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I’m still hungry (for racial justice).

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
October 11th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the sixteenth and final post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

A collage of cookbooks from the Ebersole Collection featuring A Good Heart and A Light Hand by Ruth L. Gaskins, Mammy Pleasant's Cookbook, The Jemima Code by Toni Tipton-Martin, and A Date with a Dish by Freda de Knight

Writing a series of posts on cunning, determined Black women was an honor and a challenge. Half passion project and half professional goal, this blog is my mode of self-education and sharing lessons from cookbooks that you don’t have time to read.

Real talk: I grew up thinking it was rude to talk about race. Reflecting on this, I realize my good-intentioned parents probably felt uncomfortable or unprepared to educate their child about the oppression of Black Americans, or what my role would be when I grew up. My dad is from a small town in Appalachia where nearly everyone was white, and my mom hails from a different country where race issues appeared differently from those in the US. Either way, I needed to spark a discussion, beginning with myself, or else my comfortable silence might solidify into an illusion that I see too often: race isn’t that big of a problem today.

Not true!

Each cookbook I wrote about in this blog introduced me to historical forms of marginalization, from mammy stereotypes to restricted access to culinary school. These methods roll into modern times under new names and symbols including Aunt Jemima syrup, a lack of representation in the cookbook scene, and the myth that Black food is unhealthy and greasy.

Writing these posts, I felt uncomfortable at times. I admit it — I walked into the Rare Book Room at the Downtown Library expecting a familiar lesson on slavery and Jim Crow laws, except focused on cooking. That’s not what I got! I was smacked in the face with racist tendencies that linger. Like I said, it wasn’t until 2020 that Aunt Jemima was rebranded and the mammy character was removed from syrup bottles at convenience stores and “socially-conscious” chains like Whole Foods.

I reached into the Ebersole Collection with a goal to learn and share, and I left room for you to jump in. With hundreds of cookbooks, there are a million topics to tear apart. From race to mental health, single parenthood, international holiday traditions, indigenous peoples, environmentalism, and comedy, you’ll find something tasty and stimulating for a research project or class presentation.

The librarians are eager to help you! I wouldn’t have found my starting place without the hard work and generosity of Stewart Plein, the Rare Book Curator at the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

Some ideas: complete an Honors project using these primary sources, make a presentation, or revitalize hundred-year-old recipes. When you read something that moves or angers you, pursue that theme to its fullest. Chances are you’ll help yourself and others dissolve a stigma, myth, or prejudice that holds our society back.

Thank you, from the bottom of my stomach, for accompanying me on this journey. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, start by going back to post 1! I hope I’ve inspired you to view food as a vehicle for social change, to get to the root of discomfort, and to give something new a try, whether it’s food or a different way of thinking.

Off the syrup bottle and out of society

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
September 27th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the fifteenth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

In the first post of this blog, I mentioned this TikTok video. It’s long overdue to say goodbye to a racist, oversimplified stereotype that Black women throughout history endured. The women I wrote about in this blog, Mary, Freda, and Ruth, helped hammer away at the myth of the jolly, ignorant mammy.

The Jemima Code by Toni Tipton-Martin was the last book I investigated, and uh-oh, it’s not a cookbook! It’s a synthesis of culinary wisdom from Black chefs in America over the years, focusing on how racist stereotypes created an accepted code of racism: the Jemima Code.

Published in 2015, this timeline guided me through the conception, propagation, and ongoing termination of the “mammy” trope. It’s about repeated images and ideas linked to Black women to keep them in a subordinate position. Chubby, uneducated, jolly, and unattractive were trademarked through mainstream ads and social influencers, all to restrain a group that desired greater freedoms and respect.

Aunt Jemima came to be in the 1880’s. The promotional character was based on blackface skits by white vaudeville actors. Why? Because industries and white elites wanted to depict Black women as less than, other, and in desperate need of white guidance (control).

An old advertisement for Aunt Jemima's Brand Pancake Flour featuring a racial caricature of a Black woman

Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour ad from 1915 (above). The Aunt Jemima character was removed by Quaker Oats in 2020, after 130 years of public use.

“She has to be humorous, stout, lighthearted, illiterately magical- stern enough to control the children without threatening them, dependable and loyal enough to assure mothers that the kitchen was in good hands, asexual enough to foreclose any wayward thoughts among the men of the house.”

Unfortunately, these demeaning opinions aren’t gone. They persist by cycling throughout the decades in new forms meant to be more subtle, acceptable, and undetected. Heard of tokenism? Microaggressions? Colorblindness? These are the updated forms of racism that fly under the radar of many well-meaning people. I didn’t personally learn about them or how to combat them until college! I often asked myself, what else am I missing? How can I stop being complicit to racism?

It’s a tough question. Self-education is a good place to start, and as a white person, I want to hear and project the wishes of people who are hurt by racism. Celebrating the contributions of Black chefs through writing is exciting for me on two levels: I can embrace my passion for cooking and begin informing myself of the realities that affected Black cooks and social justice advocates.

“A cookbook author tells stories that… advocate for social causes, such as education, suffrage, child welfare, abolition of slavery, eradication or poverty, or improved social welfare; that use highlights of her own life to memorialize her work…”

-Toni Tipton-Martin

Preacher dinner

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
September 13th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the fourteenth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

My family didn’t have many guests over for dinner. And when we did, it was one of my close friends who felt comfortable enough to sprawl out on the living room floor and chow down on Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza. So, reading about a stuffy, formal, and extremely important dinner in the life of Ruth L. Gaskins, the author of A Good Heart and A Light Hand, was a foreign experience for me. Her family’s esteemed guest is in the name of this post; it’s the Preacher’s dinner.

“No one had to remind us about our manners because it was understood that if you ever wanted desserts again, you’d be extra careful that day.”

Before digging in, the Preacher would say grace for literally everyone. Winston Churchill, random white men, and widows made the list of blessings. I’m serious. The evidence is here:

Excerpt reads, "The same voice that had been inspiring us since the end of Sunday school, was asking the Lord to remember not only this happy family, but also friends, President Truman, the former preacher's widow who had returned to North Carolina, Winston Churchill, the Mayor of Alexandria, the white man who was thinking of building a movie theater for Negroes, and out canary, and on and on. At last the voice would stop and the chicken platter would be on its way. The first stop at the preacher's plate eliminated the largest and fattest breast. As it passed around the table it emptied; a leg and a thigh for Mama, another breast for Grandfeather, on to my mother and my father, aunts and uncles, my brother and sister, my cousin, and at last to my plate. "Special Sunday" always meant a chicken wing for me."

Apart from dinner at Ruth’s house, the Church held community dinners where they served favorites like chitterlings (hog entrails), greens, potato salad, and trays of dessert. The food was a big operation, and the income was too. Ruth said, “Most churches are big business, but I’ve never known anyone who has ever complained about giving them money. They do so much for us, that we’re more than willing to keep them going.”

A page from a cookbook introducing the chapter, "Meat, Game and Poultry" featuring an illustration of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia
Ebenezer Baptist Church in Arlington, VA.

Just by reading the elaborate menus for Church events, I understand that it is a social hub and treasured piece of life’s fabric. I did a bit of research on why the Church took such an important role and learned that enslaved people had no choice but to hold secret meetings for worship. Before emancipation, practicing one’s religion and enjoying a sense of community were strictly prohibited. These freedoms are some of the greatest joys of being human, and necessary for happiness. I understand why freedom from slavery coincided with fierce and public dedication to a social institution that was cruelly withheld for so long. This cookbook told me more about family life, religion, and what mattered than I remember from most history textbooks. Although my memory is somewhat fried, I know these relics of history offer something tasty and special.

“Black Food”

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
August 30th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the thirteenth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

Given the scraps of the plantation, enslaved people did their best to tast-ify undesirable and spoiled food. I knew very little about how they transformed leftovers into something edible, or how they creatively discovered natural supplements.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: a few lessons on slavery in high school that focused on important rebellions, brutality and punishment, and maybe the Underground Railroad. Or, it could be that my education didn’t hit the minimum. Either way, I was intrigued and impressed by Ruth L. Gaskins’ description of adapted food from times of slavery in her cookbook, A Good Heart and A Light Hand. I’d kill to taste the slow-moving molasses and creamy buttermilk she writes about.

