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Kansas After World War II

The Kansas Democratic party made a significant comeback after World War II on the "coat-tails" of Democratic national success. President Harry Truman nominated Kansan Georgia Neese Clark to be Treasurer of the United States, the first woman to hold the office. She was confirmed by the Senate in June 1949, and held the post for four years.

Dwight Eisenhower, running as a Republican in 1952, became the first Kansan to be elected President. His brother, Milton Eisenhower, was president of Kansas State College and was the national chairman of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. George Docking was elected governor in 1956 and became the first Democrat to serve two terms as governor.

The issue of prohibition continued to divide Kansans after the war. Although the nation had repealed prohibition in 1933, Kansas remained a dry state until July 8, 1949. After that time, counties were allowed to vote on whether to permit alcohol sales in package liquor stores or private clubs in their jurisdiction. Even then liquor was not permitted to be sold by the drink in open saloons. It was not until 1986 that this law was amended to permit sales by the drink in public bars and restaurants.

In the 1950s, the Cold War between Communist countries and the United States escalated. After Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, the United States and its allies fought in the Korean War from 1950 - 1953. More than 33,000 Americans died in the war, including more than 400 casualties from Kansas.

The introduction of irrigation in the1950s brought a major change in agriculture in Kansas. Through irrigation, farmers could use underground aquifers to water their crops. This allowed farmers to plant crops, such as corn and milo, that had previously required more water than the arid Kansas climate provided.

However, as the water used for irrigation has increased, there is concern that the supply of water in the aquifers is decreasing and may run out in the future. The draining of the aquifers has also resulted in less groundwater, and many rivers and streams in western and central Kansas are now dry for much of the year.

A circular irrigation system popular in much of the state.

In the 1950s, manufacturing replaced agriculture as the top source of income for Kansans. The industries that had flourished during World War II were converted to civilian needs and continued to grow. The development of the Interstate Highway system, begun during the Eisenhower presidency, brought inexpensive transportation to formerly isolated communities. Mobility of the population increased and urban areas became more attractive as job opportunities in them grew. Many small towns suffered as business opportunities were created far from their formerly prosperous central business districts. While the population has grown in Kansas over the past 50 years, this growth has bypassed many small and rural communities, leaving them to deal with fewer jobs and smaller populations.

Flood control became an important issue to Kansans in 1951. A great flood in July of that year destroyed much of the river bottoms of Kansas City. There was over $2 billion in flood damage in eastern Kansas. The Corps of Engineers began a program of building reservoirs in Kansas to control rivers and streams with dams to prevent future flooding. 

This was a controversial program since it often meant the loss of rich farmland. The entire town of Randolph had to be moved because the creation of the Tuttle Creek Reservoir meant that it would be under water. Today, there are numerous reservoirs built throughout the state on many of the major rivers that control flooding and provide recreational opportunities for Kansans.

The dam at Melvern Reservoir: the largest Corps of Engineer lake in Kansas

One of the most important and controversial Supreme Court decisions in the history of our nation was Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. The Supreme Court chose to group together many cases involving school segregation in the Brown case. The Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" public schools for members of different races were "inherently unequal" and therefore illegal. This began the efforts to desegregate the public school systems of the United States, which is still in process in some communities today. This was also one of the forerunners of the modern civil rights movement, which sought equality for minorities in every aspect of American life.

Additional Resources

bulletLearn more about the Cold War.
bulletRead more about the Korean War.
bulletLearn more about Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka.

Study Guide Questions

  1. How did Kansas react to the repeal of prohibition?
  2. What technology allowed farmer's supplement the sparse rainfall in western Kansas? How has this technology affected the water resources in Kansas?
  3. What has happened to the population in your town during the past 40 years? What are the predictions for your town's future population?
  4. How did the Corps of Engineers react to the flooding of 1951?
  5. How has the Brown vs. Board of Education decision affected your school district?

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