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Sunday, July 27, 2014

1901-1910: Reform and progression

BY BECCY TANNER
The Wichita Eagle

At the turn of the 20th century, there was no place like Kansas. In 1900, L. Frank Baum published "The Wizard of Oz."

SCARECROW: "I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas."

DOROTHY: "That is because you have no brains... No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home."

Arguably, "The Wizard of Oz" has become the state's most identifiable icon.

For better or worse, the characters from Oz are so entrenched in American culture that when Kansans go visiting elsewhere they are still asked, a century after the book was published, "How's Dorothy and her little dog, Toto?"

But at the turn of the 20th century, Kansans had more reasons than a classic story to capture the nation's attention.

This decade gave rise to the Pentecostal movement, prohibition and social reform.

Carry A. Nation, the hatchet-toting prohibitionist from Medicine Lodge smashed bars and became internationally known for her views on liquor and tobacco.

She wasn't the only one to gain recognition.

Kansan Charles Sheldon first posed the question: "What would Jesus Do?" which was shortened to WWJD and shows up on bracelets, key chains and bumper stickers today.

That question's legacy began more than a century ago with a series of sermons that Sheldon, then a Topeka minister, presented as parables to his congregation.

Sheldon was a feisty minister and social reformer who, beginning in 1896, preached a series of sermons to the Central Congregational Church in Topeka. So popular was the cliffhanger-type series that it was published in book form, "In His Steps."

"What would Jesus Do?" wasn't just a whim for Sheldon. It was a question Sheldon repeatedly asked himself. He became one of the leading social reformers in the nation, turning a bar into one of the state's first kindergartens, preaching equal rights for minorities, women and the working class and even taking over publishing of the Topeka Daily Capital for one week — boosting the paper's circulation from 11,000 to 362,000.

In this decade, the state's public health director Samuel Crumbine combated tuberculosis with a "Don't spit on the sidewalk" campaign.

Crumbine also promoted the use of flyswatters and screens on windows to combat diseases carried by the fly. He demanded that hotels regularly change the sheets on their beds.

It was the beginnings of the Menninger Clinic, a Topeka family of doctors who rose to national fame based on their belief of treating patients as a whole person and not just specific symptoms.

It was a time when almost everything of national consequence happened first in Kansas.

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