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Kansas Memory Blog

Apr 25, 2023 by Megan Rohleder

By: Lauren Gray, Head of Reference

Abbie Bright is a name most of the Kansas Historical Society staff will recognize, if only because her writing was so extensive that she shows up in virtually every catalog search we do. But Abbie is more than a touchstone in our catalog – she was a vivacious and independent young woman at a time when it was rare for women to wander so far afield. It is also one of history’s small ironies that her surname so aptly described her: bright, as well as bold, daring, yet with an eye for quiet detail and a knack for assessing her own character. In attitude, Abbie was a conventional 19th century woman, but in action, she was startlingly unconventional, and it is this dichotomy that makes Abbie and her diary an enduring historical resource.


Born in Danville, Pennsylvania in 1848, Abbie worked as a teacher after she finished school. In 1871, she traveled to Indiana and Kansas to visit her brothers, who had struck out West after the Civil War. Abbie kept a diary during her trip, and recorded her thoughts and feelings, as well as vivid descriptions of her journey and details of her encounters with people on the frontier. Even twenty years after becoming a state, Sedgwick County was rural and sparsely settled. During her time in Kansas, Abbie’s brother, Phillip Bright, encouraged her, as an unmarried woman, to utilize the Homestead Act to invest in 160 acres of land in Sedgwick County.

From her diary, April 1871:

Brother Philip wrote his address is Wichita Kans. He had spent the winter in Kans. and Indian Territory. He says … if I want to come west, I can take up Government Land, and after living on it six months, can prove up on it by paying $1 1/4 an acre for it. He took up a claim some time ago, and if I go—I can stay with him, his house is almost finished. I am only to take heavy strong clothing, and what ever I will want for a bed. The rout is via Quincy— Kansas City, Topeka, Emporia—There a stage runs to Wichita, where he will meet me…If I decide to go, I shall do so at once. … I wonder what mother will say, when she hears I am going to Kans.


Abbie’s time in Kansas was marked by extreme weather, ague, and the rigors of frontier life. The only thing she craved more than mail from home was flour to make bread. She spent much of her time doing domestic tasks at her brother’s cabin. She made lasting friends, including Frank, a young man who lived in Wichita and who asked permission to write to her. While Abbie does not confirm if she agreed, Frank was a doting figure during her time in Kansas.

From her diary, June 1871

Frank gave me three arrows that had been shot into a buffalo.  Last winter when out hunting they shot a buffalo that the Indians had been chacing, and there were seven arrows sticking in him, and he gave me three.  I think them quite a curiosity.  It was not easy for the Indians to kill a buffalo, unless they shot them in the eye or back of the front leg in the heart.  Their skull is so thick an arrow glances off.

Unlike many settlers in Kansas, Abbie did not intend to stay forever. Despite her fondness for the new state and the many friends she made during her stay, she lived in Kansas less than a year. Abbie eventually resettled in Iowa. She married William Achenback in 1873 and became an active and beloved member of her community. Abbie’s diary and correspondence passed down to her grandson, who donated them to the Kansas Historical Society.

From her diary, November 1871

Now I have had the last look at my Kansas claim, and the dug out.  Where I spent many weeks.  I felt real sorry to leave.  As I stood alone by the dug out – no one in sight, no visible sign of civilization…  I felt depressed, I was so glad to be with Philip for over seven months.  Now I was leaving, when would I see him again?... I do not like changes.

History catches up with us in interesting ways. Earlier this year, Director Sarah Dougherty at the Beaman Community Memorial Library approached the Kansas Historical Society’s Archaeology Department about the arrowhead Abbie had acquired during her stay in Kansas. Whether it was the gift from Frank, or something she purchased as a souvenir while in Kansas, after her death, the arrowhead had passed to her descendants and stayed in Iowa, while her papers had journeyed, again, to Kansas. The Beaman Community Memorial Library, with the permission of the donor’s family, is transferring custody of the arrowhead to the Kansas Historical Society on April 7th, 2023. After over 150 years, Abbie’s arrow is coming home.

For more information about Abbie Bright, her papers, her time in Kansas, and the effect of white settlement on the frontier, you can refer to the following sources:

Abbie Bright Diary: https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/223662

Abbie Bright Correspondence: https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/223719

Abbie Bright Papers: https://www.kshs.org/archives/40293

Kansas Travelogues Blog: https://www.kansasmemory.org/blog/page/2

Kansapedia: https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/topic/american-indians 

Feb 1, 2023 by Megan Rohleder

By: Ethan Anderson, Government Records Archivist

For nearly 60 years the city of Topeka was home to one of the premier institutions for Black learning in the state of Kansas: the Kansas Technical Institute. Founded by schoolteachers Edward Stephens and Izie Reddick in 1895, the Industrial and Educational Institute, as it was originally known, began as a kindergarten, sewing school, and reading room in a small, one-room house in the Mud Town neighborhood. It quickly outgrew this first home, as well as two subsequent locations along Kansas Avenue. The school’s rapid rise caught the attention of prominent educator and intellectual Booker T. Washington. Its close ties to Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama soon earned the Topeka institute the moniker “the Western Tuskegee.”[1]

To satisfy the growing needs of the Industrial and Educational Institute, the school purchased 105 acres of farmland a few miles east of Topeka in 1903. This 1921 plat map shows the grounds of the school, labeled the “Industrial Institute,” on the eastern edge of town. Here, the school’s curriculum focused on vocational trades, with male students learning carpentry, painting, printing, bookbinding, tailoring, and architectural and mechanical drawing, while female students were taught sewing, dressmaking, cooking, laundering, and housekeeping. The new campus also allowed students to receive hands-on training in agriculture, horticulture, stock raising, poultry raising, and market gardening. Principal Clement Richardson reported, “All the farm work, all the truck-garden work, the caring for and milking of the cows, care of pigs and poultry, the upkeep of the grounds, the janitor work of the buildings, the cooking and serving of food, the laundering of clothing, and the general repair work, are all tasks performed by students.” Carpentry students even assisted with the erection of new buildings on campus.[2]

(The grounds of the Kansas Vocational School as they appeared in 1925.)

