C.W. “Bill” Snedden
Charles Willis Snedden, longtime publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, left tremendous legacies for not only the University of Alaska Fairbanks but also the entire state of Alaska.
Snedden’s legacy at UAF is one of its largest endowments, a $2.6 million gift delivered by his wife, Helen. Snedden’s Alaska legacy is literally statehood itself, given his role in winning that battle.
In the late 1940s, Snedden was a “newspaper doctor” who traveled the country recommending ways to improve productivity. That brought him to Fairbanks, where Austin “Cap” Lathrop wanted help with his money-losing News-Miner.
Snedden gave Lathrop his report in July 1950. “Cap never got beyond the second page,” Snedden recalled in an interview with Terrence Cole, UAF history professor. “He told me, ‘I don’t need any dope from the Big City to tell me to spend another $100,000.’”
Lathrop asked Snedden where he could find a buyer. “Right here,” Snedden said, according to Cole’s 2010 book, “Fighting for the Forty-ninth Star: C.W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood.”
Snedden spent the next 39 years as the News-Miner’s publisher. In a front-page editorial on Feb. 27, 1954, he reversed the paper’s previous opposition to statehood for Alaska.
The endorsement of a tiny newspaper far from Washington, D.C., would have made little difference. But Snedden later bonded with Fred Seaton — a fellow newspaperman running the Department of the Interior for President Dwight Eisenhower. Seaton transformed the Eisenhower administration “from an intractable adversary into an unabashed advocate of statehood,” Cole wrote. “And when it came to Alaska affairs, Secretary Seaton … would listen to no one more carefully than C.W. Snedden.” They, along with many others, pursued a strategy that eventually defeated the opponents, who included southern lawmakers fearful that Alaska would favor national civil rights legislation. Eisenhower declared Alaska a state on Jan. 3, 1959.
Snedden made the News-Miner a profitable enterprise, helped develop some of the earliest color printing techniques for newsprint and took on many more causes before his death from cancer in August 1989.
Helen Snedden endowed a journalism chair at UAF in her husband's name in 2003. The funding has brought top journalists, including 11 Pulitzer Prize winners, to Fairbanks annually to teach classes and give lectures.
Helen Snedden died in 2012. The nonprofit Helen E. Snedden Foundation, which she established before her death, purchased the News-Miner in 2016.
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