Joseph Bristow – Newspaper Editor and Senator

Joseph Little Bristow

Joseph Little Bristow

Joseph L. Bristow was a newspaper editor and Kansas Senator.

Joseph Little Bristow was born just outside the hamlet of Hazel Green, Kentucky, on July 22, 1861, to William Bristow, a Methodist minister, and Savannah Little Bristow on July 22, 1861.

His mother died in 1868, and Joseph was raised and educated in his grandfather’s devoutly religious household. He came to Kansas with his father in 1876, where he worked for a farmer. In 1979, he married Margaret Hendrix of Flemingsburg, Kentucky. He then decided to pursue a career as a Methodist minister, and in 1882, he and his wife moved to Baldwin, Kansas so that Joseph could enroll at Baker University. From the time he attained his majority, Mr. Bristow took an active interest in political affairs. When he graduated in 1886, he was elected clerk of Douglas County, a position he held for four years.

In 1890, he bought the Salina Daily Republican and edited the newspaper for five years. In 1894 and again in 1898, he was elected Secretary of the Republican State Committee. His work in the campaign of 1894 commended him to Governor Morrill, who appointed Bristow his private secretary when inaugurated in January 1895. The same year, he sold the Salina Republican and bought the Ottawa Herald, which he owned for ten years. During this time, he directed its policy and wrote many of the editorials himself.

In March 1897, he was appointed as the fourth assistant postmaster-general by President McKinley, and in 1900, under the direction of Mr. McKinley, he investigated the Cuban postal frauds.

Three years later, under President Theodore Roosevelt, he investigated the post office department. In 1903, he purchased the Salina Daily Republican-Journal, and in 1905, he was appointed by President Roosevelt as a special commissioner of the Panama Railroad. In August 1908, he was nominated by the Republicans of Kansas at the primary election for United States senator, and the following January, he was elected by the legislature for the term ending on March 3, 1915. Bristow fought fiercely for the direct election of Senators, who were elected by or appointed by the State Legislatures until the passage of the 17th amendment in 1912. Bristow was defeated in his 1914 re-election bid.

He spent the rest of his days farming his Annandale, Virginia estate, Ossian Hall. When he died on July 14, 1944, his body was returned to Kansas for burial next to his wife Margaret in Salina’s Gypsum Hill Cemetery.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated September 2023.

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Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol I; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.