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A Woman’s Book: How to Know the Ferns, A Guide to the Names, Haunts, and Habits of Our Common Ferns, by Frances Theodora Parsons

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 4th, 2021

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

In 1899, Clara W. Greglee or perhaps Griglee, received this book, How to Know the Ferns, as a Christmas gift from her mother.  Although there is little that we know about Clara, including the correct spelling of her surname, we do know that she was a passionate amateur botanist.  We know, because her book is stuffed with the ferns she picked, pressed between the pages, and identified in her book.

Pencil handwriting, "Clara W. Greglee, from mother, Christmas 1899"
Cover of book, How to Know the Ferns
Interior of book, showing text and sketches of ferns, and a pressed fern

Above, we can see that Clara pressed a fern between the pages describing the Narrow Leaved Spleenwort.  However, from her pressing, one can see that this particular example is not the Narrow Leaved Spleenwort, but another type of fern altogether.  Perhaps, on this day, Clara picked and pressed as she walked, planning to identify the ferns she gathered at a later time. 

Book page describing Christmas Fern

Clara also made notes in the margins of the guide book, such as the note in the photo above.  According to this brief notation, we know that Clara identified one of the most common ferns, the Christmas fern, while in Denmark, Maine, in June 1900.  This common fern grows all over the eastern seaboard, from New Brunswick all the way to Florida.

Page of handwritten notes

Ferns weren’t the only thing Clara hoped to identify.  Pages of notes can also be found inside her book, slipped inside the front cover.  On September 20th, 1901, Clara was identifying plants near Kennebunk, Maine.  The first entry, perhaps a mushroom, reads “reddish brown – old – coarse sponge like gils.”

Clara was given this book in the first year of publication, 1899, and by observing the traces she left behind, we know that she was still using it to identify plants in 1901.  But Clara wasn’t the only woman to be involved with this book.  Three other women made this book possible: the author, Frances Theodora Parsons, the illustrator, Marion Satterlee, and the book cover designer, Margaret Armstrong.  All three women were botanists.  

Portrait of Frances Theodora Parsons in hat

The author, Frances Theodora Parsons, also wrote under her married name, Mrs. William Starr Dana. Following her husband’s death in 1890 during a flu epidemic, Mrs. Dana sought solace in nature.  She took long walks with her friend Marion Satterlee, an artist.  Together, Marion and Frances began identifying wildflowers.  These long nature walks led to her first book, How to Know the Wildflowers in 1893.  She would go on to publish two more nature guides, According to Season, 1894, and Plants and Their Children, 1896. 

It was not until after Frances married James Russell Parsons, a politician and diplomat, that she wrote this book, How to Know the Ferns, which she considered a sequel to her first book, How to Know the Wildflowers.

Her friend, and companion for the many long woodland walks together, Marion Satterlee, pictured below, would illustrate all of Mrs. Parsons’ books.  She too, was a botanist and her black and white line illustrations beautifully and accurately depict the ferns they encountered. 

Portrait of a Marion Satterlee

A second artist, Alice Josephine Smith, also drew some of the fern illustrations.  Unfortunately, no information could be found about her work or life.

The fourth woman to be involved with the making of this book was Margaret Armstrong, another artist/botanist who would go on to author and illustrate her own guide to western wildflowers, a guide that did not exist until she tackled it. 

Armstrong, pictured below, was a well-known book cover designer.  She created the designs that would be stamped in colored inks and real gold to make attractive book covers that would draw customers and increase sales.  She chose to frame the titles surrounded by ferns, and she placed ferns across the cover stamped in green, as if they were growing naturally in the wild.  She often signed her designs with a monogram, her initials MA, which can be found near the title at the upper right of the book. 

Cover of How to Know Ferns, showing green fern pattern and artist's initials
Portrait of Margaret Armstrong in flowered hat

Taken all together, this is a book by women for women.  Botany and plant identification were popular pursuits in the late 19th and early 20th century.  It was a hobby women could enjoy, as seen here in this photo, pictured below, from the book.  Seeing this photograph, we can picture Clara carrying her book with her into the woods, stopping to pick a fern and press it between the pages. We can see Frances and Marion, two friends who found companionship and the inspiration to create a book that would be enjoyed by others, and we can see Margaret Armstrong, another artist who could use her skills to make the book attractive enough to appeal to a mother as a Christmas gift for her daughter. 

The rare book room in the West Virginia and Regional History Center has books by Mrs. Parsons, books illustrated by Marion Satterlee, nature guides, and many books with covers designed by Margaret Armstrong.

Woman looking at a bush

Resources:

Working in the Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection, and Publishing an Online Exhibit

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 28th, 2020

By Hannah McCoy, Graduate Assistant, WVRHC

Woman with glasses

My name is Hannah McCoy, and I am a second-year student in West Virginia University’s Public Administration program. I am a West Virginia Wesleyan Alumna, with Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and History. Because of my interest and knowledge of these topics, I really enjoy my position as a “Graduate Assistant at West Virginia & Regional History Center’s Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection, WVU Libraries.” I put this in quotations because this is possibly the longest job title to explain to family members and friends. However, I really value working in this position, and am happy to talk about it when there is genuine interest. My job primarily is to process Senator Rockefeller IV’s files. There have been thousands of boxes sent to the West Virginia University depository, and it is my job to arrange and describe the files. I skim them for any sensitive information, or duplicates, and relocate them to safe, chemical-free folders for proper storage. I usually stumble upon some interesting finds. I also scanned photographs from Congressman Nick Rahall’s collection, and had the pleasure of preparing an online exhibit with my co-workers. In all these roles, I really value my time here, as I get to see things that I would not have gotten to see if I did not have this position.

The highlight of the Fall semester was co-curating a digital exhibit, “Vote for Me: West Virginia Political Memorabilia,” with my co-workers. My biggest responsibility for the exhibit was the “Campaign Buttons” section. I learned about the history of the campaign button and the political and personal histories of Governor Okey Patteson, Senator Jennings Randolph, Governor Cecil Underwood, Senator Robert C. Byrd, Governor Arch Moore, Senator Jay Rockefeller IV, and Congressmen Robert and Alan Mollohan. While I was familiar with these political figures, taking a deeper dive gave me a bigger understanding of their contributions to West Virginia.

I also valued learning how to use Omeka, an online tool that I had not heard of until starting this position. I enjoy learning new tasks and tools, and so the time seemed to fly when work on this exhibit shifted from research to designing and creating the exhibit in Omeka. This part of the process also led to more interaction with my co-workers. Because of COVID-19, my co-workers and I have not been working at the depository together, but have been working staggering off-site and on-site shifts. The online exhibit gave us a chance to collaborate and decide on the best way to organize the exhibit. This boosted workplace morale and comradery.

The best part of this project was the satisfaction of getting to the finish line with a polished, published product. I was happy with how the exhibit turned out, and this was the best group project I have been a part of. Everyone worked hard and brought a lot to the table.

Vote for Me: West Virginia Political Memorabilia homepage, with political buttons

Graduate Assistantship with Modern Congressional & Political Papers

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 21st, 2020

By Meredith Dreistadt, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC

Woman standing in front of framed blueprints

I am a second-year graduate student in the Public History program here at WVU, and this is a reflection on my first semester working in the WVRHC’s Modern Congressional and Political Papers Collection. For my first year as a student at WVU, I was working part time in a local museum’s small archive which really made my transition to a large, long-established collecting institution an interesting one!

One of the major differences is in how each institution catalogs artifacts both in terms of different software (PastPerfect vs. ArchivesSpace) and in terms of process. At Arthurdale, my main objective was to create as much detailed metadata as possible for each object to make finding that particular item easier for ourselves and future researchers. At the WVRHC, we use an archival processing theory called “More Product, Less Process” which works to more quickly reduce the backlog of thousands and thousands of objects that still need processing.  Both methods make sense for each collecting institution because of the size of the collection to process and the way the objects are used by researchers and staff.

Aside from the technical aspects of my assistantship at the Depository, I found learning about mid- to late-twentieth century political papers refreshingly different from what primary source documents I have worked with for both work and my own research. In my studies, I have primarily focused on early-twentieth century, New Deal era social and governmental shifts as well as the Enlightenment in France and its repercussions. Finding letters in Governor Arch Moore’s Papers that were written about seat-belt laws, citizens protesting the construction of a football field, and leaders concerned about reducing the national deficit in the 1980s has been a very interesting change.

Perhaps one of the more interesting recent finds in the Moore Papers has been the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Legislation of 1986 (in Folder 3 of Box II.F. – 52). This folder contains correspondence between Governor Moore and various heads of West Virginia state agencies to understand how this new law, which was aimed at cutting down the national deficit by massively decreasing spending, would affect each agency. For agencies that focused on natural resource conservation, it appears that they were affected rather similarly, losing funding that would halt some initiatives of conservation. In other cases, the budget of an agency like the Board of Regents remained fairly untouched. This folder provides an interesting insight into how a national policy like reducing the deficit, which was a focus of the Reagan Administration, affected particular regions, work, and projects in West Virginia.

This has been a very interesting semester of work getting to know the archives and the documents and photos I’ve had the chance to work with during the time of COVID-19. It has been a successful semester and I am looking forward to the next one!

Reflections on Working with the Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 14th, 2020

By Crystal Coon, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC

Woman standing in front of brick building
Crystal in front of Woodburn Hall

 I am a first-year graduate student at WVU in the Public History program, with a certificate in Women and Gender Studies, and starting in August of 2020, I became a Graduate Assistant for the West Virginia and Regional History Center Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection. So, basically, I get to look over and work with some really cool documents dealing with West Virginia politics and government! Specifically, I get to work with the Governor Arch Moore correspondence collection; it contains all the letters written to Arch A. Moore, Jr. while he was governor of West Virginia.

While working as one of the Graduate Assistants for this department, I had the amazing opportunity to help curate a digital exhibit called “Vote for Me: West Virginia Political Memorabilia.” Working together with the other graduate assistants, we created an online exhibit that told the story of historical campaigning throughout West Virginia’s history. I did research to create the Campaign Poster portion of the exhibit. I really enjoyed looking into the history of campaign posters and the different kinds of campaign slogans. Looking at the different WV campaign posters, like that of Matthew Mansfield Neely, really got me excited about the interesting history of something that is now viewed as so common. Figuring out how to set up the virtual exhibit with the other assistants was a really fun process. This project was incredibly interesting, and I really enjoyed being able to create the poster for the Welcome Page of the exhibit.

"Vote for Neely" poster

One of the biggest parts of my job was creating scope and contents notes for the Arch Moore Gubernatorial Correspondence series. These notes will allow specific topics and people to be searchable for researchers online. The most interesting aspect of looking through constituent correspondence is seeing what people thought was important. There were plenty of letters requesting help with Worker’s Compensation and Social Security, but there were also letters congratulating Governor Moore on his election. There were requests for the governor to write to someone special for a milestone birthday, anniversary, or graduation. The people of West Virginia clearly felt close to Governor Arch Moore. It was so interesting to be able to see the issues that every day people felt passionate about: what they felt was worth writing to the governor of the state about.

While working through Arch Moore’s gubernatorial correspondence, I also came across some really interesting, fun, or even heartbreaking things. Some of the most interesting letters to the governor were from major businesses interested in moving some of their manufacturing into the state of West Virginia. The presidents and CEOs of places like Coca-Cola and Pillsbury wrote to Arch Moore. One of my favorite things to see in the many folders of constituent correspondence is the letters from kids. Often written for school projects, many children and teenagers wrote to Governor Moore to express interest in learning more about the state of West Virginia. In September of 1986, Governor Moore received a letter from a young girl, thanking him for sending her information, books, and pins on the state of West Virginia. At thirteen years old, she also included drawings of the state flower, state animal, state bird, and state tree. My favorite part of this letter is that she addressed the letter “To my friend Arch A. Moore Jr. Governor.” I love the closeness that these kids felt to the governor who so willingly sent them information about the state. The most heartbreaking thing that I have found in the correspondence files is Governor Moore’s letters of sympathy to the families that fell victim to mining accident fatalities. These letters are always touching, and they remind me that these accidents had more victims than just the miners. These families suffered the loss of a husband and often a father; it is moving to see Governor Moore reach out to these families during their time of grief.

