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Tourist Homes in 1930s West Virginia

Posted by Admin.
November 10th, 2021
A house in black and white, surrounded by 3 trees without leaves. A short stone pathway leads to a bay window.
Mrs. M.M. Lambert’s Tourist Home in Ellenboro, Ritchie County.

A 1932 West Virginia travel brochure proclaimed that “Half the people of the nation are within 500 miles of its [West Virginia’s] boundaries”; further, our major paved highways, such as routes 19 and 50, provided the perfect means for tourists and other travelers to come to our state. The West Virginia University Extension Service under the direction of Gertrude Humphrey recognized this opportunity to promote and sell West Virginia farm produce by establishing the Mountain State Tourist Homes cooperative, an offshoot of the Farm Women’s Bureau.  During the early part of the 20th century, it opened its first tourist homes in the Eastern panhandle. The day to day running of the program fell to Katharine Stump, Home Demonstration Agent, who helped the women get established, and to later make improvements.  She coordinated the program from application to evaluation.

After purchasing 5 shares in the cooperative at $1.00 each, the farm family got a Tourist Home sign which indicated to travelers that the home was regularly inspected and met the high standards outlined on a score card from her local Home Extension Agent. The tourist home program enabled women who maintained the homes to market farm products by preparing meals for tourists, hunters, and fishermen who would rent rooms.  “The tourist home owner not only has an opportunity to market her surplus food products through the serving of meals to tourists, but incidentally she is giving favorable advertising to West Virginia by providing desirable accommodations for out-of-state tourists.” “Favorable advertising” was needed based on Mrs. Edward [Bessie L.] Semple McClish’s answer to the question, Other interesting facts and stories, in her tourist home report to Katharine Stump in 1932.  Mrs. McLish who ran a tourist home in Aurora answered, “Many inquiries if we have any schools at all in this section.  There are many who seem to think West Virginia a wild and wooly country.”

A blue and white sign advertising a tourist home.
Tourist Home sign alerting travelers to a clean bed, sanitary conditions, and good food.

Katharine Stump reported a growth in the number of tourist homes in 1932 to twenty-seven with the addition of homes in more areas of the state rather than mostly in eastern West Virginia.  The women hosted visitors in the counties of Ohio, Marshall, Wood, Ritchie, Lewis, Upshur, Barbour, Preston, Tucker, Mineral, Hardy, Hampshire, Morgan, Berkeley, Mason, Jackson, Kanawha, Nicholas, Braxton, Randolph, Pendleton, Pocahontas, and Mercer.  That year they welcomed 6,000 overnight guests at a rate of $1.50 per night for two.  They served 2,000 breakfasts for 25 cents each, 1000 lunches at 50 cents each, and 4,000 dinners at 50 cents each.  A simple breakfast consisted of toast, jam, and coffee, or of fruit, prepared cereal, and coffee.  A heavier breakfast at the higher cost of 75 cents consisted of fruit, cereal (either cooked or ready-to-eat), eggs, toast or muffins, hot cakes or biscuits, and cookies or doughnuts. The Home Extension Agents recommended a sample menu for that 50-cent dinner as: tomato juice with saltines or toast strings, chicken croquettes, buttered peas, scalloped potatoes, lettuce with radishes, strawberries and cream, and hot rolls. 

a brochure listing tourist homes and their locations, pre-1932.
A promotional brochure listed tourist homes and gave their locations, probably pre-1932.

To earn the privilege of displaying the tourist sign, the women underwent a Home Demonstration Agent’s evaluation using a scorecard which consisted of eight categories: general appearance of house and surroundings, the hostess, sanitation and bathroom facilities, bedrooms, dining rooms, the kitchen, health of members of the household, and rates and privileges.  Tourist homeowners were advised that first impressions of a well maintained and landscaped house may include “…a comfortable porch, shade trees, gay flower boxes, and a well-kept lawn do much toward inviting the traveler to stop,” but the interior also had to pass muster.  In a 1938 evaluation the Home Extension Agent noted that the hostess created a bedroom for an antique lover with a sugar barrel, a settee, a rocker, a high chest, and a huge canopy bed, but the agent considered the room too crowded, perhaps inconveniencing the tourist.  The evaluator decided it was best not to mention it to the owner since it appeared to be a sore point for the owner. She must have been extra proud of those antiques. 

