Ask A Librarian

Clara Hough, WVU Librarian

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
July 28th, 2014

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

Martin Hall Library, West Virginia University

Library on the third floor of Martin Hall.


The study of Library History has become a popular field in recent years.  With the rise of interest in historical libraries, library practices, librarianship and librarians, we’ll take this opportunity to look at our own library history and the librarians who worked to make information accessible to students in the early years of West Virginia University.  This blog is part one in a series on the evolution of the WVU library and its librarians.


Historically, the position of librarian as a career was defined as a male dominated scholarly pursuit.  WVU’s earliest librarians were professors who took on or accepted library duties in concert with their educational/scholarly tasks. These men opened the library and worked on its development as time permitted.  There will be more information on WVU’s professor librarians in a later blog post.


From the library’s inception, the random and sporadic hours the professor librarians were available to open the library to students was considered inadequate.  This arrangement did not suit President Eli Marsh Turner (1885-1893) and he determined that a full time librarian was required in order to serve the needs of the students.  When Margaret Gilpin Morrow of Fairmont, shown below, was hired in 1889 she became WVU’s first female librarian as well as the first full time librarian.  However, her tenure as librarian was short; her career ended after three months when she resigned in the spring of 1890.


Librarian Margaret Gilpin Morrow, West Virginia University


The library had been relegated to close quarters in University Hall, now known as Woodburn, but with the establishment of the library on the third floor of Martin Hall, shown below, named in honor of Dr. Alexander Martin, the first President of the University (1867-1875), the library moved into more expansive quarters.  According to a 1901 WVU booklet, Martin Hall is the oldest building on campus. The three-story building contained lecture rooms, Literary Society Halls, and was home to the library until the completion of the much anticipated new library building, which was to be Stewart Hall.   Until the new library could be built, the expansion of the library in Martin Hall and a desire for longer hours still demanded a full time librarian dedicated to the task of running the library.


Martin Hall, West Virginia University


After Miss Morrow’s departure, the governing body of WVU, the Board of Regents, met in June 1890 to pursue a replacement.  The salary offered, $300.00, was of little consequence (even the janitor was paid $600.00) however, eleven applicants, nine women and two men, applied.  From these applications we can already see the tide shift from librarianship as a male only position to one open to women as well.


Oddly enough, none of these applicants were offered the position.  On June 10, the Regents gathered together, pondered over the candidates, but were unable to reach an agreement.  The following day, in an unusual turn of events, Miss Clara Hough, pictured below, a local resident who had not applied for the position, received the majority of the votes and the illustrious title of Librarian of the University.  The WVU Catalog Announcements bulletin stated simply “In 1890 Miss Clara Hough was engaged to succeed Miss Morrow.”


Librarian Clara Hough, West Virginia University


The Board of Regents gave no clear reason for this choice.  No one candidate in the pool of applicants had any professional library training to offer.  As far as can be determined Clara had no library training either.


It is possible that the Board of Regents decision may have been determined by need and a sense of loyalty. Clara Hough was from a prominent Morgantown family.  Her father, L.S. Hough, was one of Morgantown’s leading attorneys.  Hough was known as “a lover of old books” as Wiley describes him in The History of Monongalia County, and Clara’s distinguishing attribute may have been that she was exposed to her father’s large antiquarian library from childhood.


Hough was also a former Regent of West Virginia University, appointed by John J. Jacob, fourth governor of West Virginia.  Hough served one term, 1872 – 73 as Executive Committee Member and two terms as Executive Committee Chair, 1874 – 75, and 1876 – 77.


Clara’s mother, Anna, pictured below, was also from a prominent Morgantown family.  Anna was the daughter of Ashbel Fairchild, a well respected minister, a highly educated scholar, and community leader.


Anna Hough


Clara’s brother, Walter, pictured below, was already making a name for himself in Washington D.C. Walter graduated from the Monongalia Academy, and continuing his studies in Morgantown, received a bachelor’s degree at the West Virginia Agricultural College and a master’s degree from West Virginia University.  As an archeologist, Walter went on to become Curator in the Department of Ethnology at the National Museum, now known as the Smithsonian Institution.


Walter Hough


L.S. Hough’s passing in 1886 may have contributed to the Board of Regents decision as well.  There were other siblings at home and the family would have been left without an income after his death.  Clara’s position, regardless of how little it paid, may have been a major contribution towards supporting her family and their large, rambling house at the top of High Street, shown below.


Hough Home, Morgantown, W. Va.


As a young girl growing up in Morgantown, Clara kept a diary recording her activities for the year 1877.  In a tiny hand she recorded the details of her young life, making dresses, going places with friends, such as the Protzman girls, Mattie and Lizzie (Protzman Street is named after their family and Hough Street is named for Clara’s family), and books she read, including Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play she hoped to see some day.  The diary also records the events of her twentieth birthday on February 5, 1877.


Hough Diary


Clara lived in Morgantown all her life in the family home on High Street with her sisters.  She never married and passed away at the age of 85 on February 11, 1942.  You can view Clara Hough’s diary at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  Clara’s diary was the gift of John Koval, a workman who was hired to tear down the old Hough House in September of 1949.



Images courtesy of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, with the exception of the photograph of Walter Hough:

Munn, Robert Ferguson, West Virginia University Library, 1867-1917, [Ann Arbor, Mich.] 1961.  Thesis (Ph. D.)—Michigan.

“West Virginia University and its Picturesque Surroundings,” 1901, Printed Ephemera Collection, West Virginia and Regional History Center.

Wiley, Samuel T.  The History of Monongalia County, West Virginia, From its First Settlements to the Present Time; with Numerous Biographical and Family Sketches.   Kingwood, W. Va., Preston Pub. Co., 1883.

Clara Hough Diary. A&M 158.  West Virginia and Regional History Center

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