KanColl: The Kansas  
Historical Quarterlies

William Allen White:
Country Editor, 1897-1914

by Walter Johnson

February, 1947 (Vol. 14 No. 1), pages 1 to 21.
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.

     WHEN two run-away Emporia boys were apprehended by the police of Kansas City in 1913 and queried as to their reason for leaving Emporia, the older boy stated thoughtfully: "Well, there's nothing there but William Allen White, and we got tired of hearing of him." [1] Long before this event, Emporia was known to the outside world as the home of Bill White. His political success on the national and state scene and his ability to write editorials that sparkled with excellent prose and pungent phrases had made him the leading citizen of the town within a few years from the day that he had acquired the Gazette on borrowed money.

     White's great asset was his ability to express himself in a distinctive editorial style. "Taking the hide off somebody" was his particular delight. "We're all beef eaters, especially Bill White," an Emporian told Sam Blythe in 1907, "and that's what makes him the first-class fighting man he is. . . . He's a good deal of an idealist, but he can dream and fight at the same time, which, I take it, is a good mixture for any man. He does things and says things in his paper that make us hopping mad, but nobody ever accuses him of doing anything for any motive except that of his own conscience. He gets preachy, and that makes me tired. He gets personal, and that makes some others tired. Still, he's a vital force in Kansas, and Kansas knows it. Besides, what bully stories he can write! How I wish he would write more of them and let somebody else do the preaching." [2]



     The Emporia editor remarked in 1926 that the years from 1895 to World War I were "the most fruitful and happy years of my life." [3] A considerable portion of the money that he received from his countless magazine articles and books was poured into improving the Gazette, constructing an office building, and buying a home for his family. For all of White's belief that small town papers, which devoted themselves to local news and local color would be a success, he had to pour a share of his outside earnings into the Gazette. If he had spent his full time running the paper, he undoubtedly could have earned a moderate yearly income. But to travel as extensively as he did, to take lengthy vacations in Colorado, to own a comfortable home and entertain out-of-town guests with great frequency necessitated a far larger income than the Gazette could have produced. The twentieth century trend toward more and more expensive machinery for the back shop, too, required a larger sum of money than an ordinary Emporia editor might have had at hand. The purchase of such machinery would have forced most editors to borrow from the banks, but White had sufficient outside income to free himself of any bank control of the paper.

     By 1904 the Gazette, now the principal paper of Lyon county, had a circulation of 2,000 daily and 2,000 weekly copies. Six years later, when White was in the thick of the progressive fight, the paper reached a 3,000 circulation. After the failure of the Emporia Republican, no other daily was able to threaten White's newspaper supremacy. Not only did White have money coming in from outside writing, but he was a hard working, shrewd newspaper man. "Look at that face, pink and white, fat and sweet, as featureless and innocent as a baby's bottom!", remarked a town enemy in 1899. "But by God don't let that fool you!"

     During the bitter days of the insurgent revolt against Taft, White's political enemies, both in Emporia and in the state backed a rival paper, the Emporia Journal. On January 16, 1909, the following editorial appeared in the Gazette:

     There is something sad in the announcement of the Emporia Daily Journal that it has printed its "last copy." Because, on the whole, Emporia has never had a more sincere, conscientious attempt to establish an independent, uncontrolled daily newspaper. Editor Mickey has done his best, and his best has had this immense advantage over the best of many other predecessors-it has been clean, honest, and unprejudiced. No one controlled him. And his inability to make it go, carries with it no stigma of failure. He has fought a manly fight, and insofar as one wins who maintains his integrity, he has


won. But those who tempted him into this venture, by telling him what marvelous success he might achieve fighting the Gazette, deserve censure for their treachery. They abandoned him cruelly. They gave no support to his venture. They saw him spending his own good money and offered no help. They should bear whatever of opprobrium attaches to his failure-not he; for his is no failure. He was talked into a foolish venture by men with axes to grind. They found an honest man, and they left him to find out their perfidy. But what an old story this all is in this profession. No American town, north, south, east or west, is too large-or unfortunately too small-to have this very tragedy enacted. Every newspaper, in the nature of things, makes enemies. To tell the truth it must make enemies. But its enemies, often, are the best thing about a newspaper. They are its assets. They are its chief source of strength in a town. But when they see a newspaper man about to enter a town, they flock to him with stories, and tell him what a snap it will be to do up the other editor. They exaggerate the other man's mistakes. They make the new man believe that the town is just naturally yearning for a bright, newsy, crisp, spicy paper. These adjectives are as old as the business. Always they are the same. They are the sticky flypaper upon which a new editor always lights to his sorrow. And then, when once he is down, the adjectives pull him to his death. If he is bright, his new-found friends criticise him. If he tries to be newsy, they ask him to suppress items. If he makes his paper crisp and different, they say he is too fresh, and if he would make it spicy, they say he is indecent. In the end, he prints his valedictory.

     White became convinced from his own experience with these papers backed by his political enemies that a newspaper did not succeed upon "its political beliefs, but upon its ability to get reliable news quickly to the people." White always discouraged his progressive friends from launching a paper "as a political and not as a business venture." When a paper was the only daily in a given town, White firmly believed that its news columns should be opened equally to both sides in a controversy. During an important election over a street car franchise in 1911, for instance, White adopted the policy of giving space one day to one side and the next day to the other side as the only way of being fair to the community.

