It was not a good year for KU Professor Katherine (“Kate”) Stephens. ..
The sixty-nine year old professor emeritus of Greek had two staggering blows to contend with in 1922.
First of all, a long forgotten boyfriend had managed to publish his memoirs in which she figured prominently as one of his sexual conquests. Said boyfriend, the British pornographer Frank Harris, had come out with; “My Life and Loves,” based on supposed events in a long and picaresque career. Considered an erotic classic, it begins in Ireland in the 1850’s, skips over to New York and Chicago in the 1860’s, and pauses for most of the 1870’s in Kansas, where Harris was a cowboy in the Flint Hills and then a law student at KU, studying under James “Uncle Jimmy” Green, the first Dean of the KU School of Law and Kate’s brother-in-law.
If Harris is to be believed (which he isn’t!) there was far more casual sex going on in Lawrence, Kansas in the 1870’s than in the 1970’s.
Harris supposedly ranged far and wide through the ranks of Town and Gown, and left many a maid both deeply satisfied and thoroughly instructed by a wise and experienced mentor in the ways of love. He also thoughtfully provided the original manuscript of his magnum opus to KU. It later was annotated by Stephens herself. My Torts professor, Bill Kelly, saw the original in Spencer Library and said her comments (written in the margins), started with “Lies!”, then progressed to “Black Lies!”, and then, finally, “Damnable Lies!” I guess if you’re a professor of Greek you would prefer to be remembered for your scholarship rather than as the 19th century answer to Linda Lovelace.
The other trauma she faced at the time was triggered by being approached by the KU Endowment Association (or “Memorial Corporation” as it was then known), and asked to contribute to a fund to erect a bronze statue of her late brother-in-law, “Uncle Jimmy.” (This is the statue that still stands in front of the former law school building on Oread Boulevard, the old Green Hall.)
Her reaction was a volcanic beat-down of tightly controlled rage. The written response of over thirty pages was printed privately (at Stephens’s expense?) in a booklet and sent to the Library of Congress by the author. (To this day there are at least three editions of “A Letter To The University of Kansas Memorial Corporation, from Kate Stephens” in print.)
Stephens takes Green to task as a sponger, arrogant, lazy, a toady to rich alum’s, a male chauvinist, and a draft dodger during the Civil War. According to her, her brother-in-law lived off her family for forty years and her father, Judge Stephens, was the one who got him his job. Green pressured male students to try out for the KU football team when he never played sports himself and thus was a hypocrite on top of everything else.
He rejected her nephew, his own wife’s sister’s son, from being admitted to the Law School, which really was the last straw! (Oh yeah, by the way, did you know he was a pathological liar, liked manipulating the weak and vulnerable, and was an intellectual fraud to boot?)
Stevens quotes the Book of Ezra from the Bible, the Greek philosopher Diogenes Laertes, and the German poet Fredrich Bodenstedt. All this masterly invective and rhetoric was employed in the service of trash talking her sister’s husband. As I think I made clear she not only wanted the message to get out (one wonders what the University’s reply was, if any!) but for it to be remembered in perpetuity, hence the “gift” to the Library of Congress.
I read her other books about growing up in Kansas, attending KU (Class of ’75), and teaching there for many years. As good as they are none of them have (to quote another classical author) the “savage indignation” (and the sheer delight!) of her payback toward an in-law and old boyfriend. I think it was Henry Kissinger who said feuds between academics are so vicious precisely because there is so little at stake. Add in a little in-law hatred and you’ve really got something!