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William Allen White

William Allen White

Journalist and author.  Born: February 10, 1868, Emporia, Kansas.  Married: Sallie Lindsay April 27, 1893. Died: January 29, 1944, Emporia, Kansas.

William Allen White was born February 10, 1868, in Emporia, Kansas, to Allen White and Mary Ann (Hatten) White. The family soon moved to El Dorado. While a teenager, White worked as a press apprentice before attending the College of Emporia and the University of Kansas. He worked as an editorial writer for the Kansas City Star. On April 27, 1893, White married Sallie Moss Lindsay. The couple moved to Emporia in 1895 and White bought the Emporia Gazette. Here he would earn the nickname “The Sage of Emporia.”

White used the editorial format of his newspaper to share his views on topics of the time. His fiery editorial, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” published in 1896, attacked the Populist movement for its negative influence on the state and gained national attention. White would later become more sympathetic to the Populists’ viewpoints. It was at this time that White befriended future president Theodore Roosevelt. 

In 1899 the Whites moved into a home at 927 Exchange Street. Their children, William Lindsay was born in 1900. Their daughter Mary Katherine was born in 1904. In 1920 the family moved out of the house as it underwent renovation. Before the family could return home, their teenage daughter, Mary, died from injuries in a horseback riding accident. In his grief, White wrote a moving eulogy that was run in newspapers nationwide, and endures yet today.

Guests to the White family home included U.S. presidents and other well-known people of the day. Author Edna Ferber learned of Oklahoma’s land rush days during such a visit and in 1929 finished the novel Cimarron, based on the topic.

Photograph of William Allen White standing next to a Dodge automobile in front of the Emporia Gazette newspaper office during his campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, 1924

White’s editorial "To an Anxious Friend," a statement for free speech, earned him the 1923 Pulitzer Prize. White ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1924 based on an anti-Klan platform. The campaign did encourage Kansas to be the first state to outlaw the Klan.

In 1940 as the nation debated involvement in the war in Europe, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies was formed. William Allen White became the chair of the committee. “No other man in the country, I think, would have had the public confidence which would have enabled him to so quickly get together so large and responsible a body of the citizens,” wrote Marshall Stimpson.

White died January 29, 1944, in Emporia, after completing a chapter in his autobiography about Mary’s death. William Lindsay completed his father’s autobiography, which earned his second Pulitzer Prize. The Emporia Gazette continues to be operated by the White family. An annual children’s book award is presented in White’s name.

Sallie White continued to live in the home until her death in 1950. William Lindsay White and his family lived in the home for several years. In 1971 the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 2001 it was donated to the Kansas Historical Society, and is operated as Red Rocks State Historic Site.

Primary sources related to William Allen White in Kansas Memory

William Allen and Sallie White trading card

William Allen White trading card

Guest commentary on Kansas Public Radio: William Allen White

William Allen White Foundation documentary: William Allen White: What's the Matter with Kansas The documentary was directed by Kevin Willmott, Academy Award winning screenwriter and producer. On this page, we host both the complete, unedited Directors Cut version of the documentary and several excerpts on specific topics. The documentary is sponsored by the William Allen White Foundation, which was formed in 1946 to honor the legacy of Kansas’s foremost journalist. The mission of the Foundation is threefold: to preserve the name of William Allen White, to support journalism education at the University of Kansas, and to promote excellence in national and regional journalism.

- Excerpt on What's the Matter with Kansas from William Allen White: What's the Matter with Kansas

Entry: White, William Allen

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: December 2010

Date Modified: October 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.