William Allen White

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William Allen White (1868-1944) was America's most famous small-town editor and a leader of the Progressive movement.

Early career

White was born in Emporia, Kansas, Feb. 10, 1868. 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 attracted national attention with a scathing attack on William Jennings Bryan, the Democrats, and the Populists entitled "What's the Matter With Kansas?"[2] This editorial and "Mary White"--a beautiful tribute to his 17-year-old daughter on her death in 1921, portayer 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. [3]


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. During the 1920s, he was critical of both the isolationism and the conservatism of the Republican Party. In the next decade, 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. wneutral, 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


  • Agran, Edward Gale. "Too Good a Town": William Allen White, Community, and the Emerging Rhetoric of Middle America. 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


  1. See [1]
  2. See online edition
  3. Agran (1998)

See also