The State Journal published this article on March 3.
By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries
Women – of all backgrounds – have made important contributions to society. Only recently are we learning more about these individuals and learning to give credit to women where that credit is due. The way we have learned more is through evidence. Often that evidence sits in archives used by historians and others to document how women have shaped society. Due to a long tradition of underrepresenting women and women’s contributions, there are archival silences or gaps in what has been preserved. This undervaluing perhaps also causes those making contributors to undervalue documenting what they have done.
Blog post by Rachael Barbara Nicholas, WV National Digital Newspaper Project grant assistant, WVRHC
The Republicans of Berkeley County once bemoaned how difficult it was to edit a political paper when “the Republican backbone” in Berkeley “was weakened by Democratic domination.” This perceived difficulty did not prevent editors A. S. Goulden and John T. Reily from establishing the Martinsburg Herald in 1881. A thoroughly Republican paper, the Martinsburg Herald retained its original management until 1885, when Reily purchased Goulden’s interest in the paper and associated himself with George F. Evans, a manufacturer of cigars and wholesale dealer in tobacco. In addition to being a Republican paper, the Martinsburg Herald was “A Weekly Family Journal—Devoted to Home Interests, Local News, &c.” It followed a fairly consistent format: the first page contained literature, the second political reports, the third local news, and the fourth advertisements.
The Republican element of the Martinsburg Herald was secondary under Reily and Evans, but it was not absent. Reily and Evans championed protection and denounced free trade during the presidential election of 1888. It was their belief, and that of the Republican Party, that restricting imports from other countries would promote American producers, businesses, and workers. They utilized the rhetoric of labor to equate protectionism with agricultural and working-class interests. “Protection always won when the issue was openly against Free Trade,” the editors said of the 1888 Republican victory. “Labor of all kinds fears free trade, and well it may. Labor was aroused, and Labor is the Lion of America.” The lion Reily and Evans envisioned represented unity, something they wanted for the Republican Party.
A healthy repugnance of party factionalism followed the Martinsburg Herald into the Progressive Era, even as it became increasingly political. It no longer bore the title “Family Journal” after A. B. Smith and J. H. Mowbry replaced Reily as editor on July 22, 1893. As a Republican newspaper, the Martinsburg Herald published extensively on free silver—a monetary policy that favored unlimited coinage of silver into money on demand—and territorial expansion. Both Smith and Mowbry and the editors who succeeded them (U.S.G. Pitzer in 1899, George F. Evans in 1900, Wilbur Thomas in 1904, and W.E. Hoffheins & Co intermittently) criticized free silver and its populist Democrat defender, William Jennings Bryan. They predicted an economic collapse under Bryan’s silver standard and urged farmers, the potential beneficiaries of free silver, to “not pursue a phantom and bring down on his own head worse ills than he now suffers.” They also chastised Bryan’s opposition to the imperialist war being fought in the Philippines. Invoking the memory of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, Smith informed his readers “[that] Mr. Jefferson was nothing if not an expansionist… and if alive today both would be found supporting the foreign policy of William McKinley.” The editors of the Martinsburg Herald equated progress as a nation with rampant imperialism.
The reformist spirit of the Progressive Era did not penetrate the pages of the Martinsburg Herald. A few reports addressing prohibition and women’s suffrage graced its columns, but they never received lengthy coverage. The editors had other concerns, particularly in 1912, when ex-president Theodore Roosevelt ran against incumbent William H. Taft, creating a schism in the Republican Party. They accused the newly formed Progressive Party of putting “local candidates into the field against the Republican candidates in every State and congressional district” in “a war of extermination” against Republicans. There was no subtlety in their assertion that the “motto of the new party seems to be ‘Kill the Republican party; elect Roosevelt at the same time if possible, but in any event kill the Republican party.” Republicans and Progressives alike felt the sting of defeat when Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912 and 1916.
The Republican Party survived its splintering and the victory of Wilson; the Martinsburg Herald did not. The final issue appeared on December 27, 1919, under the World Publishing Company. The editorial body gave no indication that this issue would be the Herald’s last. It published a variety of articles, as it always had, including a speech from its former political rival, William Jennings Bryan. It was strangely ironic—maybe even appropriate—that Bryan had the final say in a paper that had spent twenty years opposing and denigrating his policies.
Editor’s note: The Martinsburg Herald is one of the newspapers that will be digitized during the current WV NDNP grant cycle, so it will eventually be available on https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.
