Joseph Brand Whitlock (March 4, 1869-May 24, 1934) was yet another U.S. diplomat with literary inclinations. Born in Urbana, Ohio, to the Reverend Elias and Mollie Lavinia Whitlock, the young Whitlock was mostly educated at home or by private tutors, eventually graduating from high school in Toledo. Rather than continue on to university, Whitlock pursued a career in journalism, first for the Toledo Blade and then the Chicago Herald. While covering local politics, Whitlock was exposed to the ideals of the Progressive Movement, championed by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and later Woodrow Wilson. While in Chicago, Whitlock met Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld. Impressed by Whitlock’s writing, Altgeld asked him to join his staff, providing Whitlock his first official entrée into politics.
In 1896 Whitlock returned to Toledo where he established a law practice. He eventually caught the eye of progressive Toledo mayor Sam “Golden Rule” Jones and was invited to join his staff. In addition to his legal, journalistic, and political endeavors, Whitlock wrote numerous works of fiction, publishing his first novel, The Thirteenth District: The Story of a Candidate, in 1902.
After Jones’ sudden death in 1904, Whitlock ran for and was elected mayor of Toledo. After eight years as mayor, Whitlock declared his intention not to run for another term, instead expressing the desire to focus on his writing. Whitlock’s friends, however, had different ideas and approached the recently elected Woodrow Wilson about a position for Whitlock in the new administration. On December 22, 1913, Wilson appointed Whitlock as the U.S. Minister to Belgium. The idea of serving in Belgium appealed to Whitlock. He saw the country as a quiet, peaceful place where he could pursue his writing and absorb European culture and politics. Unfortunately for Whitlock, Belgium proved to be anything but quiet.
For more information on Whitlock, readers can watch “The Reluctant Hero: Brand Whitlock” (WBGU-TV Video, 1992)