of the Cleveland Institute of Foreign Rela-

tions, and he spoke at other adult education events as well. In 1934,

he gave several lectures, including the opening presentation, in a

Cleveland College course on “Current International Problems.” He

worked with the staff in the development of the bibliographies for

the sessions and attracted 800 people to the opening programs.24 The

course seemed rewarding for both presenter and audience.

Baker’s involvement in teaching went beyond the lecture hall to

other media. He appreciated the value of radio in education and

served as a member of the National Advisory Council on Radio in

Education which emerged from the Adult Education Association of

America. The Council developed certain radio programs and pro-

moted education radio programs in general. In 1933, Baker was listed

as a participant in a series on “the Lawyer and the Public” which

23. Baker to Newton W. Rowell, 10 January 1930, Baker Papers, Container 60.

24. Cleveland Plain Dealer, 18 October 1934. Baker Correspondence with J. J. Rob-

bins, November-December 1934, Baker Papers, Container 69.


Newton D. Baker                                             129

the National Advisory Council arranged in cooperation with the

American Bar Association and broadcast on CBS.25

Why did Baker devote such time and energy to adult education,

even to the point of speaking about dropping all other activities to

help Cleveland College survive its financial crisis? For the answer we

must return to his role as a politician and his recognition of the peo-

ple’s power in a democracy.

As a young man, Newton D. Baker’s views of democratic govern-

ment seemed tied to the fate of his own causes. Although he had

strong ties to the Democratic Party, he opposed the free-silver ideas

of William Jennings Bryan and voted for McKinley in 1896. Since Bak-

er was a strong free-trader and McKinley a strong protectionist, Bak-

er’s choice was clearly for the lesser of two evils. However, he hoped

the moderate size of McKinley’s victory would tone down the strong

protectionism of the Republican leaders. In praising the election out-

come, Baker averred that the McKinley victory showed that early

critics of “our experiment in free government” who predicted the

country would one day succumb to demogoguery had been proven

wrong. But he seemed to betray his new expression of “faith in the

permanence of our institutions,” and his new resolve to “purify them

and save what is best in them for posterity” with his reservation


Had Mr. Bryan won I should have felt that the time had come for the estab-

lishment of some less democratic form of government among us. I have al-

ways had philosophic difficulties with democracy as a theory, as you know,

and as a purely speculative principle, I have never been able to see how a sys-

tem which profusedly [sic] counted heads but avoided all inquiries as to

whether or not there was anything in them could produce scientific re-


His faith was tested again the following year, more on grounds of in-

tegrity than of intelligence, when, critical of ideas proposed for a sav-

ings bank scheme, he wrote, “I have almost lost faith in the ability of

our form of government to find five honest men out of Sixty Mil-


But soon came the years in Tom Johnson’s administration, and

then, Baker’s own terms as Mayor of Cleveland and, finally, his serv-

25. Correspondence and announcements in file on National Council on Radio in Ed-

ucation, Baker Papers, Container 163.

26. Baker to Kurtz, 10 November 1986, Baker Papers, Container 266.

27. Baker to C. K. Dawson, 4 December 1897, Baker Papers, Container 266.


130                                                OHIO HISTORY

ice in Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet. The choices of the people con-

firmed Baker’s own views and, hence, encouraged his faith in public

decisions. A lesson he drew from the Cleveland experience was the

effectiveness of education about public affairs. Tom Johnson had a

circus tent which he took to vacant lots throughout the City “when-

ever he wanted to educate the people of Cleveland about a prob-

lem  .. .” Johnson would explain the problem and invite questions

which he answered frankly, comprehensively, and dispassionately. As a re-

sult of this procedure, in Mr. Johnson’s day Cleveland was the best in-

formed city about its own affairs … anywhere in America, and nobody

with a theory of municipal reform could come to Cleveland and surprise an

audience into a sudden or impulsive attitude.28

After a career of twenty years in public service, Baker was more dis-

posed to accept the people’s will, even when he thought it wrong.

His experience in dealing with leaders holding many viewpoints and

his observation of “less democratic forms of government” may have

made him more conscious of the possibilities of democracy and the

limitations of its alternatives. Certainly the League of Nations contro-

versy tested his democratic faith. Even so, his commitment to the

people’s decisions was clear, as he explained to his friend Raymond

Fosdick why the Democratic Platform of 1924 should support U.S.

membership in the League of Nations:

If the American people want to stay out and take the consequences, I want to

make common lot with them, much as I shall bewail their folly. … If we are

beaten on that issue, we have no right to go into the League of Nations.29

If the people were to be self-determining, they had to have oppor-

tunities for education. Thus Baker turned his attention to the ad-

vancement of formal adult education, convinced that it was essential

for progress and well-being in society. Governing a democracy is diffi-

cult in any case, he argued, even though it is the best form of govern-

ment. Part of the difficulty is, “Every change in the public policy of a

democracy implies the re-education of the entire body politic.” In a

despotism, only the despot has to be educated to the change, but in

a democracy, “every step forward is that of educating an effective

majority of the entire electorate to change their minds.“30

28. Baker to Brooks Emeny, 9 January 1934, Baker Papers, Container 69.

29. Baker to Fosdick, 12 March 1924, Baker Papers, Container 99.

30. Newton D. Baker, “The Answer is Education,” Journal of Adult Education, 3

(June, 1931), 264.


