This is Thomas Fox Averill, Topeka novelist, with one of my favorite Kansas books of WWI:
Over 100 years ago, in 1917, the premier journalist of Kansas, William Allen White, took a trip to Europe. Along with Henry J. Allen, editor of the Wichita Beacon, who would become the next Governor of the Sunflower State, White was part of a Red Cross inspection team, this in the summer after the United States entered World War I, on April 6, 1917.
White wrote a book, The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me, published by Macmillan in 1918. White’s memoir exemplifies all the ways in which you can take someone out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the someone, or the two someones of White and Allen, and the country they can never leave is Kansas.
White recognizes while visiting France, Italy, and England, that World War I is not simply a war between nations. As he writes: “We fight a war for one thing, win the war and get quite another thing.” That “quite another thing,” according to White, is the “changed relations of men.” White predicts a new order, what he calls a “New Heaven and a New Earth.” He predicts the end of autocracy and plutocracy all over Europe, a rise in wages, in working-class power, in women’s rights, and in economic parity and control.
And the key to the New Heaven and New Earth, he writes, is education. Toward the end of his journey, he takes his London hotel elevator to the fourth floor. The elevator conductor is a woman, whose husband has been wounded at the front. She has two children, three and five years old. White exhorts her: “You must give them an education—a good one; send them to College. If they’re going to get on in this new world they will need every ounce of education you can stuff into them. But it will be a splendid thing for both of you working for that.” Then he asks, “Is education expensive in England?”
“Very, sir,” she answers. “I hardly see how we can do it, sir!”
“That’s too bad,” responds White. “Now in our country education, from the [primary school] to the university, is absolutely free
“All the kids in my town, and in my state, and in my whole section of the country go to the common schools. Children should start life as equals. There is no snobbery so cruel as the snobbery that marks off childhood into classes!”
The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me is full of this kind of Kansas pride, but it also takes a keen look at the wider world. It is full of rich detail, historical insight, and respect for the human costs and sacrifices made during the Great War.
This is Tom Averill. You’ll find more by clicking Radio Readers Book Club under the Features menu at HPPR.org