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Alice Nichols and The Nichols Journal

Posted by Megan Rohleder on Jul 9, 2021

By: Katie Keckeisen, Collections Archivist

"[Kansas] is so often referred to – or rather used – as a synonym for all that is mediocre in thought and scenery.  I know the beauties of both because they are a part of me.  Someday I must express them someway – it is a debt I owe."  -from the diary of Alice C. Nichols, 1931.

Alice Nichols seemed born to write.  While is she most well-known for authoring what many believe to be the best book concerning Kansas during the Civil War, her literary prowess began before she even reached adulthood.

Alice C. Nichols was born in Liberal, Kansas, on August 22, 1905, the only daughter of Dr. Roscoe T. & Mrs. Osa C. Nichols.  She published her first newspaper – the handwritten Tiny Town News – when she was just nine years old.  In 1916, her father was deployed overseas in World War I serving as a major in the medical corp.  Alice began publishing The Nichols Journal as a way of giving him all the news from back home in Liberal. 

Other locals began asking for copies of her weekly paper and soon Alice was beyond the limits of what she could publish with her typewriter and carbon paper.  Her father purchased a set of newspaper type and one of the local papers – The Liberal Democrat – allowed Alice to come in every Saturday afternoon to publish The Nichols Journal on their press. 

 

The paper dealt mostly with local interest stories.  One of The Journal’s favorite topics was whenever an aviation display came to town and offered rides to locals.  The paper also contained national and international news stories, advertisements from local businesses, and an editorial from Alice.  The editorials covered a wide range of topics, from town boosterism to situation in postwar Europe to getting out the vote during elections.  She also regularly championed women’s rights.

Word began to go around about the young newspaper editor.  By 1921, the paper had over 100 subscribers.  In January of that year, a representative of the Pathe Film Company came to Liberal to film Alice for one of their weekly newsreels.  Images of Alice interviewing subjects for stories, setting the type, running the printing press, and even acting as her own newsboy were soon shown across the nation.  Newspapers around the United States picked up the story and dubbed Alice “the youngest of newspaper publishers.”  By the end of that year, The Nichols Journal had over 125 subscribers; even President Woodrow Wilson received a weekly copy.

The final edition of The Nichols Journal ran on January 8, 1923.  In her last editorial, Alice wrote:

 “it is hard to quit after publishing it for five years, but the additional worries of the Senior year makes it impossible to keep it up longer. […] Some day – after college is finished – we hope that we may get out the list of Journal subscribers and send you all a new Journal – not under the same name perhaps, and we have a hope that it will be in a magazine form or perhaps in the form of a big paper – a daily.  And until that time we wish you all the good luck in the world and may your dreams become realized even as we hope that our will.”

 

Alice did realize those dreams.  After graduating from Kansas State University with a degree in journalism, she moved to the East Coast where she held several jobs in the publishing world.  She also founded her own company – I.S. Ltd., Inc. – that marketed toys and games.  In 1954, Alice published the work she would become best known for: Bleeding Kansas.  The book is still widely regarded as one of the best-written historical accounts of life in Kansas before the Civil War.  The research and writing of the book took her over ten years. 

Alice’s career came to a premature end when she died of malnutrition on January 6, 1969.  She had been in the hospital for several weeks due to a fractured spine and broken rib.  Many of her friends believed it was Alice’s characteristic stubbornness and unending work-ethic that contributed to her death.  


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