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|William Allen White
Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper publisher
William Allen White was born in Emporia, Kansas, on February 10, 1868, and grew up in El Dorado, Kansas. He attended the College of Emporia and University of Kansas, but did not receive a degree from either.
White began his newspaper career while at the University of Kansas, at the Lawrence Journal. He joined the El Dorado Republican in 1890, went to the Kansas City Journal in 1891, and worked as an editorial writer for the Kansas City Star from 1892 to 1895. He married Sallie Lindsay on April 27, 1893, and the couple moved to Emporia in 1895; they subsequently had two children, William Lindsay and Mary Katherine. In 1895, White borrowed $3,000, which he used to purchase the Emporia Gazette, on June 1, 1895.
At the time of its purchase, the Gazette was just another small-town newspaper, but White's editorials soon made the paper nationally known. In 1896, while waiting for a train to Colorado, White had an argument with a local supporter of the Populist Party, which was backing Democrat William Jennings Bryan for President. The argument so riled White that he stormed back to his office and wrote a scathing attack on Kansas Populists and how they were ruining the state that he called "What's the Matter with Kansas?". Having used his pen to vent his anger, White left the article on his desk and returned to the train station and left for Colorado. The piece was subsequently published in the Gazette, and then made its way to New York, where it was read by Mark Hanna, Republican national chairman, who distributed it nationally. Although Populists swept the statewide elections, Kansas presidential electors ended up casting their votes for Republican incumbent William McKinley. By the time White returned to Emporia he and his paper were famous.
White's fame as a publisher and editorial writer earned him many friends in the political arena, and between 1901 and 1909 he was a confidant of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1912, he formed the Kansas Republican League to oppose railroads, but then bolted from the party later that same year to help Roosevelt form the Progressive Party. He was a reporter at the Versailles Conference (which ended World War I) in 1919, and subsequently wrote editorials in support of President Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations.
In 1921, 17-year-old Mary Katherine White died after being seriously injured in a horseback riding accident. Her grief-stricken father's eulogy to her, "Mary White," was published in papers across the country. In 1922, White faced arrest and a possible jail sentence due to a public argument about labor rights and free speech with then Governor of Kansas Henry Allen. After the charges were dropped, White penned "To an Anxious Friend," for which he received a Pulitzer Prize in 1923. In 1924, he spoke out against the Ku Klux Klan by making its abolishment a centerpiece of his campaign for the governorship of Kansas. Although he lost the election, the publicity he generated led Kansas to become the first state in the country to outlaw the Klan.
During the 1920's, White was critical of the isolationism and conservatism of the Republican Party. Although he was a supporter of Republican presidential nominees Alf Landon in 1936 and Wendell Wilkie in 1940, he also wrote many editorials praising the social and economic reforms of President Franklin Roosevelt. After World War II began, White became chairman of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, and helped rally the public behind Roosevelt's program of extending aid to Great Britain.
William Allen White died in Emporia on January 29, 1944. The paper he made famous is still owned and operated by his descendants, and the home in which he and his wife raised their children was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971; the home was donated to the State of Kansas in 2001, and is now operated as the William Allen White House State Historic Site. The School of Journalism at the University of Kansas is named in White's honor, as is an annual children's book award.
In addition to his many editorials, White was also author of several books:
The Real Issue and Other Stories
The Old Order Changeth (1910)
White was awarded his second Pulitzer Prize for The Autobiography of William Allen White (1946), which was completed by his son.
This page was last updated on 01/29/2017.