Family and Legacy of William Allen White
William Lindsay White
William Lindsay White was the son of William Allen and Sallie White. W.L. had a sister, Mary, who was killed in a horse-riding accident at the age of 16.
Generally, William Allen White was loved by most Emporians, but W.L. was not. Why? He attended Harvard, but while studying there he picked up an English accent. W.L. also wore a monocle and was one of the best-dressed men in the nation – quite a sight among farmers in bib overalls and bankers in off-the-rack suits.
His wife, Kathrine, was a New York sophisticate who had been a fact-checker for Time magazine and an original staff member for Life magazine. She seemed to have an air of aloofness and was not the type to attend a quilting bee or gossip around the bridge table. She occasionally showed her compassionate side to others, especially when one of The Emporia Gazette staff was sick or in trouble.
Not only were W.L. and his wife created from a different mold than most in Emporia, their living arrangements also did not sit well with some community members. Though the couple maintained a residence in Emporia, they also had a brownstone in New York City in which they lived for half of the year.
It wasn’t just the couple’s lifestyle that aggravated those in Emporia. W.L. stirred up many battles with the city. For example, when the old courthouse needed repairs, the city decided to build a new one instead. W.L. led a counterattack to repair the old courthouse and lost. The county ended up with its present building. W.L. later angered the local chamber of commerce by waging a bitter fight against tax breaks given to companies that relocated to Emporia.
The one issue that made W.L. more enemies than any other was his resistance to urban renewal. He thought urban renewal was for the poor and not meant to provide new buildings for merchants in downtown Emporia. This battle split Emporia and made enemies of former friends throughout the town.
During World War II, W.L. was a prominent war correspondent, winning the Overseas Press Club. He penned a book, "What People Said," about the Kansas bond scandal and also wrote three other books that were made into major Hollywood movies. W.L. was also a radio correspondent for CBS News and wrote articles for Reader’s Digest.
Eventually, William Allen White persuaded his son to return to Emporia. After his father’s death in 1944, W.L. took over The Emporia Gazette where he was a fiercely independent editor. He redesigned the paper and won first place in a national design contest.
W.L. was also actively involved in politics. He served in the Kansas Legislature and was also an active supporter for the presidential campaign of friend Richard Nixon. When Bob Dole first ran for the United States Senate, W.L. threw a dinner party at the Broadview Hotel and brought most of the Eastern Kansas Republican leaders. The dinner was pivotal to Dole's success in his first campaign.
W.L. died in 1973. Just before his death, the Emporia City Commission honored him by renaming the old Civic Auditorium in his honor. After his death, a memorial fund was established in his name to plant more trees in Emporia. As of the year 2000, more than 300 trees had been planted with money from this fund. There is also a bronze bust and a sample of his writing in White Memorial Park at Sixth Avenue and Merchant Street in Emporia.
Kathrine White, who was never called by her first name, took over The Emporia Gazette after William Lindsay White’s death in 1973. She did not maintain the high profile that her husband did, preferring to work behind the scenes.
Mrs. White was a stickler for detail in the newsroom. As a former fact-checker for Time magazine, she knew what to watch out for. She knew the value of local news and prodded editors to send their reporters into the streets to interact with townspeople. Mrs. White also emphasized the importance of small towns nearby, such as Olpe and Neosho Rapids.
She also cared about the business side of the Gazette – more than her late husband. Mrs. White cracked down on frivolous spending and tended to catch errors made by the accountants.
In the community, Mrs. White was very active. She cared about Emporia’s beauty and was a prime mover in the tree planting project. Mrs. White once paid to plant 30 crabapple trees around Peter Pan Park Lake and watered them herself. She was also the force behind the restoration of the Gazette building, insisting on quality materials.
Mrs. White died in 1988, whereupon the Gazette was passed on to the third generation of Whites.