Monday, May 16, 2011

Mary White

She died on Friday the thirteenth. This year, May 13 again fell on a Friday. 90 years later, in the midst of our state’s sesquicentennial celebration, the death—and life—of this Kansas girl are still remarkable.

Mary White did not lead the life of a typical Kansas girl, but she embodied the spirit of her state—fierce in the defense of individual freedoms, full of wild beauty, alternately sunny or stormy but wide-ranging and free. She died engaged in one of her favorite activities and lived as much for others as for herself.

Perhaps it was both these things which allowed her father, world-renown journalist and author William Allen White, to gracefully release his daughter on that May day in 1921 and to write an enduring editorial celebrating her life a few days later.

Mary lived on horseback. Her brother once teased their mother that she would someday be the grandmother of a horse. The afternoon of her death found Mary on her usual ride headed out into what her father later called, “…the radiant green fields of the spring”. Her accident, occurring while she turned to wave at a friend, stood in stark contrast to the prairie town in bloom around it. Kansas springs still are marred by the arbitrary deaths of its children experiencing the freedom of youth. Like a sprig of lilac or the catalpa trees her father celebrated later that May in his newspaper, a young life is sometimes sheared—but its bloom can be preserved.

Mary’s bloom has been preserved in her father’s editorial of May 17, 1921. He fondly remembered her love of practical jokes, her friendly nature, and her growing awareness of injustices in her hometown. She read books intended for those well above her sixteen years and her thoughts equaled and were inspired by them. Is it any wonder that, in a 1914 letter to the editor of the New York Tribune, author and family friend Edna Ferber proposed Mary as a future presidential candidate?

Mary would have brought honor to our state, as did her father and her brother, had she lived beyond the accident on that Friday the thirteenth May afternoon. Instead, her death comforts others in their loss and the life she did live epitomized the spirit of Kansas. It’s good to remember her among other hardy Kansans of our past as our state turns 150.

Read her father’s editorial here:

Article by Beverley Buller


William Allen White House (Emporia)
("Visit the showplace home of William Allen White, nationally known newspaperman and author. From the 1890s through World War II White influenced state and national politics through his writings from the heartland town of Emporia")

William Allen White Emporia Gazette and Museum

Mary White of Kansas: Emporia's Immortal Peter Pan
(Facebook fan page for Mary White)

William Allen White, Emporia
(Kansas Sampler Foundation)

Mary White
(Information on the 1977 TV movie about Mary)

White Mary 1904 1921
White, William Allen, 1868-1944

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