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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.

Preservation Week 2021

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 27th, 2021

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

Logo for Preservation Week April 25-May 1, 2021

Each year in April, libraries and archives take time to share information about one of our core activities: preservation. Caring for the collections materials under our stewardship is part of the mission of the West Virginia & Regional History Center, the WVU Libraries, and many other library and heritage institutions. Many of you have your own collections – records, letters, photographs, artifacts, videos, and more – that contain your personal history, the history of your family, your school, and your communities. The theme for Preservation Week 2021 is Preserving Community Archives and the goal is to provide resources and education to help you take care of your collections.

West Virginia takes pride in its sense of community and our history is often written by looking closely at groups with shared experiences. Coal camps, unions, sports teams, and homemaker’s clubs are just a scant few of the communities that have been explored to tell the story of the people of the state. Not all communities have been studied, nor their records collected. Black, ethnic, and LGBTQ communities in West Virginia are underrepresented in our histories and our archives. Community archives are a way for groups to collect and interpret their own history.

There are many things you and your community can do to preserve your historic records so they can be passed down to others in the future. The resources linked below offer guidance on many different kinds of materials. We can also offer some advice at the WVRHC.  If you have a preservation question or want to start a community archive, send us an email. We’ll try to assist and provide answers or get you in touch with someone who can. 

Caring for Your Treasures: Guides on architecture, books, glass & ceramics, documents & works of art on paper, furniture, home video, metal objects, paintings, photographs, textiles, and matting & framing from the American Institute for Conservation

Dear Donia: Ask preservation expert Donia Conn a question, and review the archive of her answers

Disaster Recovery: Disaster planning, salvage, and restoration resources

Preservation Leaflets: Handouts on numerous preservation issues from the Northeast Document Conservation Center

Preservation Week Webinars: Free webinars on numerous preservation topics

Saving Your Stuff: Tips for audio, books, data, documents and paper, film and home movies, photos, scrapbooks, slides and textiles

Shakespeare’s Birthday! Celebrating with the Flowers of Shakespeare’s Plays

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 23rd, 2021

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

Shakespeare loved flowers and it is well known that he used them in his plays.  Flowers conveyed meaning and symbolism in Shakespeare’s day.  Each mention of a flower or tree would provide a clue to the readers of his plays.  Let’s take a look at some of the flowers and plays where they are mentioned.  I’m sure Shakespeare would be happy to celebrate his birthday with a bouquet of flowers!

All of the flower portraits you see here come from a set of books in the Rare Books collection, William Woodville’s Medical Botany.  Published in 1832 in five volumes, each with beautiful images of flowers and other plants illustrated with hand colored plates. 

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.’

Romeo and Juliet

Botanical illustration of a rose

Are our carnations and streak’d gillyvors,
Which some call nature’s bastards: of that kind
Our rustic garden’s barren; and I care not
To get slips of them.’

The Winter’s Tale

Botanical illustration of a carnation

 ‘The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend,
To strew him o’er and o’er!’

The Winter’s Tale

Botanical illustration of an iris

‘Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.’


Botanical illustration of a poppy

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

If you’d like to see Shakespeare’s works or Woodville’s Medical Botany, contact me, Stewart Plein, to schedule a visit to the Rare Book Room. 


Carnation image

Rose image

Iris image

Poppy image


Recent Acquisition of Historical Photos of Mountaineer Field in the 1920s

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 19th, 2021

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator for Archives and Manuscripts, WVRHC

A recent gift to the History Center includes negatives featuring Mountaineer Field in the 1920s, among other material. Shot by local photographer Scott Gibson, they afford a glimpse of the stadium and field in their earliest days. Before discussing them, however, a review of some of the history of WVU football and the stadium will help to contextualize and enhance our appreciation of these photographs.

Today the Mountaineers are a popular team, having achieved much success in recent times under coach Nehlen and in the years following. They were also a big deal in the 1920s. The 1922 team under coach Clarence Spears were unbeaten, the first and only WVU football team to achieve such a record. The Mountaineers then made their first appearance in a bowl game against Gonzaga in the East-West Bowl, while also stopping in Hollywood to have their picture taken with child star Jackie Coogan. A Charlie Chaplin discovery, Coogan posed front and center with the team.  The resulting autographed photo is in the collection of the History Center.