The right side of this chart shows recipes that Ruth makes from ingredients that were staples in the diets of enslaved people in Virginia.

Common foods eaten by enslaved people (according to Ruth)Selected cookbook recipe(s) using this food
CornHoe Cakes – Corn Meal Method
Raised Cornbread
PorkChitterlings (Hog entrails)
Pork Cake
Wild GameMuskrat, Squirrel, Rabbit – Caught and Skinned
Casserole of Possum
FishFish Baked in the Ground

Why focus on the metamorphosis of plantation food to Ruth’s cookbook?

Understanding the historical processes that shape dietary habits, especially those as profound and cruel as slavery, helps you grasp today’s patterns, customs, and even health outcomes.

I traveled to Baltimore, Maryland a few summers ago to a food festival dedicated to Black culinary traditions. I heard people shout, “Soul food is not plantation food!” I was confused for a while, then a speaker at the event explained that the dietary habits of Black Americans are heavily stereotyped. Fried, greasy, and barbequed are words that stick to society’s vision of “Black food,” and the root of the issue dates back to slavery. With nothing but leftovers, enslaved people did what they could to make scrape palatable, whether that meant frying undesirable meat or adding fat to supplement calories.

This article by Christina Regelski says that “Slaves depended on salty, fatty foods to survive demanding work.” It also discusses what enslaved people were provided during transit from Africa or elsewhere: “Rations were scientifically calculated to provide the cheapest, minimal nutrition to keep enslaved people alive.”

Even so, I learned that small plantations permitted higher quality food to be eaten by enslaved people, sometimes the same meals as the owners. Chef Thérèse Nelson, the founder of Black Culinary History, said “It’s not always the slop leftover narrative,” she added. “We saw value in these parts, and made them delicious.”

With a simple Google search, I found that African food is full of vitamins and minerals, a plant-based diet that supports longevity and health. If you look around at trendy Black-owned restaurants, you’ll notice a resurgence of traditional “Black food” in a way that is directed by Black cooks themselves.

As an aspiring doctor, I care about health inequities. I want to understand why certain groups suffer more than others from diet-linked diseases like obesity or diabetes. Taking time to read about the history and subjugation of not just bodies, but diets, unveils current health issues in a new light. It’s not so much “Black food” as “Forced-on-enslaved-people-by-white-people food.”

Contents page of "A Good Heart and A Light Hand" includes the following subjects, "A Negro Welcome; Soups; Meat, Game and Poultry; Seafood; Vegetables; Salads; Bread; Desserts; Cakes; Pies; Catch All; Afterwod; Index"

“These basic ingredients- corn, pork, chicken, greens, seafood, sour or buttermilk and molasses have stayed with us for 300 years, and still form the heart of Negro cooking.”

Not to say that things haven’t changed. Innovations and regional adaptations took place. However, noticing the ingredients and where they came from fosters awareness of why Black food is often misunderstood and misrepresented.

Playing White

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
August 16th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the twelfth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

If my parents started acting like social butterflies, they’re either sick or about to win a lot of money. Unlike me, Ruth L. Gaskins, the author of A Good Heart and A Light Hand, had the most social parents under the sun. They belonged to more clubs than I did freshman year of college (when I signed up for EVERYTHING at club fairs). I’d never heard of these organizations: the American Legion and the United Order of Tents. A bit morbidly, the Order of Tents paid for your funeral if you sent them fifty cents a month, like an insurance company for funerals. If you want a fancier funeral, you’d pay a dollar a month.

“My Grandmother was a Tent, Mama is a Tent, and so am I. I was signed up for the Junior Division when I was nine…” Ruth was not an active member, but she was required to attend every club supper in the winter and summer with her family.

This cookbook was the most detailed description of daily life I found during my dive into the Ebersole Collection. Ruth didn’t focus on an extensive ingredient list, but rather to immerse the reader in a day in her life. I learned something special: what matters to her.

Cover of A Good Heart and a Light Hand: Ruth L. Gaskins' Collection of Traditional Negro Recipes by Ruth L. Gaskins

When Ruth mentioned the Luncheon Club, her tone lurched downwards. In this club, her mother and friends would dress up, set an extravagant table, and cook intricate meals that “would really get away from the traditional foods.”

Excerpt reads, "We knew all along they wouldn't last, because all these women were doing was playing White, and that's just not their style. Mama still gets mad when I ask her, 'Mama, tel me, what did happen to your Luncheon Club?'"

“Playing White” meant diverging from tradition. I understood it as behaving in a ridiculous and impractical manner. At the same time, I was served a tray of “check your privilege.” I don’t have to justify having a fancy dinner with friends, but I suspect that some disadvantaged groups still do not share that privilege.

Published in the transformative and rough years of the Civil Rights Movement, A Good Heart and A Light Hand reiterates that many Black women had a double responsibility to the family and to further social progress. All things considered, I don’t blame Ruth for rolling her eyes at the extravagance of Luncheon Club activities.

Making these opinions even more magical, Ruth’s bombs of truth are innocently tucked away in a spiral-bound notebook, only a few pages away from a hot cocoa recipe.


American Legion

United Order of Tents

Celebrating Helen Holt

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
August 9th, 2021

Blog post by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Since we are a week away from the anniversary of her birth (August 16, 1913), I’d like to celebrate Helen Louise (Froelich) Holt.  She was the wife of Rush Dew Holt, who was generally credited with being the youngest popularly elected senator in the U.S. Senate, and she was a very educated woman and a public servant in her own right.  The WVRHC houses a collection of her papers.

Helen Holt was more academically accomplished than most women of her day, and had a career in education before moving into politics.  She received an AA degree at Stephens College, and then a Bachelors degree and an MS in Zoology at Northwestern University by 1938.  (For contrast, only 4% of women in 1940 had completed four years of college.)  From 1938-1941, she taught science courses at National Park College.

According to an obituary, Mrs. Holt first attracted her future husband’s attention when she was included in the February 12, 1940 issue of Life, where a photograph of her appeared as one of a selection of pretty schoolteachers.  The two-page spread was allegedly prompted by mass retaliation to a letter from a reader claiming that many schoolteachers were ugly. 

Photo of Helen Holt with the caption, "Helen Froelich teaches biology at National Park College, Forest Glen, Md."
Headshot of Helen (Froelich) Holt, 1940, from Life magazine

There was a brief article accompanying the pictures that pointed out the average salary of schoolteachers (presumably K-12) was $1,200 per year and suggested that teachers lost their jobs when they married, though it wasn’t noted whether this was the result of transitioning to the role of wife and homemaker or if marriage was generally cause for termination of a teaching position in 1940. (I have heard rumors that women who married were terminated from teaching jobs – if anyone has facts to share about this practice, please feel free to share them in the comments!) Regardless of how they met, Helen and Rush married in mid-June of 1941 and moved to West Virginia.

Between 1941 and 1955, Mrs. Holt cared for three children and supported her husband’s campaigns and political work. In 1955, her husband died, and she was appointed by the governor of West Virginia to fulfill her late husband’s term in the West Virginia House of Delegates. She then was elected as a delegate to the 1956 Republican National Convention, accepted a short-term teaching job at Greenbrier College, and followed that with a history-making appointment.

Articles from various West Virginia and Washington D.C. newspapers announcing Mrs. Holt’s new position, 1957

According to the above articles, Helen Holt was the first woman ever to serve on the Board of Public Works AND the first woman to ever serve as secretary of state when she was appointed to that position following the death of the long-serving D. Pitt O’Brien. Based on the articles, it sounds like she moved her family from Lewisburg to Charleston in a matter of days, and started the position earning $11,000 per year to support herself and her children.

She ran for Secretary of State when her appointment ended, but did not win. She attributed her loss to the fact that she didn’t actually campaign (Helen Holt: A Centenarian’s Reflections on a Lifetime of Public Service, p. 883).

Secretary of State Helen F. Holt holding up West Virginia state flag, ca. 1958

Her work as secretary of state allowed her to show more of her skills and make additional political contacts, which helped bring her to the attention of the President Eisenhower.  He appointed her to serve as Special Assistant to the Commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration for Nursing Homes Program in 1960. From there she transitioned to assistant to the secretary for programs for the elderly and the handicapped in the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1974, and she continued her federal service until 1983. Her time working for the federal government spanned the careers of seven presidents, and she helped develop and implement a federal nursing home program from the ground up, advocating for quality care across the U.S.