The Art in the Libraries Committee and Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz selected Anna Allen, a BFA candidate in painting, and Raymond Thompson, Jr., an MFA student in photography, to receive the 2020 Dean of the Libraries’ Student Art Award.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 22nd, 2021
Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU
This series of blog posts will feature the following books: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code
Note: The cookbooks in this series feature revolutionary and talented women of their times. Reading their stories in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, I chose to refer to the authors by their first names. Their casual tones conveyed a desire to connect with the reader, and being one of those readers, I wanted to uphold that connection while maintaining the highest respect for the work they created.
I found a place on campus I never knew existed. The West Virginia & Regional History Center houses doorways into the past, into the day-to-day struggles, relationships, and moments of sweet relief. I’m sifting through the realities of women, Black Americans, and other marginalized groups to elucidate forces that affected their lives. These forces, far from obsolete, persist into today’s social landscape, whether it is in private conversations at the Mountainlair or national media coverage.
Donated by the late Lucinda Ebersole, an acclaimed writer and cookbook collector, hundreds of cookbooks await analysis on the sixth floor of the Downtown Library. I started with Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, which captures the travels and fierce entrepreneurship of Mary Ellen Pleasant.
I realized that recipes cast a new light on history with an intimate truthfulness. Standard high-school history books don’t reveal the ins and outs of stewing a turtle, running a renowned kitchen on a senator’s riverboat, or feeding enslaved people at secret boarding houses of the Underground Railroad. The language around recipes, be it an author’s note or long introduction, tells a story about a time period. How are specific groups of people described? Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook uses “Negro,” while later books opt for “African American” or “Black.” Who knew a timeline of societal awakenings and changes in norms is etched between the dinner and dessert section of a cookbook?
As I flipped the page of a hundred-year-old cookbook, a plume of dust shot into the air. I caught a whiff of an unfamiliar scent that reminded me of my grandmother’s stack of outdated newspapers, musty yet potent. I felt like a foreigner in an unexplored country, getting to know the smells and rituals of a group whose history was scrubbed and sanitized by dominant groups.
For example, the “mammy” stereotype — a jolly, rotund Black woman who cares for everyone and whips up a southern feast — seemed awful but extinct in today’s world. However, it was only three months ago that the international brand Quaker Oats removed a notorious mammy stereotype from their most famous product line, Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix.
The content of these frayed cookbooks is so pertinent to the current moment. Their lessons on racial identity and inclusion matter in policy decisions, university trainings, and dorm-room discussions among friends.
My goal in these blogs is to share stories from sources as raw, as delicious, and as unfiltered as personal recipes. I don’t mind if opinions are unsettled or comfortability is shaken. I’ll also let you in on experiences that I’ll likely never witness, like skinning an opossum or preparing fruit punch for a hundred people at a church social.
At some points, I found myself agitated over a cookbook. I texted friends and annoyed my family about what I read, mostly injustices against the authors and their communities. Civil rights, intercultural blending, mental health, women’s suffrage, gender issues, slavery, single parenthood, poverty, environmentalism, and more fills the pages of the Ebersole Collection. This blog would be lucky to dust off just one of those topics!
I invite you to accompany me into the daily lives of skilled chefs who objected in the most cunning, illusive way. Their judgements and hopes are woven into the blank spaces between recipes for roast duck and spice cake.
I’m excited to show you what I uncovered after hours in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, carefully leafing through these antique cookbooks on a special book pillow.
I’m a senior pursuing a double major in Biology and International Studies and intern at the WVU Center for Resilient Communities. Welcome to my excursion into the Ebersole Collection!
*I will capitalize the term “Black” in agreement with the New York Times’ 2020 decision to respect a shared cultural identity. Read more about their decision here.
A warm thank you to our dedicated Rare Book Librarian, Stewart Plein, and our Reference Supervisor, Jessica Eichlin, for empowering me during this process. Without their work, organizing the hundreds of books and spreading the word about their content would not happen.
By Beth Royall, chair, WVU Libraries Collections Advisory Committee
Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz and Beth Royall, chair of the Libraries’ Collections Advisory Committee, presented the Licensing Principles for Vendors document to the WVU Faculty Senate at the February 8, 2021 Senate meeting. Anyone who has been following the development of this document may note the title change. Dean Diaz explained that discussions with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee made it clear the previous title, “Vendor Policy,” was misleadingly stringent, and the new title better represents how we will use this document. The new Licensing Principles for Vendors have now been approved by the Dean of Libraries, the Library Faculty Assembly, and the WVU Faculty Senate.
