Biography of John W. Roberts

John W. Roberts, educator, superintendent of the city schools at Sedan, had attained prominence in educational circles in Southeastern Kansas, and though a native of the City of Topeka he represents one of the oldest and most noted families of Oskaloosa. Both his grandfather and father were men of distinction in the newspaper profession and his grandfather edited one of the early free state papers of Kansas.

The family of which he is a member originated in England, and there were four of the Roberts brothers who came to America in Colonial times, one of them settling in New York, another in New Jersey and the two others elsewhere.

John W. Roberts, grandfather of Professor Roberts, was born at Waynesville, Ohio, in 1822. He was reared on a farm near that town, was married there, and early got into the newspaper business. He organized the company that established a paper at Waynesville and also published a magazine. He was strongly abolitionist, and seeing an opportunity for being of greater influence to that movement he sent the printing press and other materials out to Oskaloosa, Kansas, in 1860, and his brother-in-law, J. W. Day, established there the old Oskaloosa Independent, the first copy of which was issued in July, 1860. John W. Roberts himself came out to Kansas in 1862, and was editor of the Independent until he retired at the age of seventy, though he was in close touch with its management and a contributor to its columns until the time of his death. He died at Oskaloosa in October, 1900. Besides his work as an editor he was author of several books. One of these was entitled “Looking Within,” a reply to Bellamy’s famous “Looking Backward.” John W. Roberts was one of the early republicans and a faithful upholder of that party all his life.

He married Huldah E. Fairholm, who was born in New Jersey in 1821, and died at Oskaloosa, Kansas, in 1905. Their children were: Frank H.; Julia F., who now lives at the old homestead in Oskaloosa, widow of W. D. Lane, who was an attorney; Mary M., who is unmarried, lives at Oskaloosa and is assistant postmaster there; Charles A., who spent many years in California but is now living retired at Oskaloosa; Arthur E., who was for several years associated with the Independent, but is now deceased.

Frank H. Roberts, father of Professor Roberts, is still active in the newspaper work and is editor of the Oskaloosa Independent founded by his father. He was born at Waynesville, Ohio, in July, 1851, but had lived in Kansas since he was eleven years of age. He grew up at Oskaloosa, and learned the printing trade under his father. In 1879, removing to Topeka, he did reportorial and editorial work on the Topeka Capital, and subsequently became identified with an evening paper established by Maj. J. K. Hudson & Company. When that evening paper went under, Frank H. Roberts and Mr. Temple conducted the North Topeka Times for two years. Mr. Roberts then returned to Oskaloosa, taking charge of the Independent. He is now both publisher and editor of that old and substantial journal. He served as postmaster of Oskaloosa under the administrations of Harrison and McKinley, is a loyal republican, and had held all the lay offices in the local Methodist Episcopal Church during the last thirty years. He was an associate of former Governor Stanley for a number of years in Sunday School work at Oskaloosa. Fraternally he is a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen and the Knights and Ladies of Security. He first married Emma L. Wilkins, who was born near Crawfordsville, Indiana, in 1852, and died at Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1891. Her children were: John W.; Eugene S., a printer employed in the Independent office at Oskaloosa. Frank H. Roberts married for his second wife Daisy M. Needham of Leavenworth, Kansas. By this marriage there are also two children: Frank N., whose home is still with his parents, is a sophomore in Baker University at Baldwin, and recently returned from service on the border with the Second Kansas Volunteer Infantry. Charles Wesley, living at home, is a freshman in the Oskaloosa High School.

John W. Roberts was born July 3, 1880, while his parents were living in Topeka. His birthplace was a house that stood on the site now occupied by the Presbyterian Manse on Harrison Street. However, all his earlier years were spent in Oskaloosa, where he attended the public schools, graduating from high school in 1897. The following year he was employed in his father’s newspaper office and in the postoffice and in 1898 he entered Baker University, where he was graduated A. B. in 1903. He had begun teaching in the meantime, was employed as an instructor at Baker University, and in 1903-04, after leaving college, was again employed on the newspaper. For two years, from 1904 to 1906, he was principal of the school at Corning, Kansas, was principal at Wellsville, Kansas, in 1906-07, from 1907 to 1909 was principal at Oskaloosa, his home town, and then spent three years as superintendent of schools at Peabody, Kansas, from 1909 to 1912. Since 1912 Mr. Roberts had been superintendent of city schools at Sedan. He is one of the active members of the Southeastern Kansas and also of the Kansas State Teachers Association, and of the Association of Superintendents of Cities of the third class.

In August, 1908, at Clifton, Kansas, he married Miss Lena A. McConnell, daughter of Rev. Thomas and Sarah McConnell. Her father is a Methodist minister, a member of the Kansas Conference. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts have one daughter, Margaret Emma, born December 21, 1910.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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