Barbara Bush, Helen Holt, and Nancy Reagan, undated

After concluding her career, Mrs. Holt continued to participate in volunteer work, including in a variety of women’s organizations and church groups.  She lived to be over 100 years old, passing away in 2015.  Please join me in celebrating this remarkable woman!

(All of the images in this blog post are of materials found in A&M 1858, the Helen Holt Papers, at the WVRHC.)

Can I come over? I don’t want to invite myself…

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
August 2nd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the eleventh post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

After a busy day at North Elementary School, I used to knock on all my friends’ doors to see who was home and ready to play. One of them would pull me inside and say, “My mom says we can play after dinner. Eat with us!”

I’d always get nervous and say, “Are you sure? I don’t wanna invite myself!”

To young me, inviting oneself over was rude and invasive. My family told me not to be a burden, to respect privacy. Reading another cookbook at the West Virginia & Regional History Center, I learned that my upbringing differs from that of a community-oriented woman named Ruth L. Gaskins. She taught me to embrace any opportunity, maybe just more than before, to invite myself over and share a meal with a friend.

A Good Heart and A Light Hand by Ruth L. Gaskins was published in 1968 in a world where family extended beyond the nuclear definition of mother, father, siblings, etc. Ruth describes a tradition of welcoming guests as “the Negro Welcome.”

Here it is:

Excerpt from A Good Heart and a Light Hand by Ruth L. Gaskins reads, "A Negro Welcome There is something special that every Negro knows that I can only call "the Negro Welcome." In Alexandria, Virginia, where I have always lived, I can go into any Negro home at any time and know that I am wanted. I don't have to phone first and I don't have to wait for a special invitation. If I feel like seeing a friend, I'll go, and if it's meal time, I'll draw up a chair and eat. There'll be enough food, because we always cook for the friend who might drop by. They are our family, and we consider our family numberless. For our family, the pot is always waiting, and it is this pot on the stove that gives soul to the Negro welcome."

Ruth contextualized this Welcome through slavery: “For over 200 years we were told where to live and where to work… The only real comfort came at the end of the day, when we took either the food that we were given, or the food that we raised… and we sat down with our own kind and talked and sang and ate.”

Cover of A Good Heart and A Light Hand: Ruth L. Gaskins' Collection of Traditional Negro Recipes. Features a black and white photo of Ruth L. Gaskins standing beside a full pan on a stove

Restaurant food isn’t a big deal when you cook all day for a family reunion in your own home. However, the Welcome can travel, and does so mostly to the Church.

We’ll talk more about the significant role of the Church later; I’ll wrap up this post with a reflection on inviting yourself to another’s home.

Boundaries and etiquette should always be considered, but this spiral-bound cookbook introduced me to a different way of life. “Tight friends” understand their automatic invitation to come over and share a meal. My childhood buddies didn’t hesitate to pull me inside. It took years of social conditioning in middle and high school to make me believe that I should mind my business or avoid being a bother. If someone is bothering me, I’d probably let them know! For too long, I incorrectly assumed that I was a nuisance or that an invitation wasn’t genuine.

When I extend my home and kitchen to you, I mean it. Ruth and her community meant it. Traveling abroad during college revealed a multitude of cultures and families that love having new guests over for dinner. Food takes on a new role: a way to welcome, display affection, and become part of a community.

“A Negro kitchen belongs to any woman who wants to use it.”

3 Recently Read Appalachian Books

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
July 26th, 2021

Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita, WVRHC

I continue to enjoy histories related to areas where I grew up, the Appalachians, West Virginian specifically.  In this blog post I describe three novels set here.  All the books are available in the West Virginia University Libraries as well as in many West Virginia public and college libraries.

The first book, Mud and Money, delivers a multi-generational family saga set during the gas and oil well boom in Gilmer County. The second and third books, Clay’s Quilt and The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, are firmly about masculinity. The characters are males in their twenties and the novels are about their coping in Appalachia.  Strong women characters are not absent from these two books, but the stories really revolve around men.

Mud and Money by Mary H. Ellyson, 1973

Mud and Money centers around the oil and gas boom in Gilmer County, West Virginia, before, during, and after the WWI years.  Ellyson writes about the impact of the oil and gas industry on the lives of the people.  She details descriptions of the functioning of the wells and drilling and provides an historical record of the industry’s early days. This passage in the first pages of the book, gives the reader a portent of the impact of the oil and gas industry on farming communities.

Bed clothes were sunning in the yard, while downy little chicks peeped contentedly in the sun in the wake of the proud mother. When the deafening roar filled the little universe, it was changed for ever [sic] more. Immediately everybody stopped work and listened, fear chilling their hearts, for always sounds that are unfamiliar have brought great fear to the human race.

Central West Virginians will particularly appreciate the descriptions of the hardships, family life, struggles, and culture of early 20th century farm life as well as the vivid descriptions of the beauty and peace in the mountains.  Through the story of the Mills family and others in the small community of Tanner, the novel personalizes the impact of industrial development. 

While many characters are stereotypical in Mud and Money, such as the self-sacrificing mother, the wise old granny, the plodding father, the characters are also likable, despicable, and human.  The reader will find herself cheering them on, except for the despicable fellow.  The plot lines will keep you reading as you follow the struggles of the Mills family and their neighbors through generations. 

The early oil and gas industry in West Virginia is well documented in the WVRHC through books and archival collections.  To search the archives as well as for books, photographs, and printed ephemera, visit the WVRHC web page.

Clay’s Quilt by Silas House, 2002

Clay’s Quilt, the first of three companion novels by Silas House, are all set in rural Kentucky and include some of the same characters.  The other two books are A Parchment of Leaves and The Coal Tattoo

Clay is Clay Sizemore, a coal miner.  The book demonstrates the quilt of his life made up of the squares of his relationships with family and friends. At the root of the story is the impact of his mother being killed when he was four years old and how that tragedy reverberates through time. Other central characters in the book include Aunt Easter who raised Clay; the wild Evangeline, his friend since childhood; Alma, the troubled fiddle player; and Cake, another long-time friend. All of these contribute to the uniquely Appalachian story of growing up in coal country. 

One of Silas House’s best talents is scene description, and although he sets a mood with his lovingly crafted descriptions of nature and the mountains,

The top of the mountain was lit with a silver glow, and the clouds above the moon were streaks of white, liquid light. He considered the mountain and felt like climbing it.  He hadn’t been up there at night in ages.  He heard it calling to him, telling him that if he would go up those old paths, he might see something that would answer one of his many questions, but he turned away…

I particularly identified with this lively church scene:

God was loose in the church house, and the Holy Ghost ran rampant among the people, sizzling through the air and hitting the women until they were forced to shake with wild abandon, succumbing to the spirit, throwing their heads back and speaking in unknown tongues, dancing out into the pews and rushing round and round the church, swaying like waterless swimmers in front of the alter, screaming loudly and taking off to run up and down the aisle.

Give House’s books a try for vivid descriptions of our mountains and for a good story with readily identifiable Appalachian characters.

The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, 1983

Breece D’J Pancake was just a fabulous writer. His stories are also steeped in maleness and coal country and offer an unquestionable and impactful literary style which continues to be read and studied since Pancake’s death at 26 years old in 1979.  The West Virginia and Regional History Center holds the papers of Breece Pancake.

Pancake vividly uses strong metaphors and analogies to describe the West Virginia of those caught in despair.  For example, the search for trilobites in the first story symbolizes the unfruitful search through layers for answer to the Colly’s problems, and Prince Albert, who is both royalty and an image on a tobacco can is trapped just the same as coal miners underground.  He excels at setting a tone with each word brilliantly chosen. Here he describes a fall morning before a fox hunt.

The passing of an autumn night left no mark on the patchwork blacktop of the secondary road that led to Parkins. A gray ooze of light began to crest the eastern hills above the hollow and sift a blue haze through the black bowels of linking oak branches.  A small wind shivered, and sycamore leaves chattered across the pavement but were stopped by the fighting-green orchard grass on the berm.

