As a clerk in the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, Brand Whitlock provided one of the few first-hand accounts of the State Library prior to the turn of the 20th century. His stint in the Secretary’s office was just a springboard in a long and colorful career both in politics and literature.

Born in Urbana, Ohio, on March 4, 1869, Whitlock got an early start in journalism, working as a reporter for the Toledo Blade from 1887 to 1890 before moving to Springfield, Illinois, where he served as a correspondent to the Chicago Herald. In Springfield he also found work as a clerk in the office of Secretary of State William Hinrichsen and studied law under former Governor John M. Palmer. He also formed a close relationship with Clarence Darrow, the noted Chicago attorney, and was a supporter of Governor John Altgeld. 1

Admitted to the Illinois bar in 1894, Whitlock also began earnestly pursuing a writing career during his years in Springfield. As a result, he frequently visited the Supreme Court library, the Illinois State Historical Library, and the State Library. He later recalled the great libraries of the Capitol as among his favorite places in Springfield. Whitlock’s literary favorites were the works of George Meredith and Thomas Hardy. He also borrowed economist Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Bimetallism in the United States – a hot topic of the time – North American Birds, Homer’s Iliad, Memoirs of Napoleon, Taine’s History of English Literature, poetry by John Hay, Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde, and works by William Shakespeare and Mark Twain. 2

In 1897, Whitlock moved back to northwest Ohio, setting up a law practice in Toledo and becoming an active voice in reform politics. After suffering numerous rejections, his writing career began to blossom with publication of his first article in 1898. His first novel, The Thirteenth District, appeared in 1902, with two more, Her Infinite Variety and The Happy Average, following two years later. 3

As his writing took off, so did his political prospects, and he was elected to the first of four two-year terms as mayor of Toledo in 1906. Meanwhile, more books followed, including The Turn of the Balance (1907), Abraham Lincoln (1909), The Gold Brick (1910), The Fall Guy (1912), and On the Enforcement of Law in Cities (1913). Many of his works expressed his reform-minded, progressive political views and served as commentary on what he saw as major issues in American society. 4

Whitlock chose not to run for a fifth term as mayor and was named U.S. Minister to Belgium by President Woodrow Wilson in September 1913. He became active in the Belgian relief efforts and received countless honors from the Belgian government and its people. Prior to his appointment, he completed his autobiography, Forty Years of It, and in 1919 wrote his views of his European experience, Belgium: A Personal Narrative. 5

In 1921, Whitlock bitterly resigned his post at the request of President Warren G. Harding, who filled the vacancy with a Republican. Whitlock then settled on the French Riviera, where he engaged full-time in writing. Many more books were produced during this time, including J. Hardin & Son (1923), Uprooted (1926), Transplanted (1927), Big Matt (1928), La Fayette (1929), The Little Green Shutter (1931), Narcissus (1931), and The Stranger on the Island (1933).6

Whitlock was working on biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson when his health began to fail. He died on May 20, 1934, and is buried in Cannes.7

  1. Anderson 15, 19-21-23.
  2. Anderson 23; Whitlock 40; Illinois Blue Book 1929-1930, 420.
  3. Anderson 15, 24.
  4. Anderson 15-16.
  5. Anderson 15-16, 78.
  6. Anderson 15-16, 96-97.