John Willis Edmonds (1 February 1892–17 August 1977), newspaper publisher, was born in Accomack County and was the son of Mahalinda "May" Gunter Edmonds and John Willis Edmonds (1846–1914), publisher of the Accomac Peninsula Enterprise. His middle name was originally Edward, but by 1909 he was calling himself John Willis Edmonds Jr., a designation he used until the end of his life. Edmonds attended Accomac High School and in 1913 received a B.A. from Richmond College (later part of the University of Richmond). For the 1913–1914 academic year, he returned to Accomac High School as principal. In the autumn of 1914 Edmonds enrolled in the University of Virginia's law school. His father's death that November forced him to leave school and return to Accomack County, where he and his elder brother Alfred Benjamin Gunter Edmonds took over publication of the weekly Peninsula Enterprise.

The Peninsula Enterprise focused on local news. In his editorials Edmonds commented on issues important to the Eastern Shore, such as a proposed naval takeover of Parramore Island for use as a practice bombing range, reestablishing ferry service to Old Point Comfort during the 1950s, and government takeover of the ferry service. He encouraged county residents to promote tourism by making vacant tenant houses available for rental by vacationers, called on businesses to increase their advertising as an invitation to tourists, and applauded local clubwomen for their beautification efforts. Many of Edmonds's editorials addressed the concerns of his largely rural readership, including the necessity of additional funds to fight insects devastating crops, applauding potato farmers' protests of new United States Department of Agriculture grading rules in 1954, and supporting farmers' opposition to new trucking regulations. He also strongly advocated construction of what became the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

Although local matters took precedence in the Peninsula Enterprise under Edmonds's oversight, he frequently commented on national issues. Believing that the United States should join the League of Nations, he blamed territorial and political problems in Europe after World War I on American isolationism. In commenting on the stock market crash of October 1929, Edmonds held those who had lost money in contempt because they had foolishly speculated in the market. To fight the Great Depression, he urged readers to take advantage of the lower prices, employ extra labor, stop hoarding, and put more money into circulation. Edmonds believed the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II was justified as an act of mercy that had prevented further casualties on both sides. After the war he agreed with the president's plan to control the development of atomic energy and argued that the country needed to stay ahead of other nations in military and scientific development. Although he supported creation of the United Nations, he wondered whether peaceful settlement and negotiation could ever prevent war.

The Peninsula Enterprise covered some issues, such as women's rights, on which Edmonds did not offer any editorial opinion. Although he did not directly comment on public school desegregation, during the 1950s he reprinted editorials from other newspapers, especially the Richmond News Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch, whose editors supported Massive Resistance. Edmonds's brother and copublisher died in 1962. Late in December 1964, after fifty years as owner and editor, Edmonds sold the Peninsula Enterprise to the publishers of the Onancock Eastern Shore News, which, after absorbing Edmonds's newspaper and the already-acquired Cape Charles Northampton Times, in January 1965 began publishing twice weekly.

Edmonds married Katharine Holland Spicer in Richmond on 28 June 1930. They had two sons. He served as a trustee of the University of Richmond from 1942 until just before his death. Edmonds acted as moderator of the Accomack Baptist Association in 1942 and 1943, helped establish the Society for the Preservation of Edge Hill Cemetery, and sat on the boards of directors of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society and the Farmers and Merchants National Bank, of Onley. He served on the Accomack Democratic Committee for about forty years and, beginning in 1970, two terms on the Accomac town council. John Willis Edmonds died on 17 August 1977 in a Richmond hospital and was buried in Edge Hill Cemetery, in Accomac.

Sources Consulted:
Edmonds (Edmunds) family Bible records (1774–1938), with original middle name, Accession 24469b, Library of Virginia; Birth Register, Accomack Co. (recorded as John E. Edmonds) and Marriage Register, Richmond City, both in Bureau of Vital Statistics, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards (1917–1918), Record Group 163, and World War II Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards (1942), Record Group 147, both National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Accomac Peninsula Enterprise, 21 Nov. 1914, 5 July 1930; Onancock Eastern Shore News, 7 Jan. 1965; James B. Henderson, "A Study of Weekly Newspapers in Virginia" (M.A. thesis, American University, 1961), esp. 72–73, 83–84, 128–129, 164–165, 203; obituaries in Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and Richmond Times-Dispatch, both 19 Aug. 1977, and Accomac Eastern Shore News, 25 Aug. 1977 (portrait).

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Jennifer Elkins.

How to cite this page:
Jennifer Elkins,"John Willis Edmonds (1892–1977)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (, accessed [today's date]).

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