Drawings of a black bear, rhododendron, cardinal, and sugar maple

Another aspect of the assistantship involved the Nick Rahall photo collection. I scanned several boxes of photographs from Representative Nick Rahall’s time in Congress. Starting with images from the 1980s, I scanned photographs of various aspects of the Congressman’s career so that they can be made available online. I really enjoyed getting to see how his career progressed from the 1980s through the early 2000s by the images that I was able to scan. It is easy to see through the hundreds of photographs that I looked through that Representative Rahall was very involved with the people of West Virginia, as he attended a lot of community events and had many schools visit his office in Washington D.C. Seeing the career of Congressman Rahall through these photographs was one of the most interesting ways of exploring someone’s life of public service that I have had the opportunity to look through.

Through this semester of working with the West Virginia and Regional History Center’s Modern Congressional Political Papers Collection, I have found a new interest in modern political history. As someone who is studying 19th Century American history, I have never really explored the mid to late 20th Century and all the incredible stories it has to offer. Political history has never really been something that I gravitated towards, as I studied social and cultural histories. However, working with this collection has really encouraged me to broaden my horizons, look beyond my comfort zone, and pick up an interest in something that I hadn’t really considered before.

Working remotely and continuing to adapt to changes brought on by a global pandemic has definitely brought its share of challenges. But being surrounded by history and the stories of people who persevered gives my work a renewed sense of necessity and relevance. Surrounded by campaign materials and historical politics during a very tense election, I was able to reflect on periods of political uncertainty in West Virginia’s own past. I am excited to continue to work at the WVRHC and further my interest in West Virginia’s rich political history. Now, more than ever, history is important to understand the present.

Moving Rare Book Instruction Online: Filming a 15th Century Medieval Choir Book

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 30th, 2020

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

I think we can all agree that the pandemic has brought a number of changes to our daily routines.  We’ve had to rethink everything in our lives, from the most basic and necessary, like simply going to the grocery store, to how we handle work related tasks, like instruction.  In order to protect our students and faculty, WVU moved much of its fall semester instruction online.  That included instruction for rare books too.     

Back in the spring, when life during the pandemic began to be referred to as the “new normal,” it seemed clear that the fall semester wouldn’t be returning to the pre-Covid normal we had all hoped for.  Taking this into consideration, the big question uppermost on my mind was how to handle rare book instruction?  It was going to take some planning! 

At that time, I wasn’t even sure that professors would want to add rare book instruction to their courses so I was delighted when I received several requests from faculty to develop sessions for their students virtually.  The only problem?  I’d never taught online before!  A lot of time was put into researching best practices and approaches, attempting to learn how to use Zoom, something that was totally new to me, the mechanics of delivering rare book instruction virtually, and basically, how I would manage to accomplish this and provide meaningful instruction that students would find interesting and educational.

Table full of books on display
Rare Book instruction before the pandemic.  Above, the table in the rare book room is set up in advance for a class.  Below, class is in session.  In this photo we are examining a volume from the Dayton Shakespeare collection.
Instructor showing a large book to students

Before the pandemic, scheduling and developing classroom content was determined in a few, easy steps.  Following a faculty member’s request, we’d meet, via email or in person, to discuss content, consider texts, and look over the syllabus.  Often, I met faculty in the rare book room, especially those who were using rare books in their class for the first time.  During our meeting we would view the space to see if it was suitable for their needs, select books that would be appropriate, and make final decisions about content.  Then we’d be all set to go!  While some of the same procedures could be followed for virtual instruction via email or in a Zoom meeting, simply pulling the books off the shelf and creating a display for students to examine, as well as holding in person classes, like the one shown above, was no longer an option.

The bottom line – to make rare books available virtually it was going to take a village and a lot of time!  Moving instruction online would require scanning fragile primary resources in order for students to be able to see them virtually. I had received several requests for students to view a 15th century monastic choir book, for both synchronous and asynchronous instruction.  Synchronous instruction is defined as a live class, in person or virtual, with both students and faculty/instructors in attendance at the same time.  Asynchronous instruction can be defined as instructional materials prepared in advance for students to view at their convenience.  The task before us was to make the choir book suitable to both forms of instruction, so that’s what I decided to tackle first.

Here’s how we did it:

First, I reached out to colleagues in the West Virginia and Regional History Center, Jessica Eichlin, our reference supervisor who has a real talent when it comes to scanning and using a camera, and Lemley Mullett, our photographs manager, who has experience creating some of the videos you see used in our exhibitions.  The three of us met to talk about our approach, and then we devised a plan.

The book in question is a missal, or gradual; which is a collection of music for the service of mass covering the Catholic church year.  Although the volume is not dated, there are plenty of clues, such as the binding itself and the sewing structure that holds it together, two elements that vary over time that led us to approximate the date to around 1450.  The gradual is very large.  It takes two people, myself and someone else, to move it.  It is a medieval manuscript, made before Gutenberg invented the printing press, and therefore, it was entirely handmade at the Dominican monastery in Seville, Spain where it was used. 

Unlike books you see today, the manuscript was made without the aid of all the modern technological advances in machinery and manufacturing that are used to produce books today.  For this book, the boards were cut from an oak tree.  Plants were grown, harvested, dried, and then their fibers were braided and used to bind the book. The pages, called leaves at this time, are made from vellum., also known as parchment, which is made from calf skin. The text, hand written by scribes, is Latin, not Spanish, as one might assume since it was made at a Spanish monastery.  The musical notes are square, which is indicative of chant.  As can be imagined, we wanted to take great care with this book.

Pages of a book with musical notation and Latin text

A two-page spread of the vellum pages showing the Latin text and musical notations for Chant, a droning, monotone type of choral singing.

We decided filming the book would be the best approach.  We would position the book on appropriate supports and film each page as it was being turned.

Open book resting on a pillow beneath a tripod

The choir book is positioned carefully on a pillow designed to support rare books.  It sits on the table in the rare book room.  You can see the tripod for the camera positioned on top of the table above it.  Our camera pro, Jessica Eichlin, is on the right.

Woman operating camera on tripod to photograph a book

As you can see, arranging the camera to film the gradual took a bit of maneuvering!  Jessica is standing on top of the table in her socks, positioning the camera to film the book.

Woman operating camera on tripod to photograph a book as another woman looks on

Lemley Mullett positions the light boxes to get the best angle, Jessica handles the camera.  One leg of the tripod required a higher position to get the camera at the appropriate height.  I can assure you that no rare books were used or harmed in this process!

Woman operating camera on tripod to photograph a book as another woman turns pages

Lemley gets in position.  In the first phase of the film, Lemley will turn each page of the book.  Note, she is not wearing gloves.  Freshly washed, clean hands are the best approach when turning fragile pages.  Gloves only get in the way and make turning pages more difficult.

Woman turning the pages of a large book

The filming begins!  Lemley starts turning the pages while Jessica handles the filming process.

Phase one is now complete!  Click here to view the first phase of the video with Lemley turning the medieval pages.  There is no audio at this point. The video is called Turning Leaves: A Look at a 15th Century Choir Book:  https://youtu.be/U-u8WCg__aM 

In a live class, I can embed this link in a PowerPoint, or click on the link itself, and share my screen virtually in a Zoom class session so that all the students can see it as I’m showing it to them.  While the video is in play, I can then push the pause button and take a few moments to discuss specific details.  Then I can push play and we’re on to the next page. 

Now it’s time for phase two!  The final classroom instruction that will be layered over the video has two parts.  First, my task is to use this video as the basis for my instruction.  The plan is to record this version as a Zoom session that will be available for asynchronous course instruction.  I will pause at points during the video to discuss details as they arise.  Second, I’ll use a PowerPoint presentation to zoom in on specific details and discuss them for student viewing.

There were a few stops and starts along the way.  If I misspoke, or accidentally hit the wrong button, and I assure you I did, I had to start over.  Narrating the video with educational instruction took a few times for me to get it right in order to develop a level of comfort during recording as well as making certain I had covered all the points I wanted to say.  In the end, after a few false starts, I was pleased with the result, even though I turned a slide or two too soon towards the end!

You may view the final video with my instruction here: https://youtu.be/Y9-c6ceNgjw.  This video is called Gradual: A Look at a 15th Century Choir Book

In closing, during a time when accessibility is limited due to the pandemic, it’s important to continue our mission to make our primary resources available to our students.  Now you have the opportunity to see behind the scenes as we create instruction in a way that makes our collections available in these challenging times.  If you share these videos with your group, please let me know!  I’d love to hear how you used them!

Got questions?  I’m available! 

Silver Bridge Collapse

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 23rd, 2020

Blog post by Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Today, Point Pleasant, West Virginia is known as the home of “Mothman,” an urban legend and iconic symbol for the small town at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. An annual Mothman Festival is held every year, celebrating the small town and a creature which has faded into myth and legend rather than lingering danger. The Mothman legend originates from several sightings in 1966 and culminates with the collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967. While the bridge collapse was clearly not the result of a mythical monster’s intentions, the legend persists. 

The Silver Bridge

The Silver Bridge was constructed in 1928 using high tension eye bar chains and rocker towers, which was unique for the period. Nearly 40 years after its construction the bridge collapsed, during rush hour traffic, due to a crack in one of the eye bar chains and years of poor maintenance. Additionally, as automobiles and trucks developed between 1928 and 1967, they both became heavier and more numerous. When the Silver Bridge was built it was designed to accommodate the weight of 1920s automobiles not the much heavier sedans, tractor trailers, and buses of the 1960s. With rush hour traffic crowding the bridge with heavier vehicles, the bridge failed and 64 people were plunged into the 44 degree Ohio River water; 46 did not survive. 

Silver Bridge as seen from the shore

In 1969 the Silver Memorial Bridge was constructed one mile down river from the original location. The new bridge is a steel cantilever bridge and allows traffic along U.S. Route 35 to cross between West Virginia and Ohio. To date, the Silver Bridge collapse is one of the worst in United States history and the new bridge as well as a memorial at the site of the original stand in remembrance of those who were lost. 

Give Buckwheat a Chance

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 17th, 2020

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

I first tasted buckwheat as a child when my dad took me to a buckwheat cake breakfast in Bridgeport. I didn’t really like the buckwheat cakes because there were little pieces of the hull in the cake and I didn’t like finding something hard in an otherwise soft pancake.  I haven’t had buckwheat cakes since.  Recently I stopped at West Virginia’s throwback roadside attraction and store, Cool Springs Park, in Preston County.  On a whim, I purchased a bag of buckwheat flour milled in nearby Eglon, West Virginia.  It was time to give buckwheat another chance.

Cars in front of Cool Springs Park store
Photograph of the Entrance of Cool Springs Park, Preston County, West Virginia.

Preston County is home to the annual Buckwheat Festival held in Kingwood since 1938.  Buckwheat was once an important crop for farmers in the county because it’s hardy and can be planted late.  Deceptively like a cereal grain, it’s actually a fruit in the same family as rhubarb.  In recent years, only small amounts are still grown in the area, so the buckwheat groats are trucked in and milled locally at Eglon and the Hazelton Mill.

Bag of buckwheat flour with cakes recipe printed on it
Photograph of the Entrance of Cool Springs Park, Preston County, West Virginia.

