William Dean Howells

The Ohio Connection

“I remember those years in Columbus as among the happiest of my life.”
—William Dean Howells, in an interview published in Americana

  • William Dean Howells was born March 1, 1837, in Martin’s Ferry, OH, son of William Cooper, a printer and journalist, and Mary Dean Howells.
  • When he was three, the family moved to Hamilton, Ohio, and his father edited the Intelligencer, a weekly journal where the young Howells learned to set type.
  • Next the family moved to Dayton so William Cooper Howells could purchase the Transcript. After he attempted to convert it from a tri-weekly to a daily publication, young William Dean dropped out of school to help his father, sometimes setting type until midnight and rising to deliver papers at four o’clock the next morning.
  • William Dean Howells attended schools in Hamilton and Dayton, Ohio. After dropping out in Dayton, however, he was largely self-educated.
  • The Howells’s failure in Dayton was followed by a move to a communal settlement near Xenia, Ohio. There they lived in a log cabin for a year and unsuccessfully tried to convert a sawmill and a gristmill into a cooperative paper mill. Howells drew upon the experience for his fictional New Leaf Mills: A Chronicle.
  • When the family relocated to Columbus in 1851, Howells’s father found a position as a government clerk at the state capital, and Howells was hired by the Ohio State Journal to set type.
  • William Dean Howells served as compositor for the Ohio State Journal in Columbus from 1851-56. He wrote legislative reports for the Cincinnati and Cleveland papers, edited a literary column titled “News and Humors of the Mail,” and authored many leading articles. He became the news and literary editor for the paper from 1856-60.
  • Howells was the Columbus correspondent and later the city editor for the Cincinnati Gazette, Cincinnati, OH, around 1857.
  • Howells also contributed to the Sentinel in Jefferson, Ohio, from 1852 onward.
  • He was a columnist in the Cleveland Herald in 1858.

Howells worked as a reader for Follett and Foster, a publishing company in Columbus, in 1860

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