     Although White believed that the news columns should present all sides of a question, he was absolutely convinced that the editorial page should have a definite point of view. At a time when many American papers were starting to neglect their editorial page, White gave his editorials the very best writing that he could command. His expressive, vigorous language frequently stirred the wrath of his opponents. In 1899, for instance, a gentleman named Luther Severy, failing to secure the Republican nomination for mayor, ran as an independent. White turned his scathing editorial pen on the man, and one day as he passed Severy, Severy struck him on the


back of the head with a heavy cane and knocked him to the ground. A bystander later called White a coward, and White struck this fellow in the face. The crowd that quickly gathered broke up the fight and White and Severy were taken into court for fighting and using abusive and indecent language. Severy plead guilty, and his fine was paid through a subscription circulated by White's enemies. White was acquitted of any guilt in the affair. When Severy tried to claim, however, that White was facing him when he struck, White noted in an editorial that

Without desiring to question the veracity of the two gentlemen who swore that Severy was standing in front of W. A. White when he struck the blow that felled him, the Gazette desires to offer in evidence, as exhibit "A," one head, size 7 3/8 with a large lump directly in the back, and one $35 suit of clothes with mud down the front and not a spot behind, as exhibit "B." [4]

     Although other Kansas editors expressed sorrow over the incident, the rival Republican announced that it was just what White deserved since the Gazette was "too free in its criticisms of persons and things." [5] Then, Severy was presented with a new cane [6] in the Republican office! Such physical mishaps as the Severy affair, however, never tempered the vigorous language that White used in his editorials.

     When White first started his career in country-town journalism, papers were usually owned by a particular economic group and the editor simply served as their mouthpiece. White, always seeking individual freedom, was wary of placing himself in such a position. Although he had had to borrow money to buy the Gazette, his outside earnings soon freed him of any responsibility to Emporia's wealthy for the Gazette's editorial position. For the rest of his lifetime, he carried out the following editorial creed: "What we want, and what we shall have is the royal American privilege of living and dying in a country town, running a country newspaper, saying what we please when we please, how we please and to whom we please." [7] At about the turn of the century, White was offered all the printing of a great railroad. "It would have made me inde pendently rich," White recalled. But he knew that by taking it he would have lost his freedom. He would rather work hard at editing


and writing and be free to speak his mind than to eat the "exotic food" of the plutocrats and have to execute their policies. [8]

     White was extremely sensitive to any attempts at influencing his editorial policy. When there was a fight between two telephone companies in Emporia, one company tried to use an intermediary to secure a favorable editorial. In a state of indignation, White wrote the company on May 25, 1900, that

if you have any communication to make regarding the policy of the Gazette, or its editorial announcements, kindly make them directly to me, and not to some other party in this town whom you may fancy has some influence with me. . . . It is particularly annoying to me, and it must be very annoying to anyone else, to assume that anyone is responsible for anything in the Gazette except the man who owns it.

     White not only believed that an editor should be a teacher, preacher, philosopher, and friend to all, but he told his readers that no honest newspaperman should truckle to his constituency. When the readers were wrong on a question, the editor should say so and not take the easy way out of agreeing with them. "Every paper that amounts to anything makes people violently angry" was his firm conviction. [9] When he was asked in 1903 to analyze why his paper was a success, he observed that

it seems to me that the essence of success in a newspaper is wisely directed courage. All the struggles I have had have been due to mistakes I make in temporizing with evil. Whenever the Gazette has been brave and fair it has been easy enough to get money to pay off Saturday night, but when the Gazette has acted the demagogue, it has been hard work to make the paper go. Character is the one essential to running a successful newspaper, whether the success is financial or political. The best epigram ever made about a newspaper was made by the late Secretary of Agriculture Sterling Morton who said: "A newspaper's foes are its assets and its friends its liabilities." It is the man who wants you to keep something out that eats the vitality out of the bank account. . . [10]

     Consistency in editorial opinion was no virtue to White. He was never reluctant to change a point of view when new facts appeared. What he desired was to reflect the events of the day in the light of the truth as he understood the truth. But, as he so often demonstrated, "The Gazette has no policy today, that it will not abandon tomorrow, if the facts change, upon which yesterday's stand was taken." [11]


White could write editorials in many moods. A fellow Emporian was once quoted as saying that

Bill, you know, considers himself a sort of moral regenerator for the town, the State, the Republican party and the nation at times, and when he is in one of those moods he makes the fur fly. . . . You get different lights on Bill White. Sometimes you think he takes himself so seriously that it must be painful to him, and at other times he seems to be as frivolous as one of our society buds. Once in a while he writes an essay that is so solemn and so full of high lights and uplifts that you think he has taken a running jump and landed in a pulpit somewhere, and then he sets the town to grinning and guessing with a paragraph like this one I find on the first page of to-day's Gazette: "An Emporia man and an Emporia young woman are giving considerable attention to the same vacant house. Their friends are looking every morning in the mail for the invitations." [12]

     White frequently used the device of printing a rumor about himself, and then editorializing on the subject. On April 8, 1905, he remarked that there was a rumor that he kept liquor in his cellar. ,'This is a malicious and unspeakable falsehood," White declared. "The liquor is kept in the pantry, between the dining room and the kitchen. Why not tell the truth? It is also alleged that the editor of the Gazette has the gout, caused by high living. Yesterday for dinner he had home-picked sour-dock, mustard, dandelion, horseradish and beet-top greens, boiled bacon, and potatoes, corn bread and onions. Would you call that high living? Another lie nailed!"

