Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

Biographies

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

Jane and Goodman Ace were partners in creating laughter. The team started a local daily radio show in 1930 that was so successful that it was picked up CBS and NBC and broadcast across the country. Goodman moved on to become one of the highest paid comedy writers for many of the big name stars of radio and television.

Author: 
David Conrads

For most of his 23-year baseball career, Newt Allen was an integral component of the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the most storied teams in the history of Negro league baseball. A solid hitter and stellar defensive player, Allen was arguably the best second baseman in black baseball during the 1920s and early 1930s.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

One snowy December night as he was selling newspapers on the corner of 9th and Walnut to help feed his family, a young, entranced Barney Allis followed a wealthy stranger for several blocks simply to warm himself in the man’s aura of security and success. This brief, waking dream served as a touchstone for Barney Allis throughout his Dickensian childhood, and its importance to him persisted throughout his years as Kansas City’s premier hotelier.

Author: 
Mary I. Beveridge
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Relatively little is known about the life of Saturnino Alvarado, but through his legal fight to ensure that his two children and another, Marcos de Leon, would be admitted into Argentine High School in the fall of 1926, his impact on the lives of Hispanic Americans in the Kansas City area was profound and enduring. Alvarado was born November 29, 1883, in Michoacan, Mexico, to Justo and Juanita Chavez Alvarado. He was a shoe cobbler and established a shoe repair shop in the Argentine District of Kansas City, Kansas, after his family immigrated to the United States. When his first wife Concepcion Franco died, he remarried Guadalupe Araujo.

Author: 
David Conrads

For a half a century, Rev. Samuel W. Bacote was the pastor of Second Baptist Church, one of the oldest and largest black churches in Kansas City. The son of former slaves, Bacote was also a scholar, a writer, and a nationally prominent figure in the Baptist church.

Author: 
David Conrads

Tom Baird was associated for many years, and in many capacities, with the Kansas City Monarchs—as a booking agent, officer, co-owner and, finally, as sole owner of one of the most successful and innovative teams in the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues. His alliance with J. L. Wilkinson, the team’s founder, lasted almost the entire span of the Negro leagues, from the formation of the first viable league of all-black teams until the demise of black baseball following the integration of the major leagues.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

H. Roe Bartle was an expansive man. Everything about him was unrestrained: his booming voice, his adherence to the Boy Scout code of conduct, and the enthusiasm with which he served as mayor. Bartle's service with the Boy Scouts took him and his family to Wyoming, St. Joseph, and finally here as the Executive of the Kansas City Area Council in 1929. His accomplishments included establishing the elite Tribe of Mic-O-Say in 1925 and acquiring the Ozark acreage for Camp Osceola (now named the Roe Bartle Reservation) in 1929. Under Bartle, nicknamed "Chief," Boy Scouting in the area flourished and earned nationwide recognition.

Author: 
David Conrads

In the rich and celebrated musical history of Kansas City, few individuals are more closely associated with hard-swinging, riff-based Kansas City jazz style than Count Basie. The Count Basie Orchestra became both the best known and the longest-lived big band to emerge from this region, and Basie made Kansas City jazz nationally and internationally renowned.

Author: 
Kimberly R. Riley

Credited as a founder of the American Royal Horse Show, Tom Bass was lauded for his showmanship skills. For a half century, Bass trained thousands of horses to prance, bow, curtsy, dance, do the cakewalk, and dozens of other tricks.

Author: 
Nancy J. Hulston

Albert I. Beach served as mayor of Kansas City from 1924 to 1930. Under his administration, a new city charter was voted in that established a city manager form of government for Kansas City.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

Born in Quebec, Alfred Benjamin and his family moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he began working as a clerk at the Abernathy Furniture Company. In 1880, the company opened a branch store in Kansas City and the family moved here, where Benjamin soon became first vice-president of the company.

Author: 
Mary Frances Ivey
University of Kansas

Thomas Hart Benton, one of the leaders of the Regionalist movement in American art, was a prolific painter, muralist, draughtsman, and sculptor from childhood until the end of his life in 1975. Today he is best known for his realist depictions of American life, which, in his own time, were perceived as directly opposed to modernist movements cultivated in Europe. His paintings, largely vignettes of daily life and ordinary rural characters, were simultaneously praised for their frankness and criticized for their gritty representations of American culture and history.

Author: 
David Conrads

Charles Binaggio was a gangster who fought his way to the top of the underworld heap more through politics than crime. A trim, well-dressed "man of lethal calm," as he was once described, Binaggio was a lieutenant in the political machine of Tom Pendergast and had close ties to crime boss Johnny Lazia. When Pendergast fell from power in 1939 and his organization started to unravel, Binaggio emerged as the new leader of the city’s underworld and ran much of Kansas City in the 1940s.

Author: 
Janice Lee

For 30 years, Annie Ridenbaugh Bird enjoyed the conventionally genteel life of a prominent merchant’s wife. The last 17 years of her life were far less traditional. She served as president of the city’s largest commercial establishment, the Emery, Bird, Thayer & Co. She is believed to be the first Kansas City woman to hold such a position.

Author: 
Mary I. Beveridge
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Social worker, teacher, pastor, scholar, civic leader—if ever Kansas City produced a Renaissance man it was the Reverend John B. Bisceglia. He was born Giovanni Battista Bisceglia on November 1, 1891, in Foggia province of the Puglia region of Italy.

Author: 
Mary I. Beveridge
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Lucile Bluford has been called the “Matriarch” and the “Conscience” of Kansas City.  Miss Bluford, as she was always known, was a pioneer, a crusader for equal rights for African Americans and women, but above all she was a journalist, dedicated to getting the news out.

Author: 
Jeremy Drouin
Missouri Valley Special Collections

In October 1894 in the midst of a nationwide depression, Edwin Brigham, a 20-year old printer from Kirksville, Missouri, stepped off a train in Kansas City hoping to find work. Little did he know that this would mark the beginning of a 52-year career in social service helping thousands of homeless men and women in Kansas City. From 1898 to 1950, “Terry” as his close friends knew him, was superintendent of the Helping Hand Institute. Housed in a former saloon at 4th and Main, the institute provided food, lodging, and work for homeless and destitute men on the city’s North End.

