Conger Reynolds (1891-1971)

Founder of Journalism Department at the University of Iowa, WWI Intelligence Officer, U.S. Foreign service officer, Public Relations–Standard Oil Company, Founder Public Relations Society of America, U.S. Information Agency: People-to-People International

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.

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“He traveled by horse or bike selling Collier’s Magazine subscriptions in Illinois and Iowa. This was to earn his college tuition.”

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.

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Lt. Conger Reynolds, USA, Intelligence Officer with Gen. John Pershing’s Expeditionary Forces, WWI

“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.

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State Department party, probably in Stuttgart, Germany, circa 1928-31. Front row, 2nd from left: Conger Reynolds.  Second row, 3rd and 4th from left: Mary Emily (Stephenson) Goodenough, and Daphne G. (Goodenough) Reynolds.

In 1929, Reynolds became the director of public relations for the Standard Oil Company, from which he retired in 1955. He also helped found the Public Relations Society of America.

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Conger Reynolds, taken about 1950
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Citation for Distinguished Service Awarded to Conger Reynolds in Recognition of Outstanding Service to the Advancement of the Public Relations Profession 1959 by the Public Relations Society of America. Now owned by the Dexter Museum.
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About 1964
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Conger Reynolds visiting his hometown of Dexter, Iowa. No date.

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 International 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.

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Conger Reynolds enlisting the aid of Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates”) and Al Capp (“Li’l Abner”) for People-to-People, September 29, 1959.

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From the History of Dexter, Iowa, 1968, page 108.

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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.

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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.

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John Quincy Adams Reynolds, who named his younger son after Edwin H. Conger.

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1968 Dexter Centennial History, page 32.

Although Conger and Daphne Reynolds are buried in San Diego, California, his parents (John Quincy Adams Reynolds and Sarah Emily (Pugh) Reynolds) are buried at Dexter.

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Sarah Emily Pugh. Before marriage she taught at Guthrie Switch (now Menlo).

 

 

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