(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· William C. & Mae Besore Kirch ·
Adam (1843-1907) and Margaretha Mayer (1851-1914) Kirch, who had farmed in their home country of Bavaria, becoming part of Germany prior to their emigration to the United States in 1872, had to wait several years before having another opportunity to work the land.
Will, like his two older brothers, Fred and Henry, were born American citizens in Brooklyn, New York. Soon after his birth, the Kirch family may have moved to Jersey City, New Jersey (across the Upper Bay from Brooklyn), prior to their westward migration.
By the Federal U.S Census of 1880, the Kirch family had settled in Union Township, Rush County, Kansas. William Charles, born in 1878, was two years old.
The 1900 census documented the Kirch family still in Rush County but in LaCrosse. Having completed eighth grade, William, 21 and single, was working as a farm laborer.
In 1902, Will took up a farmstead in Cleveland Township, Lane County, and exclusively raised wheat.
Kirch gradually began devoting more of his time to photography and specializing in outdoor photos aided by a car that he had equipped for the photography business. Will called it his “photo car”. His approach was unique. Regularly, he advertised his route, services, and prices in local newspapers. Rather than wait for customers to come into a studio, he parked his cars at regular spots in various towns, using his business signs and selling skills to hawk his services.
In 1903 the LaCrosse Republican newspaper noted that Will Kirch “had been out taking pictures of school houses and school marms.” In 1908 the Lane County Journal reported Billy Kirch taking pictures of Sunday school classes, while the Dighton Herald noted Will Kirch taking photos of the Dighton high school students.
Kirch was using his photo cars for business in 1904 while also studying photography under the tutorship of a Mr. Wallace in a Great Bend studio.
In 1907, Kirch published a portfolio, or souvenir picture book, of Lane County homes and farms with 132 halftone pictures. It was celebrated in and around Dighton (and still is today) as extraordinary. He originally priced the book at one dollar each or six for five dollars, but later reduced the price to seventy-five cents each. Those were the days.
By the time Miss Mae Besore married William C. Kirch in 1911, her mother, Emma, had been widowed and remarried.
When Emma Riderer (1869-1946) and Jacob Martin Besore (1831-1897) married, their age difference was remarkable. She was 20; he was 55. J. M. Besore had a long and successful career as proprietor of flour mills.
Mae was born in 1890 in Burdett, Pawnee County, Kansas. In 1897, when May was seven years old, she gained a brother but soon lost her father. Jay Martin Besore was born in Pawnee County in July. Six weeks later their father was dead. He was nearly 66.
Emma, widowed, had two children to raise. Fortunately, her husband had been one of the most prominent and well-to-do farmers of Pawnee County.
Mae became an excellent student and gave the valedictory speech at the Pawnee County commencement of common schools in 1907. The commencement exercise, graduating twenty young men and women, was held at the opera house in Larned, Kansas.
By 1909 Mae was teaching at Sandhill School, five miles southwest of Larned.
In April 1910, Miss Mae Besore accepted a position at the Rozel State bank, yet in June, the same year, Mae received a short course certificate (usually four weeks in length) in domestic science for teachers from Kansas State Agricultural College, Manhattan.
Whether in 1910 Mae had been planning on continuing in the field of teaching or working in banking, her plans evolved. On October 25, 1911, Mae R. Besore, 21, and William Charles Kirch, 33, were married at Mae’s mother’s home at Rozel, Pawnee County. “The bride was becomingly attired in a plain cream satin gown trimmed in ecru lace and pearl. The groom wore the usual black.”
When the wedding festivities ended, the “newly wed couple immediately began housekeeping at their home in Lewis, Kans.” (30 miles SE of Rozel).
By 1915, Will and Mae Kirch had relocated to Bucklin, Ford County, Kansas. Both had been elected as officers of the newly organized Western Kansas Photo Club. One of many speakers at club meetings, Will would demonstrate techniques of lighting and posing, and talk to the group about “how to make a studio pay.” Mae presented on the topic of “photography as a profession,” (and at a later meeting, “Helping One Another”). Clearly, Mae wasn’t just staying home playing her piano; the married couple were working together.
In 1916, the public was able to visit Kirch Studio in Bucklin, rather than wait for a photo car in order to do business. One advertisement read “Why not go to Kirch’s? Stairs to climb but it’s worth the time.” The same year, Mae and Will attended the Eastman Kodak School in Kansas City, a week-long training.
“Kirch’s New Studio” in Bucklin was advertised in 1917 for portraits, views, copies, enlargements, frames, and Kodak finishing.
By the fall of the year, the Kirches had moved twenty miles east to Greensburg, Kiowa County.
One of the strongest indicators that Mae was a partner in the photography business, was this advertisement in The Progessive-Signal, a Greensberg newspaper: “Wanted: Middle aged or older woman for housekeeping, modern home, no children, permanent position to right party. See Mrs. Kirch, Kirch Studio.” Clearly, Mae had work to do beyond housekeeping.
The year 1920 was a watershed moment in time for Mae and William, especially Mae. One’s identity is often shaped by a person’s profession, or if married, through the lives of children.
The Kirches had no offspring.
Conclusion, Part 2, next week.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
Thanks to Ruby Dutoit Martin, Director of the Lane County Library, for sharing the reproduced book photograph of a young Will Kirch, Dighton, KS.
I appreciate Sonya (Reed) Thomas, Lane County Historical Museum for sharing the photos of Mae Besore Kirch and William Charles Kirch, and for telling me about Lane County historian and author Ellen May Stanley.
Thanks to Morgan Williams for sharing so many postcard images, telling the stories of the pictures, and asking unanswerable questions.
I also appreciate the remarkable work that Patrick Clement has done on researching and collecting invaluable information and material about Frank D. Conard and William C. Kirch. The family tree he’s posted on ancestry.com helps me better understand the many layers of connections.
Love to hear about these creative people!
Jim Potter says
Thank you, Alex!
H.B. Berlow says
Wow! Exactly as other posts from previously in your blog, the stories ARE the history.
Thank you so much for sharing.
Jim Potter says
Yes! Save the stories!
This is fascinating history, especially since I lived in Greensburg. Glad to read that Patrick is still involved with the history of that area. He helped me with some of my Greensburg stories.
Jim Potter says
Letty, yes Patrick remains a ball of fire made up of creative energy. His obsessive nature to collect historical artifacts and stories on the Conard-Kirch families serves him well. I know it’s a long shot for you to be in Wichita next month, the first weekend of October, but he’ll be giving a free public talk about his Conard-Kirch collection at the annual International Wichita Postcard Show. It’s starts about 8 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 6th. If you attend, I’ll bet you’ll have material for more stories. Jim
Thanks for the name drop and share, Jim!