First, I wanted to try to the classic buckwheat cakes again.  To my delight, the buckwheat flour I purchased was milled very finely.  No hard pieces of hull to be found!  Conveniently, there was a recipe right on the bag.  I followed the directions for “Raised Buckwheat Cakes,” but I halved the recipe since there are only two of us in my household.

Raised Buckwheat Cakes (full recipe)

1 cup buckwheat flour

1 cup water

1 tsp salt (scant)

1 tsp sugar

¼ tsp dry yeast

1 Tbsp oil (optional)

¼ cup buttermilk

Mix and allow to set at room temperature 8 hours or overnight. When ready to make, mix together 1 tsp sugar, ¼ tsp baking powder, and ¼ cup warm water and add to batter stirring well.  Bake on a lightly greased, hot griddle.  This will make 6 to 8 cakes.

Bowl of batter
Photograph of the mixed batter before sitting out overnight.
Buckwheat cake in a pan
Photograph of a buckwheat cake on the griddle.

I mixed the ingredients and let it sit overnight.  In the morning, I added a small amount of water, sugar, and soda to the mix.  I then fried them in a ceramic non-stick pan.  They were much better than I remembered, perhaps a little salty for my taste, so I will reduce that next time.  My significant other enjoyed his with West Virginia maple syrup and butter. He liked them just fine.  I can imagine this batter making very nice savory crepes.

Buckwheat cakes in maple syrup
Photograph of two buckwheat cakes smothered in maple syrup produced in Barbour County, West Virginia.

Using leftover batter, you can make a sourdough type starter.  According to the package, just store any leftover batter in the refrigerator. When you want to make buckwheat cakes again, add the same basic ingredients and follow the steps of the recipe. The longer it is used the stronger the sourdough flavor will develop.

After conquering the buckwheat cakes, I looked for other recipes that use buckwheat flour.  A basic Google search returns quite a few recipes, more than I expected.  I decided to try Salted Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies created at the Bien Cuit bakery in New York City. Apparently, buckwheat can be pretty sophisticated too!  

Salted Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies

(makes 15 cookies)

1 cup buckwheat flour

2 Tbsp + 2 tsp cocoa

1 ½ tsp baking powder

¾ cup brown sugar (lightly packed)

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

½ cup chocolate chips (mini chips work best)

½ tsp espresso or strong coffee

Powdered sugar for dusting

Sea salt for sprinkling (I used JQ Dickinson flaked salt.)

Mix flour, cocoa, and baking powder and set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Gradually add dry ingredients and beat on medium low.  Add the espresso and chips and mix until blended.  Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and shape into a log about 10 inches long. Chill for at least an hour. After chilling, cut into 15 pieces. Sprinkle with sugar and salt. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees.  Cool on the pan briefly and then move to a wire rack.

Log of cookie dough on plastic wrap
Photograph of the mixed dough, shaped into a log, and chilled.
Balls of dough on cookie sheet, dusted with powdered sugar
Photograph of cookies cut from the dough log and prepared for baking.

I mixed the ingredients per the recipe, chilled the dough for a couple of hours while I cooked dinner, added the salt and sugar, then sliced and baked the cookies. Again, I halved the recipe since we are a small household.  These came out pretty nice. Good flavor.  Very crispy on the bottom though. The bake time was 12-15 minutes.  I let them stay in for the whole 15 but I think they would have been just a little better if I would have taken them out at 12 minutes.  

Plate of cookies
Photograph of the finished cookies, yum.  These cookies pair perfectly with a glass of milk. I have a few friends that are gluten free – I will be making these again to give as gifts.

I’m glad that I gave buckwheat a second chance!  I’m looking forward to using the rest of the bag and trying other recipes.  There are some really wonderful ones shared on this Good Press blog post written by a local Preston Countian. If you can’t make it to Cool Springs or other local retailers, buckwheat can sometimes be found at the grocery store in the Bob’s Red Mill or Hodgson’s Mill brands.

Resources:

West Virginia Encylopedia Buckwheat Festival Entry

Goldenseal article excerpt

5 Recent West Virginia Reads…and One Kentucky

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 2nd, 2020

Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita

I am always somewhere in the process of reading an eBook, an audiobook, and a book-book, old-fashioned print on paper.  Recently I have been migrating toward West Virginia authors and West Virginia history probably because of the in depth look at West Virginia history working in the West Virginia and Regional History Center has afforded me.  The books I am featuring in this blog post are all non-fiction, except Ludie’s Life, which is a novel in poetry, and the Kentucky novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek All include themes of particular interest to Appalachia: the importance of place, family loyalty, and struggle.     

Note:  Each title links to the WVU Libraries catalog entry.  Those held in the West Virginia and Regional History Center book collection cannot be removed from the Center, but those in the Appalachian Collection or the general book collection may be borrowed by WVU faculty, staff, or students.  Most West Virginia academic and public libraries should have these titles, or they can be requested through the libraries’ interlibrary loan services.   


The Buffalo Creek DisasterHow the Survivors of One of the Worst Disasters in Coal-Mining History Brought Suit Against the Coal Company—And Won by Gerald M. Stern. 1977. 

Man sitting in front of a house that has been swept off its foundation by a flood
Flood victim at Man, Logan County, February 29, 1972 

In 1972 on a quiet Saturday morning a Pittston Coal Company slurry impoundment broke and flooded Buffalo Creek hollow with 132 million gallons of water creating a 25-foot wall of water and debris.   It washed away either all or partially 17 communities along the creek in Logan and Wayne Counties.  The disaster resulted in the total annihilation or destruction of homes leaving thousands homeless; the death of 125 men, women, and children; and left behind devastation and guilt-ridden and confused survivors.  This book details why this was not “an act of God” as declared by Pittston Coal and the legal battle by over 600 tenacious survivors and family members.  The group hired the book’s author’s law firm to represent them in a class action suit.  In the 1970s, terms such as post-traumatic stress did not exist, but in a unique move for the time, Stern sued for compensation for “psychic-damage” in addition to property damage and bodily injury. Stern also had to delve into the morass of corporate ownership and its legal implications.  This book provides a fascinating account of how the legal case was won. 


Diamond Doris: The Ture Story of the World’s Most Notorious Jewel Thief by Doris Payne and Zelda Lockhart. 2019 

The Life and Crimes of Doris
Doris Payne mug shot. Source: Variety Magazine

West Virginians are amazing people full of surprises.  Doris Payne is one of these amazing people.  She was born in the small segregated southern West Virginia town of Slab Fork during the Depression.  She became one of the most notorious jewelry thieves ever.  Payne was a woman, and she was Black, but refused to conform to the stereotypes of what a Black woman could accomplish.  She used her intellect, good looks, and flair for style to rescue her mother from her abusive father and to rescue herself.  How did she accomplish this notoriety?  What drove her to steal jewelry around the world?  Was she justified?  What happened to her as she aged?  All the answers are in this fascinating memoir, an autobiography which reads like a novel. 


Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy. 2018 

Dopesick

Dopesick is an eye-opener for those of us who thought where we live made us immune to the opioid epidemic.  How could opioid addiction, once considered isolated to urban areas, come to small town America and what role did West Virginia play in the epidemic?  Macy gives us a very personal and detailed view by tracing the story of some addicts and their families from the beginning of drug abuse. She not only explains how addiction occurs but also the chain from pharmaceutical companies to user, current therapeutic practices, and the justice system’s involvement.  The subtitle indicates that Macy points a finger directly at drug companies.  This book is not about the oxycotin use in southern West Virginia but about the link between Martinsburg, West Virginia, sitting next to the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan areas, as a wide distribution point for illegal drugs.   


Ludie’s Life by Cynthia Rylant. 2006 

Text, letter

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I am a fan of Cynthia Rylant and I particularly like When I Was Young in the Mountains, a picture book.  Rylant is a true West Virginia treasure for the way she captures our traditions and attachment to home with joy and reverence.  In Ludie’s Life, a life told in free verse, Rylant again works her magic by giving us Ludie through birth, marriage, childrearing, old age, and death.  The book also traces the changes to her coal field community as Ludie observes from her company house. While promoted as a young adult book, I think the themes such as childbearing, illness and death, aging, and loneliness are too raw for youth.  For example, Ludie describes her husband’s brother as “a man just teetering on the line between good and bad. No one knew for sure if he was crazy or just plain mean. This much was true: Ludie feared him.”  The book is full of truths such as this passage about change “…it seemed to Ludie that little by little life was packing her up for the long journey home.  The chickens and chicken pens gone. The hogs gone from the hog lot. No beagle tied to the doghouse. No doghouse.”  Maybe you don’t care for poetry, but I promise you that you will fall into Ludies’ Life, see it to its end, and then keep it close by for rereading.   


Running on Red Dog Road: and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by Drema Hall Berkheimer 

Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by [Drema Hall Berkheimer]

My friend loaned me Running on Red Dog Road. I put it in my “to read” pile and left it there since I thought it was probably another vanity press title.  I had seen red dog roads, created by reusing coal mining slate, when I visited McDowell County in the 1970s, so after the book sat in that pile for years, I finally read it.  As I began to read, I discovered that the little memoir of life in 1940’s Beckley was a very pleasant surprise.  Ms. Berkheimer captured the life of a young girl in southern West Virginia with such detail that I was transported back to my own childhood.  I could almost taste the foods my mother made, including thick crust blackberry cobblers, stewed tomatoes, leather britches, and peas with pearl onions.  I remembered stories of hobos coming to Mom’s door for food.  I remembered long church services and tent meetings on hot summer nights.  I remembered playing freely and falling into the stories people liked to tell. The one about her aunt’s experience with a lonely-hearts club was laugh out loud funny.  Berkheimer recounts these stories with not only humor for the lightness of life but with compassion for the hardness of life.   


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. 2019 

A group of people holding a sign

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Richardson deals with two fascinating topics in her recent popular novel.  The “book woman,” Cussy Carter, is based on the New Deal circuit-riding librarians of Kentucky, part of the Pack Horse Library Project.  Cussy is also one of the genetically altered blue-skinned people of Kentucky. Two themes emerge then: the power of reading and education for escapism as well as practical information; and the bigotry and isolation faced by someone who looks different. As Cussy travels her route on her mule over rough terrain, she meets and befriends a cast of characters, mostly poor and struggling.  They are the women, men, and children of the isolated Kentucky mountains.  Poverty, class, and hunger are other prevalent themes in this Depression era engaging novel.   

Corridor H

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 26th, 2020

Blog post by Katie Lehosit, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

October 2020 marks the 26th anniversary of a section of highway being opened near Elkins, West Virginia. This highway, which spanned 16 miles and 4 lanes, was the highly debated Corridor H. Opening day, which was on October 29th, 1994, drew such guests as Governor Gaston Caperton and Senator Robert C. Byrd. The day also brought anti-Corridor H groups to Elkins, which included the Corridor H Alternative Alliance and North for Corridor H Alliance.

Group of people posing with "Stop Corridor H" signs
Governor Caperton posing with a family while Corridor H protesters line the background in October 1994.

The Corridor H project was part of Appalachian Regional Development Act’s (ARDA) Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS). This plan, originally formed by President John F. Kennedy, was signed into action by President Lydon B. Johnson in 1965. The ARDA’s main goal was to connect Appalachia with the rest of the United States by economic, educational, and physical means. To physically connect the region with the U.S., the ADHS planned for corridors to be built in 13 states. Six of these corridors were planned for West Virginia. While many of these corridor projects went by relatively smoothly in the state, Corridor H was a different story, estimating to cost $10 million per mile.

Group holding anti-Corridor H protest signs
Corridor H Alternative groups protesting the continuation of the highway in October, 1994.

