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Charles Leroy Edson Papers

(Coll. 27)


Biographical Sketch

Charles Leroy Edson was born in Wilber, Nebraska, on December 6, 1881. At the age of three his family moved across the Kansas State line to Republic County near Cuba. There the young Edson grew up on a farm. He attended elementary school at Cuba, and may have also briefly attended schools in Nebraska and Sacramento, California. He attended Olathe (Kansas) High School, then went to the University of Kansas where he was a member of the Class of 1904, though he did not complete the requirements for a degree or receive a diploma until 1918. Edson's strict father discouraged his literary interests, but while at the university Edson and his brothers published a literary magazine.

In 1905, Edson married Lena Fern Bear.

Edson worked for The Kansas City Star and Times as a reporter and humor columnist for approximately five years. He farmed in Arkansas for a short period of time in 1907. His daughter, Helen Poe Edson, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the following year. He became managing editor of The Tulsa Post from 1909 to 1910. His next position was with The New York Morning Post. He then jumped to The New York Evening Mail where he had his own column, "An Arkansas Man on Broadway." The column presented a humorous look at the New York theater, and Edson claimed it was the first column of the type later popularized by Walter Winchell. He later was a columnist for The New York Morning Telegraph. While in New York, he also wrote the column, "Always in Good Humor." Edson served for a while in 1911 as associate editor of The Appeal To Reason of Girard, Kansas.

Beginning in 1917, he edited Mooseheart Magazine, the organ of the Loyal Order of Moose, in Mooseheart, Illinois. There he met James J. Davis, head of the order, who became the United States secretary of labor in 1920. (Later Davis became a senator from Pennsylvania.) During the administration of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge's first term, Edson served as press agent for Davis. He also was the ghostwriter of Davis's best-selling autobiography entitled The Iron Puddler.

In 1924, Edson moved to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, where he published the Edson Pocket Library. The series of six titles, mostly poetry, were written by Edson himself. During his residency in the Charleston, South Carolina, area, he was also associate editor of The Charleston News and Courier.

When the Great Depression came, Edson found himself out of work and destitute. To provide for his family, he left them in New York and returned to Kansas, where in 1935 he landed a job as a writer for the Federal Writers' Project under the Works Progress Administration. (His wife, Lena, remained in the New York area, where she held a stenographer's position and made $18.00 a week.) Edson's views of Kansas, as expressed in his writings, were never accepted by his superiors. Often times, his personal and political views caused great dissention within the project offices. According to Edson, several attempts were made to fire him or reduce his pay. Those actions, Edson claimed, were a result of his political beliefs. The election of Democratic Governor Walter Huxman seemed to bring an elevation of Edson's position within the office.

Little is known about his later life. He remained in Topeka and contributed essays and poetry to The Kansas City Star and other newspapers. In the early 1970's, the hotel where he lived was torn down for an urban-renewal project, and, in failing health, he was moved to a nursing home. Edson died in Topeka on December 4, 1975, two days before his ninety-fourth birthday. *

Edson's writings consisted primarily of essays, poems, novels, and humorous sketches. His works have been described as bitter and unfair reflections of Kansas and the American scene, although his The Gentle Art of Columning (1920) was used for many years as a journalism textbook. In addition, H. L. Mencken and Walter Winchell both felt Edson had potential as a writer.

His books and articles (with Kansas State Historical Society Library call numbers in brackets where applicable) include Love Lyrics Of a Chump (1908); "The Doomed Deer Slayer" in Collier's Weekly (February 21, 1914) [GL 051 C69 v. 52 no. 23 p. 27]; The Gentle Art of Columning (1920) [K 070 Ed76]; Lips of Almond Bloom (1924) [K 811 Ed76]; Dulcinea's Diary (1924) [K 813 Ed76d]; Prairie Fire (1924), memories of his unhappy childhood in Kansas and his dislike of the dominant forces in Kansas culture [K 811 Ed76p]; Rhymes & Circuses (1924) [K 811 Ed76r]; Whale Meat (1924) [K 818 Ed 76w]; What I Know About Jews (1924); The Great American Ass (1926), an autobiography, possibly fictionalized, published anonymously [K B Ed76]; "The Lament Of A Taurig Bride" in Kansas Magazine (1938) [K 050 K13 1938]; "Velocipede Days" in Kansas Magazine (1942) [K 050 K13 1942 p.93]; "Kansas City Saga" (1946) [GL 977.82 K13 Clipp. v.5 p.54]; and "The Ballad Of Kansas City" (1947) [GL 817.082 C764 p.207]. In addition to The Iron Puddler, Edson also was the ghostwriter for Abe The Newsboy. Also in the Historical Society Research Center's Library are published columns, poetry, sketches, and cartoons, as well as a scrapbook he compiled [K 811 Ed76 c].