Faculty are encouraged to share these principles with their vendor contacts and engage in candid dialogue about the serious need for—among other things—fair, transparent, and sustainable pricing models; compliance with usability and accessibility standards; and interlibrary loan privileges for e-books. Change isn’t easy, but when the WVU community speaks with one voice the impact is powerful.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 15th, 2021
Blog post by Jane LaBarbara,Assistant Curator, WVRHC.
Valentine’s Day yesterday got me thinking about love and friendship, and how that is reflected in the things we save. The WVRHC has preserved the evidence of probably thousands of friendships in the form of funny greeting cards, charming letters, scrapbooks, reminiscences, published works, and photographs. I wanted to share some of those photographs with all of you, to highlight the many forms of friendship which carry us through good times and bad.
The goofy ones
Friends from school, clubs, social organizations, etc.
Masks are the new symbol of our time. WVU’s Art in the Libraries Program will host a free virtual event titled “The Art of the Mask: A Community Discussion and Show-and-Tell” Monday, Feb. 15, from noon-1 p.m.
The Zoom gathering, in conjunction with the Art in the Libraries’ online exhibit, The Art of the Mask, will feature an informal sharing of masks and discussion by Suzanne Gosden-Kitchen, assistant chair and teaching associate professor in the Department of Management, John Chambers College of Business and Economics, and Matthew Tolliver, an adjunct faculty member at WVU and a certified professional school counselor, Monongalia County Schools. Their mask creations are part of the digital Art of the Mask exhibit.
WVU Libraries is hosting “Amplifying Appalachia” Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, an effort to amplify the stories and figures of under-represented Appalachian artists, writers, and other creators, particularly women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals.
“Amplifying Appalachia” is open to all and will run virtually from March 1-5. Participants can contribute whenever is convenient them. Prior Wiki experience is not necessary.
Are you an instructor who is concerned about the impact of high textbook costs for your students’ academic success? WVU Libraries will host an Open Textbook Workshop and Textbook Review on March 4 at 10 a.m. that will help instructors explore possible open textbook solutions to this growing financial issue.
Over the past few years, 60 percent of students surveyed said they delayed purchasing textbooks until they received their financial aid and 70 percent chose not to purchase a required textbook because of cost, according to the Open Education Network, a group that studies how the high cost of course materials impede students’ academic success.
WVU Libraries is pleased to announce a free professional development opportunity available to University faculty and staff – complimentary registration for the OLC Innovate Virtual Conference scheduled for March 15-19.
This unlimited virtual package is a prize won by Engineering Librarian Martin Dunlap at the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate 2020 conference.
The Innovate Conference’s schedule includes more than 100 sessions and workshops and covers topics such as Blended Teaching and Learning; Career and Technical Education; Instructional Technologies and Tools; Leadership and Advocacy; Open Learning; Process, Problems and Practices; Research: Designs, Methods and Findings; and Teaching and Learning Practice. There are also “targeted summits,” which are thematically focused gatherings for Community College, HBCU, Instructional Design, Research, International and K-12.
WVU Libraries’ Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in collaboration with the Prioritize Periods Campaign of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, has launched “Take One, Leave One,” a menstrual product drive, in their campus locations including Downtown Campus Library, Evansdale Library, and Health Sciences Lactation Room, as a trial through the spring semester.
“Take One, Leave One” bins are located in public, yet discreet, locations in the buildings and welcome students and Library users to donate or take what they need. Locations will be posted on bathroom mirrors in each of the buildings. Bins will be monitored to record use and donations for potentially more long-term use or future initiatives.
“While access to basic hygiene on campus such as soap and toilet paper is routine, access to menstrual products is not at this point,” Libraries Dean Karen Diaz said. “We are happy to participate with Prioritize Periods Campaign to work on changing that and are happy to provide space to pilot improving access to this basic health requirement for so many in our community.”
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 1st, 2021
Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian
The New River, among the oldest in the nation, has now been named the newest national park in the United States. This designation comes as part of the recent stimulus package signed by President Trump. With over 70,000 acres stretching along the New River, the new national park offers a variety of fine water activities, such as whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. If dry land is more your speed, outdoor activities include hiking, rock climbing, hunting, bird watching, camping, as well as one of West Virginia’s most popular sports, mountain biking.
Of course, one of the most compelling features of the New River gorge is its stunning bridge. Take a look at some of the photographs and postcards in the West Virginia and Regional History Center showing the gorge and the bridge over time.
The gorge is not far from other natural resources within the state. The photograph below shows a view of the New River Gorge from Hawks Nest, dated 1939. This photograph comes from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company Advertising Department, A&M 1710.