Author: 
David Conrads

Girard Bryant was a highly respected teacher and school administrator in Kansas City for 45 years. As a community leader, he took an active part in major social issues of the day, particularly education, race relations, health care and law enforcement. Bryant came to Kansas City in 1926 to teach at Western Baptist Seminary and later at the Kansas Vocational School in Topeka. He became a teacher in the Kansas City School District in 1930 and remained with the district until 1964. During his long tenure he filled many positions, including teacher and vice-principal at Lincoln High School, and dean of Lincoln Junior College.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

On March 24, 1935, Annie Chambers, a former prostitute and Kansas City brothel owner, passed away at the age of 92. By the time of her death, Chambers's own life had roughly paralleled Kansas City's untamed years of the late 19th century, which were followed by extensive modernization and reform efforts in the early 20th century.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Dr. Logan Clendening, perhaps the most quotable figure in Kansas City history, taunted those of his readers who kept to strict diet and exercise regimens.  “What’s the use?” Clendening wrote.  “By giving yourself infinite trouble you may prolong your life perhaps a fortnight.  Why not enjoy things as you go along?” 

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

Richard T. Coles was a Kansas City teacher and principal who not only taught his pupils, but introduced new methods to educate students. Coles initiated the idea in Kansas City of teaching African American grade school children lifetime job skills. His concept conceived a program of industrial training that began providing instructions in skilled fields for children in the fifth grade that continued through high school.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

According to her father, R. A. Long, Loula Long Combs’ first sentence was, "Please buy me a pony." Breeding and training horses became Loula's life-long passion. She entered her first horse show in 1896 at a fair in Kansas City’s Fairmount Park. For almost 65 years, her horses won blue ribbons in shows throughout this country, Canada, and England. She won the most ribbons at Kansas City’s American Royal, where she made a yearly appearance well into her 80s. To audiences’ delight, Loula always wore a spectacular hat as she drove her carriage around the show ring.

Author: 
Barbara Magerl

In the early, post-Pendergast period in Kansas City government, selection of the city's first professional city manager was critical. The special person chosen, L.P. "Perry" Cookingham, became the "czar of Kansas City." Born in Chicago, Cookingham had worked his way up from being a railroad surveyor in Illinois to being president of the International City Managers Association. A Reader's Digest article about him led to his being chosen from 50 candidates for the job in Kansas City.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

From the mid-1930s until the 1960s, hundreds of Kansas City Catholics saw Dante Cosentino’s paintings of angels and saints each Sunday. Cosentino was an ecclesiastic artist who adorned the interior walls of these churches with his frescos.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

Joan Crawford, often called Hollywood’s most durable star, was born Lucille LaSueur to divorced parents in 1908 in San Antonio, Texas. When her mother married Henry Cassin, she was renamed Billie Cassin. Around 1917 her family moved to Kansas City, where Billie attended Scarritt Elementary School before she enrolled in St. Agnes Academy as a work student.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Kansas City, like the rest of the United States after World War I, heard its returning African American soldiers speak out for the democratic ideals they had been fighting for overseas, and perhaps none so exemplify the activism of this period as Nelson and James Crews.  Vocal in print and at the podium, publisher Nelson Crews laid out an agenda of equality throughout the 1910s and early 1920s, while his brother James established one of Kansas City’s most important African American institutions, and integrated an organization previously closed to African American workers.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

Elizabeth Bruce Crogman, who in 1925 became founder of Kansas City’s Florence Home for Colored Girls to house unwed African American women who were pregnant, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 1, 1894. The home functioned as the counterpart to similar organizations that served the area's white residents but denied care to young black women.

Author: 
David Conrads

Minnie Lee Crosthwaite filled many roles during her 90 years: teacher, wife, mother, business woman, and community leader. She is remembered best as a pioneering social worker, a vocation she did not enter into until the second half of her long and fruitful life.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

If you have ever admired the towers, tiles, and colors of the Country Club Plaza, you have appreciated the early work of Edward Buehler Delk, an architect who came to Kansas City in 1920 to help design the Plaza.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

More than 5,000 homes in dozens of neighborhoods bear the mark of Napoleon Dible, one of Kansas City’s earliest and most expansive developers. For more than 50 years, Dible methodically platted and developed tracts of land into the city’s early suburbs.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

Walter S. Dickey was a turn-of-the-century urban pioneer. He arrived in Kansas City in 1885 and devoted himself to several fledgling businesses.

Dickey was born and educated in Toronto, the oldest of 11 children. His mother descended from the Mayflower pilgrims and his father was an Irish immigrant. After joining his family in Kansas City at the age of 23, he immediately became a United States citizen and got involved in the Republican Party. Under Dickey’s chairmanship of the Missouri Republican state central committee, Herbert S. Hadley was elected Missouri’s first Republican governor since the Civil War.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1901, Walter Elias Disney moved with his family to Marceline, Missouri, at the age of five. In 1910 or 1911 (sources differ), the Disney family moved to Kansas City, where Walt helped his father and brother deliver Kansas City Star newspapers at 3:30 a.m.

Author: 
Janice Lee

It is safe to say that during the nearly 50 years she worked there, Carolyn Doughty was the Women’s City Club. Her role far exceeded her modest title of "executive secretary."

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Kansas City’s Dubinsky Brothers were talented performers and innovative entrepreneurs. Their story illustrates the changing trends of popular entertainment in twentieth-century America. Maurice, Edward, and Barney Dubinsky would move from a life of traveling tent shows to the silver screen, building one of Kansas City’s largest companies along the way, and spawning the career of a Broadway legend.

Author: 
David Conrads

One of the top catchers in the Negro baseball leagues, Frank Duncan spent most of his playing career with the Kansas City Monarchs. He was the first-string catcher during the Monarchs' glory years of the 1920s, when the team won three consecutive league championships and beat the Hilldale Club of Philadelphia in the first Negro World Series. He was their playing manager for most of the 1940s, when the Monarchs were, once again, one of the premier teams in black baseball.

Author: 
Janice Lee

Rarely has a Kansas City couple made such a mark on the community as Henry and Phoebe Ess. The Ess home attracted an amazing assortment of people, from saloon-smashing celebrity Carry Nation to grateful ex-convicts.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

On November 8, 1917, Mary Tiera Farrow and 20 other female lawyers formed the Women's Bar Association of Kansas City. Farrow was one of the few women in the United States who successfully practiced law in the early 1900s, overcoming the discrimination women faced in the legal field and society generally. Having been denied the professional benefits of any existing bar association, she led a group of 20 women in establishing their own bar in Kansas City. It was just one of many pioneering acts that Farrow undertook for herself and for women's rights at large.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

In the depths of chronic illness and with her family’s finances in ruin, Myrtle Fillmore discovered an affirmation upon which she based the rest of her life: “I am a child of God, and therefore I do not inherit sickness.” Initially skeptical of his wife’s epiphany, but convinced by her dramatically improved health, Charles Fillmore applied his business savvy and Midwestern sensibility to articulate the couple’s spiritual lessons, and the pair established Unity, a global movement of communal prayer.

