Ask A Librarian

It's Green-up Time: the Arrival of Spring and Louise McNeill's The Milkweed Ladies

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 23rd, 2017

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

As of Monday, spring is officially here!  Every year when the time changes and we have evening light, I look forward to blooming buds and the appearance of leaves on the trees, also known as “green-up time.”  I was not familiar with this colloquialism until I read poet Louise McNeill’s memoir, The Milkweed Ladies.  McNeill describes all the activity that took place on the farm just before and during springtime in the chapter, “Green-up Time.”  It is nostalgic and beautiful, revealing a routine unknown to most in our modern times.


“Soon after sassafras time, it was green-up time, with the first shoots coming up out of the ground.  We watched the sprouts hopefully, for this was the time of year for Granny to go to the fields and woods to pick her wild greens, the “sallets” of the old frontier. Granny Fanny taught us all the plants, and how to tell the good greens from the bad. We gathered new poke sprouts, always being careful not to snip them too close to their poison roots; and we gathered “spotted leaf,” leaves of “lamb’s tongue,” butter-and-eggs, curly dock, new blackberry sprouts, dandelions, and a few violet leaves.”  — The Milkweed Ladies, page 45.


Portrait of Louise McNeill in 1941
Louise McNeill in 1941  Read the rest of this entry »

The War in Words: Union and Confederate Civil War Military Camp Newspapers in Charleston, Western Virginia

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 14th, 2017

Masthead of newspaper titled The Guerilla

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Civil War Military Camp newspapers are few and far between, but the news they printed is still valuable to us today.  As troops came into town, if there were newspapermen among the regiment, they often took over the press to print their own regimental newspaper.  The press may have been abandoned by fleeing residents or it may have been taken over by the troops, in any case, these rare survivors of Civil War news often reflect the movement of troops, the availability of soldiers skilled as newspapermen, and the proximity of a usable press.  These papers document the continuing flux of the military during the war, the development of western Virginia as it strives for independence from Virginia, and the need to support and bolster troop morale.  Few copies survive and those that do are extremely valuable for their reports of daily life, the publication of popular songs and humorous sketches, and reports on battles, politics, and troop movements.  Read the rest of this entry »

Art + Feminism edit-a-thon celebrates Women’s History Month

Posted by
March 13th, 2017

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Wikipedia is calling on people around the world to celebrate Women’s History Month by participating in one of the many edit-a-thons planned throughout March.

Locally, West Virginia University Libraries, the WVU Art Museum and Arts Mon will co-host an Art + Feminism edit-a-thon on March 15 from 12:30-4:30 p.m. at the WVU Art Museum’s Great Hall.

“This is an exciting collaboration between these parties towards the shared goal of closing the gender gap on Wikipedia and raising awareness about women in art from our region,” said Kelly Doyle, WVU Libraries’ Wikipedian in Residence for Gender Equity.

Wikipedia has a well-documented gender gap – nearly 90 percent of the site’s volunteer editors are male – that has resulted in more content about men and male-related topics than about women and female-related topics.

The Art + Feminism edit-a-thon will focus on female artists on exhibit at the museum. Participants will have the opportunity to write about pieces on display and edit Wikipedia pages of female artists, painters, designers, and dancers.

Doyle will provide a brief tutorial on editing Wikipedia articles and help individuals create an account. Preregistration is not required, but people should bring a laptop. The event is open to the public and refreshments will be provided.

Over the past year, Doyle recruited volunteer editors at WVU to update 50 existing articles and write 20 new posts. A few examples include: Virginia B. Evans, a famous painter and art deco glass designer; Julia Keller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer and former journalist; and Dr. Mildred Mitchell-Bateman, the first woman and African-American to serves as West Virginia’s mental health commissioner.

Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtags #artandfeminism and #noweditingaf. For more information, contact Doyle at 304-293-0342 or or visit the meetup page. Follow Doyle on Twitter, @WiR_at_WVU



Jerry West Exhibit Now Available Online

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 13th, 2017

WVRHC's commemorative WV Day poster showing Jerry West jumping with a basketball

Just in time for March Madness, the West Virginia and Regional History Center is pleased to release the online version of our 2016 West Virginia Day exhibit, “Jerry West: An American Icon.”

