Edward William Bok (1863-1930), American editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, was born in Den Helder, Netherlands, on October 9, 1863. He came to the United States at the age of six. Educated in the Brooklyn Public Schools, he became an office boy with the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1876.
Continuing his education at a night school, he began working for Henry Holt and Company, publishers, in 1882. Two years later he became associated with Charles Scribner’s Sons, publishers, eventually becoming advertising manager. He was the editor of The Brooklyn Magazine from 1884 to 1887. In 1886, he founded The Bok Syndicate Press, which led to the offer of the editorship of The Ladies’ Home Journal in 1889.
Under his management, The Ladies’ Home Journal became one of the most successful and influential publications in America and the first magazine in the world to have one million subscribers. Bok was a champion of social causes, a pioneer in the field of public sex education, prenatal education and childcare, and an environmental activist in public health and the saving of Niagara Falls.
Bok also had a great influence on American architecture. He was a leader of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the century and was the first to call Victorian parlors “living rooms.” Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. was one of the new architects Bok promoted by making his house plans available to the public in the Journal.
After 30 years as editor he retired in 1919. A year later he published The Americanization of Edward Bok, which won the Gold Medal of the Academy of Political and Social Science and the Joseph Pulitzer Prize for best autobiography.
In addition to his autobiography, Bok published the following:
- Successward (1895)
- The Young Man & The Church (1896)
- Her Brother’s Letters (1906)
- Why I Believe in Poverty (1915)
- Two Persons (1922)
- A Man from Maine (1923)
- Twice Thirty (1925)
- Dollars Only (1926)
- You: A Personal Message (1926)
- America Give Me a Chance (1926)
- Perhaps I Am (1928)
A noted philanthropist, Bok established the following awards and civic enterprises:
- In 1921, he created The Philadelphia Award of $10,000 a year to the citizen of Philadelphia or vicinity who, during the preceding year, performed or brought to its culmination an act or contributed a service calculated to advance the best interests of the community of Philadelphia.
- In 1921, he founded The Philadelphia Forum.
- In 1922, he founded the Citizens’ Award of $1,000 to be awarded each year, to each of the policemen, firemen and park guards of the city of Philadelphia who performed an outstanding act of service, or contributed to the efficiency of the service during the preceding calendar year.
- In 1923, he created The American Peace Award, providing $100,000 for the best practicable plan by which the United States might co-operate with other nations to achieve and preserve the peace of the world, one half to be paid upon the acceptance of the plan by a selected jury, and the balance upon its acceptance by the Senate. The plan submitted by Doctor Charles Herbert Levermore of the New York Peace Society won the award.
- In 1923, he created The Harvard Advertising Awards bestowed by the Harvard University School of Business Administration for raising the standard of advertisements in American and Canadian periodicals and for the intelligent conception and execution of plans for advertising.
- In 1925, Bok created The American Foundation, Incorporated, (later known as The Bok Tower Gardens Foundation, Inc.)
- In 1926, Bok founded, with others, The Philadelphia Commission, devoted to the beautification of the metropolitan area at Philadelphia. He also established the Woodrow Wilson Professorship of Literature of Princeton University by endowment, and in 1929 he established “The Woodrow Wilson Chair” at Williams College by endowment.
On February 1, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida, that Bok had made as a gift for visitation by the American people in gratitude for the opportunity they had given him.
Edward William Bok died in Lake Wales within sight of his beloved Singing Tower on January 9, 1930, and is now buried at the base of the Tower.