Picture This: Library Coloring Books Tell the Stories of Notable Women in KC History

Mary Tiera Farrow was a legal pioneer, one of the first female lawyers in Missouri and later a judge and city treasurer. Denied membership in the Kansas City Bar Association — ahem, men only — she helped form the Women’s Bar Association of Kansas City in 1917.

Emma Lard Longan broke a different kind of barrier as the first woman elected to the upper house of the 1920s-era Kansas City Council, and she kept order at untold meetings and assemblies through the sale of more than 200,000 copies of her Parliamentary Rules Made Easy.

The death of Sara Chandler Coats in 1897 was mourned, among others, by famed suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who wrote to Coats’ daughter that it left “our good cause of justice to woman without its best and truest champion.”

You might not be familiar with the names. Or even the achievements. History, shall we say, occasionally needs a little coloring in.

Joanna Marsh and the Kansas City Public Library are doing just that. Two years ago, in a novel approach to highlighting local history, they created a special-edition coloring book spotlighting a dozen “remarkable women from Kansas City’s past.” Offered free, it proved popular among children’s librarians, teachers and Library patrons. All 2,000 copies were quickly snapped up (though they remain downloadable at kchistory.org/coloringkc).

As the country now prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Marsh and KCPL are coming back with a second coloring book featuring the stories — and images — of Farrow, Longan, Coats and five more of the city’s most notable contributors to the women’s suffrage movement. The press run is being upped to as many as 5,000.

The Library and its partner on the project, the Kansas City Athenaeum, wanted them available for Women’s History Month in March.

“Not to get too deep here,” Marsh says, “but I think many of us are content to live our lives avoiding a calling or letting our talents lie dormant. What makes these women outstanding is that they pushed fear and adversity aside and actually did what they felt called to do, whether that was launching a business, fighting segregation, caring for children or becoming an athlete or an artist or a musician.

“I’m betting that none of them sought to be recognized. Rather, their fame was just a side effect of the work they loved and the vivacity it brought to them. That’s the biggest takeaway for me — to remind people that, even though we all think we’re just ordinary, we all have the capacity to be extraordinary in some way.”

The idea for the coloring books arose from the New York Academy of Medicine Library’s annual #ColorOurCollections campaign, which invites scientific institutions, history museums and other cultural centers to showcase images from their collections as black-and-white drawings suitable for coloring. Marsh, a special collections librarian, and her colleagues in KCPL’s Missouri Valley Special Collections wanted to submit something from its holdings, but what?

They found inspiration in a patron’s request for information on Eliza Burton Conley, a Wyandot Indian descendant who became the first woman admitted to the Kansas State Bar and later the first female Native American to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. “I hadn’t heard of her, and I’ve lived here my whole life,” Marsh says. “I thought, ‘‘What a cool way to introduce people to these remarkable women!”

An art minor in college at Northwest Missouri State University — with an artistic lineage going back to her grandmother, a card illustrator for Hallmark — Marsh did a couple of trial sketches, brainstormed with co-workers on other historical subjects and pitched the idea to Missouri Valley Special Collections Manager Jeremy Drouin. Rather than offering a single image to the New York Academy of Medicine Library, they produced their own book.

The first one came out in March 2018 and featured the likes of Lucile Bluford, the influential editor, owner and publisher of the Kansas City Call, and pioneering jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams. Conley also was included.

The new suffrage-themed book is due for completion sometime this February.

Marsh works from photographs in preparing her freehand sketches, which are accompanied in each book by brief biographies drawn from special collections resources. “It’s a fun thing,” Marsh says, “but we want it to be educational and a way to highlight what we have here.”

Her first inclination was that the books would reach the growing number of adults who’d taken to coloring books. But there is a natural, and welcome, appeal to younger audiences, too.

“The women in the book(s) are remarkable in the sense that they achieved so much, oftentimes in male-dominated fields,” Marsh says. “But what I actually find most inspiring is that they made their mark on history by simply being themselves, by using their natural gifts and pursuing their passions unapologetically.

“I know that it’s only a coloring book. But I hope that when young people open it, they will learn from these women — that they will see the value in being true to themselves, following their intuitions and cultivating their talents.”

–Steve Wieberg

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