Originally set aside due to financial reasons in the 1970s and 80s, Senator Jay Rockefeller began to push for construction to begin on Corridor H in the 90s. Environmental, historical, and activist groups were quick to band together. Groups like North for Corridor H Alliance (NCHA) fought against the original proposed route, which would have cut through wetlands, Corrick’s Ford Battlefield, Canaan Valley, and other natural wonders of the Mountain State. While Rockefeller argued the construction would create jobs, make travel to Washington D.C. faster, and bring tourism to West Virginia, NCHA argued the opposite. While the groups against Corridor H did agree the highway would create faster travel time to the nation’s capital, they also argued the highway would do more harm than good.

Aside from destroying popular tourist areas in the state, like Canaan Valley, NCHA and other groups also brought up other forms of harm the highway would bring. These included harm to West Virginia’s wetlands, endangered species like the Northern Flying Squirrel, streams, forests like the Monongahela forest, small town economies, and historical sites like Corrick’s Ford. While a northern route was chosen in 1993, the decision was not a happy one for anti-Corridor H groups. The proposed northern route still cut through wetland and other important areas, which lead NCHA and similar groups to file a federal suit against the West Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration in 1996.

A family protesting Corridor H
A family protesting Corridor H in October 1994.

Through various legal battles, the construction of Corridor H has been slowed. In fact, as of December 2019, 16.8 miles of the route do not have a final design. While the future of Corridor H is still in question, we can look back at October 29, 1994 and see how activism has changed the course of West Virginia history. Regardless of if you are pro-Corridor H, anti-Corridor H, or somewhere in between, it is impressive to see how grassroots activists changed the planning of the now 55 year old project.

To There and Back Again: The Many Moves of John Brown’s Fort

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 19th, 2020

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

October 16, 2020, was the 161st anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.  Over 160 years after the event, John Brown, and the people and events surrounding him, remain a powerful topic for depiction such as the new program currently airing on Showtime, “The Good Lord Bird” starring Ethan Hawke as John Brown. 

The last couple of years have seen several books published on figures that were involved in the raid including the story of an escaped enslaved person, The Untold Story of Shields Green by Louis A. Decaro, Jr., Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army by Eugene L. Meyer, The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom by H.W. Brands, and of course, the book that inspired the Showtime series, James McBride’s novel, The Good Lord Bird

Portrait of John Brown

While Brown remains the subject of much interpretation, little has been said about the multiple moves of the Harpers Ferry building Brown and his men occupied on that fateful raid, the Arsenal Engine House, later to called John Brown’s Fort. 

At the time, the engine house served as the government arsenal where guns and ammunition were stored.  Brown’s plan was to capture the armory and the engine house, using the ammunition inside to supply a hoped for uprising of enslaved people he believed would join him to fight for freedom following his initial strike.  This did not happen.  Brown and his small band of men were left to fend for themselves. The following day, U.S. Marines arrived to storm the engine house, led by Col. Robert E. Lee and his aide, J.E.B. Stuart.  Brown and his surviving men were captured, tried and executed.

Sketch of the Harpers Ferry engine house, with soldiers in line in front of it

This drawing was made on the scene by David Hunter Strother, a journalist, artist and illustrator, from Martinsburg. Strother, pictured below, who used the pen name, Porte Crayon, often wrote articles and provided illustrations that frequently appeared in the pages of Harper’s Monthly magazine.

Portrait of David Hunter Strother

During the Civil War, the engine house was the only part of the armory to survive.  This stereograph card shows the tents of Union troops stationed in front.   

Stereograph card showing tents in front of the Harpers Ferry engine house

By 1885, still in its original location in downtown Harpers Ferry, the engine house was used as a tourist attraction.  The words “John Brown’s Fort”, seen here, were painted over the arches where windows were formerly. 

Harpers Ferry Engine House with the words "John Brown's Fort" painted on

First Move:

In 1891, the engine house was purchased by a group, headed by Iowan, A. J. Holmes, a former confederate soldier and congressman, with plans to make it an exhibition at the upcoming World’s Columbian Exposition, to be held in Chicago in 1893.  The fair was planned as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America. 

This was to be the first move for John Brown’s fort.  Since Chicago is a long way from Harpers Ferry, the engine house was dismantled and shipped via railroad. Once it arrived in Chicago, it was reconstructed inside one of the fair buildings.  Unfortunately, it drew little attention.  Reports state that only 11 people came to view John Brown’s Fort in 10 days. 

Second Move:

Unhappy with the turnout, the second move for the building occurred when the fort was dismantled once again and moved to an empty lot where it was abandoned.

The following year, a Washington D.C. journalist, Kate Field, publisher of Kate Field’s Washington, a weekly magazine, began a fund-raising effort to save John Brown’s Fort and move it back to Harpers Ferry. 

Although, no photographs could be found documenting John Brown’s Fort as an exhibition at the Columbian World’s Fair, or dismantled and abandoned on the vacant lot, the newspaper, the Wheeling Intelligencer, reported on June 21, 1893, an article entitled “OUR STATE BUILDING,” referring to the West Virginia building constructed on fair grounds.  Each state was responsible for building a site to exhibit their state’s products and industries.  The article touted the 30th anniversary of the state and reported memorabilia on display, “There are a number of interesting relics to be found in the building, among which are the chair and safe used by Lee in writing his terms of surrender to Grant, and several John Brown relics.”  Fair goers visiting the West Virginia building could have picked up this John Brown Souvenir ticket, pictured below.   

John Brown Souvenir ticket, with portrait of John Brown

Third Move:

Things began to look up for John Brown’s Fort when a local farmer, Alexander Murphy, encouraged by Kate Fields fundraising efforts, donated five acres of his property for the site.  The Baltimore and Ohio railroad stepped in and agreed to ship the building at no charge.  In move number three, a mere two years after it was shipped to Chicago, John Brown’s Fort was successfully returned to Harpers Ferry, and reconstructed on the Murphy Farm. 

The Harpers Ferry engine house in the middle of a field
John Brown’s Fort on Murphy’s Farm, Bolivar Heights, W. Va.
Photograph approximately 1900

Although it remained on the Murphy Farm for a number of years, the building had no purpose.  Positioned out of town, it failed to serve as a tourist destination.  Things took a turn for the worse when it was used as just another farm building to store fertilizer.

The Harpers Ferry engine house in the middle of a field
Used to store fertilizer, 1909. 

Move Four:

1909 was to be an important year for yet another rescue and rehabilitation of John Brown’s Fort.  That year was the fiftieth anniversary of John Brown’s raid.  In move number four, the building was once again removed, reconstructed and renovated, this time on the campus of Storer College, also located in Harpers Ferry.  Storer College, with its roots in the Civil War, had a strong connection to the fort.  Founded by Freewill Baptists immediately following the Civil War, and dedicated to the education of African Americans, Storer College was housed in Harpers Ferry buildings that served military purposes during the war. 

Harpers Ferry engine house surrounded by trees
On the campus of Storer College
Group of African-American students in front of a tree
Storer College student group.  John Brown’s Fort is in the background.  Approximately 1940s. 
Harpers Ferry engine house in front of another building
John Brown’s Fort as it was positioned on the campus of Storer College in relation to Anthony Hall, the main building.

John Brown’s Fort was to remain on the campus of Storer College, serving as museum housing John Brown and Harpers Ferry memorabilia.   Though Storer College closed its doors as an educational institution following the passage of the landmark case, Brown vs Board of Education, in 1954, John Brown’s Fort remained on its campus.  But not for long.

Move Five:

In its fifth and final move, John Brown’s Fort was once again purchased and relocated, this time by the National Park Service, who became the owners of the Storer College campus in 1960. 

Harpers Ferry engine house being transported on the bed of a truck
John Brown’s Fort being transported back to Lower Town in 1968.
Harpers Ferry NHP Historic Photo Collection, Catalog #NHF-3155

While positioning the fort on the original site would have been ideal, it was impossible due to a railroad embankment constructed on that site 1894, when John Brown’s Fort was sitting lonely and abandoned in a field outside Chicago.  The Park Service re-sited it as close to the original site as possible, a mere 150 feet away from its first home.   

Harpers Ferry engine house
John Brown’s fort today.

And that is where John Brown’s Fort remains today, restored and open to visitors as an important historical site in one of the most important moments in West Virginia history. 

All of the books mentioned in this post and many of the photographs are available at the West Virginia and Regional History Center, open by appointment to West Virginia University affiliates only during the pandemic.

Resources:

Bridge Day and New River Gorge

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 12th, 2020

By Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Railroad bridge across a river
Chesapeake and Ohio Bridge across the New River, Thurmond, W. Va., 1906

Fayette County reserves the third Saturday in October for an exciting and unique celebration of outdoor recreation, civil engineering, and local pride. This celebration is known around the country as Bridge Day. The New River Gorge attracts thousands of visitors annually for both outdoor recreation and its scenic views. Historically the gorge was a source of coal mining in the now abandoned town of Thurmond, West Virginia. Crossing the gorge prior to the completion of the famous New River Gorge Bridge took 45 minutes. After the completion of the bridge on October 22, 1976, crossing the New River Gorge took mere seconds. The bridge is over 800 feet tall and over 3,000 feet long. The bridge was listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 thirteen years prior to the standard 50 year mark for eligibility. 

Part of a bridge construction of metal beams
New River Gorge Bridge, under construction

The bridge has become a symbol for the state, marking the back of the West Virginia state quarter from the U.S. Mint, and as a wonder of modern engineering. At the time of its construction it was the largest project the West Virginia Department of Highways had ever completed and today draws crowds from around the country to revel at not only the bridge’s amazing structural presence but also the beautiful nature surrounding the established New River Gorge National River which has been managed by the National Park Service since 1978. From the development of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and coal mining to natural preservation and civil engineering the New River Gorge is a testament to West Virginia’s natural beauty, industrial past, and civic achievements. 

Landscape view of New River Canyon
New River Canyon Near the Gauley Bridge, Fayette County, WV

October is American Archives Month!

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 6th, 2020

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

The West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC) is the archives and special collections library at West Virginia University. We acquire, preserve, and provide access to materials that document the history and culture of West Virginia and central Appalachia. Each year in October, we take time to emphasize the importance of the records we collect, highlight the services we provide, and recognize the people who maintain the historical records of our state and region.  October is American Archives Month! 

Image of various types of material with the text "October is American Archives Month"

Archives are records created by people or an organization that are collected because they have continuing value.  Archives can include letters, photographs, reports, sound and video recordings, maps, newspapers and other primary sources that provide firsthand evidence and data. They can be in physical or digital form. Archives are critical resources for historical research and study.  They can be inspirational for writers and artists.  They are also important tools for teaching history and literature and many other subjects.  To learn about the archival materials at the West Virginia & Regional History Center, visit the Center’s website, particularly the Guide to Archives and Manuscripts as well as the Collections page

Rows of shelving filled with document cases
Archival boxes on storage shelves on the tenth floor of the Wise Library, the original location of the West Virginia Collection (now the WVRHC) in 1961. Image from the Center’s online photographs database, West Virginia History OnView.  

Archivists have an important role. An archivist summarized it as, “Archivists bring the past to the present. They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory. They organize unique, historical materials, making them available for current and future research.” Indeed, archivists acquire materials, organize them, make sure they are preserved for the future, and provide access to them.  Archivists also teach classes, curate exhibitions, and create digital collections. The staff at the West Virginia & Regional History Center do all these things and more. They are excellent stewards of the archival materials in their care.  As Assistant Director, I wish to thank them for all their hard work.  To the staff of the Center, your efforts are very much appreciated! 

Man studying document on table
Image of a researcher using archival collections in the Manuscripts Reading Room at the WVRHC in October 2019. Photograph by the author. 