     A suggestion from Kansas Bull Moosers that he run for governor prompted the following editorial on January 13, 1914:

A number of Progressives at Lakin, more kind than considerate, yesterday resoluted in favor of this man White, of Emporia, for governor. They wanted him to run as a Progressive candidate. To which the Gazette says no-a thousand times no. For we are on to that man White, and without wishing to speak disrespectfully of a fellow townsman, who, so far as we know, may be at least outwardly decent in the simpler relations of life-perhaps he pays his debts when it is convenient, and he may be kind to his family, though that's not to his credit, for who wouldn't be-and he may have kept out of jail, one way or another for some time; without, as we say, desiring to speak disrespectfully of this man, we know that he's not the man either to run for governor or, if such a grotesque thing could be imagined, to serve as governor.
He can't make a speech. He has a lot of radical convictions which he sometimes comes into the Gazette office and exploits, which are dangerous. He has been jawing politicians for twenty years until he is a common scold, and he has set up his so-called ideals so high that the Angel Gabriel himself couldn't give the performance that this man White would have to advertise on the bills. So, in the words of the poet, nix on Willyum Allen. The Gazette's nose is


hard and cold on the proposition to make him governor. He is a four-flusher, a ring-tailed, rip-snorting hell-raiser and a grandstander. He makes a big noise. He yips and kioodles around a good deal, but he is everlastingly and preeminently N. G. as gubernatorial timber-full of knots, warts, woodpecker holes, and rotten spots. He would have the enmity of more men who have walked the plank politically than any other man in Kansas, and his candidacy would issue an irrevocable charter in Kansas for the Progressive party to be the official minority report world without end. Men and women would be trampled to death at 7 o'clock election morning, trying to get at the polls to cast the first vote against him and at night. perfectly good citizens, kind fathers and indulgent husbands, would risk a jail sentence to get in at least ten votes against him as repeaters. It may be that the Progressive party needs a goat, but the demand doesn't require a Billy-goat! Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party. But this man White is a shoulder-galled, sore-backed, ham-strung, wind-broken, string-halted, stump-sucking old stager who, in addition to being no good for draft and general purposes, has the political bots, blind-staggers, heaves, pinkeye and epizootic. Moreover, he is locoed and has other defects.

This editorial prompted The Literary Digest to remark that ". William Allen White, the well-known Kansas institution, acted wisely when he defeated himself recently for the Progressive nomination for governor. . . ." [13]

     White was not only a superb editorial writer, but he was a shrewd businessman. Gradually, as his earnings increased, he delegated more and more responsibility to his staff, but at all times he was aware of what was taking place in the various parts of the office. His business acumen was revealed when he constructed a new building for the Gazette on the lot next to where the government planned eventually to build a post office. This gave the Gazette a vantage point for collecting news and made its office building space a desirable location for rental purposes.

     "The country newspaper," White once wrote in Harper's Magazine, "is the incarnation of the town spirit. . . . The newspaper is in a measure the will of the town, and the town's character is displayed with sad realism in the town's newspapers. A newspaper is as honest as its town, is as intelligent as its town, as kind as its town, as brave as its town." [14] The Gazette was primarily a local paper. Although it carried Associated Press dispatches, the bulk of the paper was devoted to local happenings. This did not mean, however, printing malicious gossip and scandal. White had nothing but scorn for yellow journalism, with its scare headlines and vivid articles on the seamy side of life, which was then flowering in the


big urban centers under the guidance of William Randolph Hearst. An honest editor, White believed, should not print malicious gossip until it was a matter of court record. Vile stories should be handled in such a way that they could be read aloud in the family circle. [15] News is what the newspapers play up," white declared in an editorial. "moreover, the newspapers should be regulated. some day the people will appoint or elect or hire town managers, and the business of the town managers, among other things, will be to go after the newspapers. details of murders, hangings, suicides, sex crimes, highway robberies, burglaries, and crimes of violence generally should be suppressed, under the police power of the state. newspapers could quit if they would. the community should make them quit, and some day the good sense of the people will organize and go after the newspapers just as it has gone after offenders in other walks of life." [16]

     One phase of the new yellow journalism that White abhorred was the growth of comic strips. He was to keep them out of his paper until after World War I. He proved to be a poor prophet in 1909, however, when he declared that ". . . In a year or two they will be as rare as the shinplasters of half a century ago." [17]

     Anyone who objected to the policy of the Gazette was encouraged to express his views in a column entitled "The Wailing Place." White, however, would not publish unsigned communications nor those which stirred religious or racial hatreds. He refused a diatribe against the Catholic church one day because, as he informed his correspondent, ". . . The Catholic Church in Emporia I do not regard as a serious menace. . . . I do not believe in stirring up religious feeling in an otherwise quiet community, when the community life does not seem to justify it."

     White enjoyed nothing better than deflating Emporia's pompous citizenry. Shortly after he acquired the Gazette, he decided to drop the term professor because every teacher wanted the title. There was one teacher at the Normal school who raised a rumpus with White because the term wasn't used any longer before his name. White, however, was unrelenting. Then, when the Spanish-American War came, this teacher organized a company at the Normal and became a captain. At this point, White began to refer to him as the professor, rather than as the captain, which made the teacher furious.


     White demanded simplicity in style from all of his reporters. The Gazette style book written by Laura M. French, the city editor, listed as positive "dont's" such phrases as "At death's door"; "on the sick list"; "joined in holy wedlock"; "departed this life"; "tokens of respect"; and, "the last sad rites." Another important "don't" for all Gazette employees was "Don't use Mr. White's name-say the Gazette, or cut it out altogether if you can't say Gazette. You might lose your job otherwise."

