Disruption, Digitality, and Democracy: Why the Little Blue Books Matter Now

It’s happening this weekend–the 100th anniversary of the world’s largest publishing house!
The purpose of the Little Blue Books was to put all the masterpieces of literature, sociology, history, psychology, anthropology, and other fields into the pocket of the working class. The socialist publishing house produced more than half a BILLION books in the belief that an educated citizenry was a defense of democracy.
Operating out of Girard, Kansas, across five decades, they brought the work of Eugene Debs, Margaret Sanger, Upton Sinclair, and other radical thinkers to readers the world over. (You can find a database of LBB here.)
This weekend, Pittsburg State University in Pittsburgh, Kansas, is hosting a variety of events honoring the publishing house, which was owned and operated by Marcet Haldeman-Julius, the niece of Jane Addams, who spend her summers at Hull House and was highly influenced by her aunt’s work, and Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius.
Events include an exhibit at the Girard History Museum, tours of Girard that address how publishing shaped the town, a two-day  conference, to be held March 30 and 31, and a one-act play written and performed by local high school students about the publishing empire. Marcet Haldeman-Julius worked as an actress in New York before returning to rural Kansas to work as a socialist publisher, and in Girard, she started a youth theater program that incorporated many of the principles she had learned at Hull House, so I imagine that the idea of young people celebrating her work with a play would delight her.
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I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I’ve previewed the keynote, and it’s fantastic. (Yes, I’m married to the keynote speaker. Which means I’ve been knee-deep in the Haldeman-Julius’ since for almost two decades now, so I’ve seen a lot of writing on them and know what I’m talking about when I say this keynote address is stellar!)
If you’re interested in Kansas, radicalism, late 19th/early 20th century US history, the history of publishing, censorship, digitality, education, or democracy, come out on. Girard is 2 hours from Lawrence, Kansas; Springfield, Missouri; and Kansas City. It’s the site of a 1921 mining strike led largely by women.  The city has a memorial dedicated to the miners, murals, a small amusement park suitable for kids, and a nature area created from a mine reclamation project. (Kansas was the third-largest coal producing state in the US at the time.)
And if you’re not able to attend, keep the vision of the LBB alive by reading a radical text or, better yet, sharing one with your local public library, little free library, or church library.

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