Woman’s Periodical Publisher Expands Utopian Empire
Edward Gardner Lewis was born in Connecticut in 1869. He came to St. Louis in the late 1890’s selling insect extermination products and patent medicines. He bought a magazine and renamed it “Woman’s Magazine.” Inexpensive delivery for periodicals along with massive mail order advertisements allowed him to charge only 10 cents per subscription. He developed a large following in rural towns and amassed a large fortune. Its circulation became the largest in the country and Lewis used his money to create his own empire. In 1902 Lewis purchased land in St. Louis, Missouri to build a Utopian colony called University City. He moved his publishing operation after the construction of a new Lewis Publishing Company headquarters and Press Annex at this site. He continued to acquire surrounding land and incorporated University City in 1906 and has served 2 terms as mayor. He started many offshoot publications, built the Woman’s Magazine Building, an Egyptian temple and an Art Academy.
In 1907 the US Postal Office denied use of 2nd class mailing privileges for the Woman’s Magazine and the Woman’s Farm Journal claiming they were primarily vehicles for advertising and did not qualify for the lower rate. Lewis won his case in court but the actions lowered his subscription numbers. In an effort to bring in new subscribers, the American Woman’s League was founded where the fee usually paid to people bringing in new subscriptions went to AWL to provide women with funds for education, a foundation for social organizations within their communities and security for their old age. League membership grew with over 700 Chapters formed across the country. The American Woman’s Republic (which charged a membership fee) was established to help women learn about government and politics in preparation for the time when they would have the right to vote. These monies allowed Lewis to build the People’s University, start 2 daily newspapers and 2 banks.
In June 1912 the American Woman’s Republic held their first convention where they ratified a Declaration of Equal Rights and adopted a Constitution, with more than 400 members signing the final document. The Capital was University City. Plans were made to convert the former Woman’s National Daily Building into quarters for the Republic’s Supreme Court, Senate, and House of Representatives. Lewis is also currently purchasing land at Atascadero, California for another Utopian colony for his American Woman’s Republic. Lewis’ finances have also earned him the scrutiny of the Federal government who continue to look upon his activities with suspicion.