     As White's social viewpoint broadened, he began to alter the type of advertising that he would publish in his paper. Around 1909, for instance, he began to drop patent medicine advertisements. A year before he had defended such advertising, but by 1909 he was declaring that "I should like to see the whole patent medicine business wiped off the earth. . . ." [19] Peruna, lemon extract, and Hostetter's Bitters were among those dropped by the Gazette. By 1912, White was informing the American Tobacco Company that he would not accept their advertising any longer either, if it continued to carry such phrases as "Now is the time to learn to chew if you are ever going to." [20] It was such attitudes as these, actually costing White the loss of considerable income, that led the Wichita Eagle to remark that "If at times he seems to take it upon himself to be a sort of public conscience, it is because he holds himself to stern standards, and would have in others what he demands of himself." [21]

     White's editorial outpourings as well as his news columns were devoted to making the Gazette a local interest paper. Although his editorials on national affairs attracted widespread attention, he was apt to write many more editorials about local people and events. A wide variety of items were touched on in these editorials. Sometimes he would praise the flowers of a citizen or tell his readers how to prepare this or that food. When one family lost their little daughter in 1903, he wrote a touching editorial declaring that

there is something in the death of a little child, something in its infinite pathos that makes all human creatures mourn. Because in every heart that is not a dead heart, calloused to all joy or sorrow, some little child is enshrined-either dead or living-and so child love is the one universal emotion of the soul, and child death is the saddest thing in all the world [22]

When families celebrated wedding anniversaries or contributed in some way to the betterment of the town, they were sure to have a


Gazette editorial devoted to them. These editorials, praising the virtues of his neighbors, White considered to be

the best form of editorial expression. . . . It teaches the writer to formulate his understanding of what are fundamental virtues in men. . . . It brings the community to a realizing sense of the worth and value of its citizens. And habitually practiced for a generation, it cements to a paper, friendships which are as much a part of its capital assets as its machinery. [23]

     Typical of the cementing type of editorial that he wrote was one praising the Welsh community in Emporia: ". . . The Welsh people of this community," he declared, "have lived here for over a generation. They have been the best single strain of blood in our Emporia life. . . . They are the salt of the earth, and Emporia is a better, cleaner, kindlier town because it is the home of these people." [24]

     Frequently, the editorial column became "preachy." He enjoyed nothing quite so much as telling the women of the town how to cook. Baked beans properly cooked, he believed, were a feast worthy of the gods. But those housewives who substituted canned beans for the home-cooked baked variety, he asserted, "should be loaded into a patrol wagon and taken to jail. . . . Canned beans are clammy and tasteless. . . . Beans are no good unless they are cooked at home, in an oven, with a real fire in the stove. . . [25]

     Every once in a while, the editor of the Gazette would launch a crusade to clean up the town. In 1897, he sallied forth against the "joints" that were selling bootleg liquor. He printed a list of these spots and then wrote that

Day after day the joints sell liquor here-each day getting a little bolder, and the Law and Order League snores on in the sweet unconsciousness of its dreams. . . . There is talk of a public meeting to discuss ways and means for closing these joints. . . . Will the minister whose wealthy church members rent buildings for saloons dare to come to this meeting and denounce this business?

     A few days later he sarcastically asserted that

Let's have the joints and then we can have some variety in town. An occasional murder-a nice interesting wife murder that will give us something to talk about. . . . Let's have the joints. They are illegal. Their presence violates the law. The dignity of the courts is torn down. Mob law is encouraged. Law breaking in other lines is stimulated. [26]


     White could shift in his editorial writing from a didactic mood to an hilarious mood with the greatest of ease. As a result, his editorial column varied from day to day according to the spirit of the editor. After preaching the need of social responsibility and the importance of supporting progressive political measures for days at a time, he would suddenly write an editorial like the following:

A new dress, called the lampshade dress, is headed this way. It looks like a horror. . . . Yet . . . It isn't what a woman wears; it's what she is that drives us crazy. . . . Put rings in her nose, stripe her forehead, scar her face, or put her in the plug hat of the simple child of the forest, and she still remains the most wonderful thing our blessed Lord ever made [27]

     As early as the first decade of the twentieth century, White was being looked upon by many as the spokesman of small town Middlewestern America. Feature articles about the Emporia editor began to appear in urban papers and nation-wide magazines, and his views on a variety of subjects were reprinted with regularity. All of these tendencies were greatly increased in the years between the two World Wars, but they had started long before 1914. An article in the New York Sun on October 20, 1910, hailed White as being "as much a part of Kansas as her cornstalks and sunflowers," and observed that "He thinks Kansas is the real United States, and had rather be the mouthpiece of Kansas' thought . . . than to be the richest man in the State or an United States Senator." By remaining in the small town, when his generation were flocking to the city, he eventually became not only the spokesman for Kansas but for much of the Middlewest. He always maintained that the reason he stayed in Emporia was that people were more sociable and friendly. Emporia was a personal world where neighbors' joys and sorrows were shared with others. Furthermore, class lines were not hard and fast like in the big city. In Emporia the town carpenter had influence with the banker, but White asked, "Does the Bronx plasterer have influence with J. P. Morgan?"

