“Sharing Stories of the Crossroads” is an Ozarks-based history-themed radio show on KICK 92.3 FM & 1340 AM.
This week host John Sellars spoke with Susan Croce Kelly, author of her new book published earlier this month, Newspaperwoman of the Ozarks: The Life and Times of Lucile Morris Upton. The book chronicles Lucile Morris Upton, the first female reporter in Springfield to cover courts, and her many stories over a 58-year-old career as a journalist.
“Lucile was my grandfather’s sister, She was my great aunt,” said Kelly. When she was working for the Springfield News-Leader, Upton was long retired but would still continue to deliver articles and news pitches to the newsroom. Kelly began hearing stories about her from people in and outside of the newspaper. “Over time I apparently talked about her a lot because I had a friend who said, ‘When are you going to write that book?’ It finally came time to write that book.”
According to Kelly, Upton started her first newspaper job in 1923, 100 years ago, but before that she was a schoolteacher in Warrensburg, Missouri. She married a teacher who aspired to be a newspaper reporter and ended up in Tulsa.
During this time, her husband was enlisted in World War I.
“He wrote her letters about how wonderful newspapers were and how very important they were to the world,” said Kelly.
A couple of years later, they parted ways. Upton decided that she wanted to go back to Missouri to go to journalism school. She hitched a ride back east from Roswell, New Mexico, and stopped in Denver. She decided to apply for a job at the Denver Post but was told they didn’t have any openings, however, the Denver Express did.
“She walked in and said, I have no experience and I’ve not been to journalism school, but I’d really like a job. And the editor said, ‘Great. I love to train my own people.’ and hired her on the spot,” said Kelly.
Upton began her career in charge of the Love Letter Column but was not allowed to use her own name. She wrote advice for women about what to do about straying husbands and whether women should quit their jobs after marrying. Kelly said Upton began voicing stronger and stronger advice about independence as the year went on.
The paper would also assign her regular stories. Within a month and a half as a reporter, she covered a story about President Warren Harding coming into town.
“She gave speeches about that being the proudest moment of her life,” said Kelly. “Not very many people start jobs that way.”
After Denver, she worked in El Paso before getting a job in London. During this time, her mother was sick and was here in the Ozarks. She decided to stay in Springfield and was a reporter here for more than 40 years.
Upton worked on court and history-based stories. She published a book, Bald Knobbers, in 1939.
Following her husband’s passing in 1947, Upton took over the editorial duties for the column “Ozarks Wastebasket,” later renamed “Over the Ozarks.” This column was dedicated to exploring the historical aspects of Springfield and the Ozarks region.
Even after retiring, Upton remained engaged. She not only contributed to the Springfield City Council and persisted in her writing pursuits, but also played an active role in local historical societies.
In recognition of her dedication, the Greene County Court designated her as the official county historian in 1983.
Upton’s passing occurred in 1992, and she was laid to rest in the Dadeville Masonic Cemetery.