Wide Open Town Symposium looks at Kansas City in the Pendergast Era

Kansas City Public Library News Release

Jason Roe
Digital History Specialist
Kansas City Public Library
(816) 701-3718 

Wide Open Town, a free symposium, looks at Kansas City in the Pendergast Era

It was a time in Kansas City that boasted a vibrant nightlife and jazz scene; but, under the gilded veneer was the political corruption of the Pendergast Machine. Kansas City Public Library has organized a two-day event, Wide Open Town: Kansas City During the Pendergast Era, that explores Kansas City in the 1920s and '30s. The symposium, Friday-Saturday, April 1-2, 2016, is free and open to the public. It features presentations from professional historians and a keynote lecture at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64112; (816) 701-3481. Those interested in attending should RSVP.

Kansas City skyline 

This dynamic period marked Kansas City's transformation from a rough "cowtown" on the Great Plains into a modern city that boasted an expanding population, a developing urban core, and a cultural fluorescence best characterized by its vibrant nightlife and jazz scene. Kansas City established a national reputation in this period, prompting many modern observers to consider it the city's "golden age."

Underneath the gilded veneer, however, the era was marred by the political corruption that emerged from the Pendergast Machine, by the Great Depression, and by strained relations among the races and sexes. Even with a decidedly mixed legacy, this period largely defined Kansas City's reputation for much of the 20th century.

The symposium also anticipates a pair of projects based in part on this scholarship. A book of collected essays will be published by the University Press of Kansas at a future date. Additionally, a new website will form the next edition of the Library's effort to create a digital encyclopedia of Kansas City's history. The first edition, CivilWarOnTheWesternBorder.org, explored the Missouri-Kansas border war with fresh scholarship, lesson plans for educators, and thousands of digitized original documents, garnering multiple awards in the fields of public and digital history.

The Wide Open Town Symposium is organized by the Kansas City Public Library, the Center for Midwestern Studies and the History Department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It is cosponsored by the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area, the UMKC Bernardin Haskell Lectures Fund, the UMKC Office of Research Services, the UMKC High School/College Partnership and Tom's Town Distilling Co. David Kennedy's keynote address is part of the Organization of American Historians' Distinguished Lectureship Program.


The symposium schedule is listed below.

Friday, April 1, 2016
KEYNOTE ADDRESS - The Great Depression: Causes, Impact, Consequence

Providing national context for the Wide Open Town symposium, David M. Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, at Stanford University, assesses the transformational period of American history during the 1920s and '30s, emphasizing the impact of the Great Depression.

Reception: 6 p.m. | Program: 6:30 p.m.
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64112
RSVP for this event

9-11:30 a.m.
Diane Mutti Burke, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Midwestern Studies, University of Missouri - Kansas City, session chair.

John McKerley, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Iowa Labor Center, The Other Tom's Town: Thomas T. Crittenden, Jr., Black Disfranchisement, and the Rise of Modern Liberalism in Kansas City, 1908-1910.

Jeffrey Pasley, Professor of History, University of Missouri-Columbia, Big Trouble in Little Tammany: The Pendergast Machine and the Transformation of the Democratic Party.

Dustin Gann, Lecturer & Honors Faculty, Arizona State University, "Our Time to Shine:" The 1928 Republican National Convention.

-- Break --

David Hanzlick, Adjunct Faculty, Park University, Adjunct Faculty, Rockhurst University, Moving Forward: Women's Organizations and the Claim to Political Space.

Kyle Anthony, Assistant Professor, University of Saint Mary, "The Bitterest Battle:" The ILGWU and Unionization in the Kansas City Garment District.

-- Q & A --

11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Teaching Kansas City Between the Wars Workshop
A workshop for local K-12 teachers that will provide them with the opportunity to engage with some of the conference scholars about the issue of teaching this topic. Lunch will be provided for the participants. (This workshop is not open to the general public.)

1:30-3:30 p.m.
Jason Roe, Digital History Specialist, Kansas City Public Library, session chair.

Henrietta Wood, Assistant Teaching Professor, Honors College, UMKC, Collaborative Confrontation in the "Persistent Protest:" Lucile Bluford and the Kansas City Call, 1939-1942.

Marc Rice, Professor of Music, Musicology, Truman State University, "Kansas City On Tip-Toe:" Charity, Politics, Dancing, and Jazz near 18th and Vine in the 1920s

Valerie Mendoza, Lecturer, Department of American Studies, University of Kansas, Kansas City's Guadalupe Center and the Mexican Immigrant Community, 1919-1940.

Stuart Hinds, Director of Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, UMKC, From Proscenium to Inferno: The Interwar Transformation of Female Impersonation in Kansas City.

-- Q & A --

Saturday, April 2, 2016

9-11 a.m.
John Herron, Associate Professor of History, University of Missouri - Kansas City, session chair.

Keith Eggener, Marion D. Ross Distinguished Professor of Architectural History, University of Oregon, Kansas City's Liberty Memorial: Remembering Then and Now.

Pellom McDaniels, Curator of African American Collections, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, & Rare Book Library, Emory University, Bringing the News: The Social, Political and Economic Importance of Black Baseball to Kansas City's African American Community, 1919-1939.

Chuck Haddix, Director, Marr Sound Archives, Producer, KCUR-FM, University of Missouri - Kansas City, University Libraries, The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks Orchestra: The Band that Made Radio Famous.

Henry Adams, Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History, Case Western Reserve University, Thomas Hart Benton and Kansas City's Golden Age.

-- Q & A --
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Diane Mutti Burke, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Midwestern Studies, University of Missouri - Kansas City, session chair.

Sara Stevens, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia, J.C. Nichols' Suburban Infrastructure: The Aesthetic, Moral, and Legal Foundations of American Suburbia.

Jaclyn Miller, Ph.D. Candidate, History, University of Kansas, "A Magnificent Tower of Strength:" The Federal Reserve in Kansas City and District Ten-J.

John Herron, Associate Professor, History Department Chair, UMKC, Making Meat: Race, Labor, and the Kansas City Stockyards.

Jason Roe, Digital History Specialist, Kansas City Public Library, "As Good as Money Could Buy:" Kansas City's Black General Hospital No. 2.

-- Q & A --

Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
Titles authored by symposium participants will be made available for sale by the UMKC Book Store during the symposium.

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