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Correspondence of H. L. Mencken

Call Number: MS 165


308 letters written by the editor and social critic Henry Louis Mencken to 42 recipients: journalists, contributors, men-of-letters, and friends. Subjects include politics, language, publishing, manners of people of the United States, and literary circles. Includes a few related letters by others and 65 photocopies of approximately 140 letters from Mencken to Harry Barnes and Harry Kemp. Texts in the collection include 7 brief draft articles by Mencken; there are also 6 articles and related items about Mencken. Also in the collection is the decision by the US Court of Appeals in the Esquire case, dating from 1945, and 7 graphic items: 4 photographs, an X-ray portrait of Mencken, a caricature, and a print.


  • Creation: 1909 - 1972


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Henry Louis Mencken was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of August Mencken, Sr. and Ann Margaret (Abhau) Mencken. He graduated as valedictorian from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1896 and then spent 3 years working in his father's cigar factory. Thereafter he received a job at the Morning Herald newspaper, where he served as a reporter for 6 years.

Mencken worked for the Baltimore Sun, The Evening Sun, and The Sunday Sun from the early 1900s until 1948, when he suffered a stroke; he also in 1908 became literary critic for The Smart Set magazine. In 1924 he founded and began editing The American Mercury (AM) with George Jean Nathan, published by Alfred A. Knopf. The magazine quickly developed a national circulation, particularly on college campuses. Mencken resigned as editor from AM in 1933.

Mencken was briefly married in the 1930s to Sara Haardt; she died of meningitis in 1935. After Mencken's stroke in 1948, he was nearly unable to read or write and could speak only with difficulty. After his stroke his secretary, Mrs Lohrfink, acted as an amanuensis, writing his letters in the third-person. Prior to that, he had often dictated letters to his secretary or to an office secretary.


2 Linear Feet (308 items in 5 document cases) : Most letters are typed letters, signed; a few are holograph letters, signed. Many signed with Mencken's monogram.

Language of Materials



Letters have been arranged by correspondent and then by date within each section. Mencken often omitted the year of a letter; approximate dates have been supplied by the processors and are in square brackets in the pdf.

Physical Location

MS 165

Other Finding Aids

A detailed listing of individual items in the collection is available at

Appendices from the original calendar for the collection, including letterheads (descriptions and codes), Mencken's trips abroad, a listing of other Mencken manuscript holdings at the University of Kansas, and abbreviations used for sources of information is available at

Abbreviations used throughout the pdf files include HLM = Mencken; AM = American Mercury; SS = Smart Set; UN = "unpacking number," showing the order in which the material was when listed in 1993; L:=letterhead code; LEnv: = envelope stationery; TLS = Typed letter, signed in manuscript; ALS = Handwritten letter, signed. "Elizabeth Taylor" = concerns the then Mrs Taylor (the present Mrs Snyder).

Custodial History

Elizabeth (Morrison) Taylor of Kansas City (Mrs James Walker Taylor; later Mrs Elizabeth M. Snyder) began collecting Mencken printed and manuscript material in 1951. She obtained Mencken material from various bookdealers, and built up a notable collection; in 1957 she began to give her collection to the Special Collections Department at the University of Kansas' Libraries in installments. The printed matter forms the "Mencken Collection" (call numbers beginning "HLM"); the manuscript matter is MS 165, described here.

By examining the Snyder archives it may be possible to work out the pre-Snyder sources. Although most of Mrs Snyder's Mencken collection was deposited in the Department in 1957, the gift was divided into yearly installments and KU's title to the entire group was not complete until until 1981. Additions to the Snyder gift: Typescript "Chiggers in Utopia," bought from Glenn Books; a letter to Edward Grier (a gift from Mr Grier); a letter to Ruby Daggett with relevant material (found in a book in the Mencken Collection). The Owst group (El) was also found in a book in the Mencken Collection.

Related Materials

“Coquetry” typescript poem, with letter from H.L. Mencken to William Griffith, MS P136, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Personal papers of Doris Fleeson, PP 186, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Personal papers of Harry Kemp, PP 75, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Personal papers of Willard Wattles, PP 119, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Charles Benedict Driscoll papers, RH MS P22, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Edgar Watson Howe correspondence and photographic memorabilia, RH MS P35, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Guide to the H. L. Mencken Collection
Correspondence of H. L. Mencken
Finding aid prepared by alh, 1993. Finding aid encoded by mg, 2005.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Correspondence of H.L. Mencken, MS 165, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States