The exhibit can still be viewed in person by visiting the WVRHC (in the back of the 6th floor, Downtown Campus Library) and will remain open through May 19, 2017. For those who cannot visit us in person, we have made PDFs that capture the exhibit objects, text, and links to videos found in both galleries of the display. The links to these PDFs can be found here:

PDF versions of our previous West Virginia Day exhibits, from 2009-2015, can be accessed from the Exhibits webpage.


Stansbury Hall: A Piece of Campus History

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 27th, 2017

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC (with big thanks to Jessica Eichlin, Photographs Manager, for finding many of these great photos).

Since Stansbury Hall has been in the news recently, I decided to investigate the history of the building and the man for whom it was named.  The first thing I learned: Stansbury Hall was once the Field House for our sports teams.   Read the rest of this entry »

100 Year Old Artifacts Show the History of WVU

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 22nd, 2017

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.


To help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of West Virginia University, a historical photography exhibit featuring holdings of the West Virginia and Regional History Center is showing at the Erickson Alumni Center.  Read the rest of this entry »

President Taft Visits Morgantown and North Central West Virginia, 1911

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 21st, 2017

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

In honor of President’s Day, this post takes a look back at President William Howard Taft’s visit to Morgantown in November 1911.  Taft came to town to mark the inauguration of West Virginia University’s eighth president, Thomas E. Hodges.  Read the rest of this entry »

Looking at Appalachia forum now available online

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 16th, 2017

A forum that focused on how images in the media affect the nation’s perceptions of Appalachia is now available online.

The event, held February 7 in the Downtown Campus Library, was inspired by Looking at Appalachia, a juried collection of images by amateur and professional photographers currently on display at the DCL as part of the West Virginia University LibrariesArt in the Libraries series.

Read the rest of this entry »

Booker T. Washington and West Virginia Salt Works

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 7th, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Bags of Charmco Feeds and Kanawha Salt

Along the banks of the Kanawha River lies an ancient deposit of briny saline, or salt deposits.  Their salty presence figures prominently over millennia and they have played an important role for centuries and for generations of people in West Virginia.

The Kanawha Salines, the name given to the salt fields of West Virginia, travel along both banks of the Kanawha River until the waters reach Charleston, a distance of approximately ten miles.  The origin of the region can be traced back to the earliest times, 600 million years ago, to an ocean that predates even the Atlantic, the Iapetus Ocean, so named for the father of Atlantis, whose own name was given to the Atlantic Ocean we know today. Read the rest of this entry »

Forum will explore how photographs define Appalachia

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 3rd, 2017

A panel of West Virginia University faculty from journalism to public health will discuss how images in the media affect the nation’s perceptions of Appalachia during a forum on February 7 from 4-6 p.m. in the Downtown Campus Library (DCL), Room 104.

The program is inspired by Looking at Appalachia, a juried collection of images by amateur and professional photographers, currently on display at the DCL as part of the WVU Libraries’ Art in the Libraries series. West Virginia native Roger May directs the ongoing Looking at Appalachia project that chronicles life in the 13-state region more than 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

“This forum is a great opportunity to use the Looking at Appalachia exhibit to spark conversations about how images in the media can affect a range of issues facing the region,” said Alyssa Wright, chair of the Art in the Libraries Committee.

Three friends pose for photographer Dennis Savage in Cabell County, W.Va. The image is part of the Looking at Appalachia exhibit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Erickson Alumni Center to host historical photograph exhibit

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 2nd, 2017

A historical photograph exhibit titled “Through the Looking Glass: Early Glass Plate Views of West Virginia University” will open in the Erickson Alumni Center’s Nutting Gallery on February 7 to mark the 150th anniversary of West Virginia University’s founding.

The display will include more than 30 prints made from glass plates from the holdings of the West Virginia & Regional History Center that illustrate the formative years of WVU from 1867-1920. The exhibit will be open to the public Monday-Friday, 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and remain on display through March 31.

“These photos reveal just how much the University has changed from its early years to the present,” WVRHC Director John Cuthbert said. “Morgantown was a sleepy little village, Westover was non-existent and WVU consisted of just a single building at times. The founders would be stunned to see the sprawling globally significant institution it has become.”

One image in the exhibit is this early photograph of the West Virginia University campus taken from the hill now occupied by Stalnaker Hall, ca. 1878.