Charles Sherlock Fillmore was born on August 22, 1854, in the wilderness of pre-statehood Minnesota, where his father was a trader to the Chippewa Indians. His frontier childhood left him with a damaged body: when he dislocated his hip in an ice skating accident, a variety of primitive remedies were applied to combat an ensuing bone infection, and he struggled with pain and difficulty walking throughout his life. Charles left the log cabin for town as soon as he had a chance, moving to St. Cloud in his early teens to work as a printer’s apprentice, then as a clerk in a grocery store and bank.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

If not for a five-year period battle with tuberculosis, Richard Fowler, one of the Kansas City Star’s most prolific writers, might have spent his life as a chicken farmer. A five-year period of enforced bed rest began Fowler’s writing career in his early 20s.

Ada Crogman Franklin was born in Atlanta, Georgia, one of eight children of Dr. and Mrs. William H. Crogman. Her father, one of the distinguished scholars of the African American race, was professor of Latin and Greek at Clark University for 37 years and then became the first African American president of Clark, serving for seven years. Mrs. Franklin, along with her two sisters and five brothers, grew up on the Clark University campus.

Chester Arthur Franklin founded The Call newspaper in May 1919. It was owned and operated by him until his death on May 7, 1955.

Born on June 7, 1880, Chester Franklin was the only child of George F. Franklin, a barber, and Clara Belle Williams Franklin, a teacher. He was born at the time when African Americans were moving out of Texas in search of better educational opportunities for their children.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

Friz Freleng admitted that he rather looked like his cartoon creation, 'Yosemite Sam.' "I'm small and I used to have a red mustache," he said. As the head animator and director of the Warner Brothers' cartoon department, Freleng was responsible for the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoon series. He had a hand in bringing to life Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Sylvester Puddy Cat, Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzalez, and a cast of cartoon characters that brought laughs to movie audiences around the world.

Author: 
Janice Lee

When Carolyn Farwell Fuller first entered the education field, it was as a schoolteacher—the highest position a female educator could attain in the early 1900s. She surely couldn’t have predicted her groundbreaking role as the first female to serve on the Kansas City Board of Education.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Urged to run for mayor during the final years of the Pendergast era, John B. Gage reportedly called his candidacy “the silliest thing in the world.” But the qualities that made him such an unlikely choice—his distaste for politics and devotion to ethical, transparent city government—made him an ideal leader for a generation of Kansas Citians who had come to expect the worst from their elected officials.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

Dorothy Gallagher was born on January 8, 1894, to a wealthy Kansas City family. Not content to live quietly in affluence, Gallagher gained interest in a Catholic women’s group called the Agnes Ward Amberg Club, which carried out social work in Mexican communities in the west side of the city.

Author: 
Nancy J. Hulston

A war hero, a lawyer, and a politician, Ruby Dwight Garrett led one of the last attempts to breathe life back into the mortally wounded Pendergast machine after Boss Tom Pendergast was imprisoned in the United States Penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

Catherine Hale was determined that her brother would not miss out on everyday pleasures simply because he was blind. She taught him to play cards and dance well. When he joined The Workers for the Blind of Greater Kansas City in 1911, she accompanied him to his meetings. Her lifelong devotion to helping Kansas City’s blind citizens had begun.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

J. C. Hall’s story is a Kansas City legend. The young man arrived here from Nebraska with a box of postcards to sell. With good ideas, good luck and hard work, his business grew to become Hallmark Cards, the world’s largest greeting card company.

Author: 
Barbara Magerl

The wife of Herbert F. Hall, one of the country’s leading grain exporters, lived in a 1913 mansion on 15 acres south of the Plaza. Their home, named Linda Hall, was designed by the architect who designed the Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Art. The Hall home included many luxury components from Europe.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Whether strolling the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art or campus of the University of Kansas, appreciating the layout of Mission Hills and the Country Club District, or paying respects at Forest Hill Cemetery, most Kansas Citians have experienced designs of Sid J. and S. Herbert Hare. As the work of this father and son evolved from engineering to urban planning, their careers reflected the development of the modern American approach to building great cities.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

Jean Harlow captured movie audiences’ hearts from her first major film. Her acting, a combination of sensuousness, vulnerability, and even naiveté made her a star. Although she died in 1937, she remains a legend and a film icon.

Born Harlean Carpenter in Kansas City, she attended the Barstow School, located on Westport Road. Her mother’s ambition to be a movie actress led her to divorce Harlean’s father and move to Hollywood, where Harlean was enrolled in the Hollywood School for Girls. Harlean’s mother remarried and they moved to Chicago, where Harlean attended high school. At age 16 Harlean eloped with the son of a millionaire, but the marriage ended a year and a half later. While Harlean was visiting a friend in Hollywood, she met film director Hal Roach, who put her in his silent comedies. It was at this time that she changed her name to Jean Harlow.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

A "Renaissance man" is defined as one who has had a broad education, acquired profound knowledge, has a proficiency in a wide range of fields, and benefits his community. Henry C. Haskell, playwright, author, editor and columnist for The Kansas City Star, musician, civic leader and philanthropist, certainly qualified for that description.

Author: 
David Conrads

Barnett Helzberg, Sr. was one of Kansas City's boldest and most successful businessmen. In his 50-plus years in business, he built a small, family-owned jewelry store into one of the largest and most profitable jewelry store chains in the country.

Author: 
Dory DeAngelo

Ernest Hemingway said he learned how to write while working as a reporter for The Kansas City Star when he was only 17 years old. A rebel in his Oak Park, Illinois, high school, he did not want to go to college.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Opal Hill did not take up golf until she was in her early 30s, but she went on to become a golfing legend nationally and one of the greatest names associated with the sport in Kansas City. Her tough, competitive nature during tournament play and her gracious, even-tempered manner off the course combined to make Hill one of the most popular figures in women’s golf in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

As one school historian has written, the Kansas City Country Day School opened its doors in a September 28, 1910, ceremony resembling "a cross between the launching of a crusade and an old-time Fourth of July celebration." It was the culmination of much hard work on the part of Vassie James Ward Hill, a trailblazing female political leader whose progressive vision led to the founding of Country Day and its sister institution, the Sunset Hill School, today known collectively as Pembroke Hill.

Author: 
Janice Lee

In the 1920s, air travel was new and uncertain. City booster Lou Holland, one of the first to see its possibilities, became the "Father of Kansas City Aviation" when he helped establish Kansas City's first municipal airport.