     A man who lived a life with real neighbors, White believed, would take more with him at death than the man who lived in a metropolitan center filled with strangers. Moreover, he once wrote that

what we can't see is how a man who can have one hundred feet of lawn and a kitchen garden to sprinkle with the hose every evening after work, can permit himself to be locked up in a long row of five and six story cell houses, with nothing to distinguish one cell-house from the other but the number on the front door. [28]


     Although White received many fabulous offers-as high as twenty-five thousand dollars a year from the Chicago Tribune-to desert country journalism for big city newspapers, he chose to remain in Emporia. Had he gone to New York or Chicago, he would have been only one of a number of good newspaper editors. But, by remaining as editor of the Gazette, he was unique. Here was a man, middle class America began to think, who refused to succumb to the flesh pots of the wicked city. Mark Sullivan expressed this feeling when he wrote that ". . . from the point of view of national well-being, a thousand young William Allen Whites in a thousand Emporias would serve America well." [29]

     Although White may have enjoyed small town life, there also seems little doubt that he was canny enough to see that by remaining in Emporia he had a pulpit for reaching the American people unlike any he could ever have in the city. To leave Emporia would mean the end of his powerful influence, an influence that grew immeasurably from 1914 to 1944. For all of White's enjoyment of his neighbors in Emporia, the White family spent a great deal of time away from Emporia even in the years prior to 1914. After the Gazette was on its feet financially, the Whites were able to leave town for long intervals and turn the paper over to the capable staff that they had assembled. The Gazette actually served as a training center for many future editors. Among the young Gazette reporters who later went on to their own papers were Roy Bailey, editor of the Salina Journal; Rolla Clymer, editor of the El Dorado Times; Oscar Stauffer, operator of a chain of papers including the Topeka State Journal; and John Redmond, editor of the Burlington Republican. Charles M. Vernon, one of White's favorites, later became manager of the Los Angeles office of the Associated Press and Burge McFall became a leading Associated Press correspondent during World War I.

     White's "boys," although many of them disagreed with his political views, were always fond of their ex-boss. Roy Bailey wrote him on February 15, 1928:

Dear "Father" White:
One of the fine things about the graduates of the "Gazette school of Journalism" is that no matter how much they may disagree with their professor, who taught them what they know, they always remain loyal to him, and never allow a difference of opinion to interfere with their personal affections.


     Oscar Stauffer, whom White helped secure a post on the Kansas City Star, told him that ". . . whether I ever amount to anything more than a pimple it is to you I owe that little. You were better to me than I deserved a hundred times." [30] Walt Mason once remarked that

It is the sincere belief of those who work, year in and year out, with Will White, that the world does not hold a bigger or finer man. Some of those who work with him don't agree with him on many things, and every once in a while they hold indignation meetings and pass resolutions to the effect that he is off his trolley. . . [31]

     White was extremely patient in teaching his young reporters how to handle the news and how to write in simple but effective language. Calvin Lambert, who started as a reporter on the Gazette in 1909, recalled that I never knew a man who had more patience with his employes. The Gazette always had a flock of cub reporters, usually students, and of course they made many mistakes and wrote abominably. He never fired a reporter, and encouraged each of them in his work. However, at all times, Mr. White was The Boss, and when errors appeared in the paper, he didn't hesitate to call us down. Sometimes he stopped the press to correct errors and we never repeated that particular blunder. . . . As a cub reporter I once had a hectic love affair. One afternoon Mr. White called into the newsroom: "Where's Cal?" Another reporter explained that I had gone to the Santa Fe station to see my girl go through. Several days later Mr. White again called for me and was informed that I again had gone to the station to see my girl go through. "My Gawd," said the Boss, with a twinkle in his eyes, "that girl must be going through in sections!" [32]

     A Gazette-trained reporter, Brock Pemberton, went into New York City journalism and later became famous as a Broadway producer. Brock was almost a member of the White family since his mother was the sister of Bent Murdock of the El Dorado Republican and Marsh Murdock of the Wichita Eagle. He worked as a reporter on the Gazette while attending college and just after he had graduated. He left for New York in 1910. Using a letter of introduction from White to Franklin P. Adams, columnist for the New York Mail, Pemberton secured a post on the Mail. "I don't carry much weight with the authorities on the Mail-they consider me a harmless, half-sane chump who tries to be funny-," Adams wrote White, "but you may feel sure that I'll do all I can for Brock." [33]


     Three people assumed the responsibility of running the Gazette, when the Whites were out of town-Laura French, Walter Hughes, and Walt Mason. When White purchased the Gazette, Hughes, a boy of seventeen, was working as the printer's devil. Over the years, White relied more and more on Hughes, making him business manager of the paper from 1907 until his death in 1932. Laura French who came to the Gazette a few weeks after White had acquired it, served as city editor from 1903 to 1919. Miss French had charge of training the cub reporters and watching the style of the paper. White once referred to her as ". . . the best newspaper woman that I ever knew, who trained all the boys whom we'll have produced that were worthwhile. . . . [34]

     The third principal member of the Gazette staff, Walt Mason, became well known to the outside world. Mason was a newspaper legend before he settled down on the Gazette. White referred to him variously as the "poet laureate of American democracy" and "the Homer of modern America, and particularly of Middle-Western America, the America of the country town." [35] Walt Mason's folksy prose-poems were widely read by pre-World War I America. Mason's addiction for liquor had cost him job after job up until the time that he started work on the Gazette. He had tramped all over the West writing columns, doing all sorts of work for a handout, never lasting more than a month or two at a job. "For when he got drunk," White observed, "boy he got drunk! And he literally God damned himself out of a job by quarreling with his boss whoever it was." [36] In 1907, when Mason left a Nebraska town to take the Keeley cure, one citizen observed that "the town let its most distinguished citizen go without regret."