A woman in a slip dress sits at a wooden desk, holding a pencil and working on her accounts.
Mrs. A.A. [Martha C.] Rogers of Pleasant Dale, Hampshire County at work on her accounts.

The Home Agent also scrutinized the hostess for first impressions.  The score card included two items under this category: she must be neat and clean in appearance, and she must be gracious and cordial.  Another document describing expectations for the hostess states “If she is neat in her attire, even though clothed in a percale housedress, of becoming line and color, we feel that her rooms will reflect the same careful thought and attention.” In the photo above, we see a neat and clean Mrs. Rogers taking care of the business end of her tourist home enterprise which followed on her having opened her home as a boarding house to fishermen and hunters before Route 50 was surfaced.  Continuing this work, she boarded the workmen who paved Route 50 in 1924.  By 1929 the family had decided that it was fun and profitable to take in tourists, so in 1930 Mrs. Rogers made improvements to her home to meet the Mountain State Tourist Homes requirements and opened for business. 

A large house with a fenced front porch, and wide steps leading to the front door.
Tourist home of Mrs. Mary K. Ward, Jane Lew, Lewis County on U.S. Route 19.

Just like travelers today, those of the 1930s also sought a comfortable place to rest for the night.  Suggestions to tourist home operators regarding the bedrooms included “First of all they must be orderly, neat, and clean. A room with good heat in winter an equally good ventilation in summer means much to a weary traveler.” The hostess was expected to remove any personal items from the bureau and have minimal pictures on the wall within the restraints of printed wallpaper.  Other amenities included providing a place for luggage and a place for hanging towels to avoid damage to furniture.  The flu epidemic, 1918-1919, had ended just over 10 years prior to the time these homes were established, therefore, sanitation was of utmost importance.  The homes were required to provide safe running water, an indoor privy with hot and cold water, screens on the windows, no contagion or infectious diseases among family members, and “good health…required of all persons preparing or serving food.” 

A dinner table set with china and silverware, with a tablecloth and wooden chairs.
The table is beautifully set in Mrs. J.L. Culley’s tourist home dining room in Cameron.

The dining room pictured above reflects the strict criteria set forth by Mountain State Tourist Homes and is the same as what a traveler would expect at one of today’s bed and breakfasts.  It is light, cheerful, free from flies and [hopefully] the odors of cooking foods.  The table linens are fresh and clean, and the silver is well polished and clean.  The woman of the house has gotten out her best china, shined her silverware, buffed her crystal glassware, and placed a vase of greenery at the center of the table.  It is now ready for some hearty food made from the family’s own products.

Four people sit at a picnic table outside eating breakfast. A couple sits on a bench by a tree looking at some papers.
Breakfast outside at Mrs. R.N. [Lucy B.] Guthrie’s tourist home in Romney while two travelers plan the next leg of their adventure.

The information for this blog post came from the West Virginia and Regional History archive collection, AM5220, West Virginia University Extension Service records. These records document not only women’s work in providing clean places for tourists in the early days of paved roads, but also the WVU Extension Service work with West Virginia women in contributing to the World War II home front effort. This work included the organization of women farmers, instructions for home food conservation and preservation, coordination of local leadership programs to respond to war directives, and the management of mattress making to use excess cotton.

I remember the Tourist Home signs from my girlhood, and I wonder if any of these lovely homes of respite for travelers still exist.  They serve as examples of the work of many capable women who provided income for their rural families during difficult times as well as a service to trekkers making use of newly paved roads and new automobiles.  The women were guided and encouraged by Gertrude Humphreys, Home Extension Agent extraordinaire. 

Gertrude Humphreys, an older white woman smiling with short hair and a blouse and jacket.
Gertrude Humphreys at her retirement in 1965.

She coordinated, directed, evaluated, and educated the West Virginia women who invited tourists into their homes, farmed and preserved food for the World War II war effort, provided leadership for their communities during the War, and taught both men and women how to make mattresses.

Postcards in Post-War Peace

Posted by Admin.
November 2nd, 2021

“Which shall it be-volunteer or conscription? Would you rather offer your services to the Stars and Stripes in a time of dire need or will you wait until you have to go?”