Beyond the West Virginia & Regional History Center, many other archives exist across the state.  The West Virginia State Archives in Charleston, Special Collections at Marshall University in Huntington, the Richard J. Trefry Archives at the American Public University in Charles Town, and the Archives and Special Collections at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling are just a few.  Many of the schools in the West Virginia state college and university system have archival collections in their libraries.  Public libraries, museums, and historical societies also hold archival collections.  There is a good chance there is an archive near you. I hope you will support them by researching, donating, and advocating.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all institutions, many are still offering services.  The WVRHC is currently open by appointment to open faculty, staff, and students at WVU.  We continue to provide limited research and reference services remotely.   

A unique opportunity to interact with Center staff, #AskAnArchivist Day, takes places tomorrow, October 7, 2020.  Archivists from the Center will take over the WVU Libraries Twitter feed and answer any question you might have about archives. We hope you will participate! 

People dancing, with text "Ain't no party like and archivist party #AskAnArchivist Day, October 7th, 10am-3pm"

Make an Archivist and Your Family Happy: Label Your Photographs

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 28th, 2020

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

Recently, my cousin gave me a shoebox of family photos that belonged to his mother, my dad’s sister. I am curious about all my ancestors, but I don’t know as much about my father’s side of the family. So, these pictures are especially treasured.  The box contains images dating from ca. 1910-1994. I am grateful and very happy to have them.  There is just one problem – very few of the images are labeled.  While I recognize some people and places quickly, more than half of the images are unknown to me.  I am lucky that there are context clues and a couple family members that might help me, but there are some photos that I may never identify.  It is a simple endeavor that we often put off: labeling our photographs.  This post will give some quick tips for adding descriptive information to print photographs and digital images.  

A young man stands in a field with stacked pumpkins and shocks of corn
This is one of my newly acquired images. A young man stands in a field with stacked pumpkins and shocks of corn. This photograph was printed as a postcard. It was possibly taken at the Mayfield Farm in Wetzel County, West Virginia, ca. 1910. There is no descriptive information on the postcard, it was never mailed.  I can make the possible identification because of the existence of a similar photograph postcard of the Mayfield family making molasses. That image is available in West Virginia History OnView.

Labeling photographs will help your family members who inherit your pictures. It will also greatly assist archivists who might work with your family photos if they are donated to the archives.   

If you can record information about photographs separately and not write on the backs of the photographs, that is ideal.  But you must be able to keep the information connected to the image. If you are placing photographs in paper or plastic sleeve you can write descriptive information on the sleeve with a pencil or special pen as needed. Sleeves should be archival quality and care should be taken when placing or removing photographs from the sleeves.  The same goes for archival quality photograph albums. 

If you choose to write on photographs, you should always write on the back side. If the photograph back has a matte surface, you can use a pencil to very lightly write a date, location, and any other identifying information on the back of the photo.  Pencil lead will not bleed through the backing material.  Writing lightly is important.  Pressing too hard will imprint the text through to the front of the photo. 

If you have a photograph with a glossy backing, the Library of Congress recommends using a film marking pen to write on the back of the photographs. The pen must have acid free ink that dries quickly and doesn’t bleed into the photograph material. Be careful not to stack photos while the ink is still drying to prevent unwanted transfer onto other photographs.  

Instead of writing out a full description, photos can be numbered on the back with pencil or a special pen. Details about the image can be recorded on a sheet of paper or in a digital file with information corresponding to the numbers. Again, that paper or digital file must always be available to the owners of the photographs for this method to work. 

Smiling baby seated on a pony
This card mounted photograph also came in the box of family photographs.  It features a smiling baby who is sitting side saddle on a dark colored pony.  Based on the style of the card, it is likely from the era of 1890-1910.  Because my aunt kept it, I assume it is an ancestor but I don’t know for sure. I really wish this one was labeled!   

Most of our modern photographs are digital, so there are different challenges for “labeling” the images. Developing a naming system for digital images can help you to retain a minimal amount of descriptive information about the files.  You can include dates, location, and other details in the filename, but you don’t want your filenames to be too long. If you name them with a consistent pattern such as YYYY-MM-DD_Location_Name, they will be easier to search and keep organized.  You can also create a folder structure with some subject information in the folder names.  

For large collections of digital images, you might consider a photograph management program such as Adobe Lightroom or Picasa.  These programs will allow you add tags and descriptive information about your photograph files.  If you don’t want to use a program, this blog post gives an overview of adding information to digital photographs without using special software. 

I hope this post will inspire you to organize and label your photographs collection.  It will make your family and archivists happy in the future.  

Resources: 

Library Congress Photographs Preservation FAQ 

4 Easy Ways to Label Photographs Blog Post 

How to Add Photo Metadata without Special Software Blog Post 

Northeast Document Conservation Center Care of Photographs Preservation Leaflet 

From the Rare Book Room: Familiar Lectures on Botany, by Mrs. Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 21st, 2020

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

A woman of many talents, Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, (July 15, 1793 – July 15, 1884) was passionately engaged in the education of young women at a time when the ideal was marriage and children.  Over the years she wrote many textbooks, but this volume, Familiar Lectures on Botany, from the West Virginia and Regional History Center rare book room, is perhaps her most popular and enduring. 

Portrait of Almira Lincoln Phelps

Familiar Lectures on Botany was her first textbook.  Designed to teach young women natural history and the science of botany, the book went through nearly 40 editions with revisions made by her daughters.

The Rare Book Room copy is the fifth edition, revised and enlarged, and it goes by the formidable title, Familiar Lectures on Botany; Practical, Elementary and Physiological, with an Appendix, containing the descriptions of the Plants of the United States and Exotics, etc. For the Use of Seminaries and Private Students. It was published in Hartford by F.J. Huntington, 1836. 

While many believe that the first edition of a text is the most important as well as the most valuable, that is not necessarily the case. The fifth edition, revised and enlarged with “many additional engravings.”  would be of greater interest due to the extra illustrations and their accompanying text. 

"Familiar Lectures on Botany" title page

Born in Connecticut, Almira Hart came from a large family, the youngest of 17 children.  Her parents strongly believed in education for young women.  One of her older sisters, Emma Willard, pictured below, was a well-known educator, who taught herself geometry as a young girl.  The Emma Willard School she founded in Troy, New York is still educating young women today.  It was Emma who would teach the intellectually inquisitive and capable Almira. 

Portrait of Emma Willard

At that time, there were few schools dedicated to educating young women.  In addition, academic institutions taught boys and girls separately at schools that were privately owned, not state supported.  These schools were frequently operated under personal ownership, mostly by the educators themselves, such as Emma Willard’s School for Young Women.    

Illustration for the description of the calyx, showing interior and exterior view of flower
Illustration for the description of the calyx. 

Another New Englander, the poet Emily Dickinson, was a student of botany at the Amherst Academy in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts.  She would often roam the woods, gathering plants, bringing them home to press, then pasting them onto pages, creating a personal herbarium that documented the world around her. 

Dickinson’s botany textbook was Phelps’s Familiar Lectures on Botany. As her poetry was often filled with flowers, it is no surprise that her own copy of Phelps’s textbook holds a pressed flower between its pages, placed there by Dickinson herself.

Book pages with a pressed flower on one page
Emily Dickinson’s own copy of Mrs. Phelps’s Familiar Lectures on Botany, published in 1838, with a flowering plant she pressed between its pages, still retaining some faint vestiges of color. 

The original owner of the rare book room’s copy of Familiar Lectures on Botany, was Ellen Beirne, of Belmont.  Though we don’t know which state she lived in, there are three towns named Belmont in New England, we do know that she was probably the first person to own this book.  Published in 1836, the date she wrote beneath her signature, December 11, 1837, hints that she acquired it shortly after publication. 

Page with a WVU Library stamp, signature, and date

In this year, 2020, as we mark the centenary anniversary of women’s right to vote and celebrate the suffragists that made it possible, it is interesting to note that Phelps, as a passionate advocate for the education of women, was fervently against women’s suffrage.  Though she believed that women should be educated in the event that they would have to work outside the home, she spoke out against suffrage and wrote articles against it. 

The next time you take a walk and find your eye attracted to a beautiful wildflower along the way, think of Mrs. Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps and her Familiar Lectures on Botany, a book that educated an aspiring poet as well as many other young women who may not have had the opportunity to learn botany without her. 

Resources:

Metal, Moisture, and Memories: How Paper Clips Can Ruin Family Papers

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 14th, 2020

Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita

Family papers are those things that we have saved because they mean something to us – they are our paper treasures – and they tell us something about ourselves, our families and our friends: how we’ve lived our lives and what we value most.

Society of California Archivists

Many of us are using this unusual amount of time at home during the COVID-19 epidemic to sort through our treasures.  This is especially true for folks like me who have a 40-50 year accumulation of stuff.  During my raid on the basement, I found boxes of photographs and family documents which I took responsibility for after my mother’s death in 1998.  This was a role expected of me since I am the librarian in the family and I am a part time employee of the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  I get to decide what to keep or what to get rid of and how to preserve records that are important to us. 

West Virginia elementary school diploma
My mother’s elementary school diploma, 1931

My job in the Center is to process papers and records of families and organizations. Every single collection I process in the Center provides me with more knowledge about how to preserve materials and how to make the information in them accessible for researchers.  Records come in a wide variety of formats and media but they are mostly paper based.  One of the collections I processed last year had obviously been stored in a non-climate-controlled area.  One sign of that was that the papers contained a large number of rusty paper clips, staples, and metal binders. 

rusty paperclip and the rust marks that it left on a piece of paper
rust marks on paper, left by a rusty staple
rusty metal binder and marks on paper
Some examples of rusted metal from a paper clips, staples, and binders

This blog post will not be dealing broadly with preservation of materials in archival collections or family documents, but will look only at metal fasteners such as staples, paper clips, and binders, with some rubber bands thrown into the metal mix.

Hand full of rusted paperclips
One workday’s worth of removed paper clips

Since the worst enemies of paper are heat, moisture, and light, metal paper clips frequently degrade on archival records and they should be removed if possible when you find them in old records, ideally before they completely adhere to the papers.  Instead, it is best to use plastic or plastic-coated clips.  Major retailers sell these as well as office supply stores.  Some archives prefer to use stainless steel paper clips, which are supposed to be rust-proof.

Plastiklips and plastic coated paperclips on top of a "Dear Taxpayer" letter
Papers from the Assessor that I want to keep

To remove rusty paper clips which are adhering to the paper, I stabilize the paper on a flat surface by holding the corner down as I insert a knife or letter opener under the open end of the paper clip keeping it parallel to the surface.  I open the paper clip while sliding the knife under the open end while continuing to stabilize the paper on a surface.  When the clip is fully open, I can remove the paper clip without damaging the paper.  Sometimes the paper is so brittle that it will crumble no matter how careful you are with getting the clip from around it.  It’s a very meticulous process requiring patience.

Rusted paperclips, all partly open
Use a knife or letter opener to open clips to remove them from fragile paper

I will mention one last commonly used fastener which will cause damage to our family papers.  Rubber bands are susceptible to the same enemies as metal fasteners: moisture, heat, and light.  Rubber bands will melt, crack, and degrade leaving their mark over time. 

According to a flyer from the National Park Service, you can use a microspatula to remove both paper clips and residue from rubber bands.  The microspatula is available online at major retailers and scientific instrument stores.  I haven’t used it, but this source has some excellent suggestions on removing fasteners.  

If you aren’t able to check your family papers for problematic fasteners now, you can buy time by storing the papers in an environment that is climate controlled, not exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity fluctuations.  That should help the fasteners degrade less rapidly.

I hope my experiences working with the documents in the West Virginia and Regional History Center will help you preserve some of your meaningful family treasures.