     While he was at the Keeley Institute, he read an article by White. "It was a good article," Mason wrote later, "so full of humor and kindliness that I thought he was a man who might understand." [37] Immediately, Mason wrote White that "I have taken all of the post graduate work that Dr. Keeley's well-known institution has to offer; and have tried noble resolves and found myself buying sealskin sacks for the brewer's daughter. I have tried everything but a prohibition town and I want to come to Emporia for my board and keep." The Whites happened to be in Colorado when the letter


came, but White told Mason to go to Emporia and help out around the paper until he returned.

     Walt Mason worked on the Gazette as no other man ever worked. He turned in so much stuff that the printers could not run it all. Gradually, as he conquered his craving for liquor, he began to pay off the debts that he had accumulated over the years. He brought to the Gazette indomitable energy, a gift for rhyming, and absolute business honesty. He had a difficult struggle to keep away from liquor the first year or two. Every once in a while he would tell White that he was going to Kansas City. White would then call a friend on the Star and ask him to meet Walt's train and stay with him all the time to make sure that he did not get drunk. [38] Mason later gratefully wrote that "Had it not been for the cheery sympathy of Mr. White in those dreary days, I'd have given up trying." [39] On October 26, 1907, when the Whites were out of town, the front page needed more copy for the star head. Laura French asked Mason if he couldn't fill the space. Ten minutes later he handed her a prose rhyme:


Let us all proceed tomorrow humbly to the house of prayer. The prediction from Chicago says the weather will be fair. After rain that saved the wheat crop comes the genial smiling sun; let us seek the sanctuary when the long week's work is done. When the weather clerk is certain that the Sabbath will be fair, there is no excuse for staying from the house of praise and prayer.

     This verse evoked such favorable comment that he wrote more verses for the next week's issues. When White returned, he was overjoyed in spite of the fact that he had once laid down a rule against poetry appearing in the Gazette. Mason wrote his rhymes without reflection and without hesitation. White encouraged him by stating that "No other man in all this western country has done such good work as you have in the past year. You have got the


real stuff in you. . . ." 40 During 1908, White persuaded George M. Adams to syndicate Mason's rhymes. Before long not only was he composing his syndicated poems, but he was writing a daily short story for the Chicago Daily News, a book review page for the Kansas City Star, and reams of material for the Gazette. Adams also published several books of his poems, and by 1920 Mason had acquired enough money to retire to California, where he continued writing his rhymes until his death in 1939.

     As part of the role of a country editor, White was a booster for Emporia throughout his lifetime. With an acute sense of responsibility, he told his readers on February 27, 1911:

Those who have lived during the half century now passed, put something here beside houses and streets and trees and material things. They put practical work in politics, in religion, in education, in business, in the social organization to make this a good town. Emporia did not just grow. To have a clean town meant a fight, every day in the year for someone; it meant sacrifice for scores of men and women-sacrifice of time and money and health and strength. To have all these schools and churches meant that thousands gave freely and in a great faith without material results in sight, that we who now enjoy what we have, might reap where we have not sown.
     This town is the child of many prayers. This town is the ideal realized only after those who dreamed the ideal, laid them doom to rest with the dream still a dream. This town is the fruit of great aspiration, and we who live here now, have a debt to posterity that we can pay only by still achieving, still pursuing; we must learn to labor and to wait, even as they learned it who built here on this townsite when it was raw upland prairie. It is well to think on these things.

     When the Hutchinson News once scornfully referred to Emporia as a town dominated by petticoats, White quickly turned the charge to Emporia's credit by saying that this meant that the town had no saloons, no town drunkards, no riotous living, and no whisky paupers to support.[41] He took the lead in raising money for community projects. Although not a member of the Methodist church, he helped them buy an organ. He headed many drives to raise funds for the Y. M. C. A. One day when Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo stopped in Emporia, White persuaded him to speak at a luncheon to raise money for the "Y". "Hell," said McAdoo, "I'll go, but I wouldn't do it for anyone else but Old Bill White." Not only did he make a speech, but he gave a hundred dollars to the campaign. [42] The College of Emporia also received money from White and many times he secured bequests for the col-


lege from outside sources. White served as the first president of the Current club, a men's discussion group launched in 1900, and he was also a significant figure in the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary club. White was a vigorous proponent of the doctrine of "Buy Emporia Goods." On January 20, 1897, he declared that

Eat nothing but biscuits made from Emporia flour. . . . Eat nothing but Emporia bacon and ham, and Lyon county eggs. . . . Put on an Emporia over-coat over an Emporia suit of clothes. If the money spent in Kansas City for cheap tailoring were spent here thirty tailors would find work here who are now living in the big city. . . .

     Fifteen years later he urged a dry goods store to buy printing from him because when they bought outside that money was forever lost to Emporia. Until his death the slogan "Buy Emporia Goods" appeared from time to time in the Gazette. Yet, during the last twenty odd years of his life, he knew that world trade was necessary for American and world prosperity, and although he advocated the lowering of protective tariffs by all nations, with delightful inconsistency he urged all Emporians just to buy Emporia-made goods!