While “Trilobites” is the most anthologized story, another one resonated the most with me.  “The Honored Dead” is about the conflict in men who continue to be at war even after leaving service. The narrator has opted out of going to Vietnam, but the story is mostly about his friend who died there and the guilt and distress of taking his place in some ways.  This survivor’s guilt affected a whole generation. In addition, there is the narrator’s father who still suffers from his WWII experiences and his grandfather who fought in the Mine Wars, which to West Virginians was just as impactful as any declared national conflict.

While these stories are intellectually illuminating, they are also deeply dark.  Most jolting to me is the raw edge Pancake gives them using unseemly acts of violence such as hunting and killing animals, rape, and imagined murder.

Be your own guest.

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
July 13th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the tenth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

What women were expected to do, how to do it, and why they should do it is spelled out word for word in Freda de Knight’s cookbook. I felt like I was studying a women’s manual for proper household management, subscribing to a cooking tips blog, and learning a history lesson all at once.

A Date with a Dish is packed with “women’s advice and tips.” Written for women by a woman, I felt an intimacy created by mutual understanding of strictly female responsibilities at the time. Here’s a few of her strong suggestions for women:

Excerpt reads, "To please the eye means to please the palate. Dress your table as you would yourself. A dash of parsley, paprika or spice is to a dish what powder and lipstick are to you."
Five well-dressed African Americans sit around a fancy dining table having a meal.

Freda’s recommendations jumped out at me for different reasons. I resonated with some and went pffffft at others. I was not expecting a cookbook to instruct me on color schemes, silverware placement, calorie counting, or how to raise children.

Some of the most interesting tips from Freda: 

  • “If your room is dark, make your table bright; add your sunshine”
  • “Create a picture when you set a table… give your table personality”
  • “And if you want to keep your weight down along with your doctor’s advice, eat regularly, wisely, and well. Eat sparingly of starches, sugars and fats.”

When I read about the correct method for candle placement, I had to take a break and close the book. I thought, why does this matter? Is it getting ridiculous?

It did matter to Freda and the women who purchased the book. I realized that cookbooks share values and lifestyles. As ridiculous it sounds to a college student in 2021, Freda believed these tips would uplift and refine her readers’ household.

My favorite bit of advice from Freda:

“Don’t save the best for company, continually be your own guest.”


Black Southern Belle: 10 Favorite Vintage Images in the Kitchen

June Brides and Dainty Sandwiches

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
July 5th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the ninth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

How ridiculous and insulting! My happiness does not depend on feeding my future husband good, “manly” food!

Calm down, Christina. This was written 80 years ago…

There were some elements of Freda’s book, A Date with a Dish, that disgruntled me, even though the cookbook is overwhelmingly supportive of Black women and their liberties.

Entries like this took a minute of reflection to come to terms with:

Excerpt reads, "June Bride Menu

What is June without a bride? And what is a bride without the groom? Of course, once the ceremony is over, how to keep your husband happy is the important question.

Orange blossoms and lilies, white satin and lace, parties and honeymoon, these things can't last forever. There has to be a practical side, such as taking care of the home, planning good substantial meals, and building a future home and generation.

It isn't smart to say, "I just don't know how." There are no excuses for not trying. When it comes to a home and kitchen, one should know. You knew the answers in order to get married; you must know the answers to stay happily married.

So, try "Dating Our Dishes" for a date that lasts from the orange blossoms to the golden anniversary stage."

In no attempt to justify this philosophy, I engaged in a practice of empathy building after reading sections that labeled women as dependent. My college friends and I would all benefit from this sort of mental gymnastics. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to read about keeping your husband happy by cooking great meals, but how did this reality shape women’s status? How does it still influence parts of the world and our region of Appalachia? Answering these questions help us understand the context and roots of modern sexism.

With that in mind, there is an entire section dedicated to men’s recipes:

Excerpt reads, "For Men Only

If there is anything men dislike, it's dainty sandwiches and fussy menus at a man's part.

Here are a few menus that are sure to dazzle the gang and get that extra kiss or diamond bracelet you are working on.

Hamburgers on Buns
Onion and Pepper Saute
Corn-on-the-Cob, buttered
Mustard Sauce
Dill Pickles
Bowl of Lettuce
A Plate of Assorted Vegetables
Tomato Slices, Cucumbers, Green Onions

Freda playfully mentions the reward for a manly meal: a diamond bracelet or kiss. In one minute, Freda is a champion of Black representation. The next, she echoes traditional gender roles that hurt my feminist heart. Freda was a powerful female icon, the editor of Ebony magazine, and at the same time, telling readers to avoid making “dainty” sandwiches for their husbands.

I had to remind myself that her steps forward are not erased by values I don’t agree with. It’s possible and important to appreciate her work and bravery in other areas, as she broke ground in terms of Black culinary representation. If you open a page of a book like this and immediately feel attacked, maybe see what else it has to offer. Absorb its message as a whole.


Dainty sandwiches


A Celebration of William Morris and the Kelmscott Press International Kelmscott Press Day

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
June 28th, 2021

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

International Kelmscott Press Day will be held this year on Saturday, June 26, 2021.  This day celebrates the 130th anniversary of the Kelmscott Press, founded by the British artist and printer, William Morris, in 1891. It also marks the 125th anniversary of the publication of the Kelmscott Press edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.  This edition, published in 1896, is considered to be one of the most beautiful books ever printed.  Morris, along with his friend and colleague, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, labored over every detail for a period of four years.  Both were members of the group of artists known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, along with fellow artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and others.

 While WVU does not own the Kelmscott Press edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, the rare book room holds an earlier copy of the book printed in 1561.  This edition is titled The Woorkes of Geffrey Chaucer: Newly Printed, with Diuers Addicions, Whiche Were Neuer in Printe Before.  Note the Old English spellings of the words in the title.  This is a later edition of Chaucer’s Works with the addition of new material never printed in earlier editions. Chaucer may be best known for his work The Canterbury Tales.  This volume contains the collected works of Chaucer, including the Canterbury Tales and other writings.

While WVU owns a facsimile edition of Chaucer’s Works, the rare book room also owns one of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press publications, The Wood Beyond the World, published in 1894, two years before he published The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.  This novel, written by Morris, is considered one of the first works of fantasy every published.  According to Wikipedia, Morris can be considered the first modern fantasy writer to bring together the twin themes of an imaginary world with the supernatural.   Long before Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit, Morris wrote and published The Wood Beyond the World

Photograph of William Morris

Morris developed a fascination with medieval printing and he strived to recreate the lettering and illustrations of the medieval period in the works he published at the Kelmscott Press.  Books printed by Morris at his press were designed to replicate the medieval fonts and printing styles he loved and are heralded to this day as beautiful examples of the printing art.

The frontis illustration and the first page of text of the Wood Beyond the World designed and created by the artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Fellow artist and member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, created illustrations from wood cuts to decorate the book.  The printing was set deeply into the hand made paper.  If you were to run your finger across the page you could feel how deeply the illustrations and text are printed into the page.  The book is bound in vellum, the finely processed skin of calves, and bound with ribbon ties.  Vellum is sensitive to humidity, which causes the binding to swell and flare.  Silk ties, in pink or green, were used to gently hold the book closed when not in use in order to maintain its shape.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones

Morris also used another medieval device to mark his press.  During medieval times, the printers’ information was often found on the last page of the book, rather than on the title page, like books today. This device or press emblem is called a colophon.  Morris designed a colophon for the Kelmscott Press and printed it on the last page of every book. 

The colophon for The Wood Beyond the World

The colophon for The Wood Beyond the World reads:

“Here ends the tale of the Wood beyond the World, made by William Morris, and printed by him at the Kelmscott Press, Upper Mall, Hammersmith, finished the 30th day of May, 1894.  Below the device, or colophon, are the words, “Sold by William Morris, at the Kelmscott Press.”  By including the address, people interested in purchasing the book would know where to buy it.

While the West Virginia and Regional History Center and the Rare Book Room remain closed to the public, WVU faculty and students can make an appointment to view Morris’s Wood Beyond the World by contacting Stewart Plein at 

The William Morris Society in the United States has organized a series of national and international events to commemorate the founding of the Kelmscott Press.


