National Press Club

NPC in History: Where did the Club’s first president work?

October 8, 2018 | By Gil Klein |

William Spurgeon was the first president of the National Press Club. The details of his career trajectory are less certain.

William Spurgeon was the first president of the National Press Club. The details of his career trajectory are less certain.

William P. Spurgeon was the first National Press Club president, of that there is no doubt.

When Graham Nichol of the Washington Times, who was the driving force in establishing the Club, declined the presidency, Spurgeon was elected and served in both 1908 and 1909.

But for whom did he work?

In the photos of past presidents that have lined the hallway on the 14th floor for decades, “Washington Post” is clearly written under Spurgeon’s photo. The 1958 history of the Club lists him as being with the Post. A 1948 history gives passing reference to him as being at the Post.The 1928 history doesn’t say.

So, one would assume he worked for the Washington Post.

With such little information about him in past Club histories, I decided to see what I could find out.

Yes, Spurgeon was managing editor of the Washington Post before he was president. And he was the Post’s managing editor when he died in 1920.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I saw his name on the masthead of the first edition of the Washington Herald, the upstart newspaper that began publishing on Monday, Oct. 8, 1906. Its offices were at 734 15th St. NW.

The Herald had been founded by Scott Bone, who had been the Post’s managing editor before Spurgeon. He lured Spurgeon to join him in time for the first edition.

In the list of members in the Club’s 1914 Year Book, Spurgeon is identified as working for the Herald. Apparently, he returned to the Post a year or two later, and he stayed until he died of typhoid fever at his home on Irving Street on June 4, 1920. He was 53.

Spurgeon was born in Norwich, England, in 1866 and came to the United States with his parents when he was 13, settling in Washington, according to his Washington Post obituary. He got his first newspaper experience with the New York Press, which had been founded by his uncle. But he spent most of his career in Washington. I found an investigative story about the police department he wrote for the Post in April 1896.

In its obituary, the Washington Post made no mention of Spurgeon’s years at the Herald, saying only that he had “been connected with the Post for 30 years.” But an obituary in a paper called “The Fourth Estate” was more detailed:

“In 1890 he went to Washington and joined the staff of the Post,” it said. “Soon afterwards he was made news editor, and he served in that capacity until 1905 when he was made managing editor.

“When the Washington Herald was established, Mr. Spurgeon went to that paper as managing editor under Scott C. Bone. About five years ago at the request of Edward B. McLean (the Post’s publisher) he resumed the managing editorship of the Post.”

Edward McLean became the Post’s publisher in 1916.

This is another in a series provided by Club historian Gil Klein. Dig down anywhere in the Club’s 110-year history, and you will find some kind of significant event in the history of the world, the nation, Washington, journalism and the Club itself. Many of these events were caught in illustrations that tell the stories.