Kansas Authors Club


—by Gail L. Martin, state archivist

A speech delivered by Gail Martin, Kansas Authors Club State Archivist, at the Kansas Authors Club annual convention in Pittsburgh KS, October 1999, and distributed with the Kansas Authors Club Yearbook in 2000. 

Back in 1992 shortly after I joined the Kansas Authors club, I found a treasure at my local library in El Dorado. On the free book table was a stack of 30 Kansas Authors Club yearbooks. They had been given to the library by Charlotte Offen’s family. Charlotte’s granddaughter, also named Charlotte only we called her Chuck, was a high school friend of my youngest daughter and very proud of her writing grandmother. So I snatched up the box of freebie yearbooks and hurried home to find out more about this well-known El Dorado writer and the writing club I had just joined.

I soon discovered that Charlotte Offen had joined Kansas Authors Club in 1950 and retained her membership for 31 years. In 1955 she became state fiction department leader and was elected vice president of District 5 the next year and president in 1957.

After serving as the state recording secretary for a couple of years, Charlotte was elected state president in 1963 and was in charge of the 60th annual convention the next October at the Jayhawk Hotel in Topeka with a club membership that had swelled to 500 members.

A couple of years later the Kansas City Star published a lengthy article that Charlotte wrote about the first State Capital at the now extinct town of Pawnee. She wrote "Bethlehem Cradle Song" and it was doing well in 1965. While all this was going on she edited the Social page for the El Dorado Times 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. No wonder Chuck was proud.

And that was just the start of my interest in the history of Kansas Authors Club and its members. In those old yearbooks I learned this prestigious writing club began as a small gathering of writing friends in Topeka that started meeting together in November 1903 for inspiration and support. They called their group simply the Authors Club. In the following year on January 4th the group took time to formulate and adopt a brief set of rules.

Dr. Henry W. Roby
served as president the first three years. He and his wife were charter members among many famous writers. You will recognize many of the names of those thirty early members.

Eugene F. Ware,
better known as Ironquill, unofficial poet laureate of Kansas, was the second president of Kansas Authors Club.

Tom Mc Neal,
a noted journalist, participated for many years. I lost track of him after the 1944 yearbook.

Arthur Capper,
Long time U.S. senator from Kansas, and his wife Florence were among the many husband and wife writing teams in those early years.

William Connelley
was our third president in 1908, and at the 1912 banquet he related to the club the results of his research of the Wyandotte Indians. William was adopted by the Wyandotte Indian tribe because of his published books on their history, language, and legendary lore.

Margaret Hill McCarter,
my favorite author of all times, was also a charter member. In 1913 Margaret became the first woman president of Kansas Authors Club. I have a collection of her books that were published around the turn of the century. I love to read and reread her stories because of the Kansas history she used in each.

For instance her book The Wall of Men takes place in and around Douglas County just before the Civil War when my husband’s ancestors were living near Black Jack. She features the local ‘hole in the rock’ near Baldwin that I had heard so much about from my aunts and uncles who spent many fun hours there while they were attending Baker University in the 20’s.

This book The Master’s Degree is written using the Winfield area as the locality and Southwestern college is featured prominently in the story only it is called Sunrise College. The local whirlpool on the bend of the Walnut River plays an important part in the story. Some of her other books are Widening Water and her most famous one, Price of the Prairie.

William Allen White
I’m sure every Kansan remembers the famous editor of the Emporia Gazette. Mr. White joined Kansas Authors Club in 1905 and was a member until his death in 1944. His books are collector’s items, including these two: In the Heart of a Fool, pub. in 1918, and In our Town, pub. in 1908, that are part of my collection. Others are A Man From Kansas, A Certain Rich Man, to name a few. I just discovered another book of White’s titled The Real Issue. It is a collection of short stories published in 1897. I was able to read these little stories on the internet in the Kansas Collection. I printed one story called "A Story of The Highlands."

The Kansas Collection is doing a wonderful service. I might not own every book I would like to, but I can enjoy them through the internet on their web page. [The Kansas Collection: Letting voices from the past be heard is an on-line collection of early materials about Kansas history and literature, not related to the Kansas Authors Club Collection in the Kansas Collection of the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas.]

Membership and officers rosters through the years list many well-known politicians. I will recall just a few.

Kansas Governor Samuel J. Crawford, who published Kansas in the Sixty’s [1860s], was elected state president in 1912, and he gave a talk "The Kansas of Long Ago" that year at the convention. After his talk the toastmaster referred to the fact that just 50 years before, Samuel Crawford was one of the noted fighting colonels from Kansas in the Civil War.

