WHITE, WILLIAM ALLEN (1868-1944)
William Allen White, a dean of American journalism and social commentary through the first half of the twentieth century, was born in Emporia, Kansas, on February 10, 1868. Few at the start of the twenty-first century recall White beyond textbook references to his scathing editorial rebuke of Populism in 1896 entitled "What's the Matter with Kansas?" White was then a conservative Republican and the upstart publisher of the Emporia Gazette, which he had purchased in 1895. His editorial was picked up by the national party, which spread the word widely. White soon shifted from conservative to progressive politics. He became an intimate ally of Theodore Roosevelt and a national progressive spokesperson, and he remained in the liberal limelight for half a century.
White was a masterful wordsmith: his Gazette editorials were regularly picked up by newspapers, and his commentary and syndicated reporting were published in leading newspapers and magazines such as McClure's and the Saturday Evening Post. White wrote biographies of Calvin Coolidge (1925 and 1938) and Woodrow Wilson (1924) as well as fiction –his short stories and novels, published into the early 1920s, packed hefty social and political charges. A Certain Rich Man (1909) was the most successful, eventually selling close to 300,000 copies. White gained more fame and respect for two editorials written in the early twenties: "Mary White," which eulogized the tragic death of his spirited daughter in 1921, and "To an Anxious Friend," which won a Pulitzer Prize for its defense of free speech in 1922. Collections of his editorials in the Emporia Gazette were widely read and greatly influenced the next generation of journalists.
White always retained an active interest in politics. He joined Roosevelt in the 1912 Bull Moose revolt; he defended liberal Republican policies through the 1920s; he generally supported New Deal initiatives in the 1930s; and, while a staunch Republican, he prominently allied himself with Franklin Roosevelt to overcome isolationist sentiment in 1940–41 and chaired the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies.
White died in Emporia on January 29, 1944. He had remained a citizen of that town, but he traveled widely, and he was acknowledged as a national folk hero. White was a strong proponent of small-town values; he advocated the impression of those values upon an urbanindustrial America he enthusiastically embraced. His Emporia home is now a historic landmark.
Edward Gale Agran Wilmington College
Johnson, Walter. William Allen White's America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1947.
Johnson, Walter, and Alberta Pantle. "A Bibliography of the Published Works of William Allen White." Kansas Historical Quarterly 15 (1947): 22–41.
White, William Allen. The Autobiography of William Allen White. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1946.