Sir Edward Burne Jones wood cuts for the Wood Beyond the World two page spread

First page of text: Dominic Winter Auctioneers


The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris digital text

William Morris photograph

Sir Edward Burne-Jones photograph

Wood Beyond the World: Wikipedia

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: Wikipedia

Business wives, mothers, and brides

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
June 21st, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the eighth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

The author of A Date with a Dish, Freda de Knight discusses women’s roles in an unintentional, matter of fact way. It’s clear that this 1948 cookbook was written for and by another generation. Today’s college women might not relate to these assumptions; I admit some of them made me cringe.

Excerpt reads, "Mothers and housewives who are fortunate enough to stay at home must use every minute of their time to advantage. And when they buy a good cook book, they should read it! For business-wives, mothers and brides, there are packaged foods galore, time savers and corner cutters which are solely needed. But in their spare time, if they read their cook books, they too can accomplish miracles."

What is a business-wife? Does she mean microwave meals? Why does reading a cookbook sound like a grueling homework assignment?

To start, the microwave was invented in 1946. This was the dawn of ready-to-eat foods. While homemade meals are still prioritized, Freda recognized the convenience culture that was born with the microwave and shrewdly incorporated it into her book.

Moving on to women’s roles, I was overwhelmed by Freda’s suggestions and tips. I can’t imagine the pressure and societal expectations that Freda and her readers faced. Furthermore, it’s one thing to read about sexist gender roles in a textbook. It’s much more personal and triggering to read them in a cookbook, even though I understand the context was different.

This work allows modern women to better understand the stressors on Black women of Freda’s time. You can read about how they managed the home, meal prepped, and went about teaching dietary habits to kids. First hand records like cookbooks are indispensable pieces of evidence to appreciate the daily existences of Black women in America. I urge you to use one in your next history project!

“An Extensive Celebration”: Emancipation Day and Juneteenth in West Virginia

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
June 19th, 2021

Blog post by Miriam Cady, PhD, Instruction and Public Services Coordinator, WVRHC

[Language warning: many of the primary source materials used in this post include outdated terminology that readers may find offensive and upsetting.]

Clipping reads, "Emancipation Day In Wheeling will be Observed by Colored People with an Extensive Celebration"
The Wheeling daily intelligencer. [volume] (Wheeling, W. Va.), 21 Sept. 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

In her 1992 speech on the history of Juneteenth, given at the Washington Carver African American Arts Camp, Historian (and WVU alum) Dr. Ancella Bickley spoke of the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation in West Virginia. The Senatorial debate on the admission of West Virginia into the United States made clear that Statehood would not be granted if West Virginia did not make provisions for limiting or the outright abolition of the enslavement of African Americans in West Virginia. Waitman T. Willey introduced an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution, which was eventually approved by West Virginia voters, Congress, and then President Lincoln. The Willey Amendment established a gradual emancipation of some enslaved people in the soon-to-be state of West Virginia, rather than the complete abolition of slavery. Under the Willey Amendment, only enslaved people under the age of 25 would have been emancipated. This means West Virginians were enslaved until the Emancipation Proclamation and the State’s adoption of the 13th Amendment on the 3rd of February 1865. Dr. Bickley recalls that enslaved people in West Virginia “may not have been told of their freedom and like Mollie Gabe of Braxton County, continued in servitude until her mother sent her uncle to fetch her”. You can read more about Mollie Gabe in Dr. Bickley’s Appalachian History article.

Excerpt reads, "The children of slaves born within the limits of this State after the fourth day of July, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, shall be free; and all slaves within the said State who shall, at the time aforesaid, be under the age of ten years, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-one years; and all slaves over ten and under twenty-one, shall be free when they arrive at the age of twenty-five years; and no slave shall be permitted to come into the State for permanent residence therein."
Willey Amendment in the Amended constitution of West Virginia: adopted by the Convention February 18, 1863

Many states, including West Virginia, celebrate Emancipation Day on the 22nd of September, marking the date of President Lincoln’s preliminary emancipation proclamation in 1862. Some States, as well as the District of Columbia, celebrate on different days. For example, parts of Kentucky celebrate emancipation on the 8th of August, while D.C. celebrates the freedom of enslaved people in the District on the 16th of April.

Clipping reads, "W VA. Legislature Friday, February 3, 1865. Senate -- Prayer by Rev. Mr. Moffit. Mr. Slack made a report from the committee on Enrolled Bills, which was adopted. Mr. Atkinson, from the committee on Education, reported favorably upon the joint resolution looking to the establishment of Normal Institutions, and the resolution was adopted. Mr. Burley, from the township committee reported adversely upon the resolution favoring township assessors, which report was adopted. On motion of Mr. Brown the joint resolution offered yesterday by Mr. Maxwell, ratifying the constitutional amendment for the abolishment of slavery in the United States was taken up."
The Wheeling daily register. [volume] (Wheeling, W. Va.), 04 Feb. 1865. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Juneteenth marks the day, June 19th, 1865, that all enslaved people in the United States learned of their freedom. It was on this date in Galveston, Texas, that General Gordon Granger affirmed the freedom of at least 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas.  Coverage of this event appeared in West Virginia newspapers.

Clipping reads, "The slaves in Texas are very numerous. They were largely increased during the war by coffles sent forward from the other slave States, to make a broader base of independence for the new nation that was to rise on the borders of the Sabine. General Gordon Granger, in command of the United States forces at Galveston, has issued an order in regard to the slaves. He says: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with the proclamation from the Executive of the United State, "all slaves are free." This involves absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wags. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.""
The Wheeling daily intelligencer. [volume] (Wheeling, W. Va.), 10 July 1865. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

In 2020, Huntington voted to make Juneteenth a city holiday and West Virginia now officially recognizes Juneteenth as a State holiday. Further, the West Virginia Legislature recently passed legislation to declare “February 3 as Freedom Day to memorialize the February 3, 1865 Act by the Legislature that abolished slavery in West Virginia”.

“To come together in a celebration is an act of community” – Ancella Bickley

The celebrations occurring this year are a continuation of years of Emancipation Day celebrations in West Virginia, held as early as 1867. The following newspaper clippings highlight Emancipation Day celebrations held throughout the state in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Train ad reads, "$1.45 Excursion to Gallipolis, Ohio Thursday September 22, 1910 via Kanawha & Michigan Railway on Account of Home-Coming and Emancipation Celebration Hon. Chas. A Cottrill will deliver the address."
The advocate. [volume] (Charleston, W. Va.), 15 Sept. 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Clipping begins, "Celebration will be held at Mt. Zion Church to Commemorate the Anniversary of Emancipation."
Program for the Emancipation Celebration at Mount Zion Church in Clarksburg
The daily telegram. [volume] (Clarksburg, W. Va.), 16 Sept. 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Clipping begins, "The Emancipation Celebration was a grand and most successful event. This was the first celebration ever held in this section. Davis and Thomas united, Thomas coming to Davis, and meeting at the school house, from thence to Blackwater Falls, a place of natural beauty. Everybody was served without cost. At 2 p.m., President Malone called to order and a program was rendered as Song--Battle Hymn of the Republic--Thirty Voices."
Program from the Davis and Thomas joint Emancipation celebration
The advocate. [volume] (Charleston, W. Va.), 29 Sept. 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Clipping begins, "Race leader Tyler will speak here. When Emancipation Day is celebrated by colored people of the community."
The daily telegram. [volume] (Clarksburg, W. Va.), 05 Sept. 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Headline reads, "Emancipation Celebrated in County enjoyed"
The McDowell times. [volume] (Keystone, W. Va.), 09 April 1937. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
The McDowell times. [volume] (Keystone, W. Va.), 09 April 1937. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Learn and explore:

From the NMAAHC: The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth

O freedom! : afro-american emancipation celebrations by William H. Wiggins, Jr.