An autobiographical sketch written about 1939 is included in Box 1 of this collection. In addition, a biographical sketch of Edson appears in the Edna Reinbach miscellaneous collection.

* There is a discrepancy between newspapers dates of September and funeral director papers of December.

Scope and Content

Mystery surrounds the life of Charles Leroy Edson. One can find quantities of written material about his anti-establishment views in regard to Topeka, Kansas. (He even kept his initial notes for many of his writings.) Edson was outspoken against the Republican Party, Alf Landon, Arthur Capper, Charles Sheldon, and the Episcopal Church. Constantly, Edson stated that Kansans were too susceptible to reform movements, demonstrated by the state's enthusiastic embrace of abolition, prohibition, and Populism. Yet, much of his writing occurred while a part of the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project.

There is an enigma surrounding Edson. Since much of Edson's writing was devoted to literary endeavors, the researcher is left with the question, "What is fact, what is fiction?" Often Edson wrote under an assumed name or was a ghostwriter, which compounded the problem. One has the feeling that Edson was frustrated with lack of recognition for his work.

Edson's correspondence and manuscripts in this collection consist of items from 1919 through the 1940s, with a few items as late as 1951. Moving frequently because of his financial circumstances and fearing that his political opponents might destroy them, he placed these papers with George A. Root, curator of archives at the Kansas State Historical Society, for safekeeping beginning in 1936 or 1937. The papers remained in Root's office until 1949, when they were donated to the society. In addition to these papers, there are articles relating to Edson's writings on Kansas in general, Topeka, and Fort Leavenworth. Some of these papers are copies of essays written for the Kansas volume of the American Guide Series and rejected by Edson's editors. Many of the manuscripts came from his research or writing on the Kansas Guide, while others were written at a later date. Most of these papers seem to be part of the collection entrusted to Root, although there are also some later manuscripts donated directly by Edson in the 1950s after Root's death.

In Box 1, folder 2, Edson's correspondence covers the dates 1919-1937. It contains both private and public letters with various annotations made on them by Edson himself. Folder 3 provides information on the Writers' Project under the Works Progress Administration. Special note of two letters by H. L. Mencken (1939, 1943) might be of interest to the researcher. Folder 4 contains letters between the former Kansas governor George Hodges and Edson. Of special interest to literary researchers, folder 5 contains correspondence between Edson and Walter Winchell.

