As The American Legion grew at breakneck speed in the years after its founding in 1919, its first leaders recognized that streamlined ways to deliver Legion news and messaging were vital to being the national force the organization was designed to be.
What would become the National American Legion Press Association (NALPA) began to coalesce in August 1922, when National Adjutant Lemuel Bolles appointed Omaha, Neb., lawyer William Ritchies Jr. to chair a special committee to consider the organization of a national press association for The American Legion.
It was founded in 1923 during The American Legion national convention in San Francisco; the first meeting was held on Oct. 19, where a constitution and organizational structure were created and officers elected. The first NALPA president was E.J.D. Larson of Minneapolis. The initial 20 memberships (for department and local publications, represented by their editors and business managers) were spread out from New York, Ohio, California, Kansas, Utah, Tennessee, Nebraska, Mexico, Alaska, Minneapolis and West Virginia.
NALPA was formally recognized and approved at the 1924 national convention in St. Paul, Minn. Yearly dues were set at $10. The next year, membership representative eligibility expanded to publication staff members, department and post historians, and professional newspaper employees interested in American Legion publicity. In 1928-1929, membership qualifications shifted from publications to individuals – a newspaper editor would be the NALPA member, rather than representing their paper. The organization was also known in Legion media as the American Legion Press Association (ALPA).
Despite the growth in membership, and its representation at all levels of The American Legion, NALPA went dormant from 1934 to 1942 due to skepticism by national publicity leadership about the necessity for its existence. A 50th-anniversary booklet gives credit for its resurrection to one person: Jack R.C. Cann. “The First Fifty Years” was written by Warren David “Bob” Hanscom, 1963-1964 NALPA president; a copy resides in the library at American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis.
Hanscom’s presidential year was Cann’s 22nd as secretary-treasurer. He had first joined NALPA as a member in 1926, and spent the 1920s and 1930s working on publicity for The American Legion in the Detroit area. He was hired at National Headquarters in 1944 as assistant PR officer in charge of World War II affairs, retiring from National Headquarters in 1957. He also served as NALPA president, and was still secretary-treasurer when he died in 1972.
After Cann’s initial election in 1941, Hanscom relates that the latter held an impromptu meeting in a restaurant to start getting the organization back on its feet. NALPA woke up in 1942 to find the world at war again. Free memberships were extended to the five armed forces editors. After the war, membership soared – from 283 members reported in 1947, to 544 in 1948. In 1959 it claimed 804 members. A number of publications were put out under NALPA’s umbrella, from a newsletter dedicated to radio, to “Ad-Ventures,” which described the travails of dealing with advertisers.
In 1974 – not long after Cann’s death – NALPA membership topped the 1,000 mark, a longtime goal. But more ups and downs lay ahead for the Legion’s communications organization.
In the next newsletter: NALPA from the post-Cann age to its resurgence in the 21st century.
Let us know your memories of NALPA – meetings, elections, the best communications tip you ever got, etc. Email them to email@example.com.