Author: 
Kimberly R. Riley

Daniel Arthur Holmes was born the son of slaves in Randolph County, Missouri, in 1876. His family moved to Macon, Missouri after being freed at the end of the Civil War. Holmes, a third generation preacher, answered the call to preach at age 17 and was ordained in 1901.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

Mary Rockwell Hook once described a troubling scene from an early period in her architectural career. In Paris, where she was a student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, she was forced to run to a waiting taxi and dive in to avoid being drenched by a mob of disgruntled male students pursuing her with water buckets. While confronting gender bias was not a new experience for her—she had also been the sole female architecture student during a previous year at the Art Institute of Chicago—her male counterparts in Paris were clearly unable to accept a talented, un-intimidated female in their midst. She would soon return to the United States, launch a prolific career as one of Kansas City’s most innovative architects, and come to be remembered as a pioneer among professional women.

Author: 
Barbara Magerl

A world traveler and self-made millionaire, Mary Hudson was one of only three women on Forbes Magazine's list of 400 richest Americans. As an oil industry leader listed in the World's Who's Who of Women, she made international news when her empire collapsed. Hudson’s career began in 1933, as a 21-year-old widow with an infant to support. She borrowed $200 to buy a gas station in Kansas City, which led to a prominent role in a man's industry. An in-your-face independent distributor, among the first to offer no-frills, self-service gasoline, she co-founded a national organization for independent dealers.

Author: 
David Conrads

His booking agent gave him the nickname "Speedy" for his slow, soft-shoe dance style and his relaxed pace. While the multi-talented dancer, drummer and singer never gained national fame, as did contemporaries Count Basie and Charlie Parker, Speedy Huggins was one of the most beloved musicians in Kansas City. Prior to his death at the age of 85, he was a living legend, as well as a cherished Kansas City icon. He was one of the few jazzmen still working whose musical roots reached back to the heyday of Kansas City jazz, when the 18th and Vine district boasted one of the liveliest music and nightclub scenes in the country.

Author: 
David Conrads

From humble beginnings, Rev. J. W. Hurse became a pillar of the African American community in Kansas City and an important religious figure in the United States. He came to Kansas City as an unskilled laborer with little formal education. Over the course of the next 50 years, he founded and presided over St. Stephen Baptist Church and rose to become the president of the National Baptist Convention.

Author: 
Barbara Magerl

Rose Mindlin's handmade hats were so admired that other women begged her to make theirs. When she could no longer keep up with requests, she hired help and opened a shop near 12th and Troost. That was a risky venture in 1904, but Rose was a risk-taker. Besides, she could work and keep an eye on her three boys, since the family lived at the back of the store. By 1918 she opened a new store at 3221 Troost. In 1922 her son, Harold, became her partner. By the time her husband died in 1923, her business was established enough that it provided job security for her three sons. The store expanded its line to include clothing, and reportedly became the first store outside downtown to offer stylish ready-to-wear women's apparel.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

Dr. Burris A. Jenkins used Kansas City as his pulpit, communicating with thousands of people through newspapers, radio waves, and authorship of 17 books. He served as pastor of the Linwood Boulevard Christian Church, later the Community Christian Church at 4601 Main Street. Often considered too liberal for his era or occupation, Jenkins won scores of followers with his blunt sermons, essays, and novels.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

John Wesley Jenkins expanded his family music business from a small room rented from a sewing machine and wall paper shop to numerous store locations throughout the Midwest. He began working for his father as a teenager and, upon his death in 1932, was a millionaire.

Author: 
Daniel Coleman
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

J. Logan Jones once recalled in an interview how he raised $400 to start his first retail operation. As a teen in southern Illinois, Jones purchased calves at a low price from several farmers in the area whose poor circumstances that year allowed them to winter only their hardiest stock. Jones fattened and resold the animals at a profit, hitting upon the strategy of “underbuying and underselling” to which he later attributed the great success of his dry goods and department stores in Illinois, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

John A. Jones owned and operated his barber shop and pool hall as one of the most respected businesses in the 18th and Vine neighborhood. By installing the best equipment and insisting on high standards of conduct, Jones’ business succeeded as one of the earliest and longest-lasting establishments in the neighborhood.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

Henry Jost was a respected lawyer and made savvy political connections, but it may have been his status as an orphan than won him the position of Kansas City’s mayor in 1912.

Little is known of Jost’s early childhood. He was brought to an East Side orphanage in New York City at an early age—as an infant, toddler, or five-year-old, depending on the source. By most accounts, his mother had died, and his poor, ailing father could no longer care for him. He stayed in the Five Points Mission for Homeless Children until he was sent on a train westward with other children from the orphanage. He found a home in Nodaway County, Missouri.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

    Isaac "Ike" Katz, who would go on to found the Katz Drug Co. in Kansas City and become a pioneer in the modern pharmacy business, was born in the town of Husiatin in western Ukraine (then a part of Russia) on March 8, 1879. Ike Katz brought customers into his drug stores with a unique business model, where customers could fill prescriptions, shop for groceries, buy appliances, and even purchase exotic pets such as monkeys or baby alligators; all at cut-rate prices. At its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the company boasted 65 retail locations spread across seven states.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    William Kemp served for nine years as Kansas City mayor—longer than any other mayor. From 1946 to 1955, the tall, elegant man led the city through a period of growth as city boundaries were expanded to 85th Street, a traffic department was organized, the Paseo and Chouteau bridges were built and Starlight Theater became the crown jewel of the city’s centennial celebration.

    Author: 
    Kimberly R. Riley

    Rufus Crosby Kemper, who went by R. Crosby or Crosby, was born in 1892 in Valley Falls, Kansas. The family moved to Kansas City in 1893 and lived in homes in the 2600 block of Troost Avenue and at 1000 Westover Road. James Madison Kemper was born in 1894. The Kemper sons attended Kansas City public schools and the University of Missouri, where they played on the football team. Both men also fought in World War I.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    William Thornton Kemper was born November 3, 1865, in Gallatin, Missouri, to a pair of Kentucky transplants, James M. and Sallie Ann Paxton Kemper. William’s exceptional work ethic surfaced early in his life, when at age 11 he found a position at a dry goods store in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he had gone to live with his father after the death of his mother. At 14 he was working in a St. Joseph shoe store, socking away much of his $3.00 weekly salary.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    George Kessler used his vision and skill to transform early Kansas City from an eyesore to a model for the City Beautiful Movement. Before Kessler arrived here in the 1880s, the city’s west bluffs were a slum, Hyde Park was a shanty town, and Penn Valley Park was known as Vinegar Hill. His distinctive park and boulevard system brought beauty and a civilized appearance to our town.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Andy Kirk was never a topnotch instrumentalist, composer, arranger or personality, yet he parlayed his musical talent, organizational skills, and a series of lucky breaks into an enormously successful career as a bandleader. Although his musical legacy is not as great as that of rival bandleaders Benny Moten and Count Basie, Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy was one of the most popular big bands during the heyday of jazz in Kansas City and one of the first regional orchestras from the southwest to achieve national prominence.