Read the rest of this entry »

Skiing in West Virginia

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 31st, 2017

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

With the arrival of winter weather, many are heading to the slopes to enjoy one of West Virginia’s most popular outdoor activities – skiing. The ski industry is a major part of the state’s economy that contributes over $250 million dollars annually and supplies more than 5000 jobs.

The first downhill ski area in West Virginia (also the first commercial ski area south of the Mason-Dixon line) came after members of the Washington Ski Club installed a rope tow on Weiss Knob in Canaan Valley, Tucker County in 1953.  This area is now part of the Canaan Valley State Park ski complex that opened in 1971.  Read the rest of this entry »

200,000 Pages of West Virginia Newspapers Digitized

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 23rd, 2017

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

The West Virginia and Regional History Center, in collaboration with the Library of Virginia, has been digitizing its newspaper collection for the Library of Congress website Chronicling America.  This 200,000 page collection of West Virginia newspapers is easily accessible through character string searching, and therefore offers extraordinary access to a treasure trove of primary historical resource material.  More specifically, this collection covers the period 1836-1922; the titles currently available are listed on the website, including mainly papers from Charles Town, Clarksburg, Fairmont, and Wheeling.  This digital collection will take a quantum leap forward in August 2017 when an additional 100,000 pages go online!


Having recently encountered on the internet news of the plans to restore the historic Robinson Grand Theater located in Clarksburg, West Virginia (which is scheduled to open in Spring 2018), I thought I would test the search engine by looking up the early history of the theater.  I was immediately rewarded with a wealth of easily accessible information regarding events connected with the topic.  In reviewing this snapshot of early entertainment history at the Robinson Grand we sometimes also encounter broader themes of national history that were concerning Americans at that time.


Among the results of my research, I found a front page report regarding a public reception occurring on February 6, the day before the theater opened on February 7:  Read the rest of this entry »

The African American Press in West Virginia

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 12th, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Two African-American Newsboys and Unidentified man stand outside C. N Chilins Newsstand

C.N. Chilins News Stand, Fairmont, W. V. 1904/06. Two African-American Newsboys and Unidentified man stand outside C. N Chilins, located on Madison Ave.. Fairmont, W. V., eventually (relocated) to the first floor of Watson Hotel.

Beset with a fluctuating subscriber base, the constant need for funds, and personnel shortages, African American newspapers in West Virginia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries struggled to survive.  Many were short lived, publishing issues for a couple of years at best.  Some papers found themselves shutting down production for weeks or even months at a time, waiting for subscribers and advertisers to provide enough funding to begin publishing again.  Read the rest of this entry »

This Day in History: Farmers’ Week

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 5th, 2017

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

While searching for a blog post topic, I came across a mention of Farmers’ Week, January 5-9, 1920.  I had never heard of Farmers’ Week before, so I combed through the WVRHC’s printed ephemera, photos, and our vast collection of university publications till I found out about this great educational program from WVU’s College of Agriculture.

Farmers Week Exhibit with signage and tables full of produce

Farmers Week Exhibit

Read the rest of this entry »

Recent Acquisition: Papers of Rural School Teacher Pearl Cuppett, 1915-1918

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 20th, 2016

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

The West Virginia and Regional History Center recently acquired the papers of Preston County school teacher Pearl Cuppett (catalog number A&M 4196).  As a record of her activity in the schools of Pine Run (1915-1916), Victory (1916-1917), and Mountain View (1917-1918), they provide a snapshot of rural West Virginia school life.  The following will sample some of the material in this collection.  Read the rest of this entry »

Portraits of Appalachia: Stereotypical Images of the Mountain Man on Local Color Literature

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 19th, 2016

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian. This post originally appeared on the Books Tell You Why blog.

How is stereotype developed and how is it spread? Historically, books have played a role as purveyors of stereotype, both intentionally and unintentionally. It’s easy to think of a book’s text as promoting stereotypical points of view, but the book’s cover design is just as influential.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, book cover design was an unwitting influence on the development of the Appalachian stereotype. The artistic portraits of Appalachia and Appalachians found on the covers of books widely dispersed to reading audiences across the nation had a lasting impact on the stereotypical image of Appalachia.

