Ruth Garver Gagliardo & The William Allen White Children's Book Award
Ruth Jane Garver was born in 1895 in Hastings, Nebraska. When Ruth was seven, her mother re-married and the family moved to Topeka. Ruth entered Topeka High School in 1908 and said that even at that young age she "wanted to write and have 12 children." After high school she taught in rural schools. Her successful efforts to bring books to Culver High School led to the high school achieving accreditation. This meant that she was out of a job because she didn't have a teaching certificate. She went to the University of Kansas and in 1922 earned a degree in English.
Even at a young age Ruth displayed an energetic, "can do" attitude. From her time in high school until she graduated from the University of Kansas in 1922 she organized a debating society at Topeka High School and won three prizes in one year in writing contests sponsored by Arthur Capper. She helped organize a student government at the University of Kansas, and fought for students' right to attend downtown dances in Lawrence.
After graduating from KU, she worked for two years at the Emporia Gazette. She was responsible for the "Highbrow Column," a mixture of reviews of art, music, and books. She included reviews of children's books in her column, thus making the Gazette one of the first to review children's books regularly. Ruth Garver Gagliardo founded the William Allen White Children's Book Award.
During her time at the Gazette she developed a warm relationship with William Allen White and his family. She maintained this relationship in subsequent years. When William Allen White died in 1944, Ruth began searching for a proper memorial program involving children and books that would honor him. The White Award was announced April 22, 1952 at the dedication of the William Allen White Library on the Emporia State University campus. The first medal, awarded October 9, 1953 at the Kansas Library Association meeting in Hays, went to Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates. In keeping with the concept of involving the children with the award, Chris Cunningham, a student, presented the award to Yates.
Born in Emporia, Kansas, White moved to El Dorado, Kansas, with his parents, Allen and Mary Ann Hatten White, where he spent the majority of his childhood. While a teenager, White worked as a press apprentice before attending the College of Emporia and the University of Kansas. In 1892, White started work at The Kansas City Star as an editorial writer. On April 27, 1893, White married Sallie Moss Lindsay. The couple moved to Emporia in 1895 and White bought the Emporia Gazette. Here he would earn the nickname “The Sage of Emporia.”
White used the editorial format of his newspaper to share his views on topics of the time. His fiery editorial, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" published in 1896, attacked the Populist movement for its negative influence on the state and gained national attention.
White would later become more sympathetic to the Populists’ viewpoints. It was at this time that White befriended future president Theodore Roosevelt. White’s editorial "To an Anxious Friend," a statement for free speech, earned him the 1923 Pulitzer Prize. White ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1924 based on an anti-Klan platform. The campaign did encourage Kansas to be the first state to outlaw the Klan.
In 1899, William Allen White leased the house and then bought it in 1901. The Whites completed construction on the house, which included expanding the living room to hold the many guests for their famous parties. Sallie White, William Allen White’s wife, chose walnut wood to replace the flooring in the living room. She bought the wood from her brother who owned an orchard farm in Lyon County. Prior to the expansion, the living room area had four different rooms. All the walls were taken out and the space became one open area. The house is recognized for its architecture and contents. William Allen White traveled the world and collected several artifacts over the years that now are valuable antiques and collectibles.
William Allen White lived in the house until his death in Jan. 29, 1944. His son, William Lindsay White, lived in the house after his father, but only for the spring and summer seasons. During the fall and winter, William Lindsay White and his wife, Kathrine White, lived in New York City, where his daughter, Barbara White Walker, went to school.
When Katherine White died in 1988, Barbara White Walker inherited the house. Since then, Walker heated and cooled the house, kept the electricity on and maintained the grounds. The Walker family gave the house to the Kansas State Historical Society in 2001. It is now operated as the William Allen White House State Historic Site.