William Allen White

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William Allen White
WP William Allen White.jpg
Born(1868-02-10)February 10, 1868
DiedJanuary 29, 1944(1944-01-29) (aged 75)
Education College of Emporia and University of Kansas
OccupationNewspaper editor, author
Spouse(s)Sallie Lindsay
Children William Lindsay White, Mary
Parent(s)Allen, Mary Ann

William Allen White (February 10, 1868 January 29, 1944) was an American newspaper editor, politician, author, and leader of the Progressive movement. Between 1896 and his death, White became a spokesman for middle America.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Middle America (United States) colloquial term for the United States heartland

Middle America is a colloquial term for the United States heartland, especially the culturally rural and suburban areas of the United States.


Early life

Born in Emporia, Kansas, White moved to El Dorado, Kansas, with his parents, Allen and Mary Ann Hatten White, where he spent the majority of his childhood. He loved animals and reading various books. [1] [2] He attended the College of Emporia and the University of Kansas, and in 1889 started work at The Kansas City Star as an editorial writer.

Emporia, Kansas City and County seat in Kansas, United States

Emporia is a city in and the county seat of Lyon County, Kansas, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 24,916. Emporia lies between Topeka and Wichita at the intersection of U.S. Route 50 with Interstates 335 and 35 on the Kansas Turnpike. Emporia is also a college town, home to Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College.

El Dorado, Kansas City and County seat in Kansas, United States

El Dorado is city and county seat of Butler County, Kansas, United States. It is situated along the Walnut River in the central part of Butler County and located in south-central Kansas. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 13,021.

College of Emporia private university in Kansas, USA

The College of Emporia was established in 1882 in Emporia, Kansas, and was associated with the Presbyterian church. The college officially closed in 1974. The Registrar's office at Emporia State University is the official custodian of the transcripts for the former College of Emporia.

The Emporia Gazette

In 1895, White bought the Emporia Gazette for $3,000 from William Yoast Morgan and became its editor.

The Emporia Gazette is a daily newspaper in Emporia, Kansas.

William Yoast Morgan was an American newspaperman, author, and politician. He was the lieutenant governor of Kansas from 1915 to 1919 serving under Governor Arthur Capper.

What's the matter with Kansas? – 1896

White was a political conservative at this early stage of his career. [3] In 1896 a White editorial titled "What's the Matter With Kansas?" attracted national attention with a scathing attack on William Jennings Bryan, the Democrats, and the Populists. White sharply ridiculed Populist leaders for letting Kansas slip into economic stagnation and not keeping up economically with neighboring states because their anti-business policies frightened away economic capital from the state. White wrote:

Conservatism in the United States Political ideologies

American conservatism is a broad system of political beliefs in the United States that is characterized by respect for American traditions, republicanism, support for Judeo-Christian values, moral universalism, pro-business and anti-labor, anti-communism, individualism, advocacy of American exceptionalism, and a defense of Western culture from the perceived threats posed by socialism, authoritarianism, and moral relativism. Liberty is a core value, as is with all major American parties. American conservatives consider individual liberty—within the bounds of American values—as the fundamental trait of democracy; this perspective contrasts with that of modern American liberals, who generally place a greater value on equality and social justice and emphasize the need for state intervention to achieve these goals. American conservatives believe in limiting government in size and scope, and in a balance between national government and states' rights. Apart from some libertarians, they tend to favor strong action in areas they believe to be within government's legitimate jurisdiction, particularly national defense and law enforcement. Social conservatives oppose abortion and favor restricting LGBT rights, while privileging traditional marriage and supporting Christian prayer in the public schools.

William Jennings Bryan United States Secretary of State

William Jennings Bryan was an American orator and politician from Nebraska. Beginning in 1896, he emerged as a dominant force in the Democratic Party, standing three times as the party's nominee for President of the United States. He also served in the United States House of Representatives and as the United States Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. Just before his death, he gained national attention for attacking the teaching of evolution in the Scopes Trial. Because of his faith in the wisdom of the common people, he was often called "The Great Commoner".

