Ray Sprigle Papers and Photographs
linear feet (11 boxes)
Ray Sprigle was a newspaper journalist for over 51 years, working primarily for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . Sprigle was known for his investigative reporting of crime and injustice. Between the 1930s and 1950s many of his stories garnered national attention, and in 1938 he won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. The Ray Sprigle Papers and Photographs contain materials used in Sprigle’s investigative reports, correspondence with family and colleagues, newsprint, and a variety of professional and personal photographs.
The material in this collection is in English.
Senator John Heinz History Center
Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania
1212 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
This collection has been made accessible as part of an NHPRC-funded Basic Processing grant.
The guide to this collection was written by
Alex J. Toner.
Martin Raymond Sprigle was a newspaper journalist, recognized both in Pittsburgh, Pa., and nationally, for over 51 years. He was born in Akron Ohio in 1886 to Emmanuel Peter Sprigle and Sarah Ann Hoover. Sprigle embarked on his journalistic career in 1906 with the Ohio Sun in Columbus, where he primarily covered the Ohio Penitentiary. Early in his career Sprigle also worked for his hometown Akron Times , and had brief stints with newspapers in Michigan, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. Along with news reporting, Sprigle wrote short stories during his early twenties, many of which were published in the Red Book magazine. While stopping in Pittsburgh in 1911 on his way to Red Book headquarters in New York, Sprigle was spontaneously hired onto the staff of the Pittsburgh Post . After only two years with the Post , Sprigle was appointed city editor. As a young adult in Pittsburgh, Sprigle associated with the International Workers of the World (IWW), with whom he organized strikes and protests. His involvement with the IWW led to his editor firing him soon after an IWW parade through downtown Pittsburgh. Sprigle proceeded to enlist with the U.S. Army during World War I and served as editor of the Camp Humphreys Newspaper in Virginia from 1917 through 1918.
Sprigle returned to the Post as a reporter in 1918, and soon went undercover for the first time. Sprigle posed as a mine worker to expose dangerous working conditions and the cruelty of the State Iron and Coal Police, which as a result of his reporting was later dissolved. In 1926, Sprigle was appointed city editor for the second time. The Post was merged with the Gazette-Times in 1927, becoming the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , and Sprigle continued to serve as city editor until 1932. As city editor, Sprigle spearheaded the “arrow campaign,” a coordinated journalistic effort to publicize gambling operations, prostitution, bootlegging operations, and broad corruption throughout the region. In pictures published in the paper, Sprigle used white arrows to indicate the entrances to these illicit locations. Throughout 1929 and 1930, Sprigle’s investigations lead to the extradition of Irene Schroeder and Glenn Dague from Arizona to Pennsylvania to stand trial for the 1929 murder of a Pennsylvania State Trooper. Sprigle viewed this as his best journalistic reporting. In 1931, Sprigle masqueraded as a hospital attendant at Mayview (then a state operated psychiatric institution in Pittsburgh) to investigate working conditions and patient treatment. He would perform a similar investigation at Byberry Mental Institution in Philadelphia, and his series of stories led to numerous reforms within state-run psychiatric hospitals.
Sprigle married Agnes Trimmer in 1923, and the two had one daughter, Rae Jean. He left the Post-Gazette in 1932 to serve as Allegheny County Director of Properties and Services. However, he was drawn back to investigative reporting before his term was up, and rejoined the paper in 1935.
The period of 1937 through 1948 produced several stories which garnered Ray Sprigle national attention as an investigative reporter. In 1937, Sprigle uncovered and exposed evidence of then-Supreme Court nominee Hugo Black’s membership with an Alabama chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (though Black was confirmed to the court prior to the story being published). Sprigle won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for his story, which was printed around the country. During World War II, Sprigle traveled to England in 1940 and reported during the Blitz. Back in the U.S. posing as a meat seller in 1945, Sprigle uncovered illegal buying and selling of meat which circumvented federal war-rationing. A subsequent Senate committee investigation led to a swath of indictments and several convictions. Sprigle earned a Headliners Award for his work. In what proved to be his most dedicated investigative attempt in 1948, Sprigle disguised himself as a black man and traveled throughout the segregated South, producing a controversial series of stories titled “I was a Negro in the South for 30 Days.”