Other governors were Henry Allen, Edward W. Hoch, [Arthur Capper and Payne Ratner]. Lieutenant Governor William Yost Morgan [was a member].

We had Senators Dumont Smith, [U. S.] Arthur Capper, George P. Morehouse, and others [politicians] as members.

The roster of member includes other professionals, judges, and many professors associated with universities all over Kansas. The club has also been represented by noted medical people, as Margaret Nelson of Wichita mentions in her story "Our Debt to Kansas Writers" that was published in the Kanhistique magazine, January 1994. Margaret wrote, "Many talented people were members, including Karl A. Menninger, noted psychiatrist and writer, and Dr. Arthur E. Hertzler of Halstead, famous physician and author of Horse and Buggy Doctor."

Ministers are sprinkled liberally through the years, including Kansas’s most famous minister, Charles Sheldon who wrote In His Steps that became a best seller. This novel can be found in the Kansas Collection on the internet also. I printed off the flyleaf and index to the chapters. When I have time I intend to go back and read it. Sheldon also wrote Howard Chase, Red Hill, and possibly others.

The club’s membership during its 95 years has been rounded out by writers like you and me. Proprietors of small businesses, newspaper columnists, reporters for local organizations, fathers, grandfathers, teachers, housewives, mothers, grandmothers, students, and those of us who fit no certain category but write because we are compelled to by some inner urge. Many hid their writing skills under a bushel basket, thinking, "Who would want to read my scribbles?" If nothing else the archives of Kansas Authors Club proves that conception wrong.

For instance, the book list The Kansas Authors Club Collection in the Kansas Collection of Spencer Research Library at Kansas University records 26 books by Kathryn Croan Cooper of rural Kincaid, an all time record of books published by a Kansas Authors Club member. ‘Kitty’ writes my kind of books, memoirs with pictures, prose and poetry all combined to tell the trials and tribulations of a farm wife, and she is working on her 27th book and prays her health will allow her to finish it. My congratulations go to Kathryn. As archivist I had the pleasure of reading many of her books like this one, Little Schools and Churches (and other places) and hope to meet her some day.

Next I discovered Sophia Molk of El Dorado, who joined Kansas Authors Club in 1939 and became a life member. She contributed poems every year to the club yearbook until 1967. In 1942 Sophia influenced our club to dedicate one page of the yearbook to members who were in service for their country. Sophia published five books of poetry and was considered one of Kansas’ outstanding poets. Some of her best poems that I have enjoyed are in this book Prairie Trails that was published in 1937 when I was only 13 year old. Lucky me, I found two of Mrs. Molk’s books at a garage sale. Another life member, Miss Alice Margaret Huggins of Topeka, was a Christian missionary in China in 1947. She finally arrived back in the states in 1952 after being detained by the Red China government for 16 months. What experiences she had endured and could write about! Archive records show Alice was a member from 1946 till 1971.

Some long-time members of District 3 might remember way back in 1952. That was when Mrs. Hazel Kelso of Havana sang her newest song lyrics "Moonlight on the Kansas Prairie" at their spring meeting in the little town of Tyro. Miss Mattie Broughton was hostess for the meeting at the Methodist Church. What a small world! I have the history of that church written by Mattie in my family history files. My father’s family, the McGhee’s, were members of that church in the early 1900’s.

You’ll never guess what else I found in the archives

Three years after the Authors Club was formed they changed the name to the Kansas Authors Club.

It was in 1907 that the Kansas Authors Club decided to start collecting books written by members, and we are still adding to this collection each year. We have a total of 517 books in the collection. It is called the Kansas Authors Club Collection in the Kansas Collection, and it is kept in the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Check the book list on the archives table in the bookroom. We are trying to get a copy of every book authored by Kansas Authors Club members to be preserved in this collection. Please help with this long-time project.

The 1906 convention and 3rd annual banquet was held on Valentine’s Day, a fitting setting for the romance writers.

In 1908 departments of History, Poetry, Fiction, Science & Philosophy were formed.

In 1910 the club decided instead of an annual banquet they would have a summer picnic. So on July 9th writers [from] across the state gathered for a feast on Dr. Roby’s lawn in Topeka.

For the first time in 1911, Kansas Authors Club elected a vice-president for each of the congressional districts of the state. This was the beginning of the various districts that have changed somewhat through the years to our present seven districts.

Kansas Authors Club made plans in 1915 to publish an annual volume of selected writings of the members. I’m so glad that happened, it is a good feeling to see your short prose or poetry in print. This is the only place some members can share their writings and experiencing the thrill of becoming published.

By 1917 the club was compiling writing biographies of Kansas Authors Club’s authors, since it seemed impossible to collect everyone’s books.