Boxes 2, 3, and 4 contain Edson's vast manuscript collection. Among such literary sets are "The First Blood For Hoover" [not after 1932], a tale describing the antipathy between capital and agriculture. "The American Way" was an essay composed for a contest sponsored by Harper's Magazine in which Edson commented on the history of American nationalism along with a description of Kansas' significance and his proposals for the future. "Black's Dissenting Opinions" comments on the United States Supreme Court's affirmation that a corporation is a "person" under the law. The two essays, "The Great American Novel--Hoax" and "Plagiarism and Theft of Literary Property of C. L. Edson in The Great American Novel," discuss the writing of his manuscript, "The Great American Novel," its rejection by publishers, its revision as "The Biologic Jesus," and the publication of The Great American Novel by Clyde Brian Davis. Edson claimed that it was a plagiarism of his work by that name. "The Biologic Jesus" (1936), which Edson said was written after a study of the "biologic roots of the messianic instinct" is a book-length manuscript written autobiographically, containing commentary on human nature, religion, society, politics, economics, and American culture (C. L. Edson, "Plagiarism and Theft of Literary Property of C. L. Edson in The Great American Novel," n.d., Box 4, folder 1, Manuscripts, (S-T). Charles Leroy Edson ms. collection, No. 27, State Archives & Library, Kansas Historical Society.). 1 Edson's "Preface"-a foreword to "Booms and Ballies," an unpublished manuscript not included in the collection, consists of a revisionist history of Kansas with emphasis on town-building taken from copy written by Edson and rejected by the editors of the American Guide Series book on Kansas. "The Immaculate Deception" is an unpublished 1937 satire on the Kansas social and political climate. Edson's "Sample" of six newspaper columns (1939)--"The Stripping Stars," "For President, Pop Eye," "The Troublesome Surplus," "Where Do I Come In?," "Punch Board Election Plan," and "Here's The Information"--are political commentaries. "Capitol Removal" (May, 1941--March, 1942) is a historical narrative of how Sedalia, Missouri, land speculator J. B. Quiggly used the promise of the removal of the Missouri capitol to Sedalia as a ploy to reap a fortune in real estate speculation. Also included is an earlier version of the same story and other examples of states and counties moving their seats of government.

In addition to manuscripts, Edson was a writer of poetry. Box 5 contains his poems and pamphlets. Many of his lyrical writings were in a satirical vein, too. Since Edson wrote during his Writers' Project days, much material is available on the Works Progress Administration writing in boxes 6 and 7.

Related manuscript collections include the papers of George Hodges (no. 58), Cecil Howes (no. 393), Alfred Mossman Landon (no. 10), and Arthur Capper (no. 12). In addition, the Historical Society's State archives holdings has the gubernatorial papers of Capper, Hodges, and Landon (record group 252).

Contents List

This collection has been arranged to the document level, described to the series level, listed to the folder level, and cataloged to the collection level.

Series Description

A. Autobiographical Sketches

(Box 1, Folder 1; microfilm MS 811)
Various writings on Charles Leroy Edson are included in this series.
(ca. 1939).

B. Correspondence

(Box 1, Folders 2-5; microfilm MS 811)
Subdivided into four sections, this series covers the time period from 1919 to 1951. Folder 2 contains public and private letters, many annotated by Edson himself. Folder 3 provides material on the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project. (Of special note are the letters from H. L. Mencken.) Folder 4 contains correspondence between George Hodges, former Kansas governor, and Edson. Folder 5 documents the writings of Walter Winchell to Edson. Folder 6 contains a number of newspaper clippings and annotations regarding Edson's works.

C. Manuscripts

(Boxes 2, 3, and 4; microfilm MS 811-MS 812)
Box 2, folder 1 provides the manuscript entitled "Animals In Politics" with cover letters. Folder 2 has manuscripts with cover letters (B-L). The "Roosevelt" manuscript is found in Box 3, folder 1. It also contains a cover letter. Folder 2 contains the carbon of "Roosevelt." Box 4, folder 1 provides manuscripts (S-T). See Appendix A for a complete list of titles.

D. Poetry

(Box 5, Folders 1-4; microfilm MS 812-MS 813)
Edson was a prolific writer of poems as well as stories. Included in this series, folder 1 (A-M), documents Edson's "Lament Of A Taurig Bride" with cover letter. Folder 2 (N-Z), contains "Prairie Fire" with cover letter. "The Dangerous Age," an illustrated poem, is found in folder 3. Folders 4 and 5 contain preparation materials for "Ghost Town Memories." Completing the series are a number of pamphlets (folder 6), and note fragments (folder 7). See Appendix B for a complete list of titles.

E. Works Progress Administration

(Boxes 6-7; microfilm MS 813-MS 815)
This series contains an alphabetical listing of Edson's contribution to the Writers' Project. Box 6, folders 1 and 2, contain material (A-D) and (E-F), respectively. Box 7, folders 1, 2, and 3 contain material (H-L), (N-S), and (T-Z), respectively. Much of his writing involved the American Guide. See Appendix C for a complete list of titles.