"There are two ideas of government," said our noble Bryan at Chicago. "There are those who believe that if you legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, this prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class and rest upon them." That's the stuff! Give the prosperous man the dickens! Legislate the thriftless man into ease, whack the stuffing out of the creditors and tell the debtors who borrowed the money five years ago when money "per capita" was greater than it is now, that the contraction of currency gives him a right to repudiate. [4]

The Republicans sent out hundreds of thousands of copies of the editorial in support of William McKinley during the intensely fought presidential election of 1896, providing White with national exposure.

William McKinley 25th president of the United States

William McKinley Jr. was the 25th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1897, until his assassination six months into his second term. During his presidency, McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, raised protective tariffs to promote American industry and kept the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of free silver.

1896 United States presidential election U.S. presidential election (1896)

The United States presidential election of 1896 was the 28th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 3, 1896. Former Governor William McKinley, the Republican candidate, defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan. The 1896 campaign, which took place during an economic depression known as the Panic of 1893, was a realigning election that ended the old Third Party System and began the Fourth Party System.

With his warm sense of humor, articulate editorial pen, and common sense approach to life, White soon became known throughout the country. His Gazette editorials were widely reprinted; he wrote stories on politics syndicated by the George Matthew Adams Service; and he published many books, including biographies of Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge. "What's the Matter With Kansas?" and "Mary White" a tribute to his 16-year-old daughter on her death in 1921, portraying her as an anti-flapper were his best-known writings. Locally he was known as the greatest booster for Emporia.

He won a 1923 Pulitzer Prize for his editorial "To an Anxious Friend," published July 27, 1922, after being arrested in a dispute over free speech following objections to the way the state of Kansas handled the men who participated in the Great Railroad Strike of 1922.

Small-town ideals

In his novels and short stories, White developed his idea of the small town as a metaphor for understanding social change and for preaching the necessity of community. [5] While he expressed his views in terms of the small town, he tailored his rhetoric to the needs and values of emerging urban America. The cynicism of the post-World War I world stilled his imaginary literature, but for the remainder of his life he continued to propagate his vision of small-town community. He opposed chain stores and mail order firms as a threat to the business owner on Main Street. The Great Depression shook his faith in a cooperative, selfless, middle-class America. Like most old Progressives his attitude toward the New Deal was ambivalent: President Franklin D. Roosevelt cared for the country and was personally attractive, but White considered his solutions haphazard. White saw the country uniting behind old ideals by 1940, in the face of foreign threats. [6]

Fighting corruption

White sought to encourage a viable moral order that would provide the nation with a sense of community. He recognized the powerful forces of corruption but called for slow, remedial change having its origin in the middle class. In his novel In the Heart of a Fool (1918), White fully developed the idea that reform remained the soundest ally of property rights. He felt that the Spanish–American War fostered political unity, and believed that a moral victory and an advance in civilization would be compensation for the devastation of World War I. White concluded that democracy in the New Era inevitably lacked direction, and the New Deal found him a baffled spectator. Nevertheless, he clung to his vision of a cooperative society until his death in 1944. [7]


White became a leader of the Progressive movement in Kansas, forming the Kansas Republican League in 1912 to oppose railroads. [8] White helped Theodore Roosevelt form the Progressive (Bull-Moose) Party in 1912 in opposition to the conservative forces surrounding incumbent Republican president William Howard Taft. [9]

White was a reporter at the Versailles Conference in 1919 and a strong supporter of Woodrow Wilson's proposal for the League of Nations. The League went into operation but the U.S. never joined. During the 1920s, White was critical of both the isolationism and the conservatism of the Republican Party.

According to Roger Bresnahan:

White's finest hour came in his vigorous assault, beginning with Gazette editorials in 1921, on the Ku Klux Klan – a crusade that led him to run for governor of Kansas in 1924 so that his anti-Klan message would reach a broader state and national audience. As expected, White did not win the election, but he was widely credited with deflating Klan intentions in Kansas. [10]

In the 1930s he was an early supporter of the Republican presidential nominees, Alf Landon of Kansas in 1936, and Wendell Willkie in 1940. However, White was on the liberal wing of the Republican Party and wrote many editorials praising the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Sage of Emporia

The last quarter century of White's life was spent as an unofficial national spokesman for Middle America. This led President Franklin Roosevelt to ask White to help generate public support for the Allies before America's entry into World War II. In 1940 White was fundamental in the formation of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, sometimes known as the White Committee. [11] He had to fight the powerful America First faction, which believed, like most other Republicans, that the U.S. should stay out of the war. White spent much of his last three years involved with this committee.

