Henry Louis Mencken

Henry Louis Mencken

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

Phone: (410) 260-6400
Internet: mdsa.net
e-mail: archives@mdsa.net


Henry Louis Mencken was born in Baltimore City, September 12, 1880 to a family of cigar makers. While he spent his youth and early adulthood following his father's footsteps in the cigar trade, he spent his free time writing and reading voraciously. By the age of eight, he had already become interested in literature, and owned his first library card by the age of nine. In 1888, he recieved his first inking kit, and began his long career of publishing and working with the presses.

After his father's death in 1899, H.L. Mencken left the cigar industry and earned his first position with the Baltimore Morning Herald as a reporter at the age of 18. His eagerness to learn the trade quickly earned him the title of editor in under two years, a position he kept until the Herald ceased to exist in 1906. From there he moved to the Baltimore Sun where he remained on staff until 1948. But H.L. Mencken was no ordinary reporter. His reviews and columns became some of the widest-read columns in the country. Among many of his amazing reports, H.L. Mencken was well known for his commentary during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1929. As a free-lance columnist, his columns addressed many of the social issues of the day, ranging from civil rights and social darwinism to Prohibition and the Great Depression. While not everything he wrote was "politically correct" and considered by some to be down right racist and elitist, his writings with the Baltimore Sun and later the magazine he edited, the American Mercury, influenced many of the leading minds of the time, including, but certainly not limited to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Alfred Knopf.

In addition to his reporting and editing career in periodical publications, Mencken also published over thirty books during his lifetime, his best known being The American Language, an exhaustive survey of American English. Also among his many books are three volumes of his autobiography, Happy Days, Newspaper Days, and Heathen Days.

In 1948, his writing days ended after suffering a blood clot in the brain, which rendered him unable to read or write. He spent his eight years putting together his exhaustive collection of personal papers, which is now stored at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore before his death in 1956, at the age of 75.

Source: Extracted from Enoch Pratt Free Library H.L. Mencken Room and Digital Exhibit, H.L. Mencken (Wikipedia)

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 8: The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)

STANDARD 1: The causes of the Great Depression and how it affected American society. 

Standard 1B: The student understands how American life changed during the 1930s. 

9-12: Explain the cultural life of the Depression years in art, literature, and music and evaluate the government’s role in promoting artistic expression. [Draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Portrait of H.L. Mencken 
    NOTES: Portrait by Nikol Schattenstein
    SOURCE:  Rudolph Valentino
    REPOSITORY:  Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD.

  2. DESCRIPTION: Menken and the Baltimore Fire (photo)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: February 1904 
    SOURCE: H.L. Mencken Collection, Enoch Pratt Library 
    REPOSITORY:  Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD.

  3. DESCRIPTION:  Mencken and Children (photo)
    SOURCE:  H.L. Mencken Collection, Enoch Pratt Library
    REPOSITORY:  Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD.

  4. DESCRIPTION:  Portrait of H.L. Mencken
    REPOSITORY: Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD.  

  5. DESCRIPTION: Mencken's Press Badge (photo of) 
    NOTES: actual badge located at Enoch Pratt Library
    SOURCE: H.L. Mencken Collection, Enoch Pratt Library 
    REPOSITORY:  Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD.

  6. DESCRIPTION: The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 2nd ed. (1921)
    AUTHOR: H. L. Mencken
    SOURCE: Bartleby.com

  7. DESCRIPTION: In Defense of Women
    AUTHOR: H. L. Mencken
    SOURCE: Project Gutenburg

Additional Media Resources

H.L. Mencken Collection, Enoch Pratt Library

The H.L. Mencken Page-A Mencken Cornucopia- guide to H.L. Mencken Resources on the Web

The H.L. Mencken Society Page

High School Journalism: The Eternal Journal

Additional Instructional Resources 

CSPAN in the Classroom: H.L. Mencken

Inherit The Wind

Secondary Resources

Leo M. J. Manglaviti. Faulkner's "That Evening Sun" and Mencken's "Best Editorial Judgment. American Literature, Vol. 43, No. 4. (Jan., 1972), pp. 649-654.

Douglas C. Stenerson. The "Forgotten Man" of H. L. Mencken. American Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 4. (Winter, 1966), pp. 686-696.

Douglas C. Stenerson. Mencken's Early Newspaper Experience: The Genesis of a Style. American Literature, Vol. 37, No. 2. (May, 1965), pp. 153-166.

Harrison, S. L. Mencken Revisited: Author, Editor & Newspaperman. Lanham, Md. University Press of America, 1999.

Password Access to Journal Articles

Some journal articles linked to this site require password access due to copyright and other restrictions. Teachers participating in the Teaching American History in Maryland program with a valid University of Maryland (UMBC) Library card can access these materials through ResearchPort.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Mencken Room and Collection
Enoch Pratt Free Library
400 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201-4484

Copyright and Other Restrictions

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Password Access to Materials

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Samantha Howe.

An Archives of Maryland Online Publication
© Copyright, Maryland State Archives, July 01, 2005