From the Texas State Historical Association: Juneteenth

Early Black Migration and the Post-emancipation Black Community in Cabell County,West Virginia, 1865-1871 by Cicero Fain

Mountaineers Becoming Free: Emancipation and Statehood by Michael E. Woods

From the University of Richmond: Visualizing Emancipation

Genealogy tools and resources from the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society

Black Genealogy in Virginia

WVU Black and African American Genealogy Guide


Transcribe Freedman’s Bureau Records with the Smithsonian

Mother Jones in Star City, June 16, 1918

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
June 14th, 2021

Blog post by Angela Spatafore, Program Assistant, WVRHC

Over a century ago this week Mary Harris Jones, more commonly known as Mother Jones, gathered with miners in Star City to rally support for the miners’ union. Held on a Sunday morning, newspapers at the time reported that as many as 600 people attended with 400 of the miners voicing their desire to join the union after the event. Mother Jones was certainly a divisive figure in the labor movement of the early 1900’s, but she was able to draw a crowd to her with, as The Morgantown Post put it, “profanely eloquent” speaking skills.

As the WVRHC prepares for the annual West Virginia Day event this Friday, I’d like to take a minute to contextualize the Mother Jones’ involvement with the miners in 1918, just three years before the Mine Wars came to a militant halt on Blair Mountain. Looking at Mother Jones’ history, unionization in the West Virginia coalfields was not the only labor movement she rallied behind, but it was perhaps one of her most passionate campaigns. By 1918, she was a well-respected activist among miners, and the Star City meeting was organized by UMWA president, C. Frank Kenney, one of the union’s most influential leaders. However, it wasn’t just Keeney who was familiar with Mother Jones but also a number of notable pro-union West Virginians including William Blizzard, Fred Mooney, Sid Hatfield, among others.

Her activism and rallies previously led to her 1913 arrest following her support during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike in 1912 and the subsequent martial law order. Her support of and popularity with the miners would eventually wane. In 1921 prior to the Battle of Blair Mountain, Jones attempted to deter the armed miners as they prepared to march by claiming to have a telegram straight from President Warren himself that promised an end to violence if the miners backed down. However, Jones was unable to present the telegram when asked, which broke her trust with the miners and caused her to leave West Virginia.

Mother Jones seated with notable West Virginians including Sid Hatfield, who sits to Jones' left.

In this photo, we can see Mother Jones sitting alongside Sid Hatfield, police chief of Matewan during the Matewan Massacre and whose death fueled the March on Logan and Battle of Blair Mountain.

Regardless, Mother Jones remains an important figure of discussion in the early 20th century West Virginia coalfields. As a reminder, please join us at 10 AM on Friday June 18th for our West Virginia Day event, The Road to Blair Mountain: Commemorating the West Virginia Mine Wars. The program will feature presentations by William Hal Gorby, Assistant Teaching Professor of History at WVU, and Charles B. Keeney, Assistant Professor of History at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, founding member of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, and author of The Road to Blair Mountain. Please check our website for more information, and please register for the event.

For additional reading, I used the following books available through WVU Libraries and the WVRHC in my research for this post:

The Autobiography of Mother Jones by Mother Jones and Mary Field Parton

Struggle in the Coalfields: The Autobiography of Fred Mooney by Fred Mooney

The Court-Martial of Mother Jones by Edward Steel

The Martinsburg Independent

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
June 7th, 2021

Blog post by Rachael Barbara Nicholas, WV National Digital Newspaper Project grant assistant, WVRHC

Newspaper header for the Martinsburg Independent

The Martinsburg Independent, formerly the Martinsburg Weekly Independent, could proudly claim in 1900 that it was the oldest newspaper in Berkeley County. The first editorial partnership, the Independent Printing Co., published the Weekly Independent and its successor from 1873 to 1879. They knew “that an independent, courageous newspaper, one that should be the reflex of no single man’s mind, that should be free from party trammels, and which would express its honest judgment without fear or favor, was needed in Berkeley County.” The eight sheets that comprised the Martinsburg Independent contained local news, national news, poems and stories, and advertisements. The editors printed material critical of both parties, including their preferred party, the Republicans. In the waning days of Reconstruction, they published a special dispatch denouncing Republicans “for the wrongs which they have, since 1865, heaped upon the Southern white people.” The dispatch seemed to verify the Independent’s position as a paper “Unawed by Influence, and Unbribed by Gain.” The Independent did not hesitate to share its opinions, even when that meant crossing party lines.

However, independence was never synonymous with neutrality. Throughout its publishing history, the Martinsburg Independent engaged with politics. It became especially bold under John Nelson Wisner, a prominent attorney, and his co-editor, W. T. Logan, to whom control of the Independent passed in 1879. The advent of the Progressive Era brought with it new topics that editors could not wait to address: labor unions, prohibition, and women’s suffrage. Wisner took a special interest in women’s suffrage, although the articles he chose for publication were generally negative. One contributor, quoted on March 27, 1886, praised the formative influence women had on great men as mothers. He feared the future would lack George Washingtons, John Wesleys, and Garfields because “woman certainly [could not] attend properly to her duties at home, and, at the same time, mix in politics.” This notion of Republican motherhood, an eighteenth-century ideology, found proponents amongst men and women. Advocates of Republican motherhood and the Cult of Domesticity praised the civilizing influence of women in the Independent. “In the age of chivalry it was the beauty of woman that wrestled successfully against barbarism,” one wrote. Only “she softened the rude manners of the warrior… and thus civilized those whose hearts could be touched by no other human power.” The author therefore concluded that women should not rule or participate in government. “Let her fill the sphere appointed her by nature,” he advised, and there “she will be a true sovereign.”

Poem reads, "For the Independent. To My Mother.
Lovingly inscribed to Mrs. E. D. Hughes, of Clearspring, Md., suggested whilst looking upon her picture.
I'm gazing on thy picture Mother, On the face I love so well; 
Its noble soul lit comeliness
No human tongue can tell.
The hair is silvered now, dear Mother, 
Some furrows on the brow;
The eyes retain their kindliness
Though they are failing now.

The pictured lips are dumb, Mother, 
And yet to me so dear,
They seem to speak to me of love,
Encouragement and cheer.
I would not change one act of thine
Nor add to them one other;--
Thou hast lived well a loving life
As woman, Wife and Mother!

Thy mem'ry shall retain its power
When life shall merge in death;
So long as mortal love shall live,
So long as mortal breath
Shall praise the acts of womankind
And honor virtue here,
So long shall you remembered be
My own kind Mother dear!

I'll wear thy picture here dear Mother,
Close to my throbbing heart, 
And it shall be my talisman
Till soul and body part.
And should my footsteps go astray
I'll look upon thy face,
Then turn to God and ask of Him
Forgiveness, strength and grace.

The most enduring monument
That human love can raise
In that which loving children rear
To speak a Mother's praise.
T'will live as long as God shall live
For love doth form its base;
And such an one I rear for thee
When gazing on thy face.
C. Hughes
Washington, D.C., Feb. 27th, '81"
A poem published on March 5, 1881, linking motherhood and womanhood.

Independence did not preclude Wisner from encouraging policies that were associated with a particular party. At the height of the Progressive Era, Wisner championed the gold standard, a policy the Independent shared with its Republican neighbor, the Martinsburg Herald. On the subject of free silver, Wisner said he would be for it if he could “get any of it free” before asking, sarcastically, if “the free silverites [would] first arrange to dump a car load into our coffers.” He continued to defend the gold standard even when the Democratic Statesman accused him of breathing “the sweetest, loftiest praises” of President Cleveland, a Democrat. “We simply stood upon the financial policy of the Republican Party, and the President happened to be a gold man,” Wisner retorted. “This is as far as we went.” For all intents and purposes, Wisner was a Republican. He led the party in Martinsburg, and other newspaper editors referred to him accordingly.

The turn of the century dawned on a potentially bright future for America but not the Martinsburg Independent. Wisner was struggling to obtain payments from subscribers in 1899, lamenting “[that] the new dress for the Independent, recently promised, has been delayed for want of funds.” He pleaded with his readers for more money and apparently received enough to continue printing for most of 1900—but not all of it. The Shepherdstown Register reported in December that Wisner had discontinued the Independent, as did the Spirit of Jefferson. Wisner retired his printing press and died three years later at the age of fifty-eight.

