The second son of Willem J. H. Bok (a.k.a.
Willem Bok, Jr.) and Sieke van Herwerden,
Edward Bok was born October 9th, 1863, in
Den Helder, Netherlands. In light of the
fact his father was a prominent local
politician and notary public, the Bok
family was able to afford four servants,
ensuring a comfortable start to Edward's
Some questionable financial decisions made
by his father and a downturn in the Dutch
stock market compelled the Bok family to
immigrate to America in 1870. They settled
in Brooklyn, New York, and were granted
American citizenship in 1876.
An energetic entrepreneur from an early age,
Edward began working afternoons in a Brooklyn
bakery in 1873. Initially hired to wash
windows for the sum of fifty cents per
week, the lad demonstrated his enthusiasm
for the job and was shortly working behind
the counter of the bakery. He continued
working his paper route and various other
odd jobs, while continually on the lookout
for other entrepreneurial opportunities.
Edward Bok quit school at age thirteen and
went to work as an office boy at Western
Union. It was there that he crossed paths
with business titan and financier Russell Sage.
In addition to the occasional lecture Sage
offered the boy on the value of a penny,
Edward carefully observed the actions of
his bosses, learning valuable life and
business lessons he would carry with him
throughout his life. Though he gleaned
much from his time with Sage and Jay Gould,
it was actually Clarence Cary who acted
as mentor to the boy.
Before Edward's father passed away in 1881,
he asked Cary to take care of his sons. An
attorney and family friend, Clarence Cary
became a trusted mentor and father figure
for Edward following his dad's death.
Henry Ward Beecher was another prominent
mentor and father figure in Bok's life.
His acceptance into the prestigious Philomathean
Society in October of 1883, not only allowed
him to expand his intellectual horizons, but also
gained him entry into upper crust social circles.
He went to work as a stenographer for the
publishing house of Henry Holt and Company
beginning in 1882, and then moved to Scribner's
in 1884. He continued his work as a stenographer
until he was placed in charge of advertising
at the new Scribner's Magazine. The creation
of the publication gave Bok a hands-on
education in the management of a major
The 1880s was an eventful decade for Edward Bok.
He contributed articles to the Philomathean
Review and briefly acted as president of the
Philomathean Society. With Frederic Colver as
his partner, Bok launched the Bok Syndicate Press
in 1886, and published and edited Brooklyn Magazine.
Under his leadership, it became a successful,
respected publication with a number of notable
contributors. The success of the magazine did
not go unnoticed. In 1887, millionaire Rufus T.
Bush offered to purchase Brooklyn Magazine
for a generous sum and Edward eagerly accepted.
Following the purchase, Brooklyn Magazine
was renamed The American Magazine, before
a final change to Cosmopolitan. That same
year, Bok received national attention when he
published the Henry Ward Beecher Memorial.
In 1889, he entered into negotiations with
Cyrus Curtis of the Curtis Publishing Company
to take over as editor of the women's magazine,
Ladies' Home Journal. Future publishing
giant Frank Doubleday was an old classmate
of his and was among those encouraging him
to accept the offer. Doubleday would remain
a lifelong friend of Bok's. On October 20th,
1889, Edward William Bok assumed his duties
as editor of Ladies' Home Journal.
As editor of the Ladies' Home Journal, he
balanced fiction, fashion, non-fiction and editorials
to successfully boost the number of readers, and
enhance its influence and prestige. He sought out
literary contributions from both undiscovered
literary talent and major figures of the day.
Bok was responsible for persuading Helen Keller
to pen her autobiography, The Story of My Life,
which appeared in the magazine in serialized form
With the magazine's enhanced reputation and
influence secure, he used it as a platform to
shape public opinion on a wide range of social
issues. He pressed for public sex education,
battled against patent medicines, encouraged
improvements in architectural design, gardening,
home furnishings, and was a leader in early
movements to beautify America. His drive to
produce a genuinely instructive publication
for American households not only yielded a
trusted and profitable periodical, but also
resulted in palpable social change in America.
Under his leadership, circulation of the
magazine grew from a few hundred thousand,
to nearly two million at the time of his
In addition to his column, "At Home with the
Editor," he wrote a number of popular books
including, Successward: A Young Man's Book
for Young Men, Before He Is Twenty (1894),
The Young Man in Business (1900), Her Brother's
Letters (1906), The Edward Bok Books of
Self-Knowledge (1912, in five volumes), Why I
Believe in Poverty (1915), A Man from Maine
(1923), Dollars Only (1926), Twice Thirty:
Some Short and Simple Annals of the Road (1925),
Perhaps I Am (1928), and the Pulitzer
Prize-winning The Americanization of Edward Bok:
The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy Fifty Years After
Bok had long hoped to turn Ladies' Home Journal
into a family magazine, and even proposed
dropping the word "Ladies" from its title in
1918. This effort was a rare failure for the
His thirty-year leadership at Ladies' Home Journal
came to a close in 1919. The former stenographer,
editor, publisher and Pulitzer Prize-winning
author retired to devote himself to philanthropic
and civic endeavors.
Between 1907 and 1926, Edward Bok was the
recipient of honorary degrees from Villanova
University, Hope College, Tufts University,
Rutgers University, and Williams College.
Following his retirement, he served as president
of the Netherland-American Association (NAF) from
1921 till 1924. (The organization was founded in
1921 to advance relations between the two countries.)
Bok established the American Peace Award (APA)
in 1923 in an effort to secure the best proposal
to bring about world peace. In January 1924,
the nationwide competition awarded $100,000 to
the winning plan. Unfortunately, experts were
quick to draw attention to the fact that there
was nothing new in the winning proposal, which
was little more than a revised plan for the U.S.
to join the League of Nations. The APA organization
was renamed the American Foundation in 1925 and
unified his various philanthropic efforts under
In 1921, he fell in love with and resolved to
make his winter home in Lake Wales, Florida.
Wanting to preserve a pristine corner of rural
Florida near his new winter home, he began work
on acres of botanical gardens in the spring of
1922, on what would later become the beautiful
Bok Tower and Gardens on the grounds of his
Historic Bok Sanctuary. February 1st, 1929,
President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the Singing
Tower and Sanctuary in Lake Wales, Florida.
A heart attack brought Bok's life to a close at
4:25 a.m., January 9th, 1930. He left the bulk
of his $23 million estate to his wife, along
with generous gifts to other relatives, servants
and friends. His eldest son, W. Curtis Bok,
went on to a distinguished career as an author,
lawyer, and Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice.
One of Edward's grandsons, Derek Bok, served as
president of Harvard University (1971-91).
Naive, bombastic and idealistic, were a few of
the terms detractors used to label Bok and his
progressive ideals. But his supporters far
outnumbered his critics. President Theodore
Roosevelt said of him, "Bok is the only man I
ever heard of who changed, for the better, the
architecture of an entire nation, and he did
it so quickly and yet so effectively that we
didn't know it was begun before it was finished."
He was an avid autograph collector, stamp
collector, golfer, gardener, and a
Residences of Edward William Bok
Note that these residences may no longer exist, and it's
possible the addresses have changed over the years.
This is not to suggest that Bok owned each and
every one of these structures. We're only reporting
the fact that he called them home at one point or
another in his life.
Kosciusko Place, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1870-72)
Yates Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1872-73)
257 Carroll Street, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1873-74)
333 Smith Street, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1874-75)
35 Second Place, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1875-79)
324 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1879-80)
331 Smith Street, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1880-81)
258 Carroll Street, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1881-87)
320 State Street, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. (1887-89)
453 North Highland Avenue, Merion, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.