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Toast To Olde Tymes – Dana Gatlin

“A woman whose health was broken, whose affairs were in disorder, and whose courage was spent, was led to play a kind of game with words. At first she used it as a game to occupy her time and mind. She took a thesaurus and wrote down all the synonyms of ‘courage’ that she could find. These synonyms led her to other words with related but variant meanings. These led to still others, and the first thing she knew, she had several pages filled with lists of words, words expressing different degrees and shades of meaning of strength, power, joy, light, kindness, resolve, health, harmony, beneficence, and peace. All the words were uplifting, helpful, and constructive, although many of them seemed far removed from the word with which she had originally started. But meanwhile something had happened. She had become so interested in her ‘game’ that she never knew just when or how she had refound her own courage. But she had.”

— Dana Gatlin, God Is The Answer

From her schooldays, Dana was viewed as a leader. She achieved professional success as a writer at an early age. Perhaps it’s not surprising that words – in her case, along with faith – would sustain her during troubled times.   

Dana Elizabeth Gatlin was the daughter of Luanda and W.H. Gatlin. Her father, who was a Mason, began his career as a schoolteacher. He had a drugstore in Lane, Kansas, and, later, one in Paola, Kansas. Dana was one of several siblings. She served as the senior class president prior to graduating from Paola High School in 1901. Dana was a member of the class of 1905 at The University of Kansas. She was the editor of The Jayhawker, the yearbook, which featured a senior bio of her: 

“Ahem! Dana learned her A B C’s in Paola, that forsaken hamlet which is noted alone for the A No. 1 students it sends to K.U. She received an overwhelming vote for the most brilliant girl in the University. However, she does not possess the ear marks of a grind. Her social popularity has kept her too well balanced for that. With her able business manager, she has ruled the staff which is responsible for this book, with a rod of iron, as we her henchmen can testify.”

Dana’s first job after college was teaching Latin in a high school in Eureka, Kansas. Some years later, the Newton Kansan noted that, “As a Latin teacher, she was not all that could be desired but she was adored by the ‘naughty little freshies.’” Dana soon headed for New York, where she attended graduate school at Columbia University. Someone suggested she try writing. Dana asked for advice from the only writer she knew: William Allen White, then the editor of the Emporia Gazette. He put her in touch with potential employers. Chester Lord of the New York Sun interviewed Dana. (“Mr. Lord hires everybody” was what one of his colleagues had told her.) He was floored when she admitted that she didn’t read the newspaper. Long afterward, Dana told The Independent’s scribe: “And then he told me to go out on the street and I would find a newsboy out there who would sell me a paper for two cents, and for me to buy one and take it home and read it from cover to cover. And after having read it, if I could go out and find a story and write it well enough so that it could be used, he would pay me for it.”

Dana’s first article was about children with tuberculosis. Chester bought it, stating, “Well, this is printable, but it won’t set the world on fire.” She was a freelancer for the Sun for six months prior to becoming a member of the staff. Dana served as the literary editor of the Sun for five years. Her byline was seen in many publications. In the early 1910s, Dana penned a series of articles, “Great Cases of Detective Burns,” about William J. Burns, Secret Service agent and detective agency owner, for McClure’s Magazine. (From 1921 until 1924, William was head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was succeeded by J. Edgar Hoover.) In January 1913, Harper’s Bazaar printed a set of profiles under the heading, “Women Who Achieve.” Dana authored a tremendous number of love stories, though she generally didn’t enjoy writing them. Her books included The Full Measure of Devotion, a tale of a soldier’s parents, and Missy, stories about a girl in a small town. 

Dana’s career was newspaper fodder in 1920. It was estimated that she earned up to $1,500 per story. Dana often visited her family in Kansas. When she was in New York, she worked at home – a scenario complicated by her friends, who would come over and have her cook for them.     

It sounded like a grand life – and maybe it was. At some point, though, Dana developed what has been described as a heart ailment, which forced her to give up her activities. In January 1929, the Kansas City Times stated, “Miss Dana Gatlin, fiction writer and book reviewer, who for the last three years has been resting and visiting with her mother, Mrs. W.H. Gatlin of Overland Park, left last night for New York to resume her writing.” The 1930 census documented that she was living at the Allerton House, an upscale residential hotel for women, on East 57th Street in New York, and employed as a writer. Dana ultimately returned to Kansas City.

What enabled her to resume her career? A friend had recommended Unity, a spiritual movement that was founded by Myrtle and Charles Fillmore in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1889. Decades after Myrtle found healing through prayers and affirmations, Dana credited Unity with her recovery. She devoted much of her attention to Unity in her later years. Dana wrote many articles for Unity Magazine, including “My Mind Is a Place of Loveliness.” Her breezy style enabled her to address lofty topics without seeming pompous: “One day I was wishing that there might be more peace, order, and beauty in my life, and suddenly the thought came to me ‘How about your mind – couldn’t you improve conditions there?’” 

The Merriam Leader reported in June 1935 that Dana was spending two weeks at Unity Farm (now Unity Village). Her book, God Is The Answer, was published by the Unity School of Christianity in 1938; numerous editions have followed. Among her other writings was Unity’s Fifty Golden Years, a 1939 publication. Dana died in November 1940.                

Featured in the July 22, 2023 issue of The Independent.
Photo credit: Strauss-Peyton
By Heather N. Paxton



Heather N. Paxton

Heather N. Paxton’s name first appeared in The Independent in a birth announcement back in — oh, never mind. In the mid-1990s, Heather joined the staff as a replacement for a friend who was expecting a visit from the stork. (Let’s hope Heather sent a baby present. The boy is a college graduate now.) Her 20s, 30s, 40s, and now her 50s: Heather has been a staff member for at least brief periods in all of these decades. She is most at home in the office when she is perusing the archives.


Bailey Pianalto Photography