In the second decade of the 20th century, Kansas City was emerging as a key center of economic power west of the Mississippi. Agriculture constituted a central pillar of Kansas City’s success: dozens of railroads shipped grains and livestock through the city’s new hub at Union Station, and its manufacturing district developed large meatpacking, flour, and other food processing industries. Wholesale and retail commerce joined agriculture and industry as the foundations of Kansas City’s economic power.
Kansas City women–members of the Athenaeum, the Woman’s City Club, and other organizations–sought to assert power in their community and beyond. Coming from Republican and independent Democratic backgrounds, and abhorring the influence of the Democratic machine, they embraced a progressive spirit that revered what they envisioned as good government.
According to a May 29, 1928, editorial in the Kansas Citian , the Republican National Convention promised to “bring more influential people in industry, business, and financial circles than ever brought here by a convention.” Local leaders envisioned the 1928 Republican National Convention raising the national and regional profile of Kansas City in two related ways. First, delegates and visitors attending the convention could see the city’s growth in person. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the event and subsequent attention would bolster the city’s standing, particularly in relation to regional rivals such as Cleveland and St. Louis.
As Bennie Moten, George E. Lee, and other African American bandleaders based at 18th and Vine pioneered a new style of jazz, a number of white bands in downtown Kansas City were performing a style of hot jazz modeled after nationally popular white bands. Ironically, while Kansas City would gain renown for its great African American bands that barnstormed across country, it was a white dance band, the Coon-Sanders Nighthawk Orchestra, which first established Kansas City’s national reputation as a jazz center.
Kansas City, like other American cities, added new suburban-style developments at its edges during the early decades of the 20th century. What makes it a unique case for understanding this shift is the character of Jesse Clyde (J.C.) Nichols. Born in Olathe, Kansas, in 1880, Nichols had a career that spanned the first half of the 20th century, and included transforming thousands of acres of land into a planned suburban community.
In the years between 1915 and 1925, Mexican migrants such as Paula Sanchez and her family arrived at Kansas City in large numbers to work for the city’s railroad and meat packing companies. These jobs proved to be erratic and poorly paid. In addition, these newcomers possessed few resources upon their arrival, save determination and a strong work ethic. Anglo Kansas Citians worried that this group would drain the city’s resources. Several female reformers, however, banded together to form a social service organization, known as the Guadalupe Center, to aid these arrivals.
The Liberty Memorial arose during a period of widespread monument-building, one that ran from roughly 1880 to 1930. It was restored amidst a second such period, beginning in the 1980s and continuing to this day. Locally, these two eras correspond with Kansas City’s emergence as a modern metropolis, and with its most ambitious program of urban redevelopment thus far. In each case and in different ways, residents framed the war and its remembrance as a means to future gains. These framings offer telling views of the city’s history, its greatest monument, and the changing nature of memory.
There are world records for nearly everything, including cattle processing. And in September 1918, Kansas City broke them all. As World War I entered its final fateful months, the Kansas City stockyards handled more than 55,000 cattle in a single day and 475,000 for the month. That fall, during a remarkable three-month span, more than 1.3 million cattle passed through the city’s yards. The Kansas City cattle business was impressive, but add to these figures hundreds of thousands of sheep, hogs, and horses, and more than 3.3 million animals were yarded in the city. First seven, then 12, then 34 railroads brought these animals into the city and out again to distant markets.
Photograph of a big band on stage labeled "Don Juan's All-Spanish Dance Band."
Letter from Dr. Grover Clay asking Lloyd Stark to intercede on his behalf to Jim Pendergast, and assure supporters of other candidates that they will not be punished for it.
Of the thousands of women volunteers who devoted time, energy, and resources to the reform campaigns of 1940, one woman was acknowledged by all as their singular leader: Claude Gorton. As the designated chairman of the Women's Division of the United Campaign Committee, she exhibited exemplary leadership throughout the reform efforts of the late 1930s. Indeed, Gorton is perhaps best known for her leadership role in the 1940 municipal elections, which resulted in a “clean sweep” and replaced the remnants of the Pendergast machine with a reformed city charter and new candidates.
Completed construction of Southwest High School at 65th Street and Wornall Road.
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.
Through the Woman’s City Club, Women’s Forward Kansas City Committee, and other civic organizations, women in Kansas City exemplified the principles of benevolence, reform, and equality in their campaign to oppose the Pendergast machine and eventually replace it in a “clean sweep.” Wielding brooms as potent props symbolizing the clean-up of corruption, and with the campaign slogan, "Ballots and Brooms vs. Bosses and Bullets," the women reformers joined the United Campaign Committee in 1939-1940 to champion an amended city charter and a slate of reform-minded candidates for public office.
Like a prairie fire, a revived Ku Klux Klan (KKK) spread quickly across the nation in the 1920s, enrolling upwards of six million white, native-born Protestants into its ranks. Promoting “100 Percent Americanism,” “Protestantism,” “Law and Order,” and the “eternal maintenance of white supremacy,” the Klan found keen reception in quarters where the white majority population felt threatened by immigration, modernization, and illegal alcohol consumption.
One of the defining political trends of the mid-20th century was the transition of black voters from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, accompanied by a major shift in the party’s policy platform toward social liberalism and civil rights. Nationally, this change is usually dated to the latter half of the New Deal, roughly around the election of 1936. In Kansas City and the state of Missouri, however, it happened much earlier and in surprising circumstances that greatly influenced national affairs in later years.
One of the defining aspects of “Boss” Thomas J. Pendergast’s “machine” politics was its approach to African American voters. During the early 20th century, at a time when black people were routinely excluded from the vote by Democratic regimes in most of the former slave South, Pendergast’s Democratic organization in Kansas City succeeded in part by attracting considerable black support. While such support was not unique to Kansas City—black Missourians never lost the vote in the same way or degree as their counterparts farther South—historians often point to the city as an example of early black political realignment toward a Northern Democratic Party based in urban, industrial centers and at increasing odds with its Southern wing over the issue of civil rights.
Photograph of the First Annual Picnic of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) Heart of America Chapter 73, taking place in Walnut Grove Park in south Kansas City near 103rd St. & State Line Road. AHEPA is social and charitable organization for Greek immigrants and their descendants.
Photograph of a group of men assembled for the first annual picnic of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) Heart of America Chapter No. 73, a social and charitable organization for Greek immigrants and their descendants. The picnic took place in Walnut Grove Park in south Kansas City, Missouri, in July 1926.
Portrait of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) Heart of America Chapter 73 including Steve Sakoulas, Louis Kartsonis, and Father Nicholas Speloitis in the 1930s. AHEPA is social and charitable organization for Greek immigrants and their descendants.