Laura Nelson and Irwin Russell Kirkwood

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.

Her romantic partner, Irwin Kirkwood, descended from a prominent—but not wealthy—Baltimore family. He came to Kansas City to engage in real estate. When the two fell in love, her father countered by sending her to Europe several times to separate them.

However, in 1910 the couple married in New York. Nelson did not attend his daughter's wedding but sent a check and said he knew she would forgive him. He later loaned the groom $150,000 for real estate ventures in Kansas City.

After Nelson's death in 1915, Laura and Irwin ran the Kansas City Star with the help of the Nelson-trained staff. Under her leadership, the Star printed its first photograph and first comics, both banned by her father, and began WDAF Radio as part of the Star empire.

Laura died alone in a Baltimore hotel room in 1926, leaving the paper in Kirkwood's hands to sell as dictated by Nelson's will. Despite bids from leading newspaper tycoons, including Hearst and Gannett, Kirkwood and Star employees bought the paper to keep it in local hands.

As Laura requested, Kirkwood arranged for the Nelson mansion to be razed after his death and the site donated for an art gallery to house the collection acquired with Nelson trust funds. Irwin Kirkwood died in 1927 and the estates of Mrs. Nelson and the Kirkwoods enabled the beginnings of the gallery.

Through his own accomplishments, Kirkwood surpassed the low expectations his powerful father-in-law once held. The Nelsons and Kirkwoods repose in a baronial mausoleum in Mt. Washington Cemetery.

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A previous version of this article appears on kchistory.org: http://kchistory.org/content/biography-laura-nelson-kirkwood-1883-1926-a...

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