During the fall semester, I got my Hand Lettering for Comics & Illustration class involved in the Kansas People’s History Project, a statewide art project lead by artist Dave Loewenstein. Inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, as well as a Josh MacPhee’s similar Celebrate People’s History! project, the KPHP’s objective is the creation of a series of screen printed broadsides detailing forgotten, underrepresented, or otherwise marginalized stories from Kansas history. As we conducted our research for the project, my class learned about all sorts of figures, groups, and events from Kansas history, of which we had been previously unaware. My students chose a diverse range of fascinating subjects, including Clyde Tombaugh, the Kansas native and self-taught astronomer who discovered Pluto; Susanna Salter, former mayor of Argonia, KS, and the first female mayor in the United States; and the traqueros, Mexican and Mexican-American workers who built the railroad tracks that stretch across the Midwest and other areas of the United States. We had such a great time working on these projects that I decided to create a poster of my own:
Annie LaPorte was born in London, Ontario in 1848 and moved to the states as a child, first settling in New Jersey, and later in Lawrence, Kansas. In 1873 she met an married a postal worker in Lawrence, Alvin S. Diggs. She became very involved with the local Unitarian Church in the 1870s, where she sometimes served as a lay preacher, and gave public lectures on the subject of temperance. Through the church community, she also became interested in Populism. She began writing articles for local and New York newspapers, on Populist positions and causes. In 1881, she helped found the Kansas Liberal Union, an organization of “spiritualists, materialists, Unitarian Universalists, Free Religionists, Socialists, and agnostics,” serving as the group’s first secretary. That winter, she attended the Free Religious Association’s convention in Boston, and was elected Vice-President to fill a vacancy left by the death of one of her heroes, Lucretia Mott. The following year, she and her husband began publishing The Kansas Liberal from their home. Their newspaper criticized an economic and political system run by a small wealthy class, and demanded rights for laborers and farmers.
“For the first time in the life of the great republic, there was a political organization which grappled directly and fundamentally with the growing injustice which marked the dealings between Exploiters and the Exploited.” -Annie Diggs, on Populism
Throughout her career, Diggs became a respected journalist and orator. She held leadership positions in several local and national organizations, including the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, Kansas Woman’s Free Silver League, National Populist Committee, Social Reform Union, and Kansas Women’s Press Association. Her political involvement led opponents to dub her “Boss” Diggs, and to criticize her “petticoat politics.” In 1898, following a Populist-Democrat fusion ticket which she had spearheaded, she became the first woman to serve as the state librarian for the State of Kansas.”It has been said that the biggest man in the Populist party of Kansas today,” The Leavenworth Times joked in 1900, “is a woman.” In her later years, Diggs retired from politics and moved to New York City, where she focused on writing. She wrote two books before her death in 1916 at her son’s home in Detroit.
I was surprised to find that Annie Diggs does not yet have a Wikipedia page, and felt that she was the perfect candidate to be highlighted by a project of this kind. You can see my poster, as well as my students’ posters, and all the other posters that have been submitted from across the state on the gallery page of the Kansas People’s History Project website. If you are a Kansas-based artist and would like to participate in the project, the deadline was recently extended to February 21st!