These questions were published in The Parkersburg News on May 31st, 1917, just days before America’s first draft registration. Shortly after the United States entered the Great War under President Woodrow Wilson,  the Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed. The act temporarily allowed the government to strengthen the national army by conscription, or drafting. On June 5th, 1917 the first round of registrations took place and precincts and counties across the country registered thousands of young men between the ages of 21-31 who were ready to offer their services “to the Stars and Stripes.”

One of those young men was John Carl Mehl, born on May 2nd, 1896 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. At the time of his registration on May 5th, 1917 he was living with his parents Emma Provance and David Mehl, in Hanna, West Virginia. John’s registration card indicated that at twenty-one years of age he was of short, slender build with gray eyes and light brown hair and was employed by his father as a farmer.

Though his card indicated his status as single, he would be wed less than a year later. John married Audrey Belle Roberts in March of 1918. The newlyweds had just a few months together before the reality of the Great War loomed again. On August 6th, 1918, aboard the USS Madawaska, Private John Mehl and his comrades, many of whom also called West Virginia home, left for Europe. His young wife Audrey was listed on the passenger list as his emergency contact.

Mehl, who served in Company M of the 38th Infantry, Third Division, was deployed from August of 1918 to August of 1919. The Third Division participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest American Expeditionary Forces operation during the Great War, and also the deadliest in our nation’s history. It began on September 26th 1918, and raged until the November Armistice on November 11th, 1918, which marked the end of fighting on the Western Front.

A map of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive from John Mehl’s personal collection.
A map of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive from John Mehl’s personal collection.

Following armistice between Germany and the Allies, forces continued to occupy parts of Europe. Private John Mehl was among those soldiers who remained abroad in the months following the horrific fighting that marked the beginning of the end of the war. Though little is known about his actions in battle, his time preserving peace and journey through Germany is chronicled in a collection of photos and unsent postcards. John, armed with a camera, captured images and collected postcards, labeling each with details about his travels. A number, like those below, include notable landmarks and castles that the men passed on foot. Flipping through these postcards and images gives us a glimpse into the life of a man we’ll never get to meet, but allows us to share he and his comrades once experienced in a land far away, and a time long ago.

A postcard with an old image of Boppard.
“We went thru this town” – Boppard
Modern view of Boppard  - Source: Encyclopædia Britannica
Modern view of Boppard  – Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/Boppard#/media/1/73761/36918.
A postcared with an image of St. Goarshausen, Burg Katz und St. Goar
“We went past this castle” – St. Goarshausen, Burg Katz und St. Goar
Similar view of Goarshausen today - Source: "Burg Maus" by Frank Kehren is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Similar view of Goarshausen today – Source: “Burg Maus” by Frank Kehren is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
A postcard with an old image of Burg Rheinstein.
“I think we passed this one” – Burg Rheinstein
Burg Rheinstein today - Source: "Burg Rheinstein" by Larry Myhre
Burg Rheinstein today – Source: “Burg Rheinstein” by Larry Myhre is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
A postcard with an old image of Mäuseturm und Ehrenfels
“We passed this one” – Mäuseturm und Ehrenfels
A modern view of Mäuseturm und Ehrenfels
A modern view of Mäuseturm und Ehrenfels – Source: “File:Maeuseturm Burg Ehrenfels Bingen Rhein.jpg” by Arcalino is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

Though John never mailed these postcards, some were addressed to Audrey, or scribbled with notes to her, surely to be shared amidst his homecoming. His efforts to capture and carry these moments and scenes with him speaks volumes to the importance of this experience and the impact it had on his life. They preserve what must have been an extraordinary moment of peace and relief after years of a horrible world war, a moment like the world had never experienced before, and certainly a moment worth capturing.

John and his memories left the port in Brest, France on August 11th 1919, sailing home aboard the USS Louisville.

Just as they had reported on draft registrations and news throughout the Great War, the Parkersburg News also covered reports of homecomings and victory. Parties, dinners and parades celebrated a hero’s return to communities across the country.

Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company parade Float in World War I Victory Parade, Hinton, West Virginia
Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company parade Float in World War I Victory Parade, Hinton, West Virginia

Not long after his own homecoming, John began his post-war life. He and Audrey brought five daughters into the world; Audrey (whose name was later changed to Geraldine), Doris, Delmetta Norma and Joan. John took up work as a laborer and eventually a cable splicer for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company where he worked for over forty years. After his retirement in 1961, John lived for fourteen more years before passing away at the age of 79. Audrey lived for twenty-three more years before passing at the age of 96.

