By: Vivienne Machi, Staff Writer.
Whether you’ve lived in the Miami Valley your whole life, or you just moved here, you’ve heard of James M. Cox. Maybe you’ve flown out of James M. Cox International Airport, or bought a car after consulting the Kelley Blue Book, or read this article.
Any Daytonian should have at least a basic idea of why this man is so important to Dayton, Ohio, and national politics and entrepreneurship.
First, the quick easy facts you should know:
James M. Cox (1870-1957) was the 46th and 48th governor of Ohio – serving from 1913-1915 and 1917-1921 after serving as the state’s U.S. Representative from 1909 to 1913. His progressive and reformist policies aided him to the Democratic nomination for the presidency, but lost to then-U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding. You may have also heard of his running mate, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
A newspaper man since early adulthood, he bought the Dayton Evening News in 1898 and promptly renamed it the Dayton Daily News, and from there built Cox Enterprises, a large media enterprise which included the Springfield Press Republic (now the Springfield News Sun), the Atlanta Journal (now the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), radio stations WSB in Atlanta, WHIO in Dayton, and WIOD in Miami. In the years since, Cox Enterprises has acquired newspapers, television stations, radio stations, as well as Kelly Blue Book, Savings.com, Valpak and Autotrader, among other properties, including Dayton.com’s parent company Cox Media Group Ohio. His daughter, Anne Cox Chambers, remains the leader of Cox Enterprises along with several family members.
James M. Cox International Airport is aptly named after him.
These are the bare basics you should know about a man whose influence and legacy are so entrenched in Dayton and the surrounding areas. But for when you need to one-up the historian at the dinner party, drop one of these more engaging facts:
James Middleton Cox was born on March 31, 1870, in Jacksonburg, Ohio, about six miles west of Middletown. He grew up on the family farm with his six older siblings, and according to one biographer, Roger W. Babson in Cox — the Man: “the chief recreation was to go down in the evening to Shafer’s store… All of the residents remember James as a boy, and several of them remember his characteristics. When he got into Shafer’s store, he would either be discussing with the men political problems, or else would be over in one corner, under the old kerosene lamp, with his head buried in a good book.”
Before he entered the newspaper business, Cox worked in a variety of trades — as a tutor, a janitor, a newsboy, a printer’s devil – or apprentice – and as a schoolteacher. But he was always fascinated by the newspaper biz, and by age 21 he was spending his summers and Saturdays working in newspaper work at Baker’s paper, the Middletown News-Signal, and for the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Babson writes that in a conversation with Cox’s former mentor and brother-in-law, John Q. Baker, the latter said that Cox’s only recreation “seemed to be arguing.”
“‘He did like to argue,’ says Mr. Baker. ‘If there were no debates at school or at the country grocery store, he would seek the street corner.’”
During his second term as Governor of Ohio at the end of World War I, Cox supported a ban on teaching the German language in all Ohio schools, claiming it “a distinct menace to Americanism, and part of a plot formed by the German government to make the school children loyal to it.” The Ake law was passed by the Ohio Legislature in 1919, which outlawed German language instruction above eighth grade – but not in elementary schools – until the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional in 1922. (Source: Persecution of the German Language in Cincinnati and the Ake Law in Ohio, 1917-1919, Scott A. Merriman, University of Michigan)
As Babson writes: “From the first James M. Cox encouraged the suffrage leaders and helped them in every way…In his speech of acceptance on August 7, 1920, Mr. Cox said: ‘The women of America, in motion and constructive service measured up during the war to every requirement, and the emergency exacted much of them. Their initiative, their enthusiasm and their sustained industry, which carried many of them to the heavy burdens of toil, form an undying page in the annals of time, while the touch of the mother heart in camp and hospital gave a sacred color to the tragic picture that feeble words should not even attempt to portray. They demonstrated not only willingness but capacity. They helped win the war, and they are entitled to a voice in the re-adjustment now at hand.
“Their intuition, their sense of the humanitarian in government, their unquestioned progressive spirit will be helpful in problems that require public judgment. Therefore they are entitled to the privilege of voting as a matter of right and because they will be helpful in maintaining wholesome and patriotic policy.”