J. Nelson Wisner’s grave in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Additional Sources:

  • The Independent Printing Co., “Volume 2, No. 1,” The Martinsburg Weekly Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, April 4, 1874.
  • The Independent Printing Co., National Republican Ticket, The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, October 28, 1876. The editors printed a copy of the National Republican ticket in 1876; they did not print the Democratic ticket for Samuel Tilden.
  • Independent Printing Co., “The Republicans’ Scheme,” The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, February 24, 1877.
  • Independent Printing Co., Header, The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, May 12, 1877. This was the paper’s official slogan.
  • J. Nelson Wisner and W. T. Logan, “Business Change,” The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, January 4, 1879.  Logan left the partnership in 1884 because of poor health. See W. T. Logan, “To the Public,” The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, August 23, 1884.
  • E.E.U., “Woman Suffrage,” The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, March 27, 1886.
  • L. D-W. G., “Female Sovereignty,” The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, March 27, 1886.
  • J. Nelson Wisner, The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, February 8, 1896.
  • J. Nelson Wisner, The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, January 16, 1897.
  • George W. Haines, The Spirit of Jefferson, Charles Town, West Virginia, December 11, 1900; Unknown author, “John N. Wisner Dead,” The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, February 20, 1903.
  • J. Nelson Wisner, “The New Dress,” The Martinsburg Independent, Martinsburg, West Virginia, December 16, 1899.
  • H. L. Snyder, The Shepherdstown Register, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, December 13, 1900; Haines, The Spirit of Jefferson, December 11, 1900.
  • Unknown author, “John N. Wisner Dead,” February 20, 1903.

The mother of invention and taste

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 31st, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the seventh post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

A Date with a Dish slices through fallacies and vegetables alike. Freda de Knight writes like she’s chatting on the phone with a girlfriend, whisking readers away on interviews with America’s Black chefs. As I’ve said in earlier posts, the angle found within a cookbook is unfiltered and raw in comparison to accounts written by dominant groups, or those unaffected by Black America’s challenges.

Book cover A Date with a Dish by Freda de Knight

Struggle isn’t an ingredient, but a tangible influence on the composition of a recipe. Freda emphasized “food that stretches” for times of financial hardship. All-in-one recipes like “Mama Scott’s Inexpensive Dinner” document ways that people adapted and problem-solved.

“When sugar was scarce and pennies low, maple syrup and even molasses made delightful eating, added to apples which were topped with a crunchy, flaky crust.”

How to “budget slash” and reuse ham:

Excerpt about ham hocks reads, "Don't shun ham hocks as poor folks' food..."cause they ain't!" However they can do a terrific job in budget slashing. They can be used in a variety of ways; boiled and seasoned, or, after boiling, the meat can be cut from the bone, ground, and made into croquettes or hash, or cut up for creamed ham or ham salad. 
The stock from boiled ham hocks is good for soups and gravies too. Don't throw out the juice! Store it in the refrigerator for later use."

Freda agreed with the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” She understood the needs of her readers and published a tool to help them save money. What a boss!


Cookbook image: Between the Covers Rare Books, Inc.

Gray Barker and The Men In Black: They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 25th, 2021

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Long awaited reports on UFO’s, or UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena), as the military defines them, may soon become a reality as early as June 1st, according to the story by Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) posted to NBC News yesterday, May 23. The American public has been taunted with tantalizing photographs, films and eye witness reports for decades.  Now the military, who began to hint a couple of years ago, that yes, in fact, they were studying UFO’s and extraterrestrial intelligence, may finally reveal their evidence for alien crafts in American airspace.

I hope the reports start in Clarksburg.

Clarksburg, the county seat of Harrison County, is in the north-central part of the state on Hwy 79 about 45 minutes from Morgantown.  Clarksburg has a great history.  Named for General George Rogers Clark, remembered for fighting against the British and Native Americans during the Indian Wars and American Revolution.  Earlier, mound builders in the Hopewell Culture established mounds near Clarksburg.  Early settlers formed communities and erected log cabins as early as 1772 and in 1785, the Virginia General Assembly voted to authorize Clarksburg as a town. 

None of that can hold a candle to one man, Braxton County native, Gray Barker, (1925 – 1984) an internationally recognized UFOlogist and his Saucerian Press.  Yes, you read that right, Saucerian Books, located in Clarksburg, takes its name from flying saucers.

Gray Barker smiling next to the cover of his book, "They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers."

Barker, from the small town of Riffle, located about an hour outside Clarksburg, graduated from Glenville State College in 1947.  He taught English for a while in Maryland after graduation.  In 1952, while working as a theater booker in Clarksburg, he started collecting stories about the Flatwoods Monster.  This unexplained presence has been described as a “man-like figure with a round, red face surrounded by a pointed, hood-like shape” wearing a green outfit with claw like hands.

An artistic rendition of the Flatwoods monster that includes an image detailing the scale of the monster to an adult human male. The monster is nearly three times as tall as the adult.
Note the scale.

Intrigued by all things weird, Barker wrote an article about the Flatwoods monster and flying saucers and submitted it to FATE Magazine, a magazine devoted to paranormal phenomena.  According to Wikipedia, FATE was co-founded in 1948 by Raymond A. Palmer (editor of Amazing Stories) and Curtis Fuller.  Still in publication today, FATE is now the longest-running magazine devoted to the paranormal.

For Barker, that was fate indeed!  His article, “The Monster and the Saucer,” was accepted and published in January 1953.  From there, Barker began writing regularly about UFOs for the magazine Space Review, published by the International Flying Saucer Bureau.  Later on, once his career as a sci-fi author was established, Barker founded his own press in Clarksburg, the Saucerian Press, to publish his bulletin, The Saucerian, and his books.    

Cover of FATE magazine's February 1955 publication with headlines such as, "True Stories of the Strange and the Unknown" and "The Origin of Baal." Cover includes three scantily-dressed females climbing up a set of stairs to the open doors of a statue of a winged ox. A man in robes stands off to the side, watching the women.
Cover of "The Collected Issues of Saucerian" by Gray Barker. Cover features an image of three flying saucers.

In his 1956 book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, Gray Barker introduced the concept of the Men in Black to UFO folklore.  Yes, Gray Barker invented the Men In Black!  Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones can thank Gray Barker for their roles in this 1997 film!

Cover of "They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers" by Gray Barker
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black" posing with blaster guns.

Gray Barker’s book, The Silver Bridge, linked the collapse of the Silver bridge in Point Pleasant with the appearance of the Mothman, a winged being with large red eyes that had been seen in Point Pleasant prior to the bridge collapse. 

The Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant

The Silver Bridge was an eyebar-chain suspension bridge built in 1928 and named for the color of its aluminum paint. The bridge carries U.S. Route 35 over the Ohio River, connecting Point Pleasant and Gallipolis, Ohio.

Nearly two weeks before Christmas, on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge collapsed under the weight of rush-hour traffic, killing 46 people. Two of the victims were never found. Investigation of the wreckage pointed to the failure of a single eyebar in the suspension chain.  Investigations proved that the bridge was carrying much heavier loads than originally designed and was poorly maintained.

Many are familiar John Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies, which spawned the 2011 movie of the same name, starring Richard Gere.  But Barker was got there first – his book preceded Keel’s book by five years. 

Cover of "The Silver Bridge" by Gray Barker. Cover features a white minimalist line drawing of the Silver Bridge with a white figure standing on a hill above the bridge on a black background.
Cover of "The Mothman Prophecies" by John A. Keel. Cover features an artist's depiction of Mothman on a tree glaring at a man and a woman.

Can’t wait until June 1st?  There’s a couple of local places with collections of Gray Barker’s publications.  The Gray Barker Room at the Waldomore, the Clarksburg-Harrison County Public Library holds a collection of Gray Barker’s writings, as well as files of correspondence between Barker and notable figures in the UFO field from the 1950s to the early 1980s such as George Adamski, Howard Menger, James Moseley, and others. The room is a minor tourist stop for UFO enthusiasts.

The Waldomore in Clarksburg

Or stick closer to home and make an appointment to see Barker’s books published by his Saucerian Press at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  We’ll be happy to share with you!

In the meantime, I wonder if the History Channel is planning to renew the cancelled Project Blue Book?  The time is right!