Cover of book The Devil's Brigade showing a man holding a smoking gun

Much like the travel writing of earlier times, local color literature, a popular style in its day, was designed to provide the reading public with intimate glimpses into specific regions across the nation. Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sarah Orne Jewett wrote of the regional flavor of New England. Mark Twain and Bret Harte captured the excitement of the West, and writers like John Fox, Jr. and Mary Noailles Murfree, who wrote under the pen name Charles Egbert Craddock, were among the many authors who wrote of the Appalachian region.

In the case of Appalachian local color literature, the decorated book cover and local color writing converged at a specific point in time that was crucial to the formation of Appalachian stereotypes. The decorative cover was an important element of the book, serving to reinforce the image of Appalachia as portrayed by local colorists. In this regard, the book’s image was as important as the image provided by the printed text in the development of the stereotypical image of Appalachia and Appalachians.

When we look at the book cover in partnership with the text, we begin to understand the important role book binding design played in the development of the stereotypes and misconceptions of the Appalachian region and its people. Designed as a marketing tool, the book cover served as an attractive means to draw the prospective purchaser to the book. As such, the book’s cover became the controlling influence. This influence was exerted from the very beginning, with the publishers’ continual desire over the course of a century to make the book attractive and appealing to consumers.

This integration of image and Appalachia on the cover of books began with the reconstruction of Appalachia as the American frontier in the mid nineteenth century. During this time period, as America became more urban, there was a ready market for books that offered tales of the frontier featuring rugged backwoodsmen like Daniel Boone. It was a time of looking back and longing for the frontier spirit.

Cover of book Our Western Border showing a man holding a gun leaning out over a cliff

The great frontier hero, Daniel Boone, on the cover of McKnight’s Our Western Border, shown above, is surrounded by a complex wilderness. In this design Boone carefully leans over a mountain cliff, looking down to the river below, watching Indians canoeing upstream. He is pictured as a competent woodsman and explorer, living life free, without restraint, in verdant forests filled with danger. It was a time idealized by the book.

But soon, book cover designs on Appalachian local color literature would change as they began to mirror the prevailing attitudes about Appalachians and the Appalachian region, changing over time as attitudes changed. The idea of the mountaineer as backwoods philosopher/woodsman evolved as America became more urbanized while Appalachia’s development was seen as static.

Cover of book Red-Head showing a man with a gun, crouching

The rugged mountaineer on the cover of Lloyd’s Red Head, (1903) above, crouches with his rifle at the ready.  Is he expecting trouble? Is he lying in wait for an ambush?  To know the answer to these questions we must read the book. The cover draws us in, but no longer is the mountain man shown as master of the wilderness. His depiction has changed to one of an outlaw, rather than a pioneer. The design of the book cover is the first tool used to draw us in, to convey some idea of the story itself, and it provides clues to the pervasive ideas of turn of the century culture and attitudes.

As the Appalachian stereotype changed and evolved, portrayals of the mountain man often fell into three distinct and recognizable categories: hunting, feuding, and moonshining. These concepts are, in essence, three images that were repeatedly used on the covers of books and it is these images that helped to develop the stereotypical portrait of the Appalachian mountain man we know today.


The mountain man, although depicted here as a hunter, is not shown in command of the wilderness, but as a hunter/gatherer/provider. The mountaineer on this cover returns at the end of the day with a full sack, a gun over his shoulder, and his dog by his side (below).

Cover of book The Men of the Mountains showing a man holding a gun and a sack, walking with a dog


The rising smoke of a recently fired rifle is the key to these images, below. To the world outside of Appalachia the feud is now recognized as the only form of mountain justice.

Cover of book Stories of Kentucky Feuds showing a man holding a smoking gun

Cover of book The Devil's Brigade showing a man holding a smoking gun


Ever on the lookout, the mountain man is seen protecting his still from advancing revenuers, below.


Preserving the Historical Record of Appalachia

As our tastes in literature have changed over time, these books, once prominent best sellers, have fallen into disrepair through heavy use followed by long periods of neglect. In libraries, most have been stripped of their original bindings and rebound. The few that remain are prime candidates for preservation.

By collecting, examining and preserving these books, bound with images that reflect nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas on a specific region and its people, we can view the development of stereotype through the progressive history of idea.

