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Kansas Memory Blog

Mar 23, 2019 by Megan Rohleder

By: Megan Rohleder, Senior Archivist

As part of 19th Amendment centennial commemorations, staff members at the Kansas Historical Society have been working to create a digital program that will highlight the words of one Kansan who worked tirelessly to earn the right to vote for women. Martha Farnsworth was a Kansan who documented life pre and post suffrage in Kansas. The Kansas State Archives is home to a collection of diaries written by her over a span of nearly 40 years.

Martha Farnsworth Portrait  

Martha was born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa on April 26th, 1867.  When Martha was three, her mother died while giving birth to the youngest Farnsworth daughter, Belle. Her father, James, remarried and together the family moved to Winfield, Kansas when Martha was five.

  In 1883, when Martha turned 16, she moved in with a neighboring family due to problems with her stepmother.  After five years of virtually independent living, Martha moved to Topeka, Kansas where she lived the rest of her life. 

It was in Topeka where Martha met her first husband, Johnny Shaw. The courtship and marriage were tumultuous and Martha often commented in her diaries that she was unhappy. 

 Martha Farnsworth Diary Entry September 19th, 1889

  During their four-year marriage, Martha suffered multiple miscarriages which added to her unhappiness. On January 24th, 1892, though, much to Martha's happiness and Johnny's displeasure, Martha gave birth to a baby girl, Mabel Inez Belle. It took just a couple months for Martha to realize that her baby girl was very sick and on June 27th, 1892, Mabel succumbed to her illness.

Martha lived with Johnny for two more years before consumption took his life in October of 1893. Her diary entries during this time were less about his emotional abuse and drinking and more about her unhappiness. This unhappiness was short-lived, though, as she cautiously started a relationship with Fred Farnsworth, a co-worker of Johnny's at the Topeka Post Office. 

Fred Farnsworth in Postal Uniform 

After their marriage in 1894, Martha wrote of her many community engagements. She was passionate about social reform movements, including campaigning for women's suffrage. In 1905 Martha was voted into the Good Government Club, a group crucial to the success of equal suffrage in Kansas in 1912. 

Good Government Club Flier for suffrage

Martha's diaries not only highlight one ordinary Kansan's extraordinary contributions to many social reform movements, they also highlight the social and political climates of the state during those times. To highlight the story of this special woman, our Senior Archivist, Megan Rohleder, will be tweeting words from Martha's 1912 diary in a new Twitter account starting April 1st. Followers will be able to read what was happening on this day (OTD) over 100 years ago as Kansans fought for equal suffrage. Follow along at @MFarnsworthKSHS to see history through the words of someone who lived it.

Mar 11, 2019 by

By: Haley Suby, Digital Archivist

In the United States eighty years ago, the Wizard of Oz, "America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale" graced the silver screens. MGM based the film on the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum which was published in 1900. (1) Baum's story, in which the infamous cyclone carries Dorothy and Toto from "grey Kansas" to the "queer land of Oz" introduces readers to Dorothy's travel companions, both good and evil.(2)

 Wizard of Oz sand sculptures in Topeka, Kansas

While traveling the yellow brick road toward the Emerald City, Dorothy begins collecting fellow travelers. First she saves the Scarecrow from his tedious work of scaring the crows from the field night and day. 


Fred Stone as Wizard of Oz Scarecrow

Then she rescues the Tinman from resting by putting oil into his joints. Finally, she knocks sense into the Cowardly Lion after he tries to bite Toto.

In 1939 MGM brought Baum's story to life in Technicolor to be shown in theaters across the United States. Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, took audiences on her adventure from Kansas to Oz and home to Kansas again.

Wizard of Oz view-master reels

Over the past one-hundred and nineteen years, Kansas has celebrated the novel, musical and film The Wizard of Oz. In Wamego, Kansas, the Oztober Fest pays tribute to the film. Shown here is a scene from one of their many productions of the musical.


Wizard of Oz cast on stage at Oztober Fest 

Even the villain of the story, the Wicked Witch of the West, is honored for her part in the story.

Margaret Hamilton, Wicked Witch of the West, in Topeka, Kanas

Adapting the novel to theater and film has led to several changes over the decades. One thing that has remained constant: it is one of the greatest films penetrating "straight to the deepest insecurities of childhood" (3) and bringing children home with three clicks of their heels.

 1. Evina, Frank J. The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale. May 2000, Library of Congress.

2. Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Chicago: Geo. M. Hill Co., 1900.

 3. Ebert, Roger. "Great Movies: The Wizard of Oz. RogerEbert.com, 22 December 1996. Web. Accessed: 16 February 2019.


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