Additional Resources:

Society of California Archivists, “Family Papers: Preservation and Organization.”  Accessed at on July 28, 2020: https://calarchivists.org/Resources/Documents/Brochure_Series/Papers_in-English.pdf

U.S. Library of Congress. “Care, Handling, and Storage of Works on Paper.” Accessed on July 28, 2020 at: https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/paper.html

U.S. National Parks Service. “Removing Original Fasteners from Archival Documents” Conserve O Gram, July 1993, 19(5). Accessed September 1, 2020 at: https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/19-05.pdf

A Librarian’s Summer Reading List

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 24th, 2020

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

It may surprise you to learn that I read a lot of books about books over the summer.  I didn’t intend to.  It just happened that way.

As Mark Twain said, and I paraphrase, “a good book worth reading is a book worth reading again.”  I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.  I read three of the four books on my summer reading list for a second time and I am none the worst for it.  In fact, I enjoyed reading these books again.  Most of them I read when they were first published.  One of the books I read was new to me, but had been available for a couple of years.  I’ll save that one for last.    

Given the current climate, with the many troubling realities of the ever changing news about the virus, the new sensations of working from home, the constant barrage of daily updates, and all the other things that trouble our world, I felt the need for something comforting, something I had read before and enjoyed, something that would remind me of a pleasant journey strolling through pages I had already traveled, and so, I embarked on a re-reading adventure. 

Paperback The Bookshop : A Novel Book

The first book I re-read this summer was Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop.  Fitzgerald is a British author, and her works are considered national treasures in her homeland.  Fitzgerald has written a number of novels, all appealingly brief.  The Bookshop is only 122 pages in length, and that was a point in its favor for this second go round.  The novel was first published in Britain way back in 1978, but it did not make an appearance in America until 1997, when I first read it.  Back then, I was working in a book shop downtown so I was very interested in it. 

The book may be short, but Fitzgerald packs a lot in it.  The story takes place in the 1950s, when the effects of World War II are still heavily felt in England, and there is little “extra” in everyday life.  It centers around a young widow who moves to a new town with plans to start a bookshop.  It seems a simple enough dream, and one that should bring something new and welcome to the townspeople but there are others who find her plans disruptive.  The main antagonist is an aristocratic matron.  She is so disturbed by the widow’s plans that she orchestrates other townspeople in various roles within the community to thwart the widow’s every move. 

I won’t say more about the novel, but I will say that I have only read one other work of fiction that captures this level of cruelty, through societal means and methods, against another human being.  That book is Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, a shockingly cruel novel.

In 2018, The Bookshop was made into a film starring Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and one of my favorite British actors, Bill Nighy.  In one of those rare instances, I found the film to be better than the book.  Extraneous details were removed that were unnecessary in the novel, and new life was brought to the characters in such a way that added poignancy and drama.  Both are highly recommended.

Book cover of Easter Island

Next on my list of “read it again” titles was Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes, a book I first read back in 2003. I love to read first novels and this was a first that really appealed to me.  I’ve always found the conundrum of Easter Island to be interesting.  Who was responsible for the creation of the Moai – those massive stone heads spread across the island?  How did the islanders carry off such a feat with simple tools?  How were the Moai moved into place?   There were other questions too.  Why are there no trees on the island?  Why is there little vegetation at all?  How hard would it be to live there?  I wanted to know and I hoped this book would tell me and entertain me at the same time.  Reader, I am here to tell you it did!

The story interweaves two threads.  Two stories of newlyweds, separated by nearly a century, experience the same trials.  Both couples are scholars, both follow their research interests and Easter Island is at first, a haven.  Neither relationship survives intact, but the events that transpire to tear them apart are full of pathos.  Among the most compelling elements of the story to me was the discovery of the rongorongo, a type of hieroglyphic writing carved into wood fragments.  This form of writing is completely original and it was discovered on Easter Island in the 19th century.  The surviving glyphs are studied to this day.  Although many scholars have attempted to decipher them, no one has.  The rongorongo remains a mystery.

I found Vanderbes book to be exceptionally well researched and equally well written.  It did indeed answer my questions and provide an excellent read, even for the second time.  After all, 2003 was a long time ago!  If you have an interest in archaeology and enjoy historical fiction, I recommend it. 

Book cover of People of the Book

I suppose no one will be surprised that Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book, was on my re-reading list.  This is one of those books that many people have recommended to me and I’m glad they did.  First published in 2008, People of the Book was definitely worth a second read.  When the story opens, Hanna, a book conservator, has been brought to Sarajevo to examine an ancient haggedah, a Jewish text that describes the order of the Passover Seder, only this copy comes with mysterious illustrations.   

As Hanna works through the text, she discovers bits of material that represent the life of the book, the many people and places that, when researched, will reveal its travels. A fragment of a butterfly wing found only in a specific geographic location, a cat’s hair that leads to the discovery of the artist’s technique, and wine stains that point to an historic moment in time, all of these things slowly reveal the book’s journey, chapter after chapter. 

As a librarian, I have even used this book in a material culture class, where discussions center around the elements and materials that make up the book and how they point to the book’s origins, its moment in time.  The names of previous owners, a flower pressed between pages, doodles and drawings, labels and bookplates, all of these things, when examined, can illuminate the life of the book to the student and the scholar. 

The Library Book Book Cover

Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, is the one book that I read for the very first time.  You might be surprised that, since it was published in 2018, I might have had the opportunity to read it before this date, but no, I had not.  There I was, browsing the shelves in our local Barnes and Noble and the hard red cover of The Library Book jumped right out at me on the shelf.  Oh yeah, I thought, I’ve been meaning to read this.  So I bought it.

To be honest, I don’t like the hard, thick, red boards that make up the covers.  I don’t like the printed endpapers.  And usually, if I see a sticker on the book that says this is recommended by so and so’s book club, I tend to shy away from it.  I prefer to make my own reading choices and not follow the crowd.  But this was a book about library books, after all, and as a librarian I felt compelled, nay, it was my duty, to read it.  I walked right up to the counter and purchased it, along with some frivolous but highly enjoyable magazines. 

Despite all of these initial turn offs, I was engaged with this book from the get go.  Frankly, I couldn’t put it down.  Orlean is a fantastic writer.  I have read other books by her and enjoyed them, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I would find this book so compelling.  I love a good mystery and the fire that destroys the Los Angeles public library is both tragic and fascinating. The efforts to find the arsonist, if there was one, do not come to a happy conclusion.  The biographical descriptions of the librarians, from the 19th century to the present day were nothing short of revelatory.  Each generation of librarians initiated programs and events that helped to revolutionize librarianship throughout the nation.  I loved reading these stories and felt inspired by them.

Finally, I found a twist I wasn’t expecting within these pages.  Orlean discussed book burnings of other kinds and the one that really grabbed me was the burning of comic books in the small town of Spencer, West Virginia, instigated by a school teacher, Mabel Riddle, in the 1940s.  Not only was I surprised to see a West Virginia story in the book but I was doubly surprised to read about a book burning in the state that I had never heard of!  Just saying – future blog post alert!

So, there you have it.  The books I read and re-read this summer.  I recommend all of them.  If they read as well the second time around, think how much you might enjoy them the first time.  And the best news of all, they can be found at your local library.

Sources: 

Mock Apple Pie

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 18th, 2020

Initial research and writing by Jessica Eichlin, Reference Supervisor, WVRHC; additional writing and pie making by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Today I’d like to look at mock foods.  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America defines “mock foods” in a number of different ways[1].  A mock food can be a dish made with the substitution of a primary ingredient, a food that tastes like another, a dish that looks like another, an economical alternative, a dish with less of a key ingredient, or a dish made with vegetarian alternatives.  Mock foods can trace their roots back to the medieval period, where expert chefs would manipulate the appearance of a dish to impress or entertain eaters.  In one way or another, mock foods have persisted since the medieval period.

Curious about the presence of mock dishes in West Virginia, we turned to the collections at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  Seven cookbooks sampled by Jessica yielded a dozen different recipes for mock cherry pie, mock apple pie, mock duck, mock oysters, and mock turtle soup.  The presence of mock dishes in these cookbooks indicates their popularity in the region, as most of the cookbooks she sampled were those with recipes submitted by community members.  Mock dishes likely appealed to cooks in West Virginia in the early 1900s who were tasked with creating familiar dishes using the resources at hand.  Resourceful cooks turned to mock dishes because the usual ingredients were either too hard to obtain or expensive.  With West Virginia’s rugged terrain, isolation often forced cooks to creatively bake with what they could get and what they could afford, not just during times of particular hardship such as war or economic downtimes. Mock foods seem like a great COVID-19 pandemic blog suject because they have a bit of a “what can I make with pantry staples without having to mask up and go to the store” vibe.

The mock food item I want to focus on today is mock apple pie.  Mock apple pie has a long history. Thanks to the Food Timeline website’s entry on mock apple pie, I found a recipe for “cracker pie” from the February 14, 1857 issue of the Saturday Evening Post: “CRACKER PIE—As apples are very scarce in many sections of the country, I think the housewife will find the following recipe for making an apple pie out of crackers, very acceptable. For a common sized baking plate, take four of the square or six of the round crackers, a teacupfull of sugar, and a teaspoonfull of tartaric acid; break the crackers into a pint of water, add the sugar and acid and finish as an apple pie.”[2]

Potentially the most well known version of mock apple pie was introduced to Americans by Nabisco in the 1930s, as a way to use their Ritz crackers when apples were perhaps out of season or too expensive. The “Mock Foods” entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America confirms that the Ritz recipe “evolved from mid-nineteenth-century imitation apple pies and mock mince pies, which were made with soda crackers [a.k.a. saltines], sugar, and spices. Crackers have a history of approximating apple pie in both texture and taste.”

That last sentence is where things get contentious.  When I explained to my husband that I would be making this pie and asking him to taste test it, he expressed skepticism at the idea that mock apple pie could taste similar to apple pie, or even be something worth eating.  When I suggested that apple pie doesn’t really taste like apples, and that crackers and spices could come close to the same taste, he expressed mock dismay that I didn’t remember how the apple pies that he makes actually taste like apples.

A Book of Favorite Recipes Compiled by Bruceton Mills Community, 1965, includes two recipes for mock apple pie, both made with Ritz crackers, on pages 44-45. Since the second recipe includes attribution, cinnamon, and a baking time, I decided to try that one. I’ve copied both below in case someone wants to give the first one a try.

pages from cookbook showing apple related recipes

Mock Apple Pie (no attribution)

Filling

2 c. water

1 c. sugar

1 lump butter

2 tsp. cream of tartar

23 Ritz crackers, broken in quarters. Put in a two quart saucepan

Boil together for 2 minutes. Pour this over Ritz crackers and boil 1 minute but do not stir. Put in double crust pie.

Mock Apple Pie, Mrs. Betty Casteel

3 c. sugar

4 c. water

4 tsp. cream of tartar

40 Ritz crackers

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon (or more)

Combine sugar, water, and cream of tartar and boil 5 minutes. Add to sugar mixture Ritz crackers, crumbled and cinnamon. Cook 2 minutes longer. Bake in a two crust pie at 425 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or cream and sugar if desired.  Filling for 2 pies. [emphasis added]

Mock apple pie filling in unbaked pie shell
The mock apple pie filling looks almost like real apple pie filling if you don’t crumble the crackers too finely, or look too closely.

For anyone else who uses this recipe, I recommend seriously considering your pie plate size versus your filling amount. I used a 9 inch pie plate that was about 2 inches deep, and I made half the recipe, which should have been enough for one pie. The pie filling didn’t fill up the pie as much as I would have liked, leading me to wonder if pie plates were smaller in 1965.

Unbaked two-crust pie
I went ahead and baked my under-filled pie.
Two-crust pie in ceramic pie plate
The edges got very brown after 27 minutes in the oven–I should have covered them with tin foil after the first 20 minutes to protect them.
Slice of pie
If I told you it was apple pie, you would believe me, right?
Pie crust with filing attached
I took this close-up to show off the texture of the filling, which didn’t betray its Ritz-y origins.

