Kansas Day is a special holiday that celebrates the vital contribution that Kansans have made to building up the cultural life of the United States and the world.

Its origins were in the efforts of Alexander Legrand Copley, a history teacher in the Paola public school who was teaching a lesson on the Battle of New Orleans in 1877. His students were enthusiastically interested in the lesson, so like any wise teacher, he chose to magnify their interest in the history of the Battle of New Orleans into a broader interest in history. Copley chose to spark his students’ interest in Kansas history by planning an afternoon event on Jan. 29, 1877, that would celebrate and educate his students about Kansas History.

Copley’s students busied themselves to historical research about Kansas history, and their efforts sparked an interest in the citizens of Paola in celebrating and learning about Kansas history. The community gathered on Jan. 29, 1877, to celebrate and learn about Kansas history.

Copley’s students drew pictures and wrote lessons on the chalkboards in his classroom, with maps of Kansas and all of the aspects of Kansas history and cultural life displayed in chalk for the assembled students and citizens of Paola.

A few of Copley’s students gave short speeches, and the event was so popular that many of Paola’s citizens could not get into Copley’s classroom to enjoy the festivities of the first Kansas Day celebration on that winter’s day in 1877.

Copley became the superintendent of schools in Wichita in 1879 and continued his efforts to celebrate Kansas Day in the Wichita schools as well. Copley successfully campaigned to ensure that Kansas Day celebrations became a statewide effort at county teachers institutes and at the Kansas State Teachers Association meetings that he attended.

Newspapers promoted Kansas Day as a positive expression of pride in Kansas history and culture. Over time, Kansas Day celebrations became a part of Kansas cultural life, and Kansas Day is still celebrated statewide, with the Governor of Kansas and government officials participating in honoring Kansas history and culture annually on Jan. 29.

Kansas history and culture is worthy of celebration, for Kansans have made vital contributions to American life since Kansas became a state on Jan. 29, 1861.

Kansas farmers and ranchers have provided food for millions of people in the United States in the past, and today’s farmers and ranchers continue that proud tradition today. Kansas has produced national leaders such as President Dwight D. Eisenhower and other great leaders in many fields.

However, the greatest history and heritage that Kansas gives the nation and the world are the cultural values of hard work, friendliness, and a long list of other positive values that make Kansans an example to the nation and the world of a state where the citizens work together to solve problems with a positive spirit that embodies the state’s motto: “To the stars through difficulties.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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