From the Stacks
By Carol Ann Robb, PPL Reference Librarian
What better way to commemorate Kansas Day than by celebrating the lives of four women connected to Southeast Kansas? Of course, by celebrate I mean reading about them.
Three of the four I’m highlighting were born and bred in Kansas, the first being Chanute native Osa Johnson. She became well known for travels with her husband Martin, that took them to the South Seas and Africa from 1917 to 1936. Her book, “I Married Adventure,” came out in 1940 after Martin’s tragic death. You can read more about this couple’s exploits in “They Married Adventure” by Pascal James Imperato, and “Osa and Martin: For the Love of Adventure” by Kelly Enright.
Born in Cherryvale, Louise Brooks began dancing with the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts when she was just 15, performing opposite Ted Shawn. That part of her life is the basis for Laura Moriarty’s novel , “The Chaperone.” (Interesting connection to PPL: Ted Shawn was the model for Ella Buchanan’s work “Genius” which is displayed on the second floor). But Louise made her big splash in the silent movie, “Pandora’s Box” and became known for her iconic flapper look. She wrote “Lulu in Hollywood,” telling of her exploits in the acting world.
Vivian Vance, or Vivian Jones as she was known growing up, lived down the street from the Brooks family and the girls played together until Louise moved to Wichita. She didn’t always claim Cherryvale as her hometown, in fact didn’t seem to care much for Kansas at all. Yet another interesting story connects her to Pittsburg and tangentially to the library: supposedly when she changed her name, she chose Vance for folklorist Vance Randolph who she knew. I’m not sure if that can be verified anywhere, but I’d like to believe it. You can out more about her in “The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: the Life Story of Vivian Vance,” by Frank Castelluccio.
Which leaves us with the non-native but more infamous Kansan—Kate Bender. Cherryvale can lay claim to yet another of our Kansas women, though she was long gone before Louise and Vivian were born. Kate has gotten literary acclaim this past year with the publication of “Hell’s Half-Acre: the Untold Story of the Benders” by Susan Jonusas, as well as a novel based on her family, “All the Blood We Share” by Camilla Bruce. You can find many other books on the Bender family in our collection, too.
Kansas history is full of stories of famous and not-so-famous women (and men, too) who left their mark not only on our state but across the country. And you can read them long after January 29. Let every day be Kansas Day!