The area is rich in cultural history as well. Before the bridge, timber was an important resource. This photograph, below, shows loggers and two small boys posing on a small Peerless Engine and its cargo of logs in the New River Gorge, Fayette County, date unknown. Note that the track rails are made of logs. A National Park Service Photo. Published by Katy Miller. (postcard collection)
Jump forward nearly one hundred years to the technological marvel that was the building of the New River Gorge bridge. Now known nationally and globally as the site for Bridge Day, when traffic is at a halt and people are allowed to traverse the bridge, and even jump off of it! According to the Bridge Day website, every third Saturday in October, thousands of people gather on the bridge to base jump. I think this falls under the heading: If you build it, they will come!
Above: This jaw dropping image shows the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayette County, W. Va. ca. 1976. Photo of the steel bridge construction by the United States Steel Corporation. The bridge’s arch was the world’s longest main arch at 1,700 feet.
Above: ca. 1976. A group of unidentified construction workers are scattered across the site.
This beautiful shot shows the New River Gorge Bridge under construction, ca. 1976. Fayette County
This postcard from 1941 shows the New River Canyon from Hawk’s Nest Rock State Park, near Ansted. The caption on the back of postcard reads: “Once called Marshall’s Pillar for Chief Justice John Marshall who came here in 1812. Engineers declare the New River Canyon, 585 feet deep, surpasses the famed Royal Gorge. Tunnel for river makes vast water power here. On U.S. Route 60.” Published by Genuine Curteich. (From postcard collection).
So, what are you waiting for? There are plenty of winter activities to enjoy at our newest national park and the gorge looks beautiful under a blanket of snow. Need something for the whole family to do together? See it firsthand this weekend!
All images from the West Virginia and Regional History Center West Virginia History OnView photograph collection. https://wvhistoryonview.org/
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 25th, 2021
Blog post by Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.
Mental illness and its treatment have a long history in the United States as well as West Virginia. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries several hospitals were built in West Virginia to service the developing communities in a growing state. Today, West Virginia is home to some famous old hospitals which attract visitors every year in search of either a catered scare or a dive into the macabre past tied to these places. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a popular and well visited location in Weston.
There was another institution however, which functioned for just over fifty years and today has nearly vanished. The Lakin State Hospital was built in 1926 in Point Pleasant and served as the African American mental hospital for the state during the era of segregation. The hospital was part of a series of community services and institutions proposed by African American delegates in West Virginia’s Legislature. West Virginia’s political make up looked different in the 1920s. The Republican Party ran on a platform of progress and moral reform spearheading the successful implementation of prohibition in 1916 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. These Afrian American delegates, T. G. Nutter, Harry Capehart, and T. J. Coleman saw accessible and state funded mental health services for African American West Virginians as essential and in tow with the Republican Party’s platform.
The campus was built gradually. The original staff at the hospital shared quarters with the patients until employee dormitories were constructed. The buildings exhibited an emerging modern “budget Deco” style. They were composed almost entirely of brick with symmetrical double-hung windows and ornamental columns along the facades. The main building for the hospital’s campus also featured a two story portico supported by rectangular columns. These design features evoked the streamlined themes of the emerging Art Deco architectural style which exploded throughout the United States during the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s.
Lakin State Hospital was West Virginia’s state hospital for African-American mental health patients, then called the “colored insane,” and was also completely staffed by African Americans. These demographics were very atypical for mental hospitals which normally employed at least one white physician. In addition to the all African American staff, specialists would often visit the hospital. One of these specialists was the infamous Dr. Walter Freeman, an enthusiastic proponent of lobotomization. Freeman performed over 150 lobotomies at Lakin between 1940 and 1960. The hospital shared its campus with the West Virginia Industrial School for Colored Boys and eventually the site became the Lakin Correctional Facility, a women’s prison. Few images still exist from the hospital, and only the administration building remains standing.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 19th, 2021
Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita
Dr. Ancella Bickley’s extensive collection of her research materials and writings in the West Virginia and Regional History Center reflects her research on a wide range of topics pertaining to the Black experience in America and particularly the West Virginia Black experience. Bickley, an educator, historian, and writer, was especially interested in revealing the unique contributions of Black women. While the transcripts of her oral history interviews with Black teachers who experienced the integration of schools reveals the major contributions of many Black West Virginia women, I have chosen three other noteworthy women to introduce here.
The amount of information about each of these women varies widely. Dr. Bickley collected enough information to write an entire book about the first woman, Memphis Tennessee Garrison. She found a little less about the second woman, Bessie Woodson Yancey who was recognized by scholars for her writing. As for the third woman, Mollie Gabe, she largely remains hidden in history except for the research and recognition by Ancella Bickley.