Sometimes referred to as the Sage of Emporia, he continued to write editorials for the Gazette until his death in 1944. He was also a founding editor of the Book of the Month Club along with longtime friend Dorothy Canfield.


White married Sallie Lindsay in 1893. They had two children, William Lindsay, born in 1900, and Mary Katherine, born in 1904. Mary died in a 1921 horse-riding accident, prompting her father to write a famous eulogy, "Mary White," on August 17, 1921. [12] [13]

White visited six of the seven continents at least once in his long life. Due to his fame and success, he received 10 honorary degrees from universities, including one from Harvard.

White taught his son William L. the importance of journalism, and after his death, William L. took charge of the Gazette and continued its local success. William L.'s wife, Kathrine, ran it after he died. Their daughter, Barbara, and her husband, David Walker, took it over much as William [14] had earlier, and today the paper remains family-run, currently headed by WAW's great-grandson, Christopher White Walker.

White and the Two Roosevelts

White developed a friendship with President Theodore Roosevelt in the 1890s that lasted until Roosevelt's death in 1919. Roosevelt spent several nights at White's Wight and Wight-designed home, Red Rocks, during trips across the United States. [15] White was to say later, "Roosevelt bit me and I went mad." [16] Later, White supported much of the New Deal, but voted against Franklin D. Roosevelt every time.

Famous visitors to Red Rocks (White family home in Emporia)

The William Allen White House, a Kansas state historic site William-allen-white-house.JPG
The William Allen White House, a Kansas state historic site

Posthumous honors

Life described White:

He is the small-town boy who made good at home. To the small-town man who envies the glamour of the city, he is living assurance that small-town life may be preferable. To the city man who looks back with nostalgia on a small-town youth, he is a living symbol of small-town simplicity and kindliness and common sense. [17]

The city of Emporia raised $25,000 in war bonds during World War II and were granted naming rights for a B-29 bomber in early 1945. They unsurprisingly chose to name it after their most famous citizen, William Allen White. This bomber was sent with a crew of men to the island of Tinian in the South Pacific and was part of the same bomber squadron that the Enola Gay was in.

During WWII a Liberty ship was named for White.

His autobiography, which was published posthumously in 1946 won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

US postage stamp, 1948 WilliamAllenWhite-1948.jpg
US postage stamp, 1948

In 1948 a 3¢ stamp was made in his honor by the U.S. Postal Service.

The University of Kansas Journalism School is named for him, as is the library building at Emporia State University. There are also two awards the William Allen White Foundation has created: The William Allen White Award for outstanding Journalistic merit and the Children's Book Award.

The town of Emporia honors him to this day with city limits signs on I-35, US-50, and K-99 announcing "Home of William Allen White."

White's image is used by the band They Might Be Giants in stagecraft and music videos.


From editorial Mary White:

A rift in the clouds in a gray day threw a shaft of sunlight upon her coffin as her nervous, energetic little body sank to its last sleep. But the soul of her, the glowing, gorgeous, fervent soul of her, surely was flaming in eager joy upon some other dawn. [12]

From editorial Student Riots, The Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, April 8, 1932:

As a matter of fact student riots of one sort or another, protests against the order that is, kicks against college and university management indicate a healthy growth and a normal functioning of the academic mind.

Youth should be radical. Youth should demand change in the world. Youth should not accept the old order if the world is to move on. But the old orders should not be moved easily—certainly not at the mere whim or behest of youth. There must be clash and if youth hasn't enough force or fervor to produce the clash the world grows stale and stagnant and sour in decay. If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all their youthful vim and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better world for tomorrow.

From 1933 editorial about the futility of war (referring to World War I):

The boys who died just went out and died. To their own souls' glory of course -- but what else? ... Yet the next war will see the same hurrah and the same bowwow of the big dogs to get the little dogs to go out and follow the blood scent and get their entrails tangled in the barbed wire. [18]

From an editorial published in February 1943, shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt returned from the Casablanca Conference with Winston Churchill:

We who hate your gaudy guts salute you."

