These inscribed first-edition books speak volumes to the friendship between author Edna Ferber and Kansas editor William Allen White.
"I don't remember a day since then when I haven't been writing, in all sorts of circumstances, happy and wretched, ill or well, traveling or at home. Writing has brought me friends and fortune and happiness and world-wide interest. But to this day I regard myself as a blighted Bernhardt."
—Edna Ferber, from her autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure
A visitor to the William Allen White house in 1930 wouldn't have been surprised to find books by Edna Ferber in one of the home's many bookcases. The Whites were voracious readers and Ferber was a best-selling author of the day, penning such works as Dawn O'Hara, Show Boat, and Cimarron. He may not even have been surprised to see that all the books were inscribed by the author. After all, White was a well-known newspaper editor and counted many influential people among his acquaintances. But what almost certainly would have surprised the visitor was the familiarity with which Ferber addressed White and his wife. In Cimarron she wrote, "Dearest Sallie and Will—you're as much to blame for this as I am—more. Edna. New York, March 1930." Moreover, the novel Fanny Herself is dedicated to William Allen White. These personal notes suggest more than mere acquaintance.
A Close Friendship
The friendship between Edna Ferber and William Allen White began in 1912 when the George Matthew Adams Newspaper Syndicate hired them both to cover the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Ferber began her career as a reporter for the Appleton (Wisconsin) Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal, and had published a novel and several short fiction stories the previous year. White was the renowned editor of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, famous for a scathing editorial on Populist politics entitled, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" The Syndicate hired Ferber to cover the human-interest stories, while White was to focus on straight politics. In addition to White and Ferber, the Syndicate hired a third reporter and two political cartoonists to cover the events. Together they were known as "Adams' Trained Seals."
According to White, the Seals shared an easy camaraderie that he felt was "the comic relief of a nerve-tightening experience." No other friendship in the group matched that between White and Ferber. Despite a twenty-year difference in their ages, the two had much in common. Both grew up in small Midwestern towns and started their careers at the local newspaper office. Each was smart and had a keen wit and sense of humor to match. Ferber believed White "saw everything; he knew everyone; his wit was pungent, salty, homely, and sophisticated at the same time." White thought Ferber had an "eager spirit-- young, curious, demanding, understanding, honest, and wiser than a thousand years." Their mutual admiration made them instant friends.
Visits to Emporia
Over the next thirty years, the relationship remained strong. Ferber saw the Whites' Emporia home as a refuge where she could relax after the stress of completing a novel. In her autobiography, she declared, "When your world is awry and hope dead and vitality low and the appetite gone there is no ocean trip, no month in the country, no known drug equal to the reviving quality of twenty-four hours spent on the porch or in the sitting room of the White's house in Emporia."
One of the attractions of the home was stimulating conversation. During one visit, the Whites filled Ferber's head with stories of Oklahoma. The family had recently visited the state and found its history compelling. William Allen suggested that Ferber should make it the subject of a novel. She felt it was a man's tale and that White should write it himself; however, the seeds of the idea were planted. Ferber returned the next spring to let the White family take her to Oklahoma to begin researching the novel. Over a year later, ten days after the 1929 stock market crash, Ferber finished the novel Cimarron. The book told the story of a family who immigrated to Oklahoma from the east coast. It sold 200,000 copies. In 1930, Ferber sold the movie rights to RKO Pictures for a record-setting $125,000. White had inspired one of the author's greatest successes.
Edna Ferber sent each of the books shown here to William Allen White. All are signed and dated by her, and contain personal messages that reveal the connection between the famous author and the noted editor. White's family donated the books to the Kansas Museum of History in 2002.
Entry: Ferber Books
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: September 2007
Date Modified: December 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.