V.Y. Dallman, newspaperman

V.Y. Dallman, 1961  (Courtesy State Journal-Register)

Vincent Young “V.Y.” Dallman (1873-1964) was the epitome of an old-school newsman. Though he didn’t have a college degree, Dallman worked for the Illinois State Register for almost 70 years, rising through the ranks from newsboy (a job he got by subterfuge) to editor.

Dallman officially succeeded Henry W. Clendenin as Register editor when Clendenin died in 1927. As managing editor, however, Dallman had already been the paper’s newsroom leader for years – Clendenin’s involvement necessarily diminished after 1910, when he went blind from glaucoma.

In print, Dallman always went by the initials “V.Y.”, although he often referred to himself, jokingly as “Admiral,” a rank he justified by noting he had gone on a half-dozen U.S. Navy cruises (presumably public relations junkets). In person, he was known simply as “Vin.”

Politically, Dallman was a partisan Democrat, in the Woodrow Wilson “progressive” style. That approach carried over to Springfield’s civic affairs – Dallman was a strong ally of Utilities Com. Willis Spaulding, a friend of teacher extraordinaire Susan Wilcox, and an advocate (rare locally) of poet Vachel Lindsay.

The newspaper summarized Dallman’s career in an obituary.

He applied for a job on the then morning Register as a carrier boy in the 1890s but was turned down because of frailty. He persuaded the regular carrier to let him sub and learn the route, and then carried it until the regular boy quit. The circulation manager found out, gave in, and gave him a job in 1892.

After high school, the same circulation manager made him assistant circulation manager, and from there, young Dallman progressed steadily up the ladder of newspaper positions – cub reporter, state editor, telegraph editor, city editor and managing editor. He retired in 1960, almost 70 years later, and became editor emeritus and the city’s official “Ambassador of Good Will.”

Dallman Power Station, Lake Springfield (CWLP)

Dallman led the Register on crusades in favor of Spaulding’s plan to create a city-owned electric utility – City Water, Light and Power’s Dallman Power Station is named after him – and in opposition to what the newspaper claimed was Republican leader Dick Sullivan’s corrupt political operation (Sullivan was always “Boss” Sullivan in Register coverage).

Col. Ira C. Copley (1864-1947) was another target of Dallman and the Register, especially after Copley bought the Register’s rival, the Illinois State Journal, in 1928. In none of those cases, however, did the Register play totally fair.

Andy Van Meter looked at Dallman’s attacks on Copley in Always My Friend, a 1981 history of the State Journal-Register and its predecessors. (To put Van Meter’s conclusions in context: the Copley chain still owned the SJ-R in 1981, and the newspaper commissioned the publication of Always My Friend. Even under those circumstances, however, Van Meter’s characterization of Dallman and the Register rings true.)

Battle was the Register’s natural element. Editor Dallman had long been fighting men like Colonel Copley or, more accurately, men whom he assumed Colonel Copley resembled. As a utilities magnate, a former Republican congressman, a back room political power, and an absentee owner of its old enemy the Journal, Ira C. Copley made an ideal opponent for the Register. The fact that Copley did not fit the corrupt, monopolist stereotype made little difference to the Register’s editor. Dallman opened up on Copley with a devastating barrage of charges that had only the most tenuous basis in fact. …

The ruckus naturally had repercussions in Springfield, where the Journal’s attempts to respond to the charges met a cynical reception. Most of the good will incumbent to a new newspaper owner quickly withered in the face of the Register’s relentless charges and insinuations.

Col. Ira C. Copley (findagrave)

Dallman’s view of Copley made an abrupt turn in 1942, when Copley became Dallman’s boss, leasing (and later buying) the Register from the heirs of founders Clendenin and Thomas Rees. Van Meter reported on a crucial meeting between the two:

When Dallman arrived, Copley, always a formal man, greeted him stiffly and – after an awkward pause – inquired if the Register editor would be interested in continuing in the position he had so ably filled for so many years:

“Yes,” Dallman replied cooly, “but not if I have to be your yes-man.”

Copley only looked Dallman over more closely; he moved closer to this guest, as if to aid his weak eyes in their search for the source of Dallman’s audacity; then tapping Dallman vigorously on the lapel with his finger, he said:

“I’m glad you said that … If anyone tries to tell you what to do, you tell them to go to hell! … And that includes me!” (Emphasis in original.)

Copley lived up to his promise.

“V.Y. Dallman received and exercised complete editorial autonomy,” Van Meter wrote. Dallman “came to honor Colonel Copley, and later his son, for strictly observing the intent of the unwritten contract that he agreed to in 1942.”

One aspect of Dallman’s career that has never been examined – and probably cannot be today – was how responsible he was for the race-baiting newspaper coverage that helped inspire the Springfield Race Riot of 1908. Dallman was managing editor of the Register in 1908, but overall editorial control still lay with Clendenin. Under Clendenin’s management starting in 1881, the Register had compiled a repulsively racist record, and the paper’s 1908 reporting may still have been at Clendenin’s direction. (In fairness, while the Journal had a better record generally, that paper’s coverage immediately before the riot was comparably bad.)

Elmer L. Rogers (1881-1957), editor of The Illinois Conservator, a local African-American newspaper, praised Dallman’s leadership on racial issues in the Register’s centennial edition in 1936. But it isn’t clear how much weight to give to Rogers’ comments; for example, he obviously was unfamiliar with – or chose to ignore – the Register’s racial record before 1908.

“The paper was bought by the present owners in 1881 and has steadily advanced,” Rogers wrote. “It has been democratic all the while, but clean and fair – very fair on the question of questions – the Negro. On the Negro question it is getting broader and fairer as time passes, and under the editorial leadership of V.Y. Dallman there is not a fairer paper extant.”

Dallman “fires the opening gun” for the 1962 YMCA membership roundup, as he had done for all the previous 22 roundups. The Y was among dozens of civic activities for Dallman. (SJ-R)

For much of his tenure as editor, Dallman held a second job, the patronage post of collector of internal revenue for 76 Illinois counties, to which he was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. He stepped down when the Internal Revenue Service was reorganized in 1952. According to Van Meter, the federal position meant that, while “Dallman directed the editorial voice of the Register and wrote his column, … much of his day was spent across the street in the post office building.”

Dallman also was known for his daily morning “walks before oatmeal,” which he often mentioned in speeches and newspaper columns. “To stay young, you must use your feet and legs to visit God’s Cathedral out-of-doors,” he once said, “and you must think and talk in terms of service to other people and your community.”

Dallman died Dec. 31, 1964, in a car accident (he was a passenger). Characteristically, at age 91, he was on his way home from a New Year’s Eve party.

‘Assorted Smiles’

In an amazing display of longevity, V.Y. Dallman wrote a column, usually printed on the editorial page, but sometimes page 1,  almost every day the Register was published between December 1920 and February 1960, 270-some columns per year.

As the standing headline – “In the Lighter Vein” and later “Assorted Smiles” – suggested, it was a hodgepodge of jokes, reminiscences, poetry (much of it his own, often credited to “the Bunn Park Owl”) and clips from other papers. Dallman’s final poem, published Feb. 20, 1960, gives a sense:

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