    Author: 
    Barbara Magerl

    They were an attractive couple but her powerful father, William Rockhill Nelson, founder of the Kansas City Star, did not approve. His rare failure had an impact on the city's future.

    Laura Nelson was often seen by close friends and her father’s critics as a "poor little rich girl." At age 11, she was sent to a Boston finishing school where, despite pleas of being lonely and homesick, she was to remain until she was 20. An exception was the two school terms she spent at Barstow School in Kansas City from 1896 to 1898.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Arguably one of the most overlooked players from the early days of baseball, Johnny Kling was the game’s premier defensive catcher in the first decade of the 20th century and a key member of the great Chicago Cub teams of 1906 to 1910. Nicknamed “Noisy” for the constant stream of chatter he maintained behind the plate, Kling was admired by teammates and opponents for his ability to defend, handle pitchers and engage in the mental aspects of the game during the “dead-ball era.”

    Author: 
    Janice Lee

    She is said to have belonged to the "silk stocking set," but Della Cochrane Lamb spent most of her life working with those less fortunate than herself. Della began channeling her abundant energy and talent into community service in 1897, when she was still a teenager. That year, Melrose Methodist Church Auxiliary opened a day nursery on Fifth Street. One of the first day care centers in Kansas City, it looked after the children of immigrant north side families so that their mothers could work. When the Fifth Street nursery evolved into the Institutional Neighborhood House in1906, Lamb became president of its board of directors. She remained president for 27 years.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    Frank Sherman Land was born in Kansas City on June 21, 1890. His mother, Elizabeth Sampson Land, was sixteen at the time of his birth, and his father, William S. Land, moved the family to St. Louis two years later to pursue a job as a lumberyard foreman. Young Frank found solace from the uncertainties of his childhood in religion; in addition to the lessons he gave to boys in his neighborhood, he was known for his own perfect attendance at church Sunday school classes. After his parents’ separation, the 12-year old Frank moved back to Kansas City with his mother, where he attended Longfellow School, Manual High School, and the Kansas City Art Institute.

    Author: 
    Mary Frances Ivey
    University of Kansas

    Johnny Lazia (born Lazzio) gained prominence in Kansas City’s politics during the 1920s and ‘30s due to his leadership of the North Side Democratic Club, engagement in local organized crime, and involvement with Tom Pendergast’s political machine. Pendergast dominated Kansas City politics not by holding elected offices, but through his machine of alliances and affiliates.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    During the 1920s and early 1930s, George E. Lee fronted one of the most popular and successful bands in Kansas City. Though more akin to a vaudeville troupe, George E. Lee’s Novelty Singing Orchestra was the chief rival of the Benny Moten Orchestra for supremacy among the city’s many outstanding black bands.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Julia Lee was known for her husky voice, her straightforward piano style, and the easy, but heartfelt way she sang. In a professional singing career that spanned four decades, Lee built a national reputation as one of the great female blues singers of all time.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Dorothy Lillard began teaching in the Kansas City public schools at the age of 18. When she retired 50 years later, she had traveled the world, taught school in four countries, and become something of a Kansas City legend. Lillard began her teaching career in 1927. Her first assignment was with a first-grade class at the W. W. Yates Elementary School at 13th and Lydia streets. She quickly earned a reputation as an exacting instructor, a stickler for excellence, and a teacher who insisted that parents take responsibility for raising their children. As a result, she made a lifelong impression on generations of young Kansas Citians.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    While many entrepreneurs are motivated by youthful dreams of great success, the founder of one of Kansas City’s largest business empires claimed never to have set lofty goals for himself, but instead advised simply “doing what seems to be assigned to you to do next, and keep pegging at it.” This practical philosophy led Robert A. Long to build his Long-Bell Lumber Company from the ground up and made him one of the nation’s leading industrialists.

    Author: 
    Barbara Magerl

    Self-made millionaire Jacob Loose moved to Kansas City in 1882, entered the cracker business, and eventually founded the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, a gigantic producer of cookies and famous Sunshine Crackers. After a serious illness, he semi-retired in 1919 and died in 1923. His will created the Million Dollar Charity Fund Association, managed by his wife, Ella Loose. Her legacy includes the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and Affiliated Trusts as well as Loose Park at 52nd and Wornall Road.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    Arthur Mag, who at age 78 was serving as a director on the boards of 29 corporations, was once described as “one of the best arguments in town against early retirement.” Mag’s energy and thoughtfulness, however, surfaced early in his career, when he courageously put into action a groundbreaking legal idea that led to many of his life’s greatest accomplishments: a belief that people who had been entrusted to make investment decisions with the estates of deceased individuals should also be allowed to make choices about its charitable uses.

    Author: 
    Janice Lee

    Between 1910 to 1939, nearly every major civic improvement in Kansas City bore the mark of Conrad Mann. This massive, bear-like man with a brusque, unpolished manner was a uniquely talented leader who knew how to "get things done."

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    Near the end of his life, Rabbi Samuel Mayerberg told his Temple B’Nai Jehudah congregation that he wished not to be remembered as a fighter for civic justice, but merely as a man of unequivocal faith in God and the Ten Commandments. Historians, however, now write mainly of his willingness to put into action another idea, expressed in his favorite quotation: "Of all the evil done in the world, one-third is due to the vicious people who do it, and two-thirds to the virtuous who let it be done."

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    Henry F. McElroy was hand picked in 1926 by boss Thomas J. Pendergast to be Kansas City’s first city manager. This gave Pendergast complete control over Kansas City.

    Author: 
    Dory DeAngelo

    Kirby McRill had no real home. He slept in empty buildings. Few got to know him. Yet when he was struck by a car and fatally injured on January 17, 1950, four hundred people came to his funeral. Not a bad turnout for someone many called a bum.