Folder List

To request materials, use the Microfilm Roll No. in bold type below. Researchers at the State Archives & Library may pull the film themselves from the microfilm cabinets in the reference room. The film is also available through interlibrary loan.

Microfilm Box No. Folder No.    
Roll No.     Description Dates
MS 811 1 1 Autobiographical sketches [ca. 1939]
MS 811 1 2 Correspondence (Letters, private and public with annotations by Edson) 1919-1937
MS 811 1 3 Correspondence (Works Progress Administration’s Writers’ Project writing ; H. L. Mencken’s notes, 1939, 1943, the latter one commenting on Alf Landon ; a few letters to and from his family) 1938-1951, undated
MS 811 1 4 Correspondence (Former Kansas Governor George Hodges’s letters and “Saga of a Country Town”)  
MS 811 1 5 Correspondence (Walter Winchell material)  
MS 811 1 6 Newspaper clipping and annotations (Numerous annotated and illustrated articles from Edson’s works in such publications as The New York Evening Mail, The New York Times, The Literary Review, etc.)  
MS 811 2 1 Manuscripts (Manuscripts with cover letters concerning “Animals in Politics”)  
MS 812 2 2 Manuscripts (Manuscripts with cover letters, B-L, including such titles as “First Blood for Hoover”)  
MS 812 3 1 Manuscripts (Manuscript of “Roosevelt” with cover letter)  
MS 812 3 2 Manuscripts (carbon of “Roosevelt”)  
MS 812 4   Manuscripts (Manuscripts S-T, with such literary works as The Iron Pudler: Jim Davis Story)  
MS 812-MS 813 5 1 Poetry (A collection of poetry with Edson’s annotations, A-M, including “The Lament of a Taurig Bride” with letter)  
MS 813 5 2 Poetry (A collection of poetry with Edson’s annotations, N-Z, including “Prairie Fire” with letter)  
MS 813 5 3 Poetry (Illustrated poem entitled “The Dangerous Age”)  
MS 813 5 4 Preparation materials (For “Ghost Town Memories,” et al.)  
MS 813 5 5 Preparation materials (For “Ghost Town Memories,” with pictures and notes)  
MS 813 5 6 Pamphlets  
MS 813 5 7 Note fragments  
MS 813-MS 814 6 1 Works Progress Administration (Writers’ Project, A-D)  
MS 814 6 2 Works Progress Administration (Writers’ Project, E-F)  
MS 814 7 1 Works Progress Administration (Writers’ Project, H-L)  
MS 814 7 2 Works Progress Administration (Writers’ Project, N-S)  
MS 814-MS 815 7 3 Works Progress Administration (Writers’ Project, T-Z)  

Linear feet of shelf space occupied: 2.625

Additional Information for Researchers


The papers of Charles Leroy Edson, an author, poet, and journalist of Topeka, Kansas, were given to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1949 by George A. Root and in 1951 by Mr. Edson.


There are no restrictions on access to these papers.

The subject of literary rights was not addressed at the time of donation, consequently copyright is presumed to belong to C. L. Edson's heirs. Copyright to letters written by persons other than Edson is owned by the heirs of the authors or their assigns.

Suggested Citation

The suggested citation form for this collection is:

(name of document), (date of document), (series), Charles Leroy Edson collection, Kansas Historical Society microfilm (roll number).

Series and folder designations are not necessary but often can help archivists locate materials more quickly.

Some examples of specific documents:

Paul C. Aiken, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Washington, D.C., to C. L. Edson, 7 May, 1938, Correspondence, (1938-1951). Charles Leroy Edson collection, No. 27, Manuscripts Department, Kansas Historical Society microfilm MS 811.

"First Blood of Hoover", n.d., Manuscripts, (B-L), Charles Leroy Edson collection, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS 812.

Charles Letroy Edson, Collection 27

Processed by

Joyce Boswell, Lela Barnes intern, July 1989

Reprocessed by

Patty Emmerich, Lela Barnes intern, June, 1991