Willis Scott Duniway: A Life in the News

(1932 Oregana, p. 132)

While working through our backlog of unprocessed materials, Special Collection and University Archives staff recently uncovered a scrapbook of press clippings and materials compiled over the years about Willis Scott Duniway. An undergraduate from 1928 to 1932, Duniway earned his Bachelor’s in journalism and enjoyed a rich academic and extracurricular career on campus before enjoying nearly five decades in the news industry.

From a prominent pioneering Oregon family, Duniway was a notable figure during his time on the University of Oregon campus. His matriculation was merely a prelude for a distinguished career. To celebrate this find in our collection, we have assembled a brief history about the life and career of Willis Scott Duniway.



Duniway descended from a family with a long history in the state of Oregon. His grandmother, Abigail Scott Duniway, arrived in Oregon as an 18-year-old in 1852 after crossing the country from Illinois with her family. She was a key figure in the women’s suffrage movement, earning the distinction as the first female voter to register in Multnomah County after Oregon became the seventh state in the country to pass a women’s suffrage amendment in 1912. His great-uncle, Harvey Scott, made his mark as the former editor-in-chief of the Oregonian.

After graduating high school in Portland in 1928, Willis Scott Duniway arrived at the University of Oregon campus and quickly integrated into the social life of the campus. As a freshman he was a member of the Oregon Knights, and he pledged to Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He also became immediately active in the various journalism circles at the university. Beginning his freshman year, Duniway began working for the UO Public Relations Bureau and served as the campus correspondent for the Portland News. He also started writing for the Emerald as a general reporter.

During his sophomore year, Duniway continued his work with the Public Relations Bureau, filing reports as a correspondent, and was promoted within the Emerald hierarchy to become the newspaper’s day editor. He would spent one year on the staff of the Oregana, editing the law section of the 1929-30 yearbook.

Junior year would yield even greater successes for Duniway. At the beginning of the 1930-31 school year, he was promoted once again to the position of associate editor at the Emerald. At the end of November, staff restructuring would lead to his promotion to managing editor of the student newspaper. While also fulfilling his duties for the Public Relations Bureau, he also found time to act as the publicity director for the Sophomore Picnic. By spring, Duniway had been selected to join several prominent organizations during his penultimate undergraduate year. He was named to the Order of the Emerald “O” for his work with the campus paper and was named to Sigma Delta Chi, the national professional journalism fraternity. In the spring he also was elected a Friar.

(United Press photo, July 1938)
(Duniway in background, United Press photo, July 1938)

In his final year, Duniway would become the editor-in-chief of the Emerald. He served on the committee for the Junior-Senior Dance that year and continued writing for the Portland News. In June 1932, he would graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism.

After his undergraduate studies had been completed, Duniway quickly found work in the news industry. Beginning in the Pacific Northwest, Duniway accepted assignments with the Eugene Daily News, the Oregonian, the Examiner, and the Associated Press. In the mid-1930s, he would land a full-time role as a United Press correspondent.

He would work with United Press for over a decade as one of its main correspondents. During this time he began covering sports and general news stories. In 1937 he was one of the lead reporters covering the kidnapping of Charles Mattson; the photo at the right shows Duniway in the background when police captured escaped mental hospital patient Lester Mead (using the alias Frank Olson), one of several false leads in the still-unsolved case. He would later serve as one of the agency’s war correspondents during World War II.


(courtesy Dorothy Duniway)

In 1948, Duniway left United Press to accept the position as director of the USC News Bureau. He would become a major figure at the university, working with three USC presidents — Fred Fagg, Norman Topping, and John R. Hubbard — as a member of the Department of University Planning and later in a position in University Affairs. Under his direction, the USC News Bureau would become the top campus news bureau in the country during the mid-1970s, and Duniway received several honors and recognitions from Time magazine as well as the Public Relations Society of America and American College Public Relations Association.

After nearly three decades at the University of Southern California, Duniway finally retired on June 27, 1975. “If I have to be nailed down to the one, the biggest story of all, then I must say that it is the continuing story of unparalleled development and growth that began in 1961 when President Topping introduced the Master Plan,” Duniway would say about the evolution of USC his tenure. “It turned USC around from a smallish, good school to the leading university that it is today. I’m glad I was able to report so much of its story.”

Duniway proved to be an instrumental figure in the development of a rival Pac-12 school. But it was the opportunities to which he was exposed at the University of Oregon that laid the foundation for this alumnus to carve out a long, distinguished career in journalism.


Information for this article was collected from the following sources:

Further information and resources about Abigail Scott Duniway:

Zach Bigalke
Student Research Assistant

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