Bulletin of the Shawnee County Historical Society Now Available Online
In 1878 when funding for the first free public library in Topeka was in question, one angry citizen sent this to letter to the editor:
“The utility of the Topeka library is very questionable when we find upward of 27,000 works of fiction taken out in the course of a year, to a trifle over 6,000 other books. Thoughtful people are liable to ask themselves the question whether this is not more of a mental grog shop than a place where wholesome mind food is provided.” –Bulletin of the Shawnee County Historical Society, no. 47, November 1970, p. 52
Luckily, in 1879, public pressure won over the city council and they restored funding for the library. I find this amusing, because people still check out more fiction than nonfiction — we encourage you to read whatever you like! I discovered this bit of history in the Bulletin of the Shawnee County Historical Society, a magazine published between 1946 and 2001, which is now available online through the library.
If you’re interested in the history of Topeka and Shawnee County, whether looking to be entertained or do serious research, you will find something to like in the Bulletin. It contains more than 1700 articles. Some were written at the time of publication; some are reprints of articles, letters, interviews, speeches and photographs from people who lived the history. There are descriptions of all aspects of society and daily life.
Topics You’ll Find
The Bulletin covers items from the 1850s when people came from the east to settle in the new Kansas territory in what would become Shawnee County and Topeka. It includes local history up to the 1950s with a few mentions of the later 20th century. Some of the incredible buffet of topics included are:
- Politics and government including political scandals of the times
- Descriptions of social life and entertainment such as clubs, dances, theaters and parades
- Churches, clergy and religious life
- Biographies of Shawnee County residents
- Narratives describing life in Topeka and Shawnee County
- Businesses, from hat makers, to utility companies, to railroads
- Sports and athletes
- Agriculture and farming
- Schools and education
- Buildings and architecture
- Weather and natural disasters
Tips for Using the Bulletin
You’ll find the Bulletin at this link and in the local history section of our website under digital collections. Browse to your heart’s content or search for anything you’re interested in.
One way to find things is to use the Search box at the top right of the page. This searches the entire text of all the articles to find every time the word(s) is used. Then you can narrow your results by subject, date, author or contributor. Try searching your favorite hobby and see if you can find out how they did it in Topeka 100 years ago!
Use the Advanced Search to be more specific about where in the article your search term appears and dates of publication.
What do you want to know about the history of Topeka and Shawnee County? During the next few months, we will feature more historical tales and tidbits from the Bulletins of the Shawnee County Historical Society, along with tips for using the website. The library’s local history staff would be happy to help you dive deeper into the Bulletin any time.