Today is Kansas Day, which celebrates the day Kansas joined the Union — Jan. 29, 1861.
These days, my home state tends to be known for wacky politics or basketball rather than its early progressive history, which makes me a little sad.
When I was in journalism school at the University of Kansas, The Autobiography of William Allen White was required reading for everyone in the news sequence. The journalism school was named for White, the legendary editor of the Emporia Gazette. He rose to fame with the editorial “What’s the matter with Kansas?” in 1896 and later crusaded against the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Midwest the 1920s.
(Thomas Frank would later borrow that question for the title of his own book about Kansas politics.)
White was born in Emporia in 1868 and grew up with the state. Although the book won the Pulitzer for biography in 1947, it wasn’t especially fascinating to many of my college classmates 40 years later. In their defense, the book does contain many anecdotes about meeting the daily train and a lot of details about the 1912 Bull Moose presidential ticket.
Nerd that I am, I enjoyed the book. In fact, I still have my old copy from college on my bookshelf.
Those click-bait maps that pop up online with the best or most famous or most influential book set in each state always seem to pick The Wizard of Oz or In Cold Blood for Kansas, but I’m casting my vote for The Autobiography of William Allen White.
Maybe I just have a weakness for a man who once wrote: “My advice to the women’s clubs of America is to raise more hell and fewer dahlias.”
- Reading around the word
- Books for a snowy day