Jackie Coogan and the Mountaineers at Hollywood
Mountaineer Football Team with Coogan (front, center); 1922.
(from the West Virginia History OnView collection, no. 040447,
West Virginia and Regional History Center)

The success of the Mountaineer team gained the positive attention of the administration of West Virginia University, who then initiated the construction of the first iteration of Mountaineer Field, which was completed in time for the 1924 season.

Construction of Mountaineer Field
Construction of the Stadium at Mountaineer Field; 31 July 1924.
(from the West Virginia History OnView collection, no. 019396,
West Virginia and Regional History Center)

Some of the subject matter in the negatives just recently acquired from the studio of Scott Gibson include the stadium not long after its completion. Apart from mostly Monticola yearbooks and a few scrapbooks, the 1920s at West Virginia University are not as well documented by photography as in later years, so the acquisition of these images is a welcome addition to our collections. We will feature three of them here.

One of the images shows what appears to be a football game in progress, or perhaps a practice session, we don’t know since identification is lacking. Although the number of spectators is low in this photo, we do know that the Mountaineers could draw crowds of up to 10 to 20 thousand in that era, based on newspaper reports.

Football game at Mountaineer Field
Football in progress at Mountaineer Field; ca. 1926.
(from the West Virginia History OnView collection, Scott Gibson collection,
West Virginia and Regional History Center)

The other two photos to be featured here show what appear to be college aged students posing among the stadium benches. They could be young family members, perhaps with friends, of the photographer Scott Gibson. We don’t know. We do know, however, that the negatives for these photos date from ca. 1926, since they are clearly related to other negatives in the collection documenting a 1926 parade in Morgantown. The cloche hats, a virtual fashion necessity of the 1920s and early 30s, clinch this analysis. These images show a casual and candid side of WVU students that’s missing from photos typically seen in Monticola yearbooks.

Two female students posing at Mountaineer Field
Students posing at Mountaineer Field; ca. 1926.
(Scott Gibson collection, West Virginia and Regional History Center)
Two groups of female students posing at Mountaineer Field
Students posing at Mountaineer Field; ca. 1926.
(Scott Gibson collection, West Virginia and Regional History Center)

Wikipedia articles consulted:

“1922 West Virginia Mountaineers football team”

“West Virginia Mountaineers football”

For other History Center blog posts related to new acquisitions, see:

Collection Highlight: A Souvenir of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

Sampling a New Collection: Historical Postcards of Railroad Depots

Sampling a New Collection: More Historical Postcards from the Edward Utz Collection

The Cicadas are Coming!

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 12th, 2021

Blog post by Angela Spatafore, Program Assistant, WVRHC

I love cicadas. In fact, you can probably say it is an obsession at this point. If you visit my house or take a ride in my car, you will undoubtedly be reminded of this obsession by the cicada taxidermy on my bedroom walls to the plush cicada on my dashboard to the various art pieces I’ve collected. So naturally when I was hired at the West Virginia & Regional History Center, one of my first questions was what the Center had about cicadas in its collections. In the spirit of Brood X’s emergence later this year, let’s look at some of what I could find.

Cicadas in various stages of emergence on a tree.
Here is a photo I took of the emerging Brood V cicadas in Fairmont, 2016. If you look closely in the bottom right and left corners, you can see two full grown cicadas sporting their signature black and orange coloring. The milky, freshly emerged cicadas will eventually dry to black. The entire process takes about ninety minutes!

With six broods of periodical cicadas covering almost the entire state, West Virginia certainly has its fair share of history with the cicadas. Every seventeen years like clockwork once the ground warms to 64° F eight inches underground, the cicadas begin to emerge, and given their predictability, newspapers publish articles warning and educating those within range of the incoming invasions.

One of my favorite newspaper articles comes from the Ceredo Advance in May 1911. In the article, the author, John E. Watkins, describes the oncoming emergence of not just one but two broods, one of the 17-year broods and one of the 13-year broods. He remarks on how he and everyone living in his time would never witness both broods emerge simultaneously again. While this emergence occurred mostly in New Jersey, it was interesting to see how the news made its way to West Virginia. After all, there’s nothing like a cicada to get you to brood about your mortality.