Newton D. Baker                                         131

In rhetoric common to Progressives of his day, Baker focused on

the value of education for the purpose of social change. He could

point to examples of the failure to change as evidence of the need for

more education. For example, “the medieval performance which

took place in Dayton, Tennessee,” in opposition to the teaching of bi-

ological evolution, illustrated a failure of education among the people

of Tennessee who supported legislation against teaching this relative-

ly new knowledge.31

If education were to help people think through issues, it had to be

education in depth-it needed to have “a certain element of consecu-

tiveness and constancy.” Informing people was not the same as edu-

cating them. Baker feared an intellectual environment “where we

have substituted informational instrumentalities for real knowledge,”

and anyone who had read a magazine article or heard a radio ad-

dress on a profound subject felt ready to deal with the matter.32

Such education required a certain amount of time. Baker was con-

cerned about the ways in which new technologies-the radio and

the cable-had sped up decision making and made it easier for emo-

tion to guide mass opinion. The opportunities for meditation provid-

ed by slower communication were now gone.33 Hence, he conclud-

ed, we need to train ourselves to think. Baker stated that his own

conception of the kind of education needed is not that which pro-

duces “a learned man or woman,” but rather that which through

some process turns out a person with the capacity to withhold judg-

ment until he or she knows the facts.34

Baker was less certain about the content of education, but felt that

educators had to work toward knowledge common to all people.

Again, like many Progressives, he saw a need to melt the cultural dif-

ferences of a nation of immigrants. Adult education was, in a sense, a

way to build community. People who come together to study share

an interest in the subject. “Common knowledge, a community of in-

terests, and an identity of culture give people a social power that is

quite unattainable by any other means.”35 He thought this common

heritage could be developed not only on a national scale, but interna-

tionally as well. Thus he foresaw the promotion of “international soli-

31. Baker, “A Bystander Sees It,” 365.

32. Newton D. Baker, “Our Leisure Thinking,” Recreation, 27 (December, 1933),

426. Baker to Bailey (draft) undated, 1937. Baker Papers, Ralph Hayes file.

33. Baker, “Our Leisure Thinking,” 24.

34. Baker, “Answer is Education,” 262.

35. Ibid, 266.


132                                             OHIO HISTORY

darity through the creation of a common intellectual heritage among

many peoples.”36

If, then, the goals of adult education were to develop the capacity

to think and a community of interest, where did the development of

special knowledge, of experts, fit in? For Baker that was not the pur-

pose of adult education institutions; more likely, it fell in the province

of research universities and institutes. Of course, he respected schol-

arly research on international issues and other matters, but his com-

pliments were heartier for works which popularized and scholarly

knowlege because they brought the information to the public. In dis-

cussing the potential role of an international affairs expert at Cleve-

land College, he wrote the candidate:

The world’s trouble at the moment is not a lack of knowledge of the kind

which research provides, but rather a lack of the dissemination and popu-

larization of that knowledge.37

Despite his acceptance of democratic concepts, his efforts were im-

bued with a certain elitism. There were those who discovered or de-

termined the enlightened route, and there were the masses who

could learn from the leaders. There were the people and the experts,

the citizens and the leaders. He lauded America’s eighteenth centu-

ry populace who brought about the country’s form of government,

saying the citizens were able to engage in debate, write letters about

civic events, and understand references to ancient philosophers.

However, they used their knowledge to select the most learned men

to write the Constitution. This relationship between public knowl-

edge and separate expertise was one he thought effective for operat-

ing a democracy.

If there was an elitism incorporated in Baker’s philosophy, his en-

ergies and commitment nevertheless contributed to an adult educa-

tion movement which opened new opportunities for the populace and

had the potential for diminishing elitism. Night schools and exten-

sion programs made further education possible for workers and

those who could not afford residential colleges. The issues that he

raised concerning educational content, organization, and methodolo-

gy for adults opened discussions and research that have stayed on

the adult education agenda for the remainder of the twentieth centu-


36. Baker, “A Bystander Sees It,” 365.

37. Baker to Emeny, 9 January 1934, Baker Papers, Container 69.


Rae Rohfeld holds a Ph.D. in American History from Case Western Reserve Univer-

sity and is currently Metropolitan Campus Director for Continuing Education at Cuya-

hoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. This article was made possible in part by

a grant from the Travel to Collections Program of the National Endowment for the Hu-

manities. Gracious assistance from the staffs of the Library of Congress Manuscript Di-

vision and of the Case Western Reserve University Archives is acknowledged.