The cover image serves as a gateway to the text, and it is the first indication of the book’s contents. As a marketing tool, the cover design was a compelling way to attract customers and provide a glimpse of the book’s contents. It is the combined image, the book’s text as well as its binding, which served to promote an idea and make it a real and lasting concept.

These books, once commonly found in every home and library are now fragile resources over 100 years old. Preserving these books is important as representations of the historical record of Appalachia in material and pop culture and as evidence of cultural viewpoints that linger to the present day.

Editor’s Note [from Books Tell You Why]: Many thanks to Stewart Plein for her insightful post and for sharing it with the Books Tell You Why community. Below, please find a list of the books shown above (in order of appearance), as well as links to a journal article published by Ms. Plein which she used as reference for this post. If you have questions or thoughts about this topic, leave her a comment! 

  • Spivak, John Louis. The Devil’s Brigade; The Story of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud.  NY: Brewer and Warren, Inc., 1930.
  • McKnight, Charles. Our Western Border, in Early Pioneer Days: containing the true account of western frontier life and struggle in the most heroic age of America . . . Chicago: Educational Company, 1902.
  • Lloyd, John Uri. Red Head.  Illustrated by Reginald B Birch.  NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1903.
  • Spaulding, Arthur Whitefield. The Men of the Mountains; the Story of the Southern Mountaineer and His Kin of the Piedmont; with an account of some of the agencies of progress among them. Nashville, Tenn., Atlanta, Ga. Southern Pub. Association, 1915.
  • Coates, Harold Wilson. Stories of Kentucky Feuds. Knoxville, Tenn., Holmes-Darst Coal Corp., 1942.
  • Eggleston, George Cary. Camp Venture, A Story of the Virginia MountainsAdventures Among the Moonshiners.  Boston: Lothrop Pub. Co., 1901.

Journal of Appalachian Studies article: “Portraits of Appalachia: The Identification of Stereotype in Publishers’ Bookbindings, 1850 – 1915.”  Fall 2009, Vol. 15 Issue 1/2, p 99-115.  Available from EbscoHost: Available on


USS West Virginia: The Phoenix of Pearl Harbor

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 7th, 2016

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

Seventy five years ago today, on December 7, 1941, a date that lives on in infamy, the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by the Japanese.  Over 2400 US servicemen were killed and close to 1200 were injured.  Cruisers, destroyers, and a significant number of US aircraft were destroyed. Eight US battleships were damaged including West Virginia’s name sake, the USS West Virginia.  Despite the devastating attack, West Virginia was repaired and sent back into duty, earning the moniker, “The Phoenix of Pearl Harbor.”


The USS West Virginia ca. 1940

The USS West Virginia ca. 1940


Read the rest of this entry »

Leonardo da Vinci Notebooks and Mirror Writing: Two notebook replicas available to examine in the Rare Book Room

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 28th, 2016

Blog post by Beth Toren, WVU Libraries’ Media, Religious Studies, and Research Services Librarian

Early scientific journals were the private notebooks of scientists. Luxurious replicas of two notebooks by 15th Century Italian artist, mathematician, inventor and writer Leonardo da Vinci are available to examine in the WVU Libraries Rare Book Room. Leonardo wrote in Italian and using mirrored writing, writing backwards from right to left and illustrating with drawings. The notebooks contain his observations and brainstorming on multiple subjects in text, diagrams, and illustrations.

The Codice Leicester and Codice del Volo in their protective boxes:

Replicas of The Codice Leicester and Codice del Volo in their protective boxes

Read the rest of this entry »

Up in Smoke: The Fascinating Story of a West Virginia Newspaper, The Volcano Lubricator

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 15th, 2016

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

Clipping of the Volcano Lubricator newspaper masthead


In 1857, William Cooper Stiles, Jr. (1839-1896) arrived in Wood County with plans to search for suitable oil fields for his new enterprise.  The sandy soil of Wood County seemed to Stiles to be perfectly suited for his plans.  Stiles purchased 2,000 acres in Wood County in 1864, just as the Civil War was drawing to a close, and formed the Volcano Oil and Coal Company.  Stiles commenced drilling on the undeveloped land and then began to lay out the town of Volcano.  His future employees and their families would need residences and businesses with access to markets.  At its peak, the population of Volcano reached just short of 4,000 residents.  Read the rest of this entry »