William Allen White

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William Allen White
William Allen White.jpg

Born February 10, 1868
Emporia, Kansas
Died January 29, 1944
Emporia, Kansas
Spouse Sallie Lindsay

William Allen White (February 10, 1868 – January 29, 1944) was the editor of the Emporia Gazette in Emporia, Kansas from 1895 until his death, as well as a best-selling author. He gained fame in 1896 for his attacks on the far-left Populists. After 1901 he was a leading supporter of Theodore Roosevelt. White remained devoted to the conservative virtues he lovingly described in small town America. He was America's most famous small-town editor and a nationally respected spokesman for the Progressive movement.

Early life

White was born and lived nearly his entire life in Emporia, Kansas. While attending the University of Kansas (1886-1890) he worked for the Lawrence Journal.


In 1890 he joined the El Dorado Republican, in 1891 went to the Kansas City Journal, and between 1892 and 1895 worked for the Kansas City Star. In 1895 White became owner and editor of the Emporia Gazette. With his warm sense of humor, a facile editorial pen, and a commonsense approach to life, he soon became known throughout the country.[1] His Gazette editorials were widely reprinted; he wrote syndicated stories on politics; and he published many books, including biographies of Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge. In 1896, White married Sallie Lindsay.[2]

What's the matter with Kansas?" (1896)

In 1896 White attracted national attention with a scathing attack on William Jennings Bryan, the Democrats, and the Populists entitled "What's the Matter With Kansas?"[3] It was a satirical attack that blamed the crackpot Populist leadership for the state's declining population and prestige,.[4]

The Republican Party distributed millions of copies of White's editorial. In 2004, liberal author Thomas Frank wrote a bestselling book with the same title that bitterly attacked conservatives and Republicans for their contributions to Kansas politics.[5] (Frank maintains that by supporting a party which he claims is beholden to the richest classes, the working class of Kansas is voting against its own economic interests when it supports the Republican party.)


Between 1901 and 1909, White was a confidant of President Theodore Roosevelt, popularized the aims of progressive Republicans in McClure's magazine, and managed political campaigns in Kansas. Then in 1912 he bolted the Republicans to help Roosevelt found the Progressive Party.

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. In the early months of 1919, Woodrow Wilson, at the suggestion of Colonel House,[6] proposed a meeting with the Bolsheviks at Prinkipo Island off the coast of Turkey.[7] As emissaries of the United States, Wilson chose the radical George D. Herron[8][9] and William Allen White.[10] The Prinkipo meeting was ultimately a failure, as was the follow-up to it, the Bullitt Mission.

During the 1920s, he was critical of both the isolationism and the conservatism of the Republican Party. In 1924, White ran for governor of Kansas as an independent on an anti-Ku Klux Klan platform, and came in third.[11]

In the 1930s, although he was an early supporter of the Republican presidential nominees, Alf Landon in 1936, and Wendell Willkie in 1940, White wrote many editorials praising the social and economic reforms of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After World War II started, while the U.S. was still neutral, 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 Britain even at the risk of war with Germany. On January 29, 1944, White died in Emporia, widely hailed as a symbol of the greatness of small-town America

Small town values


The 1896 editorial and "Mary White"—a beautiful tribute to his 17-year-old daughter on her death in 1921, portrayed her as an anti-flapper—were his best-known writings. Locally he was known as the greatest booster for Emporia.

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. 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 seemed to see the country uniting behind old ideals by 1940 in the face of foreign threats.[12]

White sought to encourage a viable moral order that would provide the nation with a sense of community. White recognized the powerful forces of corruption but called for slow, remedial change having its origin in the middle class. 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.[13]



  • Agran, Edward Gale. "Too Good a Town": William Allen White, Community, and the Emerging Rhetoric of Middle America. (1980) 240 pp.
  • Hinshaw, David. A Man from Kansas: The Story of William Allen White (2005) 332 pp excerpt and text search
  • McKee, John DeWitt. William Allen White: Maverick on Main Street (1975) 264 pages
  • Griffith, Sally Foreman. Home Town News: William Allen White and the Emporia Gazette (1989) online edition

Primary sources

  • White, William Allen. "What's the matter with Kansas?" (1896) online edition
  • White, William Allen. In Our Town 1906 - 369pp online edition
  • White, William Allen. A Certain Rich Man (1909) online edition
  • White, William Allen. The Old Order Changeth: A View of American Democracy (1910) 266pp online edition
  • White, William Allen. Woodrow Wilson: The Man, His Times and His Task (1924) online edition
  • White, William Allen. A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge (1938) online edition
  • White, William Allen. Defense for America (1940) 205pp
  • White, William Allen. The Autobiography of William Allen White (1946; 2nd ed. 1990) 669 pages
  • White, William Allen. Masks in a Pageant 566pp
  • White, William Allen. Selected Letters of William Allen White, 1899-1943 (1947), 460pp Edited by Walter Johnson

External links