Blue book provides look at society, government

Monday, October 28, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The history of Missouri state government is an open book, especially if one has access to old copies of the Official Manual of the State of Missouri, also known as the "Blue Book."

Publishing the manual is among the secretary of state's highest-profile duties, and the job has grown through the decades since Secretary of State Alexander A. Leseuer published the State Almanac and Official Directory in 1889.

The first manual was just 237 pages long -- well short of the number of pages needed to contain today's roster of state workers. The most recent manual, produced in 2001, tops out at more than 1,500 pages.

"It's one of the most important historical records that the state has," says State Archivist Kenneth Winn. "It is constantly consulted and routinely accessed by academics and state officials."

Social history

Winn said employees in his office refer to the old manuals several times a day.

"Social history as well as political history can be derived from them," Winn said.

Take, for example, the manual issued on Aug. 9, 1917, by Secretary of State John L. Sullivan, who proclaimed that the edition's contents "are without political bias."

As Missouri sent young men to battle during World War I under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, the manual proudly set aside two pages highlighting the state's new Capitol building, which was nearing completion.

Frederick Dozier Gardner, a Democrat, was governor. The Kentucky native, a manufacturer from St. Louis, had never held public office before being elected to the state's highest office.

In the legislature, a young state senator named Michael Kinney, who was first elected in 1912, was still in the beginnings of a Senate career that would last until the 1960s.

There were no female faces among legislators, and farmers were just as prevalent among the Senate and House membership as lawyers.

The salaries of state employees are listed in the manual, including the $5,000 a year that the governor received and the $300 annually received by the governor's janitor, C.B. Lane, who was listed as a Democrat.

Politically incorrect

The manual also lists institutions that by today's standards would be considered politically incorrect, such as the Colony for the Feeble-minded and Epileptic in Marshall and the Industrial Home for Negro Girls in Tipton.

"They just used the current terms of the time, and nobody thought anything about it," Winn said. "It reflects the broader culture."

Winn said that manuals prior to World War II are valuable and that collectors will search flea markets and rummage sales to find them in good condition. Some can fetch $100 or more a copy. Today, the manual can be accessed over the Internet, a concept that would have been mere fancy to those in state government in 1917.

But Secretary of State Matt Blunt says technology has not eliminated the need to print 40,000 bound copies of the book every two years.

"For a lot of people, they are most comfortable getting their information that way," he said.

Blunt is to publish the next edition in 2003.

On the Net

Official Manual of Missouri:

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: