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Kiplinger, W.M. (1891-1967)

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W.M. Kiplinger

Biographical Introduction

W. M. Kiplinger’s association with Unitarianism began during his college years at Ohio State University in 1908-1912. As a standard product of Midwestern Methodism, he had attended Sunday school as a boy and learned the customary catechism of the times. In later life, he delighted in regaling listeners with the words of old hymns like “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” and “Washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”

His own views began to form in an atmosphere of educational liberalism in which many young students found themselves during the Woodrow Wilson political era. These were given a framework by his association with a fellow student, Irene Austin, who later became Mrs. W. M. Kiplinger. Her father, Judge James Austin of Toledo, Ohio, was an active member of the First Unitarian Church of Toledo and along with his friend, Judge Henry Crittenden, was a member of the lay board of the congregation. Judge Austin had, in turn, been influenced toward Unitarian thinking by his father, James Austin, Sr., of Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

When James Austin, Sr., first arrived in New England in 1854, the liberal movement throughout Europe had been opposed by the established order and James Austin found himself blacklisted for work throughout the mill country of Lancashire, England, where he had been a superintendent in Padiham, north of Liverpool. Because he espoused such radical views as the 10-hour workday law and universal education, he ran afoul of mill owners who did not take well to the idea that working men should be taught to read and write. Mr. Austin left the country and migrated to Rhode Island, where he became a civic activist and outspoken participant in town meetings. Though this may seem remote from W. M. Kiplinger, it illustrates the origin of some of his Unitarian roots, inherited from his wife’s grandfather.

After moving to Washington in 1916, Mr. and Mrs. Kiplinger attended All Souls Unitarian Church (which, by the way, was also the home congregation of the Chief Justice, former President William Howard Taft). In the early 1950s, when a new congregation was being formed in Bethesda, Md., the Kiplingers became friends with John Baker, minister of the new group and together with others in the community, became founding members of the Cedar Lane Unitarian Church, which now occupies an important role in the neighborhood adjoining the National Institutes of Health and Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Through Mr. Kiplinger’s interest in gardening, the new church created a surround of azaleas on the adjoining grounds. (One wall of the building is constructed of Seneca red sandstone—the same stone that was used to build the original “castle” of the Smithsonian Institution on the National Mall in Washington.) The Kiplingers remained members of Cedar Lane until W. M. Kiplinger’s death in 1967.

— By Austin H. Kiplinger, President of the Kiplinger Editors.

A Memorial Letter

In 2001, W. M. Kiplinger’s son, Austin Kiplinger, honored his father’s memory with an endowment grant for a program in ethics at the Cedar Lane Church, and the program was inaugurated with a lecture by the noted philosopher, Dr. Amitai Etzione, of George Washington University.


To: All Members
From: Austin Kiplinger

Ten years ago this week, W. M. Kiplinger died, ending a career that spanned more than 50 years in Washington. During his time, he saw the federal government grow from a modest referee into a central figure in economic decisionmaking. And during this time, W. M. K. (or “Km” as he was usually known) was himself exerting tremendous influence on the way in which Washington was being reported. His working style had a major impact on his profession, and today the Letters and Magazine are living monuments to his talent, his foresight and his determination.

In these times, when Washington’s position in the world is taken for granted, it is worth noting that W. M. Kiplinger was one of the first widely read writers to discuss the effects of national government on the economy in terms that people could understand. He let his readers know what Washington would mean to them in down-to-earth ways. He led the pack, and in so doing, he started an editorial trend that has been followed by thousands of other reporters and publications.

W. M. K. once wrote that glamor and spectacle “make illusions, and however pleasant illusions may be, they do not pay. Far better,” he said, “is understanding.” This is what he focused on. When he wrote, he always had someone in mind. His writing and reporting were intensely personal and this personal feeling was infused into the organization he founded. Today, ten years after his departure from the professional scene, the best way we can honor him is to take our work as seriously as he took his, and keep his personal spirit alive in what we do.

Austin Kiplinger
August 9, 1977


W. M. Kiplinger, 76, founder of the Kiplinger Letters and Changing Times magazine, died of a heart attack yesterday at his home, 6609 River Rd., Bethesda. Long a force in Washington journalism, Kip—as he was known to friends and associates—prided himself upon being “a reporter’s reporter.” Twenty years ago, the Saturday Evening Post estimated that he was “the best paid and most influential reporter in the world; also the most independent. “An aggressively unostentatious man who shunned Washington society life, Mr. Kiplinger covered the Nation’s Capital for about 50 years as an Associated Press reporter, a business correspondent and an editor. But the distinguishing mark of his career was his penchant for writing Washington news in a breezy, staccato style that the folks back home understood.

Born Willard Monroe Kiplinger in Bellefontaine, Ohio, he edited his high school newspaper and became one of the first two journalism graduates of Ohio State University. In those days, he once recalled, “The idea of a college-trained journalist was preposterous and presumptuous… It cost us both six months to establish the confidence of our fellow reporters.”

Established Confidence

He joined the Ohio State Journal as a cub reporter and covered the Columbus flood of 1913. In a horse and buggy, he drove across town in hub-deep water to get the names of the more than 100 flood victims. He came to Washington as an AP correspondent and had such memorable assignments as walking in the rain with Woodrow Wilson the night he was nominated for the presidency, flattering his way into the District Jail to get an exclusive interview with suffragettes locked up for parading without a permit and scooping the town with the complete list of the newly appointed state directors of the War Savings Drive.