Memphis Tennessee Garrison 1890-1988
Dr. Bickley’s book, written with Lynda Ann Ewen, Memphis Tennessee Garrison, the Remarkable Story of a Black Appalachian Womannarrates the life of a woman of accomplishment during the heyday of mining in West Virginia and the Jim Crow era of the 1920s through the 1940s. Memphis Tennessee Garrison was a community activist, coal company mediator, and educator. One of her most impactful activities was to spearhead the NAACP Christmas Seals, a fundraising program, as just part of her long commitment to that organization. She used her voice to support the Republican Party and its candidates too by working with the Party’s women’s organization. She developed cultural and recreational opportunities in the mining communities by bringing entertainment to the miners and their families; and was also a liaison with the coal companies and miners to calm labor and racial disputes. As an educator she created techniques for teaching special needs children before the term “special education” was coined.
Memphis Tennessee Garrison was one generation removed from slavery and was a powerful activist for the Blacks of West Virginia and the nation. As the book about her life notes, she “deserves her place in the lists of important women, important black Americans, and important Appalachians.”
Wikipedia contributors. “Memphis Tennessee Garrison.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Dec. 2020. Web. 6 Jan. 2021.
Bessie Woodson Yancey 1882-1958
I am a Negro, Dusky As my native jungles, Subtle As the creatures that move therein, Rollicking Like the noon-day sun. Suffered all, Yet I bring goodwill, Turning loss to gain, Wrestling joy from pain, Changing tears into laughter!
Bessie Woodson Yancey penned the poem above, and many more, for her book Echoes from the Hills which was published by her brother, Carter G. Woodson, the famed Black historian and activist. Katharine Rodier wrote of Yancey’s book “her poetry signifies a self-determining moment in the history of African American writing.” In the poem, Yancey demonstrates her deep pride in her race. In addition to her race figuring in her poetry, Yancey was also influenced by her Appalachian identity. Here she demonstrates her deep pride in her state.
If you live in West Virginia, Come with me and pause a while. See her wealth and power rising, See her plains and valleys smile!
Aside from her poetry Yancey wrote more than one hundred pieces, mostly editorials, for Huntington’s Herald-Advertiser, 1946-1956. Her writing demonstrated “evidence of a lively mind engaged in the vital political issues of the day” (Katherine Smith) from the local, national, and international levels. She was particularly vocal regarding West Virginia’s place on the national scene. Her voice also supported the civil rights movement, and she received a death threat from Huntington’s Ku Klux Klan, yet she continued to express her opinion on race up to ten years later. Katherine Smith also said of her “Yancey’s editorial work unsettles assumptions about women’s experiences as African-American Appalachians.”
Bessie Woodson Yancey rose above the strictures placed on Black women in mid-century America to speak her truth regarding world affairs and to offer the world beauty through her poems.
Smith, Katharine Capshaw. “Bessie Woodson Yancey, African-American Poet and Social Critic.” Appalachian Heritage, vol. 36 no. 3, 2008, p. 73-77. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aph.0.0060.
Mollie Gabe (Mary Elizabeth Johnson) ca. 1853-1957
Mary Elizabeth Johnson was born into slavery in Falls Mills in Braxton County. Mollie Gabe’s mother Jane Rhea was enslaved by Dr. John Rhea who brought Jane and other slaves from Virginia. According to varying accounts Dr. Rhea sold Mollie as a child to a family in Clay County where she worked until the Civil War ended. Although Mollie did not know that the war had ended and she was a free person, her mother did know and sent her brother, Mollie’s uncle, to fetch Mollie back to Falls Mill where she remained the rest of her life. Johnson acquired the nickname Mollie Gabe when she married Alexander “Gabe” Johnson in 1871.
In Falls Mill she developed a reputation for being an energetic hard worker, and a midwife and healer using traditional Appalachian remedies. In Ancella Bickley’s profile of Mollie Gabe, she counts Gabe among the “ordinary people who faced day-to-day challenges in the best way they knew how, serving their families and their communities with honor and earning the high regard of many who knew them.” She traveled from farm to farm washing clothes or helping with butchering. Her husband Gabe (Alexander) was also an itinerant laborer. He and his brothers had been slaves of the Braxton County family of William Haymond with whom Mollie and Gabe continued a cordial relationship. They both provided labor for the community and since Gabe owned a team of horses, he delivered groceries, plowed fields, hauled items and worked with his brothers as extra hands as needed.
