Founder of Journalism Department at the University of Iowa, WWI Intelligence Officer, U.S. Foreign service officer, Standard Oil Company, helped launch People-to-People
Born on a farm in Dallas County, Iowa, on March 23, 1891, Conger Reynolds grew up in the small town of Dexter, Iowa, graduating high school with the class of 1908.
While Reynolds’ lived in Dexter, the town’s population was between 607 (1890 Census) and 795 (1900, which was Dexter’s heyday).
He worked for a farmer during the summer, then ran a sweetcorn mixer and a cooker in the Dexter canning factory to get started at Drake University.
Transferring to the University of Iowa, he sold stereoscopic pictures door to door by bicycle, waited tables in Iowa City, and sold magazines in rural areas on a horse. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1912.
His first job was as a reporter with The Des Moines Register and Leader, then with the editorial staff of The Register and Tribune.
Reynolds returned to the University of Iowa to become publicity director, and also taught journalism and English. While there he helped found the Journalism Department.
The Great War broke out during that time, so he enlisted and was assigned to military intelligence in France, and later to the press section.
“All dispatches and mail articles had to be submitted to censors and passed by them before they would be allowed passage by cable or mail,” he later wrote. “I still have the rubber stamp with which I passed hundreds or thousands of articles before putting its impression on the final sheet and writing my name and rank across it.”
The stamp was recently donated to the Dexter Museum by his granddaughter.
After the war Reynolds remained in France as managing editor of The Chicago Tribune, Paris edition.
In 1922, he was assigned vice-consul to Halifax, Nova Scotia for two years, then vice-consul and later consul in Stuttgart, Germany, specializing in trade promotion.
In 1929, Reynolds became the director of public relations for the Standard Oil Company, from which he retired in 1955. He also founded the Public Relations Society of America.
Moving to Washington, DC, he joined the US Information Agency as director of the Office of Private Cooperation. There he worked with the Eisenhower administration to launch the People-to-People program which was designed to promote international understanding. He worked in this capacity until 1961, when he finally did in fact retire. Conger Reynolds died in 1971.
The papers of Conger Reynolds have been collected by the University of Iowa, documenting the remarkable life and career of a man who grew up in an Iowa town of fewer than 800 people.
Conger Reynolds’ father was John Quincy Adams Reynolds (1844-1930), a Civil War veteran (Co A, 12th Ind. Cavalry) who moved to Iowa in 1867.
Sarah Emily Pugh. Before marriage she taught at Guthrie Switch (now Menlo).