Born in Emporia, White moved to El Dorado with his parents, Allen and Mary Ann Hatten White, where he spent the majority of his childhood.
Portrait of William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, holding a hat, taken by Lystrom G. Alvord in 1922.
Courtesy Kansas Historical Society
On April 27, 1893, he married Miss Sallie Lindsay of Kansas City. The couple had two children, Mary and William Lindsay White. In 1895 White bought the Emporia Gazette for $3,000 and became its editor."Early in his second year as editor, White wrote the editorial that would make him famous nationwide. In an opinion piece finished hurriedly so he could catch a train to meet his wife in Colorado, White sarcastically voiced disgust at the political scene in Kansas. He handed it over to be set in type and headed out of town. By the time the editorial, entitled What's the Matter with Kansas? showed up in the Gazette on August 15, 1896, he was in Colorado. Upon his return, he found a fat stack of letters from all over the country, most of them filled with praise." 1
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.
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. While he expressed his views in terms of the small town, he tailored his rhetoric to the needs and values of emerging urban America. 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.
White helped Roosevelt form the Progressive (Bull-Moose) Party in 1912 in opposition to the conservative forces surrounding incumbent Republican president William Howard Taft.
In 1924, angered by the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the state, he made an unsuccessful run for Kansas governor. William Allen White with his children, Bill and Mary, standing by his side in 1914. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society
Tragedy struck the family in 1921 when, at age 16, his daughter Mary was killed when she was brushed from a horse by a low-hanging limb of a tree. White later poured out his grief in an editorial in the Gazette. This Mary White editorial was his most widely published article he ever wrote. She lived on in U.S. school text books for over twenty years after her death.
William Allen White with his children, Bill and Mary, standing by his side in 1914. Photo courtesy Kansas Historical Society
In 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 GOP and wrote many editorials praising The New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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 entrance into World War II. White was fundamental in the formation of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, sometimes known as the White Committee.Sometimes referred to as the Sage of Emporia, he continued to write editorials for the Gazette until his death in 1944.
1 - From Emporia by Beverley Buller
|Interior of William Allen White house. Photo KSHS|