    Author: 
    Jeremy Drouin
    Missouri Valley Special Collections

    Pianist, band leader, composer, and vocalist Jay "Hootie" McShann is recognized as one of the most influential blues and jazz artists of the twentieth century, with a career that spanned over 60 years. A bluesman at heart, McShann helped shape the Kansas City sound which was heavily influenced by blues and swing.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Nightclub owner, raconteur, and aspirant to political office, Milton Morris was one of the great champions of Kansas City jazz. His storytelling skills, wisecracks and foot-long cigars also secured his reputation as one of the city's most colorful characters

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, blues-based musical style that flourished in the 1920s and '30s, is arguably this city's greatest contribution to the uniquely American art form of jazz. Of the countless musicians and bandleaders who played at nightclubs, ballrooms, social clubs, and all-night jam sessions in the 18th & Vine district during that golden era, none embodied Kansas City jazz more than Bennie Moten.

    Author: 
    Barbara Magerl

    George Edward Muehlebach assumed leadership of the Muehlebach Brewing Company in 1905 at the young age of 23, when George Muehlebach, his Swiss-born father and founder of the brewery died. Educated at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School and Webster School, young George graduated from Spaulding’s Commercial College by age 17. Summer jobs at the brewery at 18th and Main had familiarized him with all operations of the brewery, which was founded in 1868. Under Muehlebach’s leadership the brewery’s size and sales doubled between 1905 and 1913.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    Father Jose Munoz arrived in Kansas City in 1914, a penniless refugee of the Mexican Revolution and was welcomed into the city’s Mexican community as the only Spanish speaking priest for miles. Soon after his arrival, he founded the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 23rd Street, a foundation for Kansas City’s Hispanic community.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    His name was never a household word in Kansas City and, although Ernest Newcomb played a large part in determining the location of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he was not even well-known on campus for many years. As the administrative founding father of UMKC, Newcomb is now considered to have been an important figure in the history of higher education in Kansas City, but a change in management during the university’s early years strained his relationship with the school for nearly four decades.

    Author: 
    Mary Frances Ivey
    University of Kansas

    Jesse Clyde (“J.C.”) Nichols was a nationally renowned city planner in Kansas City from the first decade of the 20th century to the 1950s. Among his numerous legacies are several subdivisions in suburban Kansas City, the Country Club Plaza, and the national spread of deed restrictions and homeowner associations. A prudent businessman and innovative visionary, Nichols conceived of real estate development in economic terms.

    Author: 
    Barbara Magerl

    When Edwin O'Hara, Archbishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, died in 1956, a local Jewish leader said O'Hara represented the perfect blending of service to God and neighbor. It was public acknowledgment of O'Hara's faith-based life and dedication to social justice.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    Louis Oppenstein was a millionaire who served his community quietly, showing his appreciation for Kansas City. Just as he became a responsible head of his family at the age of 14, he gave willingly of his time and resources to the city he loved.

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    Leroy "Satchel" Paige, one of baseball's finest pitchers, was most likely born on July 7, 1906. While Paige believed this date to be correct, poorly kept records left his exact birth year and date unclear. By contrast, there is no doubt that he was one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    Guy B. Park was a rather ineffectual governor bound to Thomas Pendergast's political machine by gratitude for putting him in office. Born in Platte City, Missouri, in 1872, Park received his law degree from the University of Missouri in 1896. He began his law practice in Platte City in 1899.

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on August 29, 1920. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, where he played in jazz clubs as a teenager and young man. The local jazz culture based in the Vine Street nightclub district cultivated his talents as a teenager. Indeed, it was during this period that Kansas City made notable contributions to jazz with hometown artists such as Count Basie, Bennie Moten, and Buster Smith.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Politician, gambler, night club owner, newspaper publisher, and bon vivant, Felix Payne was one of the most influential African Americans in Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    James F. Pendergast, born in 1856 in Gallipolis, Ohio, moved from St. Joseph to Kansas City in 1876 and initially worked in an iron foundry. In the early 1880s, he purchased a saloon and a small hotel in the West Bottoms. Soon his brothers and sisters joined him to help with the business, and his political activities led to the creation of the Pendergast political machine that would be handed down to his younger brother, Thomas J. Pendergast, and dominate the city government in the 1920s and '30s.

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library
    On March 2, 1934, Kansas City’s unelected machine boss Tom Pendergast received a letter from Missouri Governor Guy Park, which read, “Sometime ago I sent you a list of the employees of the State Highway Department in the Jackson County Division and requested that you have them checked up to find who were Democrats and who Republicans. If this has been done, I would be glad to have a copy of the list and later go over it with you with a view of making such changes as might be necessary and proper.” In a prior letter on the same topic, Governor Park had enclosed a list of the employees’ payroll. What today might appear to be an astonishing violation of ethics, law, and the principle of a politically neutral civil service was in fact routine business for Tom Pendergast, the “boss” of Kansas City whose influence extended to the state government by the early 1930s.  
    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    Visitors to Kansas City often make it a point to sample our legendary barbecue, but even many native Kansas Citians know little of how this delicacy reached the city. Credit is largely given to a figure that looms atop the barbecue “family tree” of Kansas City: Henry Perry. Perry’s lessons in the art of seasoning, smoking, and serving meat to Kansas Citians spawned both the Bryant and Gates barbecue names and led the way for the nearly 100 barbecue restaurants in the city today.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    Dr. John Edward Perry knew that hospitals were needed to train black physicians and nurses and to provide quality health care to the Kansas City African American community. Born in 1870, in Clarksville, Texas, Perry was born to former slaves who encouraged him to receive a good education

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    Nelle Nichols Peters is known as a pathbreaking female architect, designer of nearly 1,000 local buildings, and one of the most prolific architects in Kansas City during the 1920s. Despite the fact that many of these buildings still occupy prominent locations, especially near the Country Club Plaza, Nelle Peters remains a relatively obscure figure in Kansas City history.

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    Elmer F. Pierson, who, along with his brother John, would go on to found the Vendo company and dominate the world's soft drink vending machine industry, was born on August 27, 1896. In addition to its achievements in the vending industry, Pierson's company made significant contributions to America's war effort during World War II and dabbled in new innovations in other, unrelated industries.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Initially, Justus W. Putsch didn’t want to go into the restaurant business. Yet, for over 30 years, the Putsch name was synonymous in Kansas City with both gourmet food and cafeteria-style dining. Jud Putsch was born in Marshall, Missouri, where his parents operated a confectionery. The family moved to Kansas City in 1924 and opened the Bluebird Cafeteria at Troost Avenue and Linwood Boulevard. While he was a student at Westport High School, Putsch worked at the Bluebird and developed a distaste for the restaurant business.

