Maturin Murray Ballou
By Alexandra Winzeler
In her memoir, Echoes of the Past, Athenæum staff member Mary Jane Regan names Maturin Murray Ballou as a “daily visitor” to the Athenæum, using his time at the library to write his popular travel books. Many of these books are still in the circulating collection today; you can check out a few from the list below. However, Ballou played an even bigger role in Boston history beyond enjoying the Athenæum: he was a founder of The Boston Globe newspaper.
Maturin Murray Ballou was born on April 14th, 1820 in Boston. He worked in journalism since he was a teenager, his father Reverend Hosea Ballou founding the Protestant publication known as the Universalist Review which ran from 1844 to 1891. In 1839 while working as a clerk in the Boston post office, M.M. Ballou married Mary Anne Roberts and the two of them travelled widely at home and abroad in the next two decades.
For some time, Ballou served as the editor of the Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion a “copiously illustrated family miscellany,” popular and singular for the amount of pictures per text in every issue. After several successful years, Gleason traveled Europe and found he was tired of the publishing business. He sold the periodical to his editor, Ballou, in 1854 who promptly changed the title to Ballou’s Pictorial. Though competing illustrated newspapers rose in New York, Ballou’s Pictorial still led in the topics of travel and natural history.
By the start of 1855, Ballou was additionally publishing his own paper, Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine, to great success, eventually discontinuing Gleason’s in 1859. Ballou’s periodical changed its name in 1866 to simply Ballou’s Monthly Magazine when the price was raised to $1.50. He went on producing the monthly magazine for more than 30 years, eventually selling it to Thomes and Talbot in 1886.
In 1871 it is easy to see why Ballou’s opinion had such sway over advertiser Stephen Niles, when talk of creating a new Boston newspaper began: “at 51 Ballou was a man of letters and a man of affairs who had published several books of travel and history, a monthly magazine, and the first substantial illustrated weekly.” Ballou inspired Niles, telling him there was a place for a “superior newspaper” in Boston. By the close of Niles’ initial meetings regarding a new publication, the group had gained funding and the vessel of the Boston Globe had set sail, with Maturin Murray Ballou at the helm as editor.
The first issue was published March 4th, 1872, initially called, Maturin Ballou’s Globe, and it was 8 page, 7 columns, all for the price of 4 cents. Back in the 1850s, while working at Gleason’s Pictorial, Ballou had been in favor of strongly moral content, printing a series of essays on the clergymen of Boston, for example. Likewise he had strong thoughts on the direction for The Globe and announced this to the public in its first issue, writing that the publication would be “devoted to the intelligent and dignified discussion of political and social ethics and current events at home and abroad” and literature and the arts should be given “ample and judicious attention from experienced individuals.”
While leading the publication, Ballou certainly staffed The Globe with “experienced individuals,” including Percy Whipple, a talented literary lecturer, Benjamin Edward Woolf, a composer of plays and opera, Charles E. Pascoe as foreign editor, and Benjamin F. Burnham as their legal specialist. Ballou also hired a woman, which was rare for the day, Georgia Hamlen of Charleston, who at first worked various chores, and eventually took over writing literary reviews for Percy Whipple.
A financial depression at the time made the newspaper world a hard one, administrators waging a constant battle of adjusting pricing and hoping for additional subscriptions. Due to the tough times and waning public interest, Ballou left The Globe in June of 1873. The newspaper endured, however, and continued to work towards Ballou’s grand goal of making The Globe “second to none in the country.”
After his work in journalism, Ballou kept up his passion for world travel, circumnavigating the globe at his own path and pace. His travels continued to inspire his voluminous writing on countless foreign countries. He passed away in 1895 while abroad in Egypt with his wife. Despite the frequent excursions that took him away from the city he helped shape, Ballou was ultimately buried in Boston.
- Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
- Due North: or Glimpses of Scandinavia and Russia
- The New Eldorado: a Summer Journey to Alaska
- The Pearl of India
- Under the Southern Cross: or Travels in Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Samoa, and other Pacific Islands
- Lyons, Louis M. Newspaper Story: One Hundred Years of the Boston Globe. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 1971.
- Marquis Who’s Who Incorporated. Who Was Who in America: Historical Volume 1607-1896. Chicago: Marquis Publications. 1963.
- “Maturin Murray Ballou.” Wikipedia. Updated April 3, 2014. URL
- Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines 1850-1865. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1938. Vol II.
- Pierce, Sally. “Gleason’s Pictorial: Elevating and Celebrating American Life.” The Ephemera Journal. Vol. 5. 1992. pp.13-24.
- Regan, Mary Jane. Echoes from the Past: Reminiscences of the Boston Athenæum. Boston Athenæum: 1927.