In 1925, the Industrial and Educational Institute was renamed the Kansas Vocational School. The biennial report for the 1925-1926 school year showed an enrollment of 203 students. Though roughly one-third of these students came from the Topeka area, 26 other Kansas counties and 9 other states were also represented, with students coming from as far away as Los Angeles, California, and Chicago, Illinois.[3]

(A 1928 advertisement listing the trades offered at the Kansas Vocational School.)

(A list of the faculty and staff of KVS during the 1933-1934 school year.)

As the decades progressed, the Kansas Vocational School evolved to meet the changing needs of its students. Its course offerings adapted to include auto mechanics, barbering, carpentry, chef training and catering, masonry, commerce, cosmetology, fashion design, industrial drafting, and tailoring. The school’s extracurricular activities also expanded. Students could participate in football, basketball, track, chorus, glee club, band, orchestra, drama, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and other social clubs. In 1951, the school was again renamed, this time to the Kansas Technical Institute.[4]

Despite its continued success, KTI faced increased criticism by the 1950s. Senator Wilfrid Cavaness (R-Chanute), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and other critics complained that too many of the school’s students were from out of state and only attended night classes, thereby increasing its expenses. However, costs per student at KTI were in fact comparable to those at other regents’ institutions. In November 1954, the Kansas Board of Regents issued a resolution calling for the closure of the Kansas Technical Institute, claiming that vocational training was offered at a number of other educational institutions in the state. Nevertheless, the Board’s, as well as Sen. Cavaness’s, primary justification for closing KTI was the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, which six months earlier had ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Although KTI had been integrated since the 1949-1950 school year and white students often comprised over 25% of the school’s student body, Sen. Cavaness dubiously asserted that KTI “is in fact and always will be considered” a segregated school. In his termination letter, KTI President G. Robert Cotton took particular issue with this line of reasoning, stating,

I regret that there are some people in this state who are of the opinion that the color of my skin and the background of my racial origin (along with my fellow co-workers) causes this institution to be segregated, while on the other hand considering those of a lighter skin and of a different racial origin operating under parallel conditions as not operating a segregated institution.[5]

Ultimately, the vociferous opposition of President Cotton and his allies in the state senate was not enough to save the school. On April 6, 1955, Senate Bill 329 was signed into law, KTI was closed, and the campus was turned over to the State Highway Patrol, Department of Administration, and the Hillcrest Tuberculosis Sanitorium. Today, the former buildings of the Kansas Technical Institute are now home to the Topeka Correctional Facility at 815 SE Rice Road.[6]

Though shuttered, the Kansas Technical Institute has again been in the news recently due to the work of local activist Curtis Pitts. Pitts has called for the former grounds of KTI to be returned to the Black community, arguing that the 1910 deed transferring the school to the state did so with the express condition that the land be used for the continued education of Black youth.[7] Whether or not this endeavor leads to the resurrection of the Kansas Technical Institute remains to be seen.


[1] Not only did Washington serve on the advisory board of the Industrial and Educational Institute, but the school’s principal and five of its teachers were graduates of Tuskegee Institute. M. R. Powell, “The Western Tuskegee,” Kansas Chief (Troy), July 25, 1907; “Called ‘Western Tuskegee,’” Evening Herald (Ottawa), August 31, 1908; Kansas Vocational School Student Handbook, 1946-1947 (Topeka: State Printer, 1946), 5.

[2] “The Western Tuskegee,” Mail and Breeze (Topeka), February 20, 1904; Kansas, State Board of Administration, Seventh Biennial Report of the Kansas Vocational School, Topeka, Kansas, for the Two Years Ending June 30, 1932 (Topeka: Kansas State Printing Plant, 1932), 7.

[3] Kansas, State Board of Administration, Fourth Biennial Report of the Kansas Vocational School, Topeka, Kansas, for the Two Years Ending June 30, 1926 (Topeka: Kansas State Printing Plant, 1926), 17-18.

[4] John W. Hayes, memorandum to the Governor, et al., n.d., Kansas State Historical Society, SP 371.94T, pam. v. 2; “Kansas Technical Institute, Topeka, Kansas,” n.d., KSHS, SP 371.94T, pam. v. 2.

[5] G. Robert Cotton, memorandum to Faculty, Staff, Students, and Friends of the Kansas Technical Institute, January 10, 1955, KSHS, SP 371.94T, pam. v. 2.

[6] “Closing of Kansas Technical School Here Considered,” Topeka State Journal, January 19, 1953; “Per Capita Cost of Students Attending Institutions Under the Kansas Board of Regents,” KSHS, SP 371.94t, pam. v. 2; G. Robert Cotton, “General Information Concerning Kansas Technical Institute in Regards to Its Status and Place in the Educational Picture of Kansas,” February 26, 1953, KSHS, SP 371.94t, pam. v. 2; “Senate Votes to End KTI,” Topeka Daily Capital, March 29, 1955.

[7] Jason Tidd, “Kansas Turned a Black Vocational School into a Prison. Topeka Activist Wants It Returned,” Topeka Capital-Journal, June 11, 2022.



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