Brann, William Cowper, 1855-1898

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American journalist, lecturer, playwright.

From the description of Papers, 1872-1922 (bulk 1896-1898). (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 84350965

William Cowper Brann, born January 4, 1855, in Humboldt, Illinois, was an author, lecturer, and newspaper editor. Following his mother's death in 1857, he was placed by his father, Noble Brann, a Presbyterian minister, with William and Nancy Hawkins. At thirteen years of age Brann left his foster home to began working at a series of jobs that included bellboy, printer, professional baseball pitcher, opera company manager, and, eventually, newspaper reporter. After settling in Rochelle Illinois, he married Carrie Belle Martin in 1877. They had three children: Inez, Grace Gertrude, and William Carlyle.

As a self-educated man, opinionated columnist, and successful editor, Brann worked during the years 1877-1890 for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Houston Post, and The Galveston Daily News. While in Galveston, around 1889, he wrote three plays that, although are now unknown, gained some degree of popularity and notoriety at the time. All three plays were copyrighted, but only That American Woman (1889) was later published in 1941 by the University of Texas Press. Cleon (1889) is a historical drama, while Retribution (1889) is a melodrama, and That American Woman (1889), a modern society play. Of these plays, only Retribution (1889) was probably performed. Twice revised, this play was presented at the San Antonio Grand Opera House in 1893.

Brann's caustic and vitriolic journalistic style made enemies that prompted frequent changes in his employment. In 1891 following disagreements with the editor-in-chief of the Houston Post, and the death and probable suicide of his first daughter Inez (age 13), he moved to Austin, Texas, where he launched his own publication, the Austin Iconoclast. Although renamed the Texas Iconoclast in 1892, neither volume was successful. In that same year Brann became editor of the San Antonio Express. In 1893, following other freelance editorships, Brann sold the Austin publication to William Sydney Porter ( O. Henry ) who rechristened it The Rolling Stone.

In 1894 Brann moved to Waco, Texas, to work for the Daily News. He resumed publishing the Iconoclast in February, 1895, as a monthly journal. This publication was successful from the start and immediately gained a large readership. Expounding his views on a variety of social, political, and religious subjects, Brann continued to write and lecture in a typical caustic, vitriolic, and yellow journalistic style. Brann's repeated attacks on religious hypocrisy and intolerance, especially those aimed at Baylor University and the Baptists, sparked a bitter dispute leading to his abduction in 1897 by a mob of Baylor students. On April 1, 1898, most likely as a result of his growing notoriety and continuing assaults on the local political and religious elite, Brann was shot by Captain Tom. E. Davis. The following day both men died from the wounds received in the gun battle.

Brann remains best known for the Iconoclast, which at its height had an international circulation of 90,000. Most of his articles, speeches, and editorials were published in collections after his death in 1898. A collections of his writings, The Writings of Brann the Iconoclast, was later reissued in 1938.

From the guide to the William Cowper Brann Papers TXRC94-A1., 1872-1922, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Brann, William Cowper, 1855-1898. Papers, 1872-1922 (bulk 1896-1898). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf William Cowper Brann Papers TXRC94-A1., 1872-1922 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
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Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Baylor University corporateBody
associatedWith Brann, Carrie Belle. person
associatedWith Brann family. person
associatedWith Brann Family family
associatedWith Bryan, William Jennings person
associatedWith Gore, Mr. (Thomas Pryor), 1870-1949. person
associatedWith Gore, Thomas P. person
associatedWith Reedy, William Marion person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Waco, Texas
Waco, Texas
Authors, American--Biography
Baylor University--History
Authors, American--Texas--Waco--Biography


Birth 1855-01-04

Death 1898-04-01



Ark ID: w6m08pg0

SNAC ID: 927178