The story of John and his journeys through life, in love and in war are captured and preserved in newspaper articles, records, pictures and postcards that have been saved and shared. His efforts to capture and collect moments of peace and place, allow us to connect with his story over one hundred years later.

Asimov Symposium to illuminate “Night of the Living Dead”

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 19th, 2021
Scene from Night of the Living Dead

Long before zombies lumbered through 11 seasons of the popular television series “The Walking Dead,” there was an infamous night when corpses first crawled from their graves to haunt the living. The annual West Virginia University Isaac Asimov Sci-Fi Symposium will celebrate the classic horror film “Night of the Living Dead” on October 28 at the Mountainlair’s Gluck Theater.

Make your way to the student union while it is still light outside. The event, co-sponsored by the President’s Office and WVU Libraries, begins at 4 p.m. with a panel discussion with “Night of the Living Dead” co-writer and actor John Russo, BS ‘61, who will talk about the impact of his iconic movie in taking the horror film genre to a new level.

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This Day in History: John Brown’s Fort

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 18th, 2021
John Brown, as he looked a few years before his infamous raid. He is wearing a coat and necktie and looking into the camera.
John Brown, as he looked a few years before his infamous raid.

On October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown and a band of his followers seized control of the Harpers Ferry Armory, a U.S. Army arsenal, in order to distribute the arms there to enslaved people in the surrounding area, to overthrow the South and free the slaves. The raiders easily captured the arsenal, but the mass uprising of enslaved people that they hoped for never came to be.

On the morning of October 18, 1859, United States forces commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee stormed the armory engine-house at Harpers Ferry, where Brown and his fellows made their last stand. There, the soldiers captured Brown and the others who had barricaded themselves in the building. Of the 18-22 men Brown had started with, ten had been killed and Brown himself was wounded. Innocent people in Harpers Ferry were also killed in the initial raid.

Storming of the Engine House at Harper’s Ferry/Capture of John Brown, by David Hunter Strother, from A&M 2894, David Hunter Strother, Artist, Artwork and Papers
Storming of the Engine House at Harper’s Ferry/Capture of John Brown, by David Hunter Strother, from A&M 2894, David Hunter Strother, Artist, Artwork and Papers

David Hunter Strother’s collection includes multiple images of John Brown, his trial, and his execution, as well as facsimiles of “Harper’s Weekly” articles for which Strother provided the illustrations. Known then as “Porte Crayon,” Strother was a famous illustrator for his time.

Copy of one of the Harpers Weekly articles written by David Hunter Strother, along with his illustrations, November 5, 1859
Copy of one of the Harpers Weekly articles written by David Hunter Strother, along with his illustrations, November 5, 1859

Brown was found guilty of murder, treason, and inciting a slave insurrection and executed December 2, 1859.

Strother also sketched the others involved in Brown’s raid, including “Emperor” Shields Green, an abolitionist freedom-fighter and fugitive from South Carolina.

Shields Green book poster
Green was executed on December 16, 1859. The Untold Story of Shields Green: the Life and Death of a Harper’s Ferry Raider, by Louis A DeCaro, Jr. (2020) is now available to read in the History Center.

Initially, Brown’s insurrection was viewed as fanatical. It is widely reported that Frederick Douglass was invited to join the raid but he declined because he thought the plan was suicidal. During and after his trial, Brown became either a hero or a villain, depending on one’s political sympathies. The event spurred the beginning of the Civil War.

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

Kanawha City Community Center to host “West Virginia History Makers: Black Women’s Activism in the Archives”

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 14th, 2021

Learn about the women who worked hard to bring positive change to Appalachia in a presentation titled “West Virginia History Makers: Black Women’s Activism in the Archives” on Wednesday, Sept. 15, at 6:30 p.m. at the Kanawha City Community Center in Charleston.

Dr. Tamara Bailey, an assistant professor of history and coordinator of Wesleyan Abroad at West Virginia Wesleyan College, and Dr. Sheena Harris, an associate professor of history and coordinator of the Africana Studies Program at West Virginia University, will discuss the lives of Black women activists and educators from West Virginia and their use of women’s archives.

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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.

WVU Libraries opens “Intelligence and Oversight After 9/11” exhibit online

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 8th, 2021
Senators Rockefeller and Feinstein
Senators Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein confer during a hearing of the SSCI, January 22, 2009.

