Journalist, editor. Born: July 23, 1901, Fontana, Kansas. Died: March 30, 1975, Narberth, Pennsylvania.
In the fall of 1920, a young man from Pretty Prairie walked into the office of professor L. N. Flint, head of the department of journalism at the University of Kansas, and announced he wanted to be a good newspaperman - not a "hack" - and what did Professor Flint think were the possibilities in the journalism field. Flint informed the young man that there was always room in journalism for a person with ambition and drive.
That young man was Benjamin Smith Hibbs and he took Flint's advice to heart. Bitten "by the newspaper bug" while in high school, Hibbs had worked odd jobs to earn money to attend K. U. He applied himself vigorously to his journalistic studies, editing the University Daily Kansan and teaching some journalism classes during the school year. In the summers he work as a news editor for newspapers in Fort Morgan, Colorado, and Pratt, Kansas. He graduated from K. U. in 1923. The next year was hired as a teacher at Fort Hays State College, where he founded their department of journalism. Between 1926 and 1929, he went back into newspaper work, editing several Kansas newspapers and earning a reputation as one of Kansas' outstanding editors. The Kansas City Star called him "the most quoted young squirt in Kansas."
His efforts brought him to the attention of Curtis Publications of Philadelphia, who offered him the job of associate editor of their national monthly magazine, Country Gentleman. The 27-year-old Kansan accepted and over the next 11 years, toured the country, writing editorials and feature articles. In 1940 he was made editor-in-chief of Country Gentleman.
In 1942 Curtis executives asked Hibbs to take over the editorship of their faltering weekly, the Saturday Evening Post. During the 20 years he edited that magazine, he modernized its contents, style, and format and doubled its circulation to 7 million by 1961. In 1942 it was Ben Hibbs who published Norman Rockwell's now famous illustrations of the Four Freedoms when every other publisher Rockwell approached turned him down. These illustrations proved instantly popular with the American people and gave them a patriotic shot-in-the-arm that was needed during that point in World War II when things didn't seem to be going our way. In 1962 Hibbs resigned from the Post to become editor of Reader's Digest, a position he held until his retirement in 1972.
Hibbs' writings and outstanding editorship earned him many journalistic awards and citations and honorary doctorates from Northwestern, Temple University, and Southwestern College.
A humble, unassuming man, Hibbs always, despite his success, consciously kept in touch with the common man. "Our magazine is read by laborers, teachers, students, professional people and others from all areas of life," he said. "I make a conscious effort to retain the friendship of the people we try to serve." Perhaps, in the end, that's why Ben Hibbs was a success.
Entry: Hibbs, Ben
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: January 2013
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