Did you know that back in 1918 Kansas Authors Club dues were really most outrageous? That was the year the club started charging a whole dollar a year for membership. The dues even doubled to $2.00 the following year.

I found that our writing contest began in 1920 with a $100.00 prize for the best in poetry & in short story. That would sure encourage some of us that never get around to entering the contest.

In 1921 there were 247 women and 287 men on the membership roster for a grand total of 534 members. A definite increase in members since the first thirty-five writing friends began with 10 women and 25 men in 1903.

That same year the poetry judge had to read a poem that was really a volume of 300 pages! not words but pages. Then the following year one poetry entry was a group of poems that included 200 lines, under 11 subtitles with one general title, very ambitious writing, don’t you think? The year book reported that neither were winners. The winner of the $100.00 prize that year was a poem with only 80 words called "Goodbye To My Mother" and was probably the biggest price per word ever paid for any production of Kansas literature at that time. Just a couple of years later guidelines were added to the contest.

It was decided by the club in 1922 to add to the various writing departments. That year the departments and leaders were:

In 1922 it was noted in the yearbook that from over 100 poems entered in the poetry contest, all the winners including two women had served overseas during the World War.

In 1923 Kansas Authors Club had an exhibit of books at the Kansas Free Fair in Topeka that was viewed by over 50,000 fair goers. It was called the "KANSAS BOOKSHELF" and included a collection of Dr. Charles Sheldon’s manuscripts, books etc. Part of the exhibit was furnished by Capper Publishing, and individual books from Kansas authors from 1850 to the current year were on display.

In one yearbook I found this interesting story about Mrs. A. B. Stewart of Hays, who wrote a juvenile book for girls. She related this tale: "My manuscript lay in an eastern publishing firm for five months then it was returned because it was ‘too short.’ Then the editor of a monthly magazine considered it for ten weeks and returned it, because it was ‘too long.’ So now you know the long and the short of my year’s literature labor," Mrs. Stewart concluded. Many of us know that feeling.

The Kansas Authors Bulletin, as our yearbook was called in 1930, proudly carried this title, SOUVENIR POETICAL YEAR BOOK. This book is just that full of members’ poems. In the back of this unique yearbook is a listing of Life Membership Patrons, who paid $25.00 instead of paying each year. They are alphabetically listed under the name of their hometown. The rest of the membership were just listed alphabetically with addresses. June 2, 1930, the club gave and I quote from the 1930 yearbook, "A splendid radio program over WIBW-Cappers Publication broadcasting service. It was in honor and memory of the 20 Civil War Veterans, who have been members of KANSAS AUTHORS CLUB since it’s beginning 26 years before."

In 1940 the club produced a QUOTATION YEAR BOOK, a real treasure to anyone who owns one. One quotation caught my eye. It was by Mrs. Jonathan Carter of Wilson, Ks. "Today is the realization of our dreams of yesterday." This yearbook has 74 pages of this sort of writings.

Jumping to 1963, the convention honored the 37 state presidents that had guided the Kansas Authors Club for the past 59 years. There were seven past presidents in attendance. One of the seven was Tillie Karns Newman of Coffeyville in district three, who served as state president in 1947. She was recognized for her story of the Osage Indians, "The Black Dog Trail." (Not in Kansas Authors Club Collection in the Kansas Collection at Spencer Library.)

One of the interesting features of the yearbooks in the 60’s and 70’s has been the activities of members. 1969 contributed six full pages to how, where and when the members were being published. In 1979 this feature was expanded to nine pages and compiled by districts. Also this same year district presidents’ pictures were displayed with their reports.

For many years the Kansas Authors Club’s archives were taken care of by a chairman and a committee member from each district. In 1970 there were seven districts and Donald Coffin was chairman. In 1973 it was approved by the club that the office of archivist be made permanent and appointed by the state president.

Lola A. (Harper) Crum of Dodge City was the first to be appointed. In 1982 Virginia Reichart of Valley Falls, a past state president, volunteered to fill the office of archivist due to illness of Lola, but asked to be replaced the following year, and Jean Evans of Wichita was appointed. I also noticed the member roster is listed by districts and a count of each district members is recorded in 1983.

In 1988 Elinor Elliott of Clay Center was next to be appointed archivist. During Elinor’s eight years as archivist she compiled a brief early history of the club. She served until 1996 when I was asked to carry on. What great big shoes I have had to try and fill. But thanks to the hard work from the above former archivists my work is easier, and it has been a real pleasure to be your archivist.

(Provided by State Archivist Gail Martin, who lives in El Dorado, Kansas. Send e-mail to Gail)

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