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Oral History Excerpts for World Storytelling Day

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 21st, 2016

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


This year, World Storytelling Day occurred on March 20th.  The day is a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling.  This year’s theme was “Strong Women”.  The WVRHC’s oral history collection features some amazing women telling their stories. 


Irene Allard (oral history collection 175)

In Wisconsin, on 5 October, 1974, Barbara Herndon interviewed Mrs. Allard, born in 1910, the daughter of a coal miner.  The interview relates Allard’s experiences in establishing the Progressive Mine Workers of America and the Women’s Auxiliary for both the United Mine Workers and the Progressive Mine Workers. Her husband, Gerry Allard, was organizer and first editor of “The Progressive Miner” and both were active in Socialist causes.   Irene’s telling of her own story reveals the very real threat of violence that she and her fellow women faced when creating and participating in these organizations.

The WVRHC does not have digital copies of this interview available online, but thankfully, the University of Illinois does (Irene was a long-time Illinois resident).  You can get the audio files here; I’ve pulled out an excerpt below.


(excerpt starts around 15:09)

HERNDON: I didn’t realize there was an auxiliary of the United Mine Workers.

ALLARD: Well, I’m proud that I had a part to play in it because they were, they were glorious, that’s the only word I know for them and I think without the women their men would not have gone as far as they did.

HERNDON: Uh huh.

ALLARD: Ah, I had a friend, Hazel Ensbury, and, Pat Ensbury’s wife, We went to a meeting in Clinton, Indiana, a miners meeting, with Pat, Gerry was working then in Springfield and he joined us there. And on the stage was these women in white uniforms and they were the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Clinton, Indiana and Hazel and I were so impressed with this, this thing that on our way home we decided that we were going to organize a Ladies’ Auxiliary in West Frankfort. And we did. We, I don’t remember how many women we had to start with, but they were enthusiastic, and ah, we called ourselves Ladies’ Auxiliary because that’s what the Clinton women, or the Indiana women called themselves. When we became, when the progressive miners was organized, they retained the women, but they changed the name to Women’s Auxiliary, because we were not ladies, we were women.


Group portrait of Officers of the Progressive Mine Workers of America and Women's Auxiliary, October 1938

Officers of the Progressive Mine Workers of America and Women’s Auxiliary, October 1938; I don’t know if Allard is in this photo or not–if you can identify any of these folks, let me know!


Anna Zumbach Daetwyler (oral history collection 267)

David Sutton interviewed Daetwyler, a Helvetia native of Swiss descent born in 1901, in Montrose, Randolph County, WV, on 9 November 1979.  The interview concerns Mrs. Daetwyler’s recollections of Helvetia which are centered on the wide array of activities in which her family of musicians and craftsmen were involved. She speaks about her family’s Swiss heritage and provides information for helping to understand the skills needed to survive in an isolated, self‐sufficient community. The piece of the transcription I’m sharing here highlights the musical talents of her and her family.


SUTTON: Uh-huh. Did you play?

DAETWYLER: I played the guitar. Played the organ. And Olga played the organ, and she plays the piano now. I can’t play anymore. My hands don’t allow me.

SUTTON: Uh-huh. Well, did they always play the old, uh, Swiss tunes on the violin or did they learn some other ones?

DAETWYLER: They learned all the different kinds. We used to sing a lot. When I was still at home we used to sing, especially when dad was still living we sang almost every evening. He taught us to sing with the violin. And at the time Will and Fred were at home, of course, and Olga was at home and I would sing lead, she would sing alto and Fred and Will would sing bass and baritone. And, uh, so we sang a lot in those days. All kinds of songs, Swiss and German and just all kinds of, uh, school songs, hymns, just whatever come along.

SUTTON: Uh-huh. Well, say that, uh, one of your brothers was going to learn, was learning a new fiddle tune. Uh, who would he hear it from or where would he get it?

DAETWYLER: They played by note.

SUTTON: Oh, did they?

DAETWYLER: Yes. And they got sheet music. And, uh, they had all kinds of books with music and songbooks, and they always played by note. Dad taught us all the notes, each one.


Norman Zumbach with violin

According to (which you can access at the WVRHC), one of Anna’s brothers was named Norman.  Perhaps this Norman Zumbach is her brother!


OLIVE GOODWIN (oral history collection 203)

Mary Lucille DeBerry interviewed Goodwin, a weaver, in Elkins, Randolph County, WV, on 11 July 1975. They talk about the origins and history of the Tygart Valley Homestead, and Olive’s weaving, which she describes further in the excerpt below.


OLIVE: You’ll see the little shop, that I, he built for my loom; of course it was in there and I brought it down here … But then, I wove for other people; sold to other people and, uh, this, this was aside from teaching; I went back to teaching and on the side I wove … And then, in ’66, the home demonstration council got interested in weaving and so they asked me if I would instruct … and I told them if they could find a place and equipment, I’d be glad … so we’ve been doing it since then; 1966, we’ve been having adult education classes.

LUCILLE: How important was weaving in the scheme of things at Dailey originally?

OLIVE: Well, it was, to start with … they used what they called the young people’s program; I think it was the NYA [National Youth Administration] … and gave them a chance to earn a little money. But this program didn’t … work out … and when I was learning and working there, the looms were set up and women were, could come in and make things, you know, like, for instance, if they needed some rugs for their home, they could come in and make … two or three rugs or some towels or anything they wanted too … this was available to them.

LUCILLE: Was it set up as an industry at the time?

OLIVE: It was for the NYA … but it, the problem they ran into there was, the girls worked on shifts and maybe they wouldn’t finish up a piece … and the next girl who would come in would start where she left off … and no two people weave alike and so they weren’t salable … They weren’t perfect; wasn’t good enough to sell … we don’t say weaving’s ever perfect … but it wasn’t good enough to sell so this program fell through. Then we went into the, the women at the homestead could come in and weave.

(for more information on weaving in WV, see the article by Kirsten Milligan, “Weaving,” on e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia.


Top: women gathered at a table in the Weaving Room at Arthurdale, WV; bottom, women among the equipment.

Weaving Room at Arthurdale, WV, another homestead community similar to Tygart Valley, ca. 1936.


These and more amazing stories can be located using the List of Collections and Index documents in WVRHC’s oral history collection.  The audio files are available to listen to onsite in the WVRHC, or for purchase.

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