The three people who tasted the pie for me all agreed it turned out better than expected.  The general feeling was that if someone gave you a slice after dinner and you ate it quickly, you wouldn’t question that it was apple pie. The biggest critique is the lack of chunks that would add to the real-apple feeling. I wonder if bakers could overcome this lack of chunks by using a more substantial cracker, or not crumbling the crackers before baking. Overall, I decided this mock apple pie was a satisfying substitution.

If anyone is interested in exploring mock foods at home, there are a few recipes to get you started in one of our digitized texts, Souvenir cook book compiled from the best recipes of members of the Woman’s Club of Harper’s Ferry District, 1915, 1920, which is part of the History Center’s Printed Ephemera Collection. These include mock duck, mock oysters, and mock cherry pie. If you make a mock dish, or if you have any great mock food recommendations, let us know!


[1] Olver, Lynne M. “Mock Foods.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195154375.001.0001/acref-9780195154375-e-0531

[2] “Useful Receipts.” Saturday Evening Post (1839-1885) Feb 14 1857: 4. ProQuest. Web. 18 Aug. 2020.

The Voting Rights Act Turns 55

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 6th, 2020

By Danielle Emerling, WVRHC

Fifty-five years ago today, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, meant to remove racial discrimination in voting. The Act was a landmark for the civil rights movement. However, its passage was met with debate, and its legacy continues to be challenged. The Act’s path through Congress is the topic of an online exhibition from the WVRHC archives, For the Dignity of Man and the Destiny of Democracy: The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act is rooted in the Fifteenth Constitutional Amendment. Enacted in 1870, it established that the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race. Yet African Americans, particularly those residing in southern states, continued to face significant obstacles to voting. These included bureaucratic restrictions, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, as well as intimidation and physical violence.

Political cartoon from "The Advocate" newspaper, depicting an African American man being whipped, with text such as "Jim Crow Laws", "Disenfranchisement", etc.
The Advocate. (Charleston, W. Va.), October 13, 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. West Virginia & Regional History Center, Library of Congress

Little was done at the federal level to enforce Reconstruction Era laws, including the Fifteenth Amendment, until the mid-twentieth century. Even after the passage of civil rights bills, however, discriminatory practices depressed voter registration rates for African Americans living in the South. When civil rights activists, including recently deceased Congressman John Lewis, organized a voting rights campaign in Alabama in 1965, it culminated in violence on March 7 when Alabama state police brutally attacked peaceful marchers in Selma. The event galvanized an outpouring of support for a bill protecting the right to vote for all Americans. 

The President addressed a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965, calling on them to pass a voting rights bill. He opened his speech explaining that he spoke “for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.”

A letter to U.S. Representative Arch Moore in support of the Civil Rights Act
Letter from Wheeling, W.Va., constituent in support of a voting rights bill, Governor Arch A. Moore Jr. papers, West Virginia & Regional History Center

The Administration sent a proposed bill to Congress two days later, and though it had strong bipartisan support, Congress spent several months debating various aspects of the legislation. Traditionally, most powers to register voters and protect the right to vote have fallen to state and local governments. Congress needed to decide whether the Federal Government should shift this balance of power. Members spent several months debating various aspects of the legislation, including poll taxes and automatic triggers. Though they were banned in federal elections, many states levied poll taxes as a prerequisite to voter registration.  Another aspect of the bill automatically “triggered” certain actions, such as outlawing literacy tests and requiring states or counties where discriminatory practices were in place to seek federal “preclearance” before establishing new voting laws.

In the Senate, a 24-day filibuster of the bill ensued. Southern senators believed the bill was unconstitutional and punitive to the South. Democrats and Republicans signed a petition for a cloture motion, and four days later, the Senate approved debate-limiting cloture, ending the filibuster. This was only the second time in its history, and the second time in two years, that the Senate had stopped debate in order to vote on a civil rights bill.

In the House, Republicans proposed a substitute bill, known as the Ford-McCulloch bill, which removed the automatic triggers. Civil rights leaders expressed strong opposition to the Ford-McCulloch bill. On July 9, 1965, the House rejected the substitute bill and passed one with automatic triggers and a ban on poll taxes in state and local elections.

Western Union telegram from Martin Luther King Jr. to U.S. Representative Arch Moore, urging the defeat of the McCulloch Amendment
Telegram from Martin Luther King Jr., Governor Arch A. Moore Jr. papers, West Virginia & Regional History Center

After a conference committee resolved the differences, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, finally fulfilling the promise of the Fifteenth Amendment.  It was tremendously successful. The disparity between white and black voting registration rates dropped from nearly 30 percentage points in the early 1960s to just 8 percentage points a decade later.

Congress has reauthorized the Act multiple times, most recently in 2006.  In 2013, however, the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court invalidated the “coverage formula,” which determined the states and localities required to seek preclearance for changes in voting rules that could affect minorities. Following the ruling, several states began implementing photo ID laws.

For the Dignity of Man and the Destiny of Democracy: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a digital version of an exhibit that was on display in the WVU Downtown Campus Library’s Rockefeller Gallery. Materials in the exhibit come from the Arch A. Moore Jr. congressional papers, WVRHC; the WVRHC newspaper collection; and the Center for Legislative Archives, NARA, featured in the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress’ The Great Society Congress exhibit.

Learning to Read a Book: An Account of a Rare Book Room Assistantship

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 3rd, 2020

Blog post by Jessica Kambara, LTAII/Rare Book Room assistant, WVRHC.

Woman between rows of bookshelves, standing on stool

During my sophomore year of college, I attended a class led by the curator of WVU’s rare book room, Stewart Plein, on Shakespeare’s Folios. Upon entering the rare book room, I thought I’d like to work there. The Rare Book room had a clean yet cozy atmosphere, and exuded an aura of history and prestige. Halfway through the class, after getting to leaf through the large folio pages of a book hundreds of years old, I was sure I wanted to work there. By the end, I had gotten a job. All it took was asking if there were any work opportunities available, and Stewart set me up with a capstone project and took me under her wing as her assistant.

The first position I ever took in the Rare Book room was effectively that of an intern; however, I was working for course credit and so had to treat it like a capstone project. My objectives were to educate myself on Rare Book room handling and terminology; to compile a portfolio of my inventory work; to create a display; and to present what I had learned. The work itself was quite straightforward. I had to sort through boxes of donated books, create an inventory, and do additional research to determine the historical and monetary value of the book. Stewart was there to guide me through the process, and often steered me if I was stumped. My most important task was to determine the value of a book—essentially data analysis.

Book value is determined by a number of factors: condition, rarity, edition, age, author, decoration, monetary value, historical significance, and educational potential. Often value was obvious—a rare, highly decorative book by a significant author in good condition was very valuable. However, there were gems within the seemingly insignificant. I took an interest in books produced during war, particularly World War II. I looked for patterns and shifts in patterns. For example, cheaply produced children’s book series are a dime a dozen—sometimes literally—but if you look at the quality and narrative structures you will find cultural shifts. Take the Buddy Series, a string of children’s books that ran for 16 years. For the most part, the majority of the series has little value; however, there is much to be learned from the editions published around World War II. Paper quality dips significantly during the war, an effect of wartime rationing; furthermore, the typical narratives of light-hearted adventures designed to teach good morals shift to tales of can collecting for the war effort and reporting your suspicious neighbor in Buddy and the Victory Club. This gives a better understanding of American wartime mentality, and how it manifested in children’s media. After all, the children taught to report their neighbors by the book, Buddy and the Victory Club, in 1943, were the same ones who grew up to partake in the paranoia of the Cold War and the second Red Scare.

Cover of book "Buddy and the Victory Club"
Garis, Howard R. Buddy and the Victory Club or a Boy and a Salvage Campaign. Cupples & Leon Company: New York. 1943.
Image source: West Virginia and Regional History Center

A book’s value can be found not only in its content and material, but also in how it recontextualizes historical periods. You can deduce a lot from what was the cultural norm by examining popular books. It is important to factor in that authors popular during their time might not have survived the modern day. Take Gene Stratton Porter—an author who still has her following, but is not nearly as recognizable as American authors like Jack London or F. Scott Fitzgerald despite being their peer. There is much to praise Gene Stratton-Porter for; she was a conservation activist, a successful American businesswoman, and a bestselling author. At the same time, there is also much to be learned from the startlingly normalized racism against people of Japanese origins in her book Her Father’s Daughter published in 1921. The casualness of how Stratton-Porter’s characters, who are meant to be likable and relatable, discriminate against Japanese people is completely normal. To many, the Japanese Concentration camps of 1942-1946, seem like an unbelievable failure of American morality. However, when contextualized with the reading material that the previous generation grew up with, the camps seem more like an inevitable product of long-standing xenophobia (in addition to being an unbelievable failure of American morality).

Cover of book "Her Father's Daughter"
Stratton-Porter, Gene. Her Father’s Daughter. New York: Grosset and Dunlap. 1921.
Image Source: West Virginia and Regional History Center

Often, historical importance can be found not just in narrative content or material—sometimes it can be in the publishers’ catalogue, which are often found at the end of the story at the back of the book. An otherwise insignificant book can tell you a lot if it also includes the publishers’ catalogue of available books. Compile enough book catalogues, and you can track shifts in advertisements that reflect cultural changes. For example, prior to World War I and II, book catalogues advertised children books as a gender-neutral category—both boys and girls could enjoy books such as The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.  However, as war took over media, book advertisements split into boy books and girl books. Book about war were in high demand, but seen as too violent for girls, and so they were specifically advertised to boys. True to Newton’s third law, girl books went in an opposite direction and focused on things like light-hearted countryside adventures.

By the end of my semester capstone, I had compiled a detailed twenty-page portfolio of my key finds. After learning to read books in a new way and finalizing my portfolio, I then had to transform that information into a real-world tool for education. This is commonly done via displays. As part of my capstone, I set up a library exhibit on war influenced books which was displayed in the WVU library. For my final capstone requirement, I gave a public presentation on what I had learned and the significance of my project and wrote a paper on my overall work.

After I had completed my course credit, I continued to work for Stewart into my junior year as a work-study student. My tasks shifted from an educational approach to a work approach, and in a way was much more simplified while also more complicated. I was no longer expected to produce a gradable project, but I also had to do more diverse work.

My first assignment taught me the importance of organization and job creation—as poor organization had created a summer job for me. A series of unfortunate developments had left important microfilms mixed in a sea of hundreds of other microfilms (please note, this organizational job was not done by WVU staff, but by an outside source). This was the first and last time I worked with the WVU depository—or the depo. The depo is a storage site. It has a small office, and a large warehouse with a towering celling filled with high shelves full of boxes; the highest of which required an aerial platform to reach. It was similar to what you might expect in a factory warehouse, only with better temperature and humidity control. With the aid of depository staff to assist me with heavy lifting, I sorted through dozens and dozens of heavy boxes of newspaper film. Although tedious, there are lessons in blunders and this work certainty taught me the importance of organization, being conscientious of how your work can impact others, and instilled a greater appreciation for the behind the scenes work of acquiring research material.

Exterior view of brick building with the sign "Libraries' Depository"

After that assignment, my work took a return to form as I came back to the Rare Book room to compile inventories of collections—including my largest inventory of 311 Lewis and Clark related items. I also took on the occasional bit of side work, like boxing books or applying clear Brodart book cover sleeves, used to preserve dust jackets, or scanning book covers.

My next big project would be creating a Shakespeare Inventory of Rare Book room books and cross-referencing my inventory against the WVU library database to oversee updates and check for errors. Over the years, WVU’s Rare Book room has compiled one of the most impressive collections of Shakespeare’s work and related content, including an incredibly rare set of Shakespeare’s folios. The time had come when Stewart needed this impressive collection to be inventoried and I set about it. 