Bank Correspondent

Mr. Kiplinger left AP in 1919 to become correspondent for the National Bank of Commerce of New York. As such, he established a query service to answer questions of clients about what was happening in Washington. One evening in September, 1923, he decided to send all his clients a letter, a supplemental summary of Washington news. This was the first Kiplinger Washington Letter, which has since remained in continuous weekly publication. Like the other letters he eventually published, such as the Kiplinger Tax Letter and the Kiplinger Agriculture Letter, the Washington Letter is colloquial in style, with “flag words” underscored and a controversial amount of prophetic opinion. It was Mr. Kiplinger’s exerience that “men in public life would often give you the straight story in private, then reverse their field in their pro forma public statements.”

Never Quote Source

His newsletters, accordingly, have never quoted a source and have abounded in off-the record-comments indicating trends. He published details of the Marshall Plan four months before it was publicly announced. Having pioneered in supplying businessmen with news, interpretation and judgment on economics and politics, Mr. Kiplinger decided to give families parallel information on the economics of day-to-day living. In 1947 he inaugurated the monthly magazine, Changing Times [now entitled Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine], which now has well over one million circulation. It is unique in the publishing world in its ability to make a profit without advertising and without ever having increased its subscription price. The organization Mr. Kiplinger built went into the book publishing business and its first five best sellers include three written by the boss himself, the most notable being his detailed and colorful account of political Washington, “Washington Is Like That.”

Played Dominant Role

Mr. Kiplinger played a dominant role in educational television in Washington from its beginning in 1952. It was largely through his efforts that Channel 26 received liberal foundation and local business support. His most recent major interest was the Washinton Journalism Center [now a part of the National Press Foundation], a nonprofit institution he helped found in 1965 to advance the study of national and international news reporting and editing. Mr. Kiplinger is survived his wife, LaVerne ; a son, Austin H. Kiplinger, who now is president and publisher of the firm; two daughters, Mrs. John P. Wilson of Dallas and Mrs. F. E. Bonnie McNamara of Bethesda, and six grandchildren.

-From The Washington Post, August 7, 1967. Bracketed Comments added by A. H. Kiplinger 11/27/01.

The Kiplingers’ Contribution

Rev. Baker

Rev. John Baker of the Cedar Lane Unitarian Church.

Willard Kiplinger, known to all as Kip, took time off from his work on the Kiplinger Letter to be a major source of advice and funds in the early formative years of the church. John Baker and all the early board chairs found him willing and able to give sound advice and to help with perplexing early problems. He did this without a fanfare or taking over. Because of his innate modesty and desire for anonymity, his total financial and intellectual contribution to the construction of the church building and initial work on the grounds will never be known, but it was very substantial. For example, as the church was nearing completion Kip quietly assigned the gardener from his River Road estate to the selection and planting of a large number of azaleas on the less formal part of the church grounds. Many of these are still thriving and providing pleasure to church members, particularly every spring. Beyond this he was always reachable and available at times of financial or construction crises with sound advice and money to meet or help meet the situation.

His wife LaVerne was as interested and active in the early church as was Kip. She was an advisor to the teenage youth, organizing trips and lending support with energy, understanding and money. For years she was the informal chair of the “collection counters.” Together, the Kiplingers were major contributors to the establishment and early development of the church.

— By Sam Hughes, from Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church; The First Fifty Years, published in 2001 by the Cedar Lane UU Church.

Kiplinger Lecture Series Established

Cedar Lane

The Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda, MD.

In May of 2001, Austin Kiplinger committed the Kiplinger Foundation to providing a grant of $50,000 to endow a lecture series on ethics in the name of his father, Willard. The Kiplinger organization, founded in 1920, offers personal finance and business forecasting guidance to millions of Americans. The organization provides information in many formats: business letters, magazines, books, software, videotapes, audio tapes, syndicated newspaper columns and the Internet.

By 2001 The Kiplinger Letter, first published in 1923, was the most widely circulated business outlook letter in America. The Kiplinger Tax Letter, also published since the 1920s, was America’s most widely read tax advisory service.

Because of this gift the church was able to make plans for the first Kiplinger lecture, to be given October 27,2001, with sociologist Amitai Etzioni as the speaker. Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor at George Washington University and founder and first president of the Communitarian Network.

— From Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church; The First Fifty Years, published in 2001 by the Cedar Lane UU Church.

A Note on Unitarian Connections

Why I Believe in Advancing Unitarianism
by W. M. Kiplinger

Religious liberals have often been accused of being smug, self-satisfied and lazy. It has been charged that they are conscious of the advantages of their own spritual freedom but that they do not bother to explain and extend this freedom to others. Unfortunately there is much truth in the charges.

Among Unitarians, though, there is a new movement of aggressiveness in religious liberalism. It is not merely for a church, but for a cause—the cause of freedom in relations between men and God, and between men and men. Full freedom has been hampered through the ages by sets of rules, doctrines, and creeds.

The movement known as Unitarian Advance represents an effort to tear down the barriers between religious groups, to clear away the clutter in religious thinking and to bring spiritual air and sunshine. This movement seeks to emphasize that religious freedom comes direct from God, is not restricted to certain channels and is available to all people, not merely to groups of people as bounded by doctrinal fences.

— From The Christian Register, May, 1946.