The Marion Progress served Marion, North Carolina from 1909 to 1956. The newspaper grew out of the McDowell Democrat, which also served Marion, surrounding McDowell County, and western North Carolina. Samuel Edgar Whitten (1879-1953) and Samuel Craig Little (1888-1961), were founding partners of the Progress. Whitten, a Tennessee native, joined the staff of the Democrat in 1902 and bought the newspaper in 1905. He served as editor and publisher until July 29, 1909, when he announced Little’s purchase of a 50 percent ownership. Little was a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, and son of the president of Marion Manufacturing, a textile company. In announcing the partnership, Whitten wrote that Little was “an experienced newspaperman, having received his training upon both eastern and southern papers.” Whitten also noted forthcoming improvements in the Democrat‘s printing operation and suggested other changes on the horizon.
A new name for the Democrat was among the changes that took place in the months after Little’s purchase of a partial share. On November 11, 1909, the newspaper published its first issue as the Marion Progress. The publication was marketed as the “Booster Edition,” and featured images of local civic and business leaders as well as several Marion landmarks. The 18-page edition touted Marion’s virtues and encouraged economic development in the town. An editorial note recorded that Whitten “was, and is still, ill with fever and could not lend of his valuable aid, though from his bedside he sent words of cheer and advice which assisted us greatly.” Only 12 pages of the initial issue remain today.
The Progress maintained the editorial stance that its owners had laid out in the August 5, 1909 issue of the McDowell Democrat. They wrote that the newspaper would take an “Independent-Democrat” approach to its coverage, though it would not be a “political organ.” They continued, “In supporting a candidate for office we shall first consider his record as an honest, upright, progressive citizen, and his abilities to discharge to the best advantage the duties of the office for which he offers himself.” They ended their announcement by noting, “We reserve the right to support any candidate no matter upon what party ticket he might run.”
Little and Whitten used the Progress to encourage growth and economic development in Marion. Early issues of the newspaper included accounts of or letters from Northern businessmen and others expressing interest in moving their operations and homes to Marion.
The partnership between Whitten and Little lasted scarcely more than six months. Whitten announced the dissolution of the partnership in the February 10, 1910 issue of the Progress. He offered no reason for the split. Little appears to have returned to Spartanburg, S.C. He’s listed as a “newspaper city editor” there in the U.S. Census of 1910. With Little’s departure, Whitten returned to his role as editor of the Progress. He remained editor and “proprietor” until his death in 1953.
In 1929 workers struck at two Marion textile mills. To avoid upsetting mill owners and other local business leaders, Whitten sought to avoid showing bias in Progress coverage of the events. On the editorial page, he offered none of his opinions, instead publishing columns from other state newspapers that were critical of the mill owners’ practices. A republished editorial from the Winston-Salem Journal condemned the mill village system, saying, “Any system that robs the worker of the laudable ambition to become an independent homeowner is destructive of democracy … ”
In January 1930, William A. Collett (1884-?) joined the newspaper as associate editor. Collett was a South Carolina native who served in the Army during the Spanish American War and World War I, reaching the rank of major. He appears to have worked at the Progress for almost two years. His name disappears from the masthead without explanation with the December 17, 1931 issue.
Samuel Whitten’s daughter, Elizabeth Whitten (1917-1972), joined her father on staff of the Progress in the 1940s. Elizabeth is listed as a bookkeeper for the Progress in a 1940 Marion city directory. Nine years later, in the September 1, 1949 edition, she made her first appearance on the masthead, listed as News Editor. After Samuel Whitten’s death, Elizabeth took over as editor and publisher. She continued in those roles until 1956, when the Progress ceased publication.
The Old Fort News was published weekly in connection with the Marion Progress (NC) beginning in 1927. Each issue was a single page of news about Old Fort, a town 12 miles southwest of Marion and also in McDowell County, North Carolina. Old Fort township’s 3,500 residents comprised the second largest population in the county, and they generated sufficient social news to warrant their own small newspaper within the Progress. The paper was not a section or a page of the Progress. Rather, it was a sister newspaper included at the center of each issue of the Progress by agreement between the editors of the two titles. Gertrude Dula (1884-1960) was listed as editor and business manager of the Old Fort News for the duration of its publication from 1927 to 1931. Dula was a native of Old Fort, and the United States censuses for the years 1910 through 1940 list her occupation as milliner.
The Old Fort News included marriage announcements, funeral notices, reports on parties and club meetings, and short articles touting upcoming events. The newspaper published its last issue as a separate title within the Progress on September 17, 1931. The September 24, 1931 Progress features a column titled “Old Fort News,” with the words Miss Gertrude Dula listed under the title. Neither the Old Fort News nor the Progress included for the cessation of the News as a separate newspaper title.