Editor and social reformer Benjamin Orange Flower passionately addressed many of the most controversial issues of his time, including economic equality, education, immigration, spiritualism, and women's rights. Flower was also one of the few eastern editors to champion Populism, especially the presidential candidacy of William Jennings Bryan.
Flower was born October 19, 1858, in Albion, Illinois, descended from social reformers going back to his great-grandfather, Richard Flower, in England. Following his education at a Kentucky Bible college, he returned to Albion briefly in 1880 to begin a career in journalism. He also worked for six years in Philadelphia before moving to Boston, where he created a new monthly magazine, The Arena, in December 1889.
Taking its name from Heinrich Heine's belief that people must fight for ideas like gladiators in an arena, Flower's publication was one of several popular magazines to address social problems in an outspoken, crusading style. Flower also established the Arena Publishing Company, which for six years issued the works of Hamlin Garland and other reform-minded authors.
Shortly after the Omaha Convention of 1892, Flower wholeheartedly endorsed the People's Party: “I have observed its growth and tendencies with profound interest, and I am convinced that it is not only the most purely democratic party in America to-day, but that it possesses a moral energy not present in the spoils-seeking parties” (July 1893, emphasis in the original). Similarly, when William Jennings Bryan was nominated for president by both Populists and Democrats in 1896, Flower enthused, “The election of Mr. Bryan will mean the rejuvenation of democracy and the salvation of republican government from a lawless plutocracy, the most dangerous of all despotisms” (November 1896).
Due to a combination of ill health and financial difficulties, Flower surrendered the editorship of The Arena in late 1896. However, he continued to edit several other publications, including New Time and Coming Age, both of which eventually merged with The Arena, thereby allowing him to resume his editorial role from 1900 until The Arena ceased publication in August 1909. Flower subsequently edited two additional publications, including one espousing anti-Catholic beliefs. He died in a hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 24, 1918.
James I. Deutsch
See also: Bryan, William Jennings (1860–1925) ; Emery, Sarah (1838–1895) ; Garland, Hamlin (1860–1940) ; People's Party ; Trans-Mississippi Exposition (1898)
Cline, Howard F. “Benjamin Orange Flower and The Arena, 1889–1909.” Journalism Quarterly 17 (2): 139–150, 171.
Matusow, Allen J. “The Mind of B.O. Flower.” New England Quarterly 34 (4): 492–509.