On a Farm Near Laurel Town
We would like to thank the Lawrence Public Library for the opportunity to scan this volume and the Alumni Association of the University of Kansas for their kind permission to place these materials on-line to be freely available to the public.
Kate Stephens grew up on her father's farm, along the Kaw, near what is now Burcham Park. She attended the University of Kansas and, after graduate studies, she was appointed to the faculty as a Professor of Classical Greek. At a time when the University's curriculum centered on humanistc studies, her position was one of considerable prestige. It was about this time that Frank Harris, a former student at the University of Kansas and a hanger-on of the brilliant circle of intellectuals that included James Whistler, George Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde, published the autobiographical The Life and Loves of Frank Harris and caused considerable stir at the University. Harris, something of an intellectual soldier of fortune, described his amorous escapades with two women of the University in such a manner that the identity of the women to whom he was referring was clear -- or soon made clear by gossip -- to everyone in the University and city of Lawrence. Whether or not Harris's allegations were truthful, the women suffered greatly from the effects of the scandal that Harris had caused.
Kate Stephens was infuriated and, over the objections of University officials who would have preferred to ignore the matter even while penalizing the women, wrote and published The Lies and Libels of Frank Harris. Her vigorous attack upon Harris's honesty, integrity, and ancestry was considered unbecoming a lady, and Chancellor Lippincott, in whose honor Lippincott Hall was named, dismissed Professor Stephens. She went to the East Coast and entered the publishing business. She followed her bent by editing a series of biographies of great women to serve as role models for girls, and wrote several books of her own.
Many readers will find her portrayal of blacks, Irish, Jews, and immigrants generally disturbing. It is important to realize that many Americans were themselves disturbed by the flood of immigrants from southern and eastern European countries that was altering the nature of traditional American society. At the same time, Stephens compiled this work in 1920, at a time when many Americans were experiencing a sense of betrayal from learning of the immense profits made by the "Arms Merchants" from the First World War. Many Americans, Stephens included, were swelling a nativist and isolationist tide of sentiment.
Kate Stephens was a disillusioned woman and wrote Life in Laurel Town in Anglo-Saxon Kansas to recall what her world had been like. She remembered a Lawrence still peopled by the men and women who had staked their lives in a bitter and bloody struggle against slavery, and a University whose function it was to call the young men and women of Kansas to higher ideals rather than to entertain them and prepare them for better-paying jobs.
Beneath the rhetoric and racism, Stephens was attempting to explain problems that we are confronting once again: the decay of civic virtue, a growing tendency to deny individual responsibility, the decay of common ideals, and a loss of respect for a heritage for which our forbears fought and died.
Lynn H. Nelson