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Museum - Early 20th Century Exhibit

Early 20th Century section of the Kansas Museum of History

Experience the hard times lived by Kansans at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka.

 You'll see:

The first decades of the 20th century were tumultuous in Kansas as the state endured drought, war, intolerance, and economic depression.

In the early 1900s, reform movements were sweeping the nation because laws were not being enforced and, particularly in cities, vice was rampant. There were no social agencies to help the poor and addicted. Kansans, too, were caught up in the reform fervor and were leaders in curbing the use of alcohol and tobacco.

Chevy Eagle automobile, 1930s.

Angry that prohibition laws were not being enforced, one Kansas reformer took the law into her own hands. Carry Nation used rocks to smash her first saloon in June 1900. During the next six months she gained national attention for her campaign. Unfortunately, most people today know her only as an oversimplified stereotype, but Nation actually was acting within a mainstream reform movement. "The Roaring Twenties" saw continued reform efforts as the Ku Klux Klan attempted to spread its message of racial and religious intolerance in Kansas. Through the combined efforts of Pulitzer Prize-winning editor William Allen White and governor Henry Allen, Kansas became the first state to legally oust the Klan.

Print by Kansas artist Herschel Logan

While hard times hit the nation with the 1929 stock market crash, many Kansans had known difficulties since the end of World War I when reduced demand for grain hurt the farm economy. Already suffering, farm families were hit hardest by the Great Depression because of a severe and lengthy drought. Dust storms became so frequent in the early 1930s that parts of Kansas and surrounding states became known as "The Dust Bowl."

To fight the depression, the federal government created relief agencies. One of these was the Works Projects Administration (WPA) which supported artists and trained unemployed workers in new skills. The WPA's Kansas Museum Project provided training in various crafts and produced artworks for use in schools and museums.

Many WPA projects can be seen around Kansas today. Besides art and artifacts in museum collections, there are bridges, band shells, reservoirs and roads still in use around the state.

Ad astra per aspera
(To the stars through difficulties)
—Kansas state motto