Fred Newton Scott was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1860, but the family later moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he attended local schools before entering the University of Michigan. After completing his education at the university, Scott (B.A. 1884, M.A. 1888, PH.D. 1889) began a long and distinguished career on the faculty of the university. His interest in upholding high standards of English usage and the teaching of sound writing principles led to the founding of the Department of Rhetoric in 1903, which he headed until his retirement in 1927.
As early as 1890-91 he had offered a course in "Rapid Writing". This developed into Course 13, "Newspaper Writing; Theory and Practice," offered in the new department, and marks the beginning of the study of journalism at the University of Michigan and in the nation. Under his leadership the department became a leader in the teaching of creative writing, journalism, and criticism.
When, in 1897, the Board of Regents established a university news service for the purpose of getting out news of university activities to the people of the state, Scott was appointed University News Editor. Under his direction, the special news section in the Michigan Alumnus was reprinted and distributed to state newspaper editors and legislators. Thus began the university's first news service program.
From 1903 to 1927, Scott was chairman of the Board in Control of Student Publications and was credited with helping many generations of student editors, some of whom went on to distinguished careers as newspaper editors and publishers.
Fred N. Scott's professional activities were national and international in scope. He was a member of the North Central Association and the American Association of Teachers of Journalism, and served as president of the National Council of Teachers of English and of the Modern Language Association. He was also a member of the English Association of Great Britain and actively worked to organize an American branch of the Society for Pure English.
After his retirement in 1927, Scott and his second wife, Georgia Jackson (a former student), moved to Tucson, Arizona. Retirement did not diminish his interest in promoting good English usage. He actively lent support to the teaching of rhetoric at the University of Arizona and gave the department there $2,000 to fund a student prize for excellence in writing.
In the spring of 1930 the University of Michigan Board of Regents voted to grant Scott an honorary degree. However, his failing health did not permit him to travel and he had to decline the honor, as the degree is not granted in absentia. He died on May 29, 1931.