While the above-mentioned description references several of the most recognizable of Ray Sprigle’s journalistic endeavors, he covered hundreds of stories, small and large, local and national, over the course of his long career. Furthermore, Sprigle often defended those he felt had been dealt an unfair hand by the law, and was viewed by many as a champion for truth and justice. Ray Sprigle was 71 years old when he died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 1957. He was covering the “pink slip” trial of Lawrence County D.A. Perry Reeher, from which he was returning home from downtown Pittsburgh as his cab was struck by another vehicle. Sprigle won a posthumous citation from The National Association for Mental Health for his stories on the conditions of psychiatric institutions in Pennsylvania.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Ray Sprigle Papers and Photographs contain materials complied during Sprigle’s investigative reporting, correspondence between colleagues and family members, news clippings of his stories, and a variety of professional and personal photographs. The materials were found in manila envelopes or brown paper bags, often with a label and date indicting the story or investigation the materials pertain to. In these cases, the materials have been housed together to preserve their context. There are several oversized and wrapped items including four scrapbooks of Sprigle’s news stories and several placards advertising Sprigle’s reporting.
I. News Stories and Cases (boxes 1-6)
Boxes one through five contain research materials complied during various cases Sprigle investigated and reported on. This includes industry literature, statistical informational sheets, police reports, and testimonies. Some materials contain Sprigle’s handwritten notes, as do a few notepads. There is correspondence within these boxes that pertains to specific stories Sprigle covered, including reactions to his “Jim Crow” series and letters from England as a war correspondent. Also included are 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s newsprint and magazines that feature Sprigle’s stories or references him, and box 6 contains nearly the entire run of the “Jim Crow” stories in newsprint.
Box 1: Jim Crow / Hugo Black / WWII.
Box 2: Fayette County Racketeering / Hoxsey Cancer Investigation / Drug Addiction / Traffic Study / Price of Milk/ Photos for housing series.
Box 3: Schneider murder / Mental institutions 1946-48 / School fleecing / “Bat as Bombers” 1940s / Refugee camp story, Germany 1941.
Box 4: Juvenile Court Investigation Data, 1933.
Box 5: 1938-1939 Hugo Black case / 1949 displaced persons story / Time , Newsweek , Bulletin Index magazines.
Box 6: Editions of the Red Book containing Sprigle’s short stories, as well as copies of typed features Sprigle wrote for Sunday editions of the paper.
II. Correspondence and Papers (boxes 7-9)
The correspondence grouping primarily consists of letters between family members, such as wife Agnes and daughter Rae Jean. These are letters Sprigle wrote to his wife and daughter, condolences the family received upon the death of Ray Sprigle, and administrative letters following the death of Agnes Sprigle. Also included are letters between Sprigles colleagues and his associations in the press which were not tied to specific stories. There are several letters from Post-Gazette owner Paul Block, requests for various speaking engagements, and anonymous letters providing leads or soliciting help for various crimes and vice problems, such as drug use, prostitution, and racketeering.
Box 7: Professional and personal letters of Ray Sprigle, as well as Agnes and Rae Jean. Assorted cards and programs.
Box 8: Concerning Agnes and Rae Jean, condolences upon Ray’s death, administration of Sprigle’s estate.
Box 9: Newsprint, reports of Sprigles death in the Post-Gazette.
III. Photographs (boxes 10-11 )
Hundreds of photographs show images of Sprigle himself, as well as his wife and daughter. Ray Sprigle is depicted in the newsroom, on assignment, and in disguise. There are several photographs with labels connecting them to specific stories. A large amount of the images are family related, depicting Rae Jean as an infant and toddler, or of the Sprigle family together. There is also a large amount of unidentified images of either Ray Sprigle’s or Agnes Trimmer’s ancestors, mostly on cabinet cards. Eight glass plate negatives are included, some of which show Sprigle in his Army uniform.
The Ray Sprigle Papers and Photographs consist of 11 boxes and several oversized items and are arrange into three groups:
- I. News Stories and Cases, boxes 1-6
- II. Correspondence and Papers, boxes 7-9
- III. Photographs, boxes 10-11
Controlled Access Terms
- Pittsburgh Post .
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Pulitzer Prizes--1938.
Access and Use
Gift from Rae Jean Kurland in 2006.
Archives accession # 2006.0228
Ray Sprigle Papers and Photographs, 1915-1973, MSS 0779, Library and Archives Division, Senator John Heinz History Center
This collection was processed by Alex J. Toner on 05/02/12.
Property rights reside with the Senator John Heinz History Center. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the Library and Archives of the Senator John Heinz History Center.
I was a Negro in the South for 30 days , Ray Sprigle, republished by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E185.61 .S752 1948 CASE.
Front-Page Pittsburgh: Two Hundred Years of the Post-Gazette. Clarke M. Thomas. qPN4899. P69.
The museum division maintains several of Ray Sprigle’s possessions, including one of his corn cob pipes.