    Author: 
    Dory DeAngelo

    Sally Rand was arrested four times for indecent exposure on the first day she appeared at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago because she appeared to be dancing nude behind feather fans. Actually, it was an illusion; she wore a flesh colored body suit that only made her look nude. The arrest and publicity gained her lasting fame as a ‘fan dancer’. Rand was born Helen Gould Beck, and her family moved to Kansas City from Hickory County, Missouri, when she was four years old. By the time she was 13 and a freshman at Central High School, she was dancing in the chorus line at the Empress Theater in downtown Kansas City.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    James A. Reed, political ally of Thomas Pendergast, served as a Kansas City mayor, senator, and presidential candidate. Born in 1861 in Ohio, Reed grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and studied law at Coe College. Reed arrived in Kansas City in 1887 and began a law practice.

    Author: 
    Barbara Magerl

    If Ellen Quinlan had been an only child, it would have been Kansas City's misfortune. The twelfth child in a Parsons, Kansas, family, she redesigned without any patterns the hand-me-downs she wore. This natural talent led to a famous career.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    Judge Albert L. Reeves despised Tom Pendergast and his Democratic machine. He felt that Pendergast corrupted the young men of Kansas City, especially those from the heavily Italian North End. Reeves particularly disdained the machine’s underhanded tactics involving voting fraud and eventually brought an end to Pendergast’s control of the ballot box.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    In a posthumous tribute to the life of Katharine Berry Richardson, the Kansas City Times editorialized that in an earlier age, her life "might have been officially described as saintly." Richardson's heightened sense of mission gives her life a transcendent quality, in which the milestones and definitions we use to chronicle normal lives seem insufficient.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    Homer Roberts was as persistent in the 1920s as any car salesman today, but his goals reached well beyond the next sale. With enduring determination and a love of the motorcar, Roberts was the first African American to own an automobile dealership in the country.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    Roy Roberts began his lifelong newspaper career delivering The Kansas City Star as a boy in Lawrence, Kansas. When he retired from The Star in January 1965, he had served the newspaper for 56 years as a reporter, managing editor, president, editor, and general manager.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Wilber "Bullet Joe" Rogan was one of the best and most versatile players in the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues. Known primarily for his fastball, Rogan had an assortment of effective pitches that made him the ace of the pitching staff of the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1920s. He was also an outstanding fielder and a powerful hitter. Satchel Paige, the legendary pitcher, once said of Rogan, "He was the onliest pitcher I ever saw, I ever heard of in my life, was pitching and hitting in the clean-up place. He was a chunky little guy, but he could throw hard."

    Author: 
    Sara Nyman

    The advent of radio broadcasting in the early 1920s made a local Kansas City musical group popular all over the country. Joe Sanders together with Carleton Coon formed a band that became known as the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks. They started out playing at the Plantation Grill in the Hotel Muehlebach, and local radio station WDAF broadcast their show across the airwaves.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Ragtime is a uniquely American musical form and a precursor of jazz. It flourished around the turn of the century, and many of its leading practitioners had connections to Missouri. James Scott, who was born in Neosho and died in Kansas City, Kansas, was one of the biggest names in ragtime, second only to the great pianist and composer Scott Joplin.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    A theater critic and friend of Ruth Nordberg Seufert described the impresario’s life as “one of constant push-push-push to get bodies in the seats and money in the till.” The entrepreneurial Seufert may have been keenly aware of the bottom line, but her appreciation of music, a byproduct of her own talent and background, prevented her from neglecting quality in the performances she promoted, and Kansas City concert-goers benefited from this balance over the course of four decades.

    Author: 
    Mary Frances Ivey
    University of Kansas

    Joseph “Joe” Shannon presided over Kansas City’s Northside Democratic Party from the early 20th century to 1930, after which he relocated to Washington, D.C., for a 14-year tenure as a U.S. Congressman. Shannon’s political career was marked by his Jeffersonian Democratic views and his tenuous relationships with brothers James and Tom Pendergast.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    “I treated Elmer as a friend,” Vivian Davis Shepherd once remarked in tracing her philosophy back to a childhood pal. “The fact that he was deaf never entered into it.” That her friend did not require or desire babying was a realization Shepherd carried into her career as the founding executive director of the Rehabilitation Institute, where for decades she empowered people to develop abilities instead of focusing on disabilities.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    Bryce B. Smith was a member of the city council from 1920 to 1924 and was elected mayor on the Democratic ticket in 1930, the second Kansas City mayor under the city manager charter. During his campaign, Smith publicly declared his independence from Pendergast-machine politics, but those were empty words. When he won the election, the Pendergast machine gained complete control over City Hall.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Hilton Smith was a mainstay of the Kansas City Monarchs' pitching staff from 1936 until 1948, a time when the Monarchs were one of the dominant teams in the Negro Baseball Leagues. Although he was well known in the baseball world, the quiet, workmanlike Smith was greatly overshadowed by Satchel Paige, his flamboyant teammate, and Smith never got the public acclaim he deserved.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    In 1890, a Hebrew teacher named Henry Sosland immigrated to the United States to escape persecution in Czarist Russia. Three years later his wife Rosa and their three small boys followed, reuniting in a small, dirt-floored home in the West Bottoms of Kansas City. The youngest of the boys, Samuel, was not more than 4 years old when he travelled thousands of miles from his birthplace near the town of Vilna. Five more Sosland sons and one daughter would be born in Kansas City, and their hard work and smarts led to one of the city’s classic rags-to-riches stories. Like the rest of his siblings, Samuel Sosland never forsook his father’s emphasis on community or his appreciation of his adopted hometown, and the Soslands became one of the most powerful philanthropic forces in its history.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    Russell Stover spent much of his boyhood on his grandfather’s Iowa farm, having moved there with his father and sisters after the death of his mother. Clara Stover, born Clara Lewis in Oxford, Iowa, in 1882, was also raised on a farm, where her parents expected her and her three sisters to do the chores that would have fallen to the sons they never had. As an adult, Clara Stover exhibited this same spirit of self-reliance and willingness to acquire and apply skills to get things done. Clara and Russell's marriage and historic business partnership are now synonymous with a great box of chocolates.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    Robert Sutherland began working in the timber business at the age of 19 by operating a lumberyard in Independence, Kansas. At the age of 33 he bought his first yard and started an empire that grew into one of the largest lumber businesses in the Midwest.

    Author: 
    Dory DeAngelo

    John Cameron Swayze, the first anchorman on network news, got his big break in Kansas City. He had a distinctive voice and won oratorical contests in his Atchison, Kansas, high school. Swayze left the University of Kansas in 1929 to try his luck as an actor on Broadway. The impact of the stock market crash in October 1929 closed many theaters; Swayze decided to move to Kansas City.