     "Personally White is the most unattractive man in Emporia and that is saying much!" one person remarked in 1909. "You see him as he comes rolling down the street on his way to the `Gazette' office, and you wonder that he ever did anything but sit in the shade of a tree, and drink lemonade. His clothes look as if they had been planned and cut out by the town tinner. His hat is the most impossible structure in the world. The face is the ordinary fat man's face, and is usually covered with a short stubble of sandy beard, and a sheepish smile. There is a half suppressed twinkle in the eye that suggests an overgrown boy. . . Altogether, you would say that the man was made of putty, were it not for a certain firmness about the jaw indicating that there is steel beneath this flabby exterior, and plenty of it, too. . , ." [43]

     During these years before the first great war, White used to wear pants that had been patched and a battered hat that was jammed down on his head of sandy colored hair. Assuming a completely democratic attitude, he and the family drove about in an old rickety two-seated rig drawn by their feeble horse, Old Tom, when they could easily have afforded an automobile. The tramp poet, Harry Kemp, observed that


Whether this exterior appearance . . . was sincere or affected in him I never could quite tell. I am almost inclined to believe it was not done for effect. . . . If it was an affectation, his personal attitude toward the people with whom he came into contact was not-in his office everybody loved him, and worked for him with that easy efficiency that comes of good will and respect. . . . [44]

     Whenever White was out of town, Mrs. White took charge of the Gazette. "Mrs. White is of medium height, slight, dark-eyed and sympathetic, intensely interested in her husband's work and of great assistance to him," declared the Buffalo Express, on December 28, 1901. Sallie White carefully watched for news items and wrote them herself or telephoned them to a reporter. During the first year or two of son Bill's life, Sallie frequently deposited Bill in a waste basket while she worked in the office. An old-time carrier boy once recalled that whenever White left town. Mrs. White made "us step lively and toe the mark." [45]

     In 1900 the Whites revealed their growing affluence by buying "Red Rocks," a fine house that had been built of red stone shipped from the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. They remodeled and improved the house and lived in it for the rest of their lifetime. After a serious fire in 1920, the house was rebuilt along broad and comfortable lines partially designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Famous for their hospitality, the Whites had a highly amusing experience during their second year in Emporia. In 1896, when Congressman Charles Curtis visited Emporia, they had him to dinner and White recalled the following incident:

     We were running our house on $5 a week in those days and Sallie budgeted everything. So she bought a chicken, cooked it, removed all the bones, placed it in a crock and covered it with melted cheese and cracker crumbs_ oh, yes, and with mushrooms. Those mushrooms-ah! We debated quite a while over whether we should buy a 75-cent can or a 35-cent can. I wanted the 75-cent can; Sallie's will was her way and we compromised on the cheaper assortment. Even at that it meant I had to go without a couple of 10-cent shaves to pay for this delicacy. Well, sir, Congressman Curtis came. Sallie and I were quite proud. Pretty soon I could see she was trying to catch my eye. She nodded her head toward the congressman's plate. I looked. Ye godsl There he was-deftly removing the mushrooms from his portion of chicken, placing the discarded fleshy fungi on the side of his plate-mushrooms for which I must sacrifice two shaves that week! The next noon when I got home from the office Sallie met me at the kitchen door. She saw the look on my face. "Yes," she said, "I've retrieved the mushrooms-they're waiting for you." [46]


     People with national and international reputations visited the Whites in Emporia, and the townspeople became accustomed to seeing Edna Ferber, Ida M. Tarbell, and Anne Morgan walking the streets of the town. "When your world is awry and hope dead and vitality low and the appetite gone," Edna Ferber once wrote, "there is no ocean trip, no month in the country, no known drug equal to the reviving quality of twenty-four hours spent on the front porch or in the sitting room of the Whites' house in Emporia. . . ." 47 John S. Phillips of McClure's Magazine and later the American Magazine recalled that "I once said to the novelist W. D. Howells . . . that my wife and I had been visiting the Whites in Emporia and that I did not know any more delightful place to visit in this country. Howells replied: I do not know any pleasanter place to visit in the world. . . ." [48]

     The White's two children, Bill and Mary, were as different as the Kansas prairies and the Rocky Mountains. Bill, as a boy, was shy, quiet, and retiring. He grew up in the Gazette office, and very early took a route to deliver papers. In 1910, when White heard that Ed Howe's son Gene was now working on his father's paper, the Emporia editor wrote Gene that ". . . I shall be mighty proud when my boy, Bill, gets that far along. I don't think Bill will be worth very much. He is a good boy and that is the trouble. He is too good a boy and does not make me any trouble and I am afraid he won't make anybody else any trouble. . . ."

     Mary, four years younger than Bill, was a vigorous tomboy. As a baby she had been so frail that her parents encouraged her to be an outdoor girl. She soon became a wild, carefree horseback rider. White wrote Franklin P. Adams on December 8, 1914, that Mary has not sold her pony yet. She was out riding on it the other day and some people came along with an automobile and honked and made a loud noise and the pony sidestepped and threw her off. She got up . . . and they came back and making a loud noise and honking and the pony bucked her off again. Her mother asked, "Well, Mary, didn't they stop and see what was the matter?" And Mary said, "No, Mother, but what could you expect? They were riding in a Ford l" Otherwise Mary is real well.

     Mary was not a warm, affectionate child like Bill. When she would enter the Gazette office, her father would say, "Give your old father a kiss," but she would refuse. Bill was their grandmother's favorite.


Madame White would place the two children in their rockers and she would sit in hers and read the classics to them by the hour.

