Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson

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Elinor Josephine Medill "Cissy" Patterson

Birthdate: (66)
Birthplace: Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States
Death: Died in Washington, D.C., United States
Cause of death: Cumulative effects of alcoholism
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Robert W. Patterson Jr. and Elinor Medill (aka "Nellie")
Wife of Elmer Schlesinger
Ex-wife of Count Josef Gizycki
Mother of Countess Felicia Gizycka
Sister of Joseph Medill Patterson

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson


Eleanor Josephine Medill "Cissy" Patterson (November 7, 1881 - July 24, 1948) was an American journalist and newspaper editor, publisher and owner. Patterson was one of the first women to head a major daily newspaper, the Washington Times-Herald in Washington, D.C..

Early life

Elinor Josephine Medill Patterson was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Robert and Elinor "Nellie" (Medill) Patterson. She would change the spelling of her first name to "Eleanor" as an adult, but would always be known as "Cissy," the name her brother gave her in childhood. Biographers believed that she deeply admired Eleanor Roosevelt and this could have been a motivation to change the spelling of her first name. Patterson said of Roosevelt, of whom she was a close friend that she is the noblest of women I have known. I admire her above all women. Her grandfather Joseph Medill was Mayor of Chicago and owned the Chicago Tribune, which later passed into the hands of her first cousin Colonel Robert R. McCormick, Joseph Medill's grandson. Her older brother Joseph Medill Patterson was the founder of the New York Daily News.

Education and marriage

She was educated at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut. When her uncle Robert S. McCormick was named ambassador to Austria-Hungary, she accompanied him and his wife, Cissy's maternal aunt Kate, to Vienna. There she met Count Josef Gizycki and fell in love with him, a romance not interrupted even by her return to America, where she lived in Washington, D.C.. In Washington, she was a leading light in society, where the press labeled Alice Roosevelt (daughter of Theodore), Marguerite Cassini (daughter of the Russian ambassador), and Cissy the "Three Graces." Count Gizycki came to America and they were married in Washington on April 14, 1904 despite the objections of her family, which later proved well-founded.

A daughter was born to them September 3, 1905, and was named Leonora Felicia (1905–1999). Cissy went with the Count to his home, a huge feudal manor in Russian Poland. Their family life did not go well. According to some accounts, the Count was an inveterate gambler and womanizer, violent with his servants, and eventually violent with Cissy. They separated and then rejoined several times, but eventually Cissy set herself on leaving. The count tried to keep her in Europe. She fled with their child, hiding her in a house near London, but the Count pursued her and kidnapped the little Countess, hiding her in an Austrian convent while demanding a million dollars in ransom. Cissy filed for divorce, which took thirteen years to obtain. President William Howard Taft and Czar Nicholas II were personally involved in the 18-month effort to secure the release of Felicia. The Czar ordered the Count to return the child to her mother. Gizycki was imprisoned, and reportedly never contacted Cissy or their daughter.

Business dealings and social life

After her experience abroad, she moved to Lake Forest, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, but she returned to Washington in 1913. In 1920, her brother Joseph finally succumbed to his sister's entreaties and allowed her to write for his New York Daily News, founded the previous year. She also worked for William Randolph Hearst. She published two novels, romans a clef, Glass Houses (1926) and Fall Flight (1928), part of her feud with former friend Alice Roosevelt Longworth. The friendship with Alice Longworth ended when at a dinner party hosted by the Longworths, Eleanor and Nicholas were caught on the floor of a bathroom, with the light on and the door unlocked. Alice then retaliated by having a lasting affair with Senator William Edgar Borah, which at its height, produced a child Paulina Longworth. Eleanor also had an affair with Borah, but Alice won out reportedly because Eleanor frequently gloated about their experiences unlike Alice.

In 1925, Eleanor married Elmer Schlesinger, a New York lawyer. He died four years later and in 1930, Mrs. Schlesinger legally changed her name to Mrs. Eleanor Medill Patterson.

Patterson tried to buy Hearst's two Washington papers, the morning Washington Herald and the evening Washington Times. However, Hearst hated to sell anything, even when he needed the money. Although he had never made money from his Washington papers, he refused to give up the prestige of owning papers in the capital. However, at the urging of his editor Arthur Brisbane, Hearst agreed to make Patterson the papers' editor. She began work on August 1, 1930. Patterson was a hands-on editor who insisted on the best of everything—writing, layout, typographic, graphics, comics, everything. She encouraged society reporting and the women's page and hired many women as reporters. In 1936, she was invited to join the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Patterson made her paper popular with all strata of Washington society and doubled its circulation. She also shifted the papers' editorial stance sharply to the right.

In 1937, Hearst's finances had gotten worse and he agreed to lease the Herald and the Times to Patterson with an option to buy. Eugene Meyer, the man who had outbid Hearst and Patterson for The Washington Post in 1933, tried to buy the Herald out from under Patterson, but failed. Instead, she bought both papers from Hearst on January 28, 1939, and merged them as the Times-Herald.

Along with her brother at the New York Daily News and her cousin at the Chicago Tribune, Patterson was an ardent isolationist and opponent of the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1942, after the Battle of Midway, the Times-Herald ran a Tribune story that revealed American intelligence was reading the Japanese naval code. Roosevelt, furious, had the Tribune and the Times-Herald indicted for espionage but backed down because of the publicity, charges he was persecuting his enemies, and the likelihood of an acquittal (since the Navy's own censors had twice cleared the story before it was published). During World War II, she and her brother were accused by their enemies of being Nazi sympathizers. Representative Elmer Holland of Pennsylvania on the floor of the United States House of Representatives said Cissy and Joseph Patterson "would welcome the victory of Hitler."

Family difficulties

She feuded with her daughter, who publicly "divorced" her in 1945, and with her former son-in-law, Drew Pearson, by whom she had a granddaughter, Ellen Cameron Pearson Arnold (July 27, 1926 - September 10, 2010). Alienated from her family and friends, she turned to alcohol, and died of a heart attack at her home, aged 66, Mt. Airy Mansion (sometimes referred to as Dower House), near Rosaryville, Maryland. She left the paper to seven of her editors who within the year sold the paper to her cousin Colonel McCormick. He held onto the paper for five years, and although for several years he seemed close to returning it to profitability, it eventually proved to be too much of a financial drain. After quietly sounding out several other publishers, McCormick opted to sell the paper to the rival Post, which promptly closed it.

As Countess Gyzicki, Patterson was a frequent visitor to her ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the 1920s where Donald Hough records an unexpected aspect of her personality: the ability to speak effectively to horses in language worthy of a native cowboy. The Flat Creek Ranch is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson's Timeline

November 7, 1881
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States
September 3, 1905
Age 23
July 24, 1948
Age 66
Washington, D.C., United States