I doubt that Mollie could read, but she is believed to have traveled to Black colleges and Black high schools to tell her story of being enslaved. It is also said that she walked about a mile at 86 years old to the polls to cast her vote for the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln.
According to the 1910 census, Mary and Alexander Johnson had been married 42 years and had 10 children and she said in an interview that she raised many more. Her gravestone in Falls Mills shows that she lived to be 99 years old, but other accounts show her age at death to be 104.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 4th, 2021
Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian
In 1899, Clara W. Greglee or perhaps Griglee, received this book, How to Know the Ferns, as a Christmas gift from her mother. Although there is little that we know about Clara, including the correct spelling of her surname, we do know that she was a passionate amateur botanist. We know, because her book is stuffed with the ferns she picked, pressed between the pages, and identified in her book.
Above, we can see that Clara pressed a fern between the pages describing the Narrow Leaved Spleenwort. However, from her pressing, one can see that this particular example is not the Narrow Leaved Spleenwort, but another type of fern altogether. Perhaps, on this day, Clara picked and pressed as she walked, planning to identify the ferns she gathered at a later time.
Clara also made notes in the margins of the guide book, such as the note in the photo above. According to this brief notation, we know that Clara identified one of the most common ferns, the Christmas fern, while in Denmark, Maine, in June 1900. This common fern grows all over the eastern seaboard, from New Brunswick all the way to Florida.
Ferns weren’t the only thing Clara hoped to identify. Pages of notes can also be found inside her book, slipped inside the front cover. On September 20th, 1901, Clara was identifying plants near Kennebunk, Maine. The first entry, perhaps a mushroom, reads “reddish brown – old – coarse sponge like gils.”
Clara was given this book in the first year of publication, 1899, and by observing the traces she left behind, we know that she was still using it to identify plants in 1901. But Clara wasn’t the only woman to be involved with this book. Three other women made this book possible: the author, Frances Theodora Parsons, the illustrator, Marion Satterlee, and the book cover designer, Margaret Armstrong. All three women were botanists.
The author, Frances Theodora Parsons, also wrote under her married name, Mrs. William Starr Dana. Following her husband’s death in 1890 during a flu epidemic, Mrs. Dana sought solace in nature. She took long walks with her friend Marion Satterlee, an artist. Together, Marion and Frances began identifying wildflowers. These long nature walks led to her first book, How to Know the Wildflowers in 1893. She would go on to publish two more nature guides, According to Season, 1894, and Plants and Their Children, 1896.
It was not until after Frances married James Russell Parsons, a politician and diplomat, that she wrote this book, How to Know the Ferns, which she considered a sequel to her first book, How to Know the Wildflowers.
Her friend, and companion for the many long woodland walks together, Marion Satterlee, pictured below, would illustrate all of Mrs. Parsons’ books. She too, was a botanist and her black and white line illustrations beautifully and accurately depict the ferns they encountered.
A second artist, Alice Josephine Smith, also drew some of the fern illustrations. Unfortunately, no information could be found about her work or life.
The fourth woman to be involved with the making of this book was Margaret Armstrong, another artist/botanist who would go on to author and illustrate her own guide to western wildflowers, a guide that did not exist until she tackled it.
Armstrong, pictured below, was a well-known book cover designer. She created the designs that would be stamped in colored inks and real gold to make attractive book covers that would draw customers and increase sales. She chose to frame the titles surrounded by ferns, and she placed ferns across the cover stamped in green, as if they were growing naturally in the wild. She often signed her designs with a monogram, her initials MA, which can be found near the title at the upper right of the book.
Taken all together, this is a book by women for women. Botany and plant identification were popular pursuits in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was a hobby women could enjoy, as seen here in this photo, pictured below, from the book. Seeing this photograph, we can picture Clara carrying her book with her into the woods, stopping to pick a fern and press it between the pages. We can see Frances and Marion, two friends who found companionship and the inspiration to create a book that would be enjoyed by others, and we can see Margaret Armstrong, another artist who could use her skills to make the book attractive enough to appeal to a mother as a Christmas gift for her daughter.