Newspaper article from the Ceredo Advance titled 1911 Invasion of Insect Armies. Included in the article is a 6-panel comic following a cicada's metamorphosis from nymph to adult.

Growing up, no one I knew called them cicadas. Until my obsession took over and I began pouring through book after book, I, like everyone I knew, called them locusts. After paging through newspapers from as far back as 1834 to today, apparently the term “locust” never quite went out of style. Nearly every article includes some statement explaining the difference between a locust and a cicada to the reader, but why the confusion in the first place?

Apparently the massive scale of a cicada emergence was reminiscent of the biblical swarms of locust to the settlers who witnessed the event. This anecdote was included in The Periodical Cicada of West Virginia by the entomologist William E. Rumsey, a publication I found interesting not only for its scientific content but also its discussion of regional folklore related to the insect, and while I was unable to find any photographs of past invasions in my search of the Center’s OnView collection, I was able to find a photograph of Rumsey. While obviously not a cicada himself, it was nice to put a face to the man whose words I read as I put together this post.

William E. Rumsey, an entomologist, sitting in a greenhouse.

With that said, love them or hate them, cicadas are a part of West Virginia history, and for those of you with ties to the Eastern Panhandle or any of other fourteen states covered by Brood X, be prepared. The cicadas are coming.

The woman behind one of West Virginia’s fine bakeries.

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 5th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the fourth 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.

Freda de Knight authored the next featured cookbook, A Date with a Dish, but it would be better described as a midnight phone conversation with a friend who knows more than you.

She published this guide in 1948, but her culinary journey began at age 5 when she, like many girls at the time, helped her mother pack lunch for her siblings and prepare family meals.

A page from the guide includes a photo of Freda de Knight and the following biographical information, "This extremely charming, brown-skinned little woman who has written A DATE WITH A DISH brings a wealth of experience as well as a natural bent to her subject. 
"By the time I was five years of age," Freda de Knight relates, "I was able to bake my first loaf of bread, make biscuits, and garnish plates. Instead of cutting out paper dolls and playing house, I was cutting out recipes and playing cook."
After completing her early education in a convent at Salem, N. D., she took several courses at different colleges, majoring in home economics. She has acted as teacher and counsellor in all phases of the culinary arts in the New York schools. During the past twenty years she has collected thousands of recipes from Negro sources, and has used these recipes time and time again for gourmets and people who just love good food. 
She is the Cooking Editor of EBONY, popular Negro national magazine, in which her monthly column, A DATE WITH A DISH, is read by hundreds of thousands."

Freda didn’t hide from challenges facing Black cooks. This was the first cookbook I read that outright rejected the status quo, calling for “a non-regional cook book that would contain recipes, menus, and cooking hints from and by Negros all over America.” Here, there are hundreds of those recipes with anecdotes from the cooks themselves. I have no choice other than sharing one recipe by a West Virginia resident and baker, Ruth Jackson!

Text excerpt reads, "Ruth Jackson. As a girl, Ruth Jackson started her career as a "top notcher" in the Cooks and Bakers Class. Later she married a minister and became one of the pillars of her community when it came to good foods. All this helped toward her Epicurean education and for years she's been holding down first-class positions in her field. 
During her early years of cooking she studied and perfected the art of making pastries and candies. At one time she had charge of one of West Virginia's better bakeries. Everything that passed through her trained hands was baked to perfection, and her wedding cakes and petits fours were "picture-perfect," as if they had come out of the finest French bakeries."

I tried to find more information about Ruth, like her bakery’s name, city of residence, or even a photo. I had no success, although a more intensive search might work out. Either way, her memory lives on in A Date with a Dish.

When I think of West Virginia in the 1940’s, I never thought I’d hear about it from the perspective of a Black, female baker. It is truly awesome that Freda takes a moment to celebrate other women of color, whose recipes and ideas were generally shut off from popular cookbooks or publications. Wouldn’t it be great if they read about female entrepreneurs like Ruth Jackson in West Virginia history classes? The recipe is there, tucked away on a shelf in the West Virginia & Regional History Center. If you take away anything from this blog, don’t be afraid to fill a void in a story you care about.