     The White home was a pleasant place to relax after a hard day at the Gazette office or after a hard day of writing articles and books. Playing with the children, listening to Mrs. White read aloud, or pounding on the piano were the chief sources of diversion. Once when visiting George Lorimer of the Saturday Evening Post, White became fascinated with Lorimer's phonograph record collection. He, himself, began to collect records, and developed the lifelong habit of relaxing by playing the records and accompanying them at the same time on the piano. During the bitter fight between Roosevelt and Taft in 1912, White wrote his old friend and political opponent, Charles F. Scott, that

. . . And finally, brethren, have you got a phonograph, a Victor? You ought to have one and you ought to get a twelve-inch record called "Schubert's Unfinished Symphony" and then when you come home at night after reading a paper like the Gazette that puts you out of sorts . . . put that old symphony on the machine and clink it off. . . . It will do you a power of good. I am probably as intense in my convictions as any one and probably a little more uncharitable than I should be . . . but when I get out home and get the old phonograph to going and run out Wagner's big, beautiful pieces, I seem to get away from the cares that infest the day, and whatever corrosion of worry and weariness that may infect my innards seems to pass. . . [49]

     White, of course, was more than just an ordinary country editor. His consummate skill as an editorial writer distinguished his paper from other small town journals. Furthermore, his amazing energy led him to produce such a remarkable and varied number of magazine articles and books that he gained an ever-increasing national following. His active political career, too, in local, state, and national politics helped to distinguish him from other country editors. Where they had only local influence and power, White by the first decade of the twentieth century had a significant national prestige and an ever-expanding influence. The Emporia editor enjoyed his three careers of editing, writing, and politics so thoroughly, and he approached each with such incomparable vitality, that he was indeed a unique and unrivalled country editor. After the defeat of the Kansas Bull Moose ticket in 1914, an opponent of William Allen White dedicated a poem to him, which re-


veals something of the respect that the people of Kansas had for their nationally known, roly-poly editor:

We have known you many years, Allen White;
Read you through both smiles and tears, Allen White;
You're a treat in every line,
But in politics you shine.
In defeat you are sublime, Allen White.
When your man is counted out, Allen White,
You don't tear your hair and shout, Allen White,
There has no one heard you yell
That the country's gone to hell;
Rome, for you, has never fell, Allen White. . , [50]

EDITOR's NOTE: This article is a chapter of Dr. Walter Johnson's biography William Allen White and His America to be published by Henry Holt March 15, 1947. Dr. Johnson is assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago. He is editor of The Selected Letters of William Allen White, published by Holt in January, 1947.

1. The Advance, Chicago, v. 66 (November 27, 1913), p. 403.
2. Samuel G. Blythe, "William Allen White," The Saturday Evening Post, Philadelphia, v. 179, June 15, 1907, pp. 20, 22.
3. To Helen Mahin, October 7, 1926.
4. Emporia Gazette, April 8, 1899.
5. Emporia Daily Republican, April 7, 1899.

6. Ibid., April 14.
7. Emporia Gazette, December 6, 1911.
8. White to Frank Buxton, December 22, 1938; to writer, interview, November 27, 1941.
9. Emporia Gazette, December 27, 1902; October 21, 1901.
10. To the Success Company, October 9, 1903.
11. Emporia Gazette, December 19, 1913.
12. S. G. Blythe, loc. cit.
13. Literary Digest, New York, v. 48 (March 21, 1914), p. 642.
14. Harper's Magazine, New York, v. 132 (May, 1916), p. 888.
15. Emporia Gazette, October 12, 1903.
16. Ibid., June 2, 1911.
17. Ibid., January 4, 1909.
18. To F. W. Ives, February 3, 1914.
19. To E. C. Franklin, November 19, 1909. 20. September 19, 1912.
21. October 29, 1905.
22. February 5, 1903; two collections of white's editorials have been published: The Editor and His People (New York, 1924), edited by H. O. Mahin, and Forty Years On Main Street (New York and Toronto, 1937), edited by R. H. Fitzgibbon.
23. Fitzgibbon, op. cit., p. 50, footnote.
24. Emporia Gazette, February 11, 1911.
25. Ibid., February 25, 1911.
26. Ibid., May 5, 17, 1897.
27. Ibid., June 23, 1913.
28. William Allen White, "Emporia and New York," American Magazine, New York, 63 (January, 1907), p. 261.
29. Mark Sullivan, The Education of an American (New York, 1938), p. 116.
30. September 15, 1911.
31. Kansas State Historical Society, Kansas Scrap-Book, Biography, W," v. 10, p. 438.
32. Emporia Gazette, February 1, 1944.
33. May 5, 1910.
34. To B. W. Crone, July 19, 1935; to Charles Scott, May 8, 1926.
35. W. E. Connelley, ed., History of Kansas Newspapers (Topeka, 1916), pp. 114-116; William Allen White, "What Happened to Walt Mason," American Magazine v. 86, September, 1918, p. 19.
36. To Charles Driscoll, April 5, 1932.
37. Walt Mason, "Down and Out at Forty-Five," American Magazine, v. 86, September, 1918, p. 20.
38. James Lawrence of the Lincoln (Neb.) Star to writer, interview December 29, 1944.
39. "Down and Out at Forty-Five," loc. cit., p. 82.
40. June 24, 1908.
41. Emporia Gazette, March 29, 1897.
42. Ibid., February 1, 1944.
43. F. L. Pinet, "William Allen white-Kansan," Kansas Magazine, Wichita, July, 1909, p. 2.
44. Harry Kemp, Tramping on Life (New York, 1923), pp. 250, 251.
45. Fred Lockley to White, November 8, 1935.
46. A. J. Carruth in the Topeka State Journal, December 10, 1938.
47. Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure, p. 227.
48. Goshen (N. Y.) Democrat, February 10, 1939.
49. January 9, 1912; See interview of James Francis Cooke with William Allen White, "What Music Has Done for Me," Etude, Philadelphia, v. 56 (December, 1938), p. 779 ff.
50. Kansas City (Mo.) Times, March 17, 1915, contributors' column.

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