The rare book room in the West Virginia and Regional History Center has books by Mrs. Parsons, books illustrated by Marion Satterlee, nature guides, and many books with covers designed by Margaret Armstrong.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 28th, 2020
By Hannah McCoy, Graduate Assistant, WVRHC
My name is Hannah McCoy, and I am a second-year student in West Virginia University’s Public Administration program. I am a West Virginia Wesleyan Alumna, with Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and History. Because of my interest and knowledge of these topics, I really enjoy my position as a “Graduate Assistant at West Virginia & Regional History Center’s Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection, WVU Libraries.” I put this in quotations because this is possibly the longest job title to explain to family members and friends. However, I really value working in this position, and am happy to talk about it when there is genuine interest. My job primarily is to process Senator Rockefeller IV’s files. There have been thousands of boxes sent to the West Virginia University depository, and it is my job to arrange and describe the files. I skim them for any sensitive information, or duplicates, and relocate them to safe, chemical-free folders for proper storage. I usually stumble upon some interesting finds. I also scanned photographs from Congressman Nick Rahall’s collection, and had the pleasure of preparing an online exhibit with my co-workers. In all these roles, I really value my time here, as I get to see things that I would not have gotten to see if I did not have this position.
The highlight of the Fall semester was co-curating a digital exhibit, “Vote for Me: West Virginia Political Memorabilia,” with my co-workers. My biggest responsibility for the exhibit was the “Campaign Buttons” section. I learned about the history of the campaign button and the political and personal histories of Governor Okey Patteson, Senator Jennings Randolph, Governor Cecil Underwood, Senator Robert C. Byrd, Governor Arch Moore, Senator Jay Rockefeller IV, and Congressmen Robert and Alan Mollohan. While I was familiar with these political figures, taking a deeper dive gave me a bigger understanding of their contributions to West Virginia.
I also valued learning how to use Omeka, an online tool that I had not heard of until starting this position. I enjoy learning new tasks and tools, and so the time seemed to fly when work on this exhibit shifted from research to designing and creating the exhibit in Omeka. This part of the process also led to more interaction with my co-workers. Because of COVID-19, my co-workers and I have not been working at the depository together, but have been working staggering off-site and on-site shifts. The online exhibit gave us a chance to collaborate and decide on the best way to organize the exhibit. This boosted workplace morale and comradery.
The best part of this project was the satisfaction of getting to the finish line with a polished, published product. I was happy with how the exhibit turned out, and this was the best group project I have been a part of. Everyone worked hard and brought a lot to the table.
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 21st, 2020
By Meredith Dreistadt, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC
I am a second-year graduate student in the Public History program here at WVU, and this is a reflection on my first semester working in the WVRHC’s Modern Congressional and Political Papers Collection. For my first year as a student at WVU, I was working part time in a local museum’s small archive which really made my transition to a large, long-established collecting institution an interesting one!
One of the major differences is in how each institution catalogs artifacts both in terms of different software (PastPerfect vs. ArchivesSpace) and in terms of process. At Arthurdale, my main objective was to create as much detailed metadata as possible for each object to make finding that particular item easier for ourselves and future researchers. At the WVRHC, we use an archival processing theory called “More Product, Less Process” which works to more quickly reduce the backlog of thousands and thousands of objects that still need processing. Both methods make sense for each collecting institution because of the size of the collection to process and the way the objects are used by researchers and staff.
Aside from the technical aspects of my assistantship at the Depository, I found learning about mid- to late-twentieth century political papers refreshingly different from what primary source documents I have worked with for both work and my own research. In my studies, I have primarily focused on early-twentieth century, New Deal era social and governmental shifts as well as the Enlightenment in France and its repercussions. Finding letters in Governor Arch Moore’s Papers that were written about seat-belt laws, citizens protesting the construction of a football field, and leaders concerned about reducing the national deficit in the 1980s has been a very interesting change.
Perhaps one of the more interesting recent finds in the Moore Papers has been the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Legislation of 1986 (in Folder 3 of Box II.F. – 52). This folder contains correspondence between Governor Moore and various heads of West Virginia state agencies to understand how this new law, which was aimed at cutting down the national deficit by massively decreasing spending, would affect each agency. For agencies that focused on natural resource conservation, it appears that they were affected rather similarly, losing funding that would halt some initiatives of conservation. In other cases, the budget of an agency like the Board of Regents remained fairly untouched. This folder provides an interesting insight into how a national policy like reducing the deficit, which was a focus of the Reagan Administration, affected particular regions, work, and projects in West Virginia.
This has been a very interesting semester of work getting to know the archives and the documents and photos I’ve had the chance to work with during the time of COVID-19. It has been a successful semester and I am looking forward to the next one!
Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 14th, 2020
By Crystal Coon, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC
I am a first-year graduate student at WVU in the Public History program, with a certificate in Women and Gender Studies, and starting in August of 2020, I became a Graduate Assistant for the West Virginia and Regional History Center Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection. So, basically, I get to look over and work with some really cool documents dealing with West Virginia politics and government! Specifically, I get to work with the Governor Arch Moore correspondence collection; it contains all the letters written to Arch A. Moore, Jr. while he was governor of West Virginia.