The WVU Libraries’ West Virginia & Regional History Center has created a digital exhibition about intelligence and congressional oversight after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Using select materials from the archives of Senator Jay Rockefeller, the exhibit and digital collection explore how the intelligence community and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The exhibit text is derived from the Memorandum for the Record regarding a Review of Senator John D. Rockefeller’s Service on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: 2001-2015.   

Senator Rockefeller was appointed to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) in January 2001. His tenure coincided with some of the most critical years for the SSCI and the intelligence community. Only eight months after joining the SSCI, terrorists carried out attacks on U.S. soil on September 11. The 9/11 attacks thrust the Intelligence Community, and consequently the SSCI, into the limelight in unprecedented ways and changed the nature of the conduct of intelligence oversight.  

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WVU Professor’s 9/11 Experience Preserved at the WVRHC

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 8th, 2021

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It will be a day of remembrance to honor the 2977 immediate victims of the attacks, those who died later, and their families who lost so much. The events of 9/11 are painful memories, but remembrance is important. Many people have their own 9/11 story. The West Virginia and Regional History Center (WVRHC) is now preserving an extraordinary one.  

Front page of Dominion Post newspaper with headline "9-11 survivors to return to NYC"
Photograph of the September 7, 2002, Dominion Post newspaper, Morgantown. Dr. Witt is featured on the cover. From the Tom S. Witt September 11 Collection, A&M 4514.

WVU Economics Professor Tom Witt was in New York for an academic conference on 9/11/2001. The National Association for Business Economics (NABE) was being held in the Marriot Hotel at 3 World Trade Center located in between the Twin Towers. Witt and his wife, Grethe, were at ground zero during the attacks and narrowly escaped. Their experience has been recounted in local media over the years and now an archival collection documenting it is part of the holdings of the WVRHC. The Tom S. Witt September 11 Collection contains some of Witt’s recovered personal belongings, local and national newspapers with 9/11 content, as well as a number of books in which his story is told. The collection is available for research at the History Center. It will be preserved in perpetuity.

Photographs of selected items from the collection:

Letter from Police officer Richard Conte regarding the return of some of Dr. Witt's belongings found in the rubble of the World Trade Center
A letter from New York City Police Officer Richard Conte returning some of Witt’s belongings.
A Palm Pilot in a case; it has been crushed
Dr. Witt’s crushed Palm Pilot (a small handheld computer) recovered in the debris.
Piece of paper and conference name badge for Tom S. Witt
Dr. Witt’s NABE conference name badge and meeting documents.
Conference bag from NABE conference in New York, Sept. 2001
Dr. Witt’s NABE conference bag.
Typed sheet of paper with Tom Witt's recollections of being in NYC on Sept. 11, 2001
Typed recollections of the day by Tom Witt.
Typed sheet of paper with Grethe Myles' recollections of being in NYC on Sept. 11, 2001
Typed recollections of the day by Tom Witt’s wife, Grethe Myles.

Twenty years later, 9/11 is a day that lives vividly in the memory of many who lived through it. A younger generation has grown up seeing the tragic footage and learning about the events and the aftermath. As strange it seems now, there will come a time when the events of 9/11 are not so close to the hearts and minds of Mountaineers and the American people. Witt’s collection at the WVRHC captures the horror of the day and the resilience of a 9/11 survivor for those future researchers.

White rose placed in a name on the plaque along the border of a reflecting pool at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Photograph of a white rose placed in a name along the border of a reflecting pool at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, July 2021. Photo by the author.

Notes:

In this 2016 MetroNews article, Dr. Witt details his experience. The article also includes audio of his interview with WV Public Broadcasting while the events unfolded on September 11, 2001.

In 2011, WVU Today interviewed Dr. Witt and remembered WVU alumni Chris Gray and Jim Samuels, who were killed in the attack.

“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.

Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser and Potomak Guardian

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 27th, 2021

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

Nameplate of the Potomak Guardian newspaper

Nathaniel Willis was the first of several great literary men in his family, including his grandson, author and poet, Nathaniel Parker Willis. Willis published the Independent Chronicle and Universal Advertiser in Boston during the American Revolution. He also participated in the Boston Tea Party and served as an adjutant in the Continental Army. Willis sold his interest in the Chronicle in 1784 and relocated to Winchester, Virginia, as the editor of Willis’s Winchester Gazette & Public Advertiser. He moved to Shepherdstown in 1790 and began to print the Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser before moving a third time to Martinsburg, where the paper underwent two name changes (the Potomak Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser in 1795 and the Potomak Guardian in 1798). Willis presented his paper as a source of national and international news that curious readers could comment on through letters to the editor. Although the content on the first page varied, the second and third usually contained articles on major events and speeches from significant political figures. The fourth concluded with poetry, titled the “Seat of the Muses,” and a series of advertisements.

Newspaper clipping with lyrics to a "patriotic song" regarding the French Revolution
A “patriotic song” commemorating the French Revolution

The Early Republic was a fruitful era for newspaper content. The Age of Revolutions could be felt in France, Haiti, Greece, and Latin America. Anglo-Americans watched with interest from the United States in the aftermath of their own revolution. The adherents of Jeffersonian Republicanism who patronized the Potowmac Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser scanned its columns for the latest updates from France. They praised the French Revolution and celebrated “the cause of democratic republicanism” in France, drawing comparisons between the French and American Revolutions. The Seat of the Muses published a poem “by a citizen of Belfast” echoing the sentiments of Jefferson’s adherents: “Should France be subdu’d—Europe’s liberty ends/if she triumphs—the WORLD will be free.” So “let ev’ry true Patriot unite in her cause/a cause of such moment to man/let all whose souls spurn at tyrannical laws/lend her all the assistance they can.” Although the poet was presumably writing for an Irish audience, Jeffersonians recognized the call to “spurn at tyrannical laws” as their own.

Willis and his Jeffersonian audience used the press to denounce laws that seemed tyrannical. They had to remain vigilant against tyranny if they wished to maintain their republican identities. The Jay Treaty (1794) and the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) afforded several opportunities for protesting tyranny and defending political virtue. The Jay Treaty mitigated the threat of war and promoted peaceful trade between Great Britain and United States during the French Revolutionary Wars. Jeffersonians believed the treaty would undercut republicanism at the expense of France, America’s would-be ally, and strengthen aristocracy. More than that, many felt it was a betrayal of France, who was at war with Great Britain. Willis published a letter that he attributed to the Minister of the French Republic, which lambasted America for scorning her friends in France. “Those who went to brave tempests and death upon the ocean, forgot all dangers in order to indulge the hope of visiting that American continent where… the French colours had been displayed in favor of liberty,” the author asserted. “Under the guarantee of the laws of nations… they expected to find in the ports of the United States an asylum as sure as at home.” Instead, they found a British-American alliance. Indignant Jeffersonians sympathized with the French and burned effigies of John Jay in contempt.

The Alien and Sedition Acts impacted Willis personally as a newspaper editor. The Sedition Act criminalized the making of false statements directed at the federal government during the Quasi War, an undeclared naval war with France. Critics of the act argued that Federalists were using the Quasi War to justify the suppression of dissent from Democratic-Republicans. Willis announced his opposition to the Sedition Act when he changed the header of the Potomak Guardian in 1799. The new header read, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The audience of the Potomak Guardian agreed, sharing their opinions with Willis. A reader calling himself “A True Republican” condemned the publication of “impudent and scandalous falsehoods” and believed Congress could “restrain by law the writing and publishing [of] any thing which tends to prevent the execution of any power vested by the Constitution in the government of the United States.” Those stipulations aside, he could not accept the Alien and Sedition Acts, which he deemed “dreadful.”

Willis remained the editor and publisher until October 30, 1799, when Armstrong Charlton succeeded him, publishing the last known issue of the Potomak Guardian on January 8, 1800. Willis professed his intention to leave Martinsburg on December 4, 1799, and subsequently moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, where he established the Scioto Gazette.

Grave marker of Nathaniel Willis, Mass. Militia, Revolutionary War, Feb 7 1755 to April 1 1831.
Image of Nathaniel Willis’s final resting place in Bainbridge, Ohio. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54440258/nathaniel-willis.

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.

Resources:

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.

""
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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.”

Resources:

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
Beer"

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.

Resources:

Dainty sandwiches

Hamburgers

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.

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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.

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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 Stewart.Plein@mail.wvu.edu 

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.

Resources: 

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

First page of text: Dominic Winter Auctioneers

Colophon

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!