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William Cooper Howells


Publisher and diplomat William Cooper Howells (May 15, 1807-August 28, 1894) was born in Wales and brought to the Wheeling area as a child. He was the father of the prominent author, critic and playwright William Dean Howells.

At 21, Howells began work as an apprentice typesetter at the Virginia Statesman, a Wheeling newspaper. Before starting two Wheeling newspapers of his own, the Gleaner (1828) and the Eclectic Observer (1829), he worked for Alexander Campbell, founder of the Disciples of Christ and Bethany College, at Campbell’s religious printing shop at present Bethany. Howells helped set type for the printed text of Campbell’s historic debate with Robert Owen, the British utopian socialist and communalist. In 1831, Howells was financially ruined producing the book, The Rise, Progress and Downfall of Aristocracy, by Wheeling eccentric William Mathers, who failed to pay for printing. Howells then worked at various newspapers in nearby Ohio before again launching papers of his own, in which he supported the abolition of slavery and equality for African-Americans.

Howells left Wheeling in 1834 and became active in Ohio politics. His early advocacy of the young James A. Garfield led to Howells being named U.S. consul at Quebec City and later Toronto. He retired from diplomacy in 1883. His memoir, Recollections of Life in Ohio from 1813–1840, a wonderful evocation of politics and ideas in the upper Ohio Valley during that period, appeared posthumously.

Son William Dean Howells said his father was ‘‘not a very good printer, not a very good editor . . . but he was the very best man I have ever known.’’

Written by George Fetherling