While working as one of the Graduate Assistants for this department, I had the amazing opportunity to help curate a digital exhibit called “Vote for Me: West Virginia Political Memorabilia.” Working together with the other graduate assistants, we created an online exhibit that told the story of historical campaigning throughout West Virginia’s history. I did research to create the Campaign Poster portion of the exhibit. I really enjoyed looking into the history of campaign posters and the different kinds of campaign slogans. Looking at the different WV campaign posters, like that of Matthew Mansfield Neely, really got me excited about the interesting history of something that is now viewed as so common. Figuring out how to set up the virtual exhibit with the other assistants was a really fun process. This project was incredibly interesting, and I really enjoyed being able to create the poster for the Welcome Page of the exhibit.
One of the biggest parts of my job was creating scope and contents notes for the Arch Moore Gubernatorial Correspondence series. These notes will allow specific topics and people to be searchable for researchers online. The most interesting aspect of looking through constituent correspondence is seeing what people thought was important. There were plenty of letters requesting help with Worker’s Compensation and Social Security, but there were also letters congratulating Governor Moore on his election. There were requests for the governor to write to someone special for a milestone birthday, anniversary, or graduation. The people of West Virginia clearly felt close to Governor Arch Moore. It was so interesting to be able to see the issues that every day people felt passionate about: what they felt was worth writing to the governor of the state about.
While working through Arch Moore’s gubernatorial correspondence, I also came across some really interesting, fun, or even heartbreaking things. Some of the most interesting letters to the governor were from major businesses interested in moving some of their manufacturing into the state of West Virginia. The presidents and CEOs of places like Coca-Cola and Pillsbury wrote to Arch Moore. One of my favorite things to see in the many folders of constituent correspondence is the letters from kids. Often written for school projects, many children and teenagers wrote to Governor Moore to express interest in learning more about the state of West Virginia. In September of 1986, Governor Moore received a letter from a young girl, thanking him for sending her information, books, and pins on the state of West Virginia. At thirteen years old, she also included drawings of the state flower, state animal, state bird, and state tree. My favorite part of this letter is that she addressed the letter “To my friend Arch A. Moore Jr. Governor.” I love the closeness that these kids felt to the governor who so willingly sent them information about the state. The most heartbreaking thing that I have found in the correspondence files is Governor Moore’s letters of sympathy to the families that fell victim to mining accident fatalities. These letters are always touching, and they remind me that these accidents had more victims than just the miners. These families suffered the loss of a husband and often a father; it is moving to see Governor Moore reach out to these families during their time of grief.
Another aspect of the assistantship involved the Nick Rahall photo collection. I scanned several boxes of photographs from Representative Nick Rahall’s time in Congress. Starting with images from the 1980s, I scanned photographs of various aspects of the Congressman’s career so that they can be made available online. I really enjoyed getting to see how his career progressed from the 1980s through the early 2000s by the images that I was able to scan. It is easy to see through the hundreds of photographs that I looked through that Representative Rahall was very involved with the people of West Virginia, as he attended a lot of community events and had many schools visit his office in Washington D.C. Seeing the career of Congressman Rahall through these photographs was one of the most interesting ways of exploring someone’s life of public service that I have had the opportunity to look through.
Through this semester of working with the West Virginia and Regional History Center’s Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection, I have found a new interest in modern political history. As someone who is studying 19th Century American history, I have never really explored the mid to late 20th Century and all the incredible stories it has to offer. Political history has never really been something that I gravitated towards, as I studied social and cultural histories. However, working with this collection has really encouraged me to broaden my horizons, look beyond my comfort zone, and pick up an interest in something that I hadn’t really considered before.
Working remotely and continuing to adapt to changes brought on by a global pandemic has definitely brought its share of challenges. But being surrounded by history and the stories of people who persevered gives my work a renewed sense of necessity and relevance. Surrounded by campaign materials and historical politics during a very tense election, I was able to reflect on periods of political uncertainty in West Virginia’s own past. I am excited to continue to work at the WVRHC and further my interest in West Virginia’s rich political history. Now, more than ever, history is important to understand the present.
“The Food Justice Lab is thrilled to support WVU Libraries with an art exhibit that will elevate the rich histories of Appalachian food heritage, explore the inequities presently coded into our food system and help us to imagine a more just and resilient food future for our region,” WVU Food Policy Research Director Joshua Lohnes said.