    Author: 
    Dory DeAngelo

    Marion Talley was hailed as a musical prodigy at eight years old. Her astounding voice brought her early notoriety. But like many who gained fame at the loss of childhood, the pressure of being in the public eye would later prompt her to live in seclusion. She died in oblivion and her death went unnoticed by the music world.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    Architect Edward Tanner helped design some of our favorite streetscapes. His work can be seen on the Country Club Plaza, on the campus of UMKC, in Prairie Village, and in Kansas City’s most picturesque suburbs. A longtime partnership with developer J. C. Nichols cultivated Tanner’s creativity in our Midwestern city.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    As a teacher, school administrator, public official, and civic leader, Earl D. Thomas forged a long and distinguished record of achievement. Although his efforts were focused largely on the betterment of Kansas City’s African American community, the city as a whole benefited from his activities in a wide variety of fields.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Thompkins was born in Jefferson City, Missouri. He became acquainted with numerous Missouri politicians while he was going to school and working as a bellboy at the old Madison House Hotel. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston

    African Americans in the Kansas City area in the late nineteenth century had virtually no access to hospital care. Basically, home remedies served as the only health care for most families. Dr. Solomon Henry Thompson began a "Black Hospital Movement" in the area that began to address the health concerns of the ethnic communities.

    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    Virgil Thomson, composer and music critic, was born on November 25, 1896, in Kansas City, Missouri. Although he would go on to live much of his life in New York and Paris, and brush elbows with world-renowned musicians and intellectuals, Thomson always claimed he drew on the musical inspirations from his childhood in Kansas City.

    Author: 
    Susan Jezak Ford

    He will always be remembered as the man from Independence, Missouri, who became the country's 33rd president. Although Harry S. Truman held the highest office in the country, he was truly a Midwestern native.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    Joe Turner had a tremendous voice and a talent for improvising lyrics. He was called the "Boss of the Blues," and during the 1930s—Kansas City's musical heyday—"Big Joe" Turner was the greatest blues singer in town.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston
    Thomas C. Unthank was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1866. He enrolled at Howard University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. in 1894. Dr. Unthank graduated in 1898 and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. He opened Lange Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and co-founded, with Dr. S. H. Thompson, Douglass Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas.
    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    On April 14, 1910, the City Council approved the creation of the Board of Public Welfare to provide aid to the city’s poor. As the brainchild of Kansas City philanthropist William Volker, the Board of Public Welfare was the first modern welfare department in the United States, a groundbreaking forerunner to modern welfare programs, and intended as a counterbalance to the charitable activities of the city's political machines led by Tom Pendergast and Joe Shannon. The board was just one of Volker’s many memorable contributions that included the creation of Research Hospital, the establishment of the University of Kansas City (now UMKC), the Civic Research Institute, the purchase of the land for Liberty Memorial, and reportedly thousands of individuals who received his gifts when down on their luck. He received these callers on an almost daily basis at his private home on Bell Street. 

    Author: 
    Kimberly R. Riley

    Few goals were too ambitious for Bruce R. Watkins, Kansas City's first African American to serve on the city council and make a serious run for mayor. Although he lost his bid for mayor in 1979 to Dick Berkley, Watkins left an indelible mark in Kansas City history.

    Author: 
    Nancy J. Hulston
    For over thirty years, Casimir Welch controlled "Little Tammany," 36 precincts east of downtown, for Thomas J. Pendergast. This area was heavily populated, largely with African Americans. Through the usual ploys of free food and coal to the needy, Welch gained his constituents' trust and admiration, and they repaid him by voting as they were told.
    Author: 
    Jason Roe
    Kansas City Public Library

    On August 30, 1901, Roy Wilkins was born in St. Louis, Missouri. From a modest background, Wilkins would go on to graduate from the University of Minnesota, become the editor of The Call newspaper, and lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for more than two decades at the height of the civil rights movement.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    J. L. Wilkinson made his mark on history in three important ways: as the founder and owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the greatest teams in the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues; as a pioneer in the use of lights in baseball; and as the man who gave Jackie Robinson his professional start in the game.

    Author: 
    John Arthur Horner
    Missouri Valley Special Collections

    Claude "Fiddler" Williams didn't play the instrument for which he became best known until after he had already mastered the guitar, mandolin, banjo, cello, and bass. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on February 22, 1908, Williams began his musical career 10 years later.

    Author: 
    Kimberly R. Riley

    A glimpse into the history of education in Kansas City would not be complete without a profile of Hazel Browne Williams, the first African American fulltime professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Hazel Browne, a native Kansas Citian, was born on February 9, 1907, the only child of John and Effie Moten Browne. She graduated from Lincoln High School in 1923, where she earned the honor of serving as the first woman sponsor major of the school's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). Her reputation for breaking barriers would continue throughout the rest of her life.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    In a remarkably productive career that spanned a half century, Mary Lou Williams established herself as a pianist, composer, and arranger, an unprecedented feat that has remained an inspiration to women in jazz.

    Author: 
    Daniel Coleman
    Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections

    As a young man, Fred Wolferman struggled to maintain his interest in the grocery business, having dreamed from an early age of becoming a doctor. He later recollected a game in which he and the store's first clerk fought boredom by perfecting the art of catching a cranberry, tossed from across the store, in their open mouths.

    Author: 
    David Conrads

    The year 1880 was a good one for Alfred S. Woolf. Business was good; just a year before, he and his brother Samuel had moved their operation from Leavenworth, Kansas, to a three-story building at 557 Main Street in Kansas City. Here the Woolf Brothers sold men’s clothing and furnishings on the first two floors and operated a laundry and shirt factory on the third. They had made a name for themselves in Leavenworth selling made-to-measure shirts and doing business with some of the “toughest customers” in the West, including Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, and Buffalo Bill Cody, who were probably also familiar with another of the Woolf Brothers best-selling products—double-breasted red flannel underwear.

    Author: 
    Jeremy Drouin
    Missouri Valley Special Collections

    Lester Willis Young was one of the premier saxophonists of the 1930s and 40s whose style and sound was emulated by future generations of jazz musicians. Hailed as “The President of the Tenor Sax” by his close friend Billie Holiday, he was simply “Prez” to his peers. While in Kansas City, Lester freelanced with Bennie Moten, George Lee, Clarence Love and other bands, before joining the Count Basie-Buster Smith band at the Reno Club in 1934. An extraordinary talent, Lester earned the reputation as “bad man” in Kansas City’s legendary jam sessions and duels with fellow musicians.