From a March 20, 1899 editorial, The Emporia Gazette:

Riots against the police are occurring in Havana. They will keep occurring. No Latin country governs itself. Self-government is the most difficult thing in the world for a people to accomplish. It is not a matter that a nation acquires by adopting a set of laws. Only Anglo-Saxons can govern themselves. The Cubans will need a despotic government for many years to restrain anarchy until Cuba is filled with Yankees. Uncle Sam, the First, will have to govern Cuba as Alphonso, the Thirteenth, governed it if there is any peace in the island at all. The Cubans are not and, of right, ought not to be free. To say that they are, or that they should be, is folly. Riot will follow riot. Anarchy will rise to be crushed. And unrest will prevail until the Yankee takes possession of the land. Then the Cubans will be an inferior—if not a servile—race. Then there will be peace in the land. Then will Cuba be free. It is the Anglo-Saxon's manifest destiny to go forth in the world as a world conqueror. He will take possession of all the islands of the sea. He will exterminate the peoples he cannot subjugate. That is what fate holds for the chosen people. It is so written. Those who would protest, will find their objections overruled. It is to be.

Published works

White had 22 works published throughout his life. Many of these works were collections of short stories, magazine articles, or speeches he gave throughout his long career.




Political and social commentary

See also

Further reading

Primary sources


  1. "William Allen White House: History". Kansas State Historical Society. 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  2. "William Allen White Biography". Kansas University School of Journalism. 2008. Archived from the original on 2012-03-14. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  3. Edward Gale Agran (1998). "Too Good a Town:" William Allen White, Community, and the Emerging Rhetoric of Middle America. University of Arkansas Press. pp. 65–66.
  4. David Hinshaw, A Man from Kansas: The Story of William Allen White (1945) p 108.
  5. Griffith (1989)
  6. Agran (1998)
  7. Richard W. Resh, "A Vision in Emporia: William Allen White's Search for Community," Midcontinent American Studies Journal 1969 10(2): 19-35
  8. Griffith ch 5
  9. Johnson, Walter F. (1947). William Allen White's America. Henry Holt and Company. Chapter 10.
  10. Philip A. Greasley, ed. (2001). Dictionary of Midwestern Literature, Volume 1: The Authors. Indiana UP. p. 528.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  11. Namikas, Lise (2008). "The Committee to Defend America and the Debate Between Internationalists and Interventionists, 1939-1941". High Beam Encyclopedia. High Beam Research, Inc. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  12. 1 2 White, William Allen. "Family History: Mary White". Emporia Gazette. Archived from the original on 2008-03-23. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  13. White, William Allen. "Mary White" (pdf). Kansas State Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  14. Kansans.com
  15. The house is now a museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  16. "Family History: William Allen White". Emporia Gazette. 1996–2000. Archived from the original on 2008-03-23. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
  17. "Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame: William Allen White". Kansas Press Association. Archived from the original on 2008-03-22. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
  18. Sherry, Michael S. (1995). In the Shadow of War: The United States Since the 1930s. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 26. ISBN   0-300-07263-5.
  19. White, William Allen (1924-01-01). Woodrow Wilson: The Man, His Times and His Task. Houghton Mifflin.
  20. White, William Allen (1925-01-01). Calvin Coolidge, the Man who is President. Macmillan.
  21. Mamet, David, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal': An election-season essay", Village Voice, March 11, 2008. "[T]he best book I've ever read about the presidency ... , and I recommend it unreservedly." Retrieved 2010-12-18.
  22. White, William Allen (1938-01-01). A Puritan in Babylon: the story of Calvin Coolidge. The Macmillan company.
  23. White, William Allen (1946-01-01). The autobiography of William Allen White. The Macmillan company.
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Hiram Johnson
Cover of Time Magazine
6 October 1924
Succeeded by
Glenn H. Curtiss
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Frank M. O'Brien
Pulitzer Prize Winners: Journalism
Succeeded by
Boston Herald

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