I’ll date you a dish of _____

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 17th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the sixth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

Each recipe is a date! The author, Freda de Knight, introduces recipes with tidbits of history or personal advice. In the modern cookbook world, I get overwhelmed quickly. Each online recipe begins with paragraphs of extra tips on how exactly to roast this or marinate that, followed by bulleted lists of ingredients and instructions. A Date with a Dish slows down and eases you into the upcoming recipe, much like a girlfriend would sit me down to describe the guy she was setting me up with for a blind date.

A snippet of the preamble for “Smithfield Ham:”

The preamble reads, "So, as we date this dish, we ask who could be more competent to cook this delicacy, whether peanut cured or hickory smoked, than the Negroes who helped raise the hog, kill, and cure it?
The recipes for Smithfield ham date back to when "mammies" wore bandanas and took charge of the kitchen on festive occasions...tiny thin slices of ham for appetizers, or a thick, juicy slice for breakfast, or the whole ham garnished with all sorts of goodies for the main dish. And here are two of the finest ways to prepare this most wonderful ham, and both excellent."

Freda respects her contributors, radiating pride for Black chefs like Jimmy Daniels:

Excerpt reads, "Jimmy Daniels' Kedgeree
Here is a recipe from Jimmy Daniels, a young man who, before the last war, was proprietor of one of New York's finest Negro restaurants. The food and service were superb and definitely a "must" for all New Yorkers and visitors.
Jimmy, who has traveled all over America and Europe, knows and loves food. He definitely belongs in the gourmet class. Among his favorite recipes is "Kedgeree." an East Indian dish which is his pride and joy. It is simple, tasty and inexpensive."

See what I mean?

Jimmie Daniels Restaurant front

More than a list of ingredients, the reader hears about Black Americans that invented the dish, festivities when it is served, and a vivid depiction of how to simmer, chop, or prepare for the main event.

Note that each “date” ends with an underlying message: Black cooks are diverse, skilled, and worthy of society’s praise and recognition.


Image of Jimmie Daniels Restaurant:  Harlem World Magazine

Freda de Knight, “A Date With a Dish: A Cook Book of American Negro Recipes,” 1948.  

Newspaper Recipes: Porcupine Sausage Balls

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 11th, 2021

Blog post by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Thanks to the National Digital Newspaper Program, the WVRHC has been able to make more newspapers available digitally through Chronicling America.  Check out the full list of newspapers currently available for West Virginia, arranged by city.  You can use these newspapers to do historical research, to search for the names of relatives or famous people, to marvel at the clever advertisements of yesteryear, and you can also use them to find fun recipes.

To celebrate the latest group of digitized newspapers going up online, I decided to look for a fun recipe to test, and I found one I loved in The McDowell Times issue from March 14, 1941.  (You can take a look at the newspaper page in question to see this and other recipes.)

The recipes in this issue are in the “Household News” section by Eleanor Howe, and they’re all about diversifying sausage use.  To be honest, I was hooked from the beginning of the column.  The very clear gender roles of that time period practically jump off the page.  The column starts with a homemaker [clearly a woman] who claims to get as much of an emotional boost from trying a new recipe as from buying a new hat.  As the column continues, a small ad for a cookbook by the column author includes this sign of the times: “The best part of the adventure [in cooking], however, comes about when the recipe makes the man of the family look up and with both pride and appreciation in his voice pronounces the whole meal a tremendous success.”

It is worth noting that these recipes aren’t specific to Keystone, WV, the publishing location of The McDowell Times.  The clue, for me, was the mailing address for the advertised cookbook, which was in Illinois.  I did a quick search of Chronicling America’s newspapers and found that this same column ran in The Midland Journal, in Maryland, Carbon County News, in Montana, and The Frontier, out of Nebraska, all during a two-day period. It is delightful to have a database like Chronicling America available to bring together materials from so many institutions, to allow for this kind of cross-searching.

While the image of a wife as a queen of domesticity doesn’t resonate with me, the part about cooking as an adventure does.  I am a beginner cook, and I’m always on the lookout for relatively quick and easy things that are appropriate for family dining or get-togethers with friends.  When I saw the recipe and image for Porcupine Sausage Balls, I knew this would be it.

Recipe for porcupine balls featuring a cartoon illustration of a porcupine

Porcupine Sausage Balls

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 ½ cups canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound bulk pork sausage
¾ cup uncooked rice

Melt butter in frying pan and brown onion in it. Add chopped green pepper, tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Cook until green pepper is tender. Make the sausage into small balls and roll in the uncooked rice. Place in greased baking casserole and pour the tomato mixture over the sausage balls. Cover baking dish and bake 1 ½ hours in a moderate oven (350 degrees).

Ingredients for porcupine sausage balls

The recipe was relatively easy to prep and easy to follow.  I did note partway through that salt does not appear on the ingredients list, so I just assumed that all I needed was a big pinch of it.  I approached the rice with skepticism – I have been disappointed once before by rice that didn’t actually cook in a recipe, so I worried if this rice would cook properly.  I chose a small casserole dish so that the tomato sauce mixture would cover the sausage balls completely, to give the rice a fighting chance.  If you want to make this recipe, too, I suggest using a smaller amount of rice than what the recipe calls for, with more on standby. I probably only used a half cup of rice.

Rice covered porcupine sausage balls in a bowl

While they didn’t look quite like the adorable drawing in the recipe, the sausage balls were quite cute with the rice on them. With the sauce on top, it was ready to cook for what felt like a surprisingly long time.

Porcupine sausage balls covered with the tomato and pepper mixture

The final result was delicious.  It probably wasn’t intended as an afternoon snack, but that’s how we ate it.  The rice [which DID cook, except for a few crunchy pieces on the bottom] doesn’t actually stick to the meatballs, so if you are expecting the presentation of the dish to reflect the name of it, you will be disappointed. However, the most important part is that this was so tasty.  Everyone in my family enjoyed it, even the kids, who are pretty hit or miss at this age.  I am surprised to say that I will be making it again.  Tip: make sure to choose a sausage that has a flavor balance you like; for me, the sausage flavors really shined through.  Alternatively, you could try this with ground beef or meat substitute, but I don’t know how that would affect the cooking time, if at all.

Completed meal of porcupine sausage balls on a plate

Not just fried chicken.

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 3rd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the fifth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

“It is a fallacy, long disproved, that Negro cooks, chefs, caterers and housewives can adapt themselves only to the standard Southern dishes, such as fried chicken, greens, corn pone, hot breads, and so forth.” The preface was probably quite inflammatory to prejudiced whites that came across it. To get a sense of the author’s courage, glance over the first page here:

A copy of the Preface page of A Date with a Dish. The preface reads, "There has long been a need for a non-regional cook book that would contain recipes, menus, and cooking hints from and by Negroes all over America. I have attempted in these pages to present, along with my own contributions, as complete a collection as can be found anywhere in the land. Recipes new and fresh in the modern ages old brought back to life...original, traditional, and exciting.
It is a fallacy, long disproved, the Negro cooks, chefs, caterers and housewives can adapt themselves only to the standard Southern dishes, such as fried chicken, greens, corn pone, hot breads, and so forth. Like other Americans living in various sections of the country they have naturally shown a desire to branch out in all directions and become versatile in the preparation of any dish, whether it be Spanish in origin, Italian, French, Balinese, or East Indian.
Years ago, and even today, some of our greatest culinary artists were unable to read or write. But their ingenuity, mother wit and good common sense made them masters in their profession without the aid of measuring spoons."

The author, Freda de Knight, in her book, A Date With a Dish: A Cook Book of American Negro Recipes, acknowledges stereotypes. She knows that Black individuals had to improvise, cooking without measurement or modern equipment. How could they formally publish cookbooks when they couldn’t read or write?

Hannah Giorgis in Bon Appetit describes how Freda’s cookbook transformed the future of Black cooks. She recognized that “cultural archiving and culinary research are both pursuits for which few black people have received compensation.” It’s a great read for home chefs, history buffs, or anyone interested in how one woman stood for justice.

*It’s nearly impossible to find a print copy of Freda de Knight’s book, as numerous Amazon and Google searches proved. However, WVU students and staff can visit the Ebersole Collection on the 6th floor of the library to read our copy for free! Make an appointment. (They’re open during the COVID-19 pandemic by appointment.)

**I also found this online version of A Date with a Dish digitized by Cornell University.