Each item added to the Rare Book room was naturally recorded in the WVU Library catalog database; however, shifting books and understandable cataloging mistakes can cause discrepancies. And so, to make sure our database was accurate and up to date, I began to cross-reference all the physical copies of the Shakespeare books in the Rare Book room against all the Shakespeare books in the database. At times, locating books was like being on an Easter egg hunt as things like size and value could result in atypical shelving.  When I was near the end of my inventorying, I experienced a valuable but painful lesson in backing up information. A mishap resulted in my inventory being deleted and I had to restart. In the end, I created a thirty-page inventory with 183 items.

For a nice change of pace, I also got to work with art and ventured into the libraries central storage area to make an inventory of a collection of donated artworks.

Woman standing at vertical shelves containing artwork

In the midst of working on another large inventory, I had to stop due to the minor issue of graduation, no longer qualifying as a work-study student. That is where I thought my work with WVU and Stewart would end, when I was again called upon to tackle another collection. This time I was hired as a temporary librarian assistant and tasked with organizing a vulnerable collection.

Many issues can be the unfortunate bane of a bookkeeper’s existence. Books are more sensitive than people think, and if humidity and temperature cannot be properly regulated, books may suffer, making them vulnerable to a variety of issues that can cause deterioration such as increased brittleness, mold, and insects, that can invade and spread rapidly between tightly wedged books. Certain precautions, such as masks and gloves, are a must as exposure can lead you to developing a lower tolerance to these issues in addition to other ailments.

In this case, a recently donated collection had problems. Some books were still good, and some were not. Book material is a big factor. I was working with older cloth bound books and leather—paperbacks and a lot of newer books were unaffected. I quickly went about organizing the collection, relocating fragile books to separate shelves and sorting them according to their level of vulnerability. 

Unfortunately, another type of bio-hazardous spread impacted my work halfway through sorting. Covid-19 resulted in WVU closing the libraries, and with that I began a life of remote work.

Remote work was a strange change of pace from my hands-on work. I could not inventory what I could not see, and so I took the opportunity to educate myself on book history, book care, and other topics that had long interested me. I edited audio files, wrote blog posts, and did beta work for Stewart. Now, at the close of my temp assignment, I’m completing my final task—writing a reflection.

I’m very grateful to all the WVU library staff who aided me in my work, and especially grateful to Stewart Plein for providing me with the opportunity to return again and again.

Dr. Emory Kemp: The Book Collector

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
July 27th, 2020

Blog post by Dr. Connie S. Evans, Ph.D., M.L.I.S., WVRHC AmeriCorps worker

As many people are aware, Dr. Emory Kemp was an esteemed expert in the fields of civil engineering, industrial archaeology, and the history of technology, so it will come as no surprise that he was also an avid collector of books on a wide variety of topics.  In his oral interviews with Dr. Barb Howe, he discussed at length how he developed his collection from a very young age, and how the volumes he accrued help shape his future interests and endeavors. 

Born in 1931, Dr. Kemp made the decision to be baptized into the Methodist faith at the age of ten and noted that this event sparked his curiosity to study “many things.”  As well, “the clouds of war were gathering…in Europe” in 1941, and Dr. Kemp became intrigued by the British Royal Navy and its ships, and, consequently, the general history of Britain. This interest led him to purchase his first book (which he retained throughout his life): H.M.S. His Majestie’s Ships and Their Forebears by Cecil King, which he ordered from the British Information Services in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

Cover of the book "HMS: His Majesty's Ships and their Forbears"
(photo in public domain)

Dr. Kemp had already been following the fortunes of the war in Europe since 1939, and developed an interest in how the hostilities had evolved from the time of the German Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler. He was also intrigued by the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to head off the conflict at the Munich Conference with his famous “Peace in Our Time” speech.  From this interest sprang a desire to become more familiar with British history in general, and Dr. Kemp began collecting books in this genre as he was able to do so.   

A precocious learner who had skipped a grade in primary school, Dr. Kemp entered a five-year program at University of Illinois Laboratory High School (otherwise known as Uni High) under the auspices of the University of Illinois in 1943 at the age of eleven; he went on to graduate from the school in 1948.  While there, he became part of the school’s War Discussion Group which met once a week, and recalled that he “gave a couple of lectures on [his] understanding of the war itself,” no doubt as an outgrowth of his voracious reading on the subject. However, as Dr. Kemp self-deprecatingly noted, the lectures were never recorded so he was unable to quote from them. 

As a young man, Dr. Kemp did not have a great deal of money at his disposal to purchase the books he wanted, and routinely devoted his weekly allowance and the sums he earned from babysitting his younger brother to their acquisition.  His wish to buy more books for his collection led him to take a summer job at the Dick Burwash Farm near Champaign, Illinois, where he was hired to de-tassel corn.   

The process of de-tasseling corn was aimed at increasing the production of hybrid corn, and it required stripping the tassels from corn by hand, in alternate rows, to prevent self-pollination.  Dr. Kemp recalled that the work was difficult, as it was hot in the fields and the corn itself caused rashes on exposed skin.  Both boys and girls were hired for the work, and paid equally, although, as Dr. Kemp ruefully noted, the girls were allowed to work from a platform attached to a tractor, while the boys walked the fields.   

Dr. Kemp observed that he was never “very much interested in clothes or toys,” so he “haunted bookstores,” and purchased a variety of tomes with his summer earnings, many of which eventually found their way into the collection that he donated to the West Virginia and Regional History Center at the West Virginia University Libraries in October, 2016.   

While a student at Uni High, Dr. Kemp met faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who proved to be instrumental in the expansion of his book collection.  Arthur Davis, an engineering professor, gave Dr. Kemp a number of books on the history of World War I; Dr. Davis, teasing Dr. Kemp, told him that, “I hope we never have war with Germany, because you’ll be incarcerated.”  Christmas presents from Dr. Davis were often in the form of more books for Dr. Kemp’s collection.  Indeed, his wife, Fern, gave Dr. Kemp one of his favorite books as a Christmas present: the annual edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships by Francis E. McMurtrie, which was a detailed listing of all of the British Navy’s military ships then on the line. 

Cover of book "Jane's Fighting Ships"
(photo in public domain)

As a student at Uni High, Dr. Kemp was also afforded the use of a University of Illinois library card.  Dr. Kemp stated that he “haunted” the university library, and “made very good use” of his library card, at a time when the free run of its stacks was very much an exceptional privilege.  He was also able to avail himself of its Interlibrary Loan service in order to get access to materials not held in the library. Today, a corridor of the library contains a collection of bronze plaques that laud outstanding graduates of the university, and Dr. Kemp proudly noted that his name can be found among that group. 

Through his interest in the war, and the Royal Navy in particular, Dr. Kemp drew inspiration from the drawings in Jane’s Fighting Ships to expand on an earlier hobby of constructing small-scale models from scratch; one of those was of the HMS King George V.  His process was to make drawings, from which he then made the models, with an emphasis on the ships’ armaments.  His collection eventually included military ships from the Royal Canadian Navy as well. Indeed, Dr. Kemp gleefully recalled that, on a recent visit to Canada, he had been able to ride in a British Army artillery tractor, and had promptly pulled out a model that he had made as a boy to “refurbish” upon his return home.

Model ship, likely HMS King George V
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Barb Howe)
Dr. Emory Kemp standing next to a British Army artillery tractor
British Army artillery tractor
(photo courtesy of Dr. Janet Kemp)

Dr. Kemp’s interest in the British Royal Navy led him to explore its origins and development from Elizabethan times forward, as he believed that the Navy, as an instrument of state, had its beginnings in the late sixteenth century.  His research revealed that the government began to build its own ships after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, when James II was forced to abdicate in favor of his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange. Dr. Kemp said that he began to get very interested in the details and strategy of the Royal Navy as the British Empire expanded; he was also subsequently drawn into Irish history by James II’s attempt there to regain his throne.   

Dr. Kemp also read widely about the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland due to his friendship with Fred McAdams, whose father had marched with the Orange Order (the Protestants).  This group formed the basis of the Ulster Division (later the Ulster Volunteer Force), which would go on to fight in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme; Dr. Kemp noted that his research revealed that the division was almost wiped out in this one battle, thus decimating their geographic region at home.  As a result, Dr. Kemp’s research in this subject came to shape some of his views of war and military engagement. 

Moving on from history, Dr. Kemp also acquired a large collection of engineering and mathematics books, many of them in the area of the history of technology and, more narrowly, the development of the steam engine.  He learned a great deal of technical information from Henry L. Dickenson’s A Short History of the Steam Engine, which is part of his donated collection.  Dr. Kemp also read widely in the areas of thermodynamics, the manufacturing of textiles, British engineers working on harbors, and the British railway system.  Dr. Kemp remarked that several of the textbooks he had used when he was a student at the University of Illinois were donated to the university, but that he retained five shelves of books on twentieth-century engineering. Dr. Kemp’s engineering and technology interests meant that he also acquired a number of books on mathematics, and he said that he has passed on several of these volumes to his grandson, Dr. Paul Anderson, also a civil engineer.   

While Dr. Kemp was serving in the army during the Korean Conflict, he was assigned to the Engineering Research and Development Lab in Virginia.  He began to take courses at George Washington University, where a class in differential equations with Dr. James Henry Taylor sparked a new interest—and a new area for book collecting—for him. Dr. Kemp playfully recalled that he had told a WVU provost that an educated person must have “a familiarity with calculus.” 

When Dr. Kemp received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in England in 1953, he shipped some of his books to England, but managed to acquire a significant number of volumes while he was there, thanks to a book allotment that was part of the scholarship grant.  He was particularly partial to two bookstores in London: one that was in the South Kensington Underground station, and the other, more famous one, Foyle’s, in Charing Cross Road.  Dr. Kemp said that the books he purchased at that time were inexpensive, and that he developed a relationship with the bookseller, who put him in contact with publishing houses so he could buy books at a discount.  Through the bookseller, he was able to purchase the seven-volume set of The Royal Navy: A History – From Earliest Times to 1900.  Dr. Kemp emphasized that establishing a good working relationship with a bookseller is one of the keys to the development of a good book collection. 

Row of book spines of the set "The Royal Navy, A History"
(photo in public domain)

When the time came for his return to the United States, Dr. Kemp was faced with the somewhat herculean task of getting his books back home.  He had taken a job at Ove Arup and Partners, one of the leading engineering firms in London, and was part of a team working on the Sydney Opera House. One of his friends in London, Felix Winkler, a refugee from Czechoslovakia, had shipped all of his belongings to London in big wooden crates he had made at a sawmill.  Dr. Kemp took the empty crates and rebuilt them to accommodate his book collection and other belongings; he then shipped them to Chicago via Liverpool, where the emptied crates stood for “many years” in the parking lot of the complex in which he and his wife had their first apartment.  Dr. Kemp recalled that they were eventually broken up for firewood, but stated, “I regret not keeping those things.”    

Among Dr. Kemp’s favorite volumes was the series of The Cambridge Modern History of Britain, planned by Lord John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton. Dr. Kemp admired Acton’s abilities as a historian, but admitted he had not read any of Acton’s other works; however, he said that he had read this series cover to cover several times, and that the essays in the volumes were written by “really good people.”  Dr. Kemp regarded Acton as a “minor hero” since Acton planned the series and solicited the authors.

Portrait photo of Lord John Dalberg-Acton
Lord John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton
(photo in public domain)

 One of Dr. Kemp’s goals as a professor and as an engineer was to create a contextual work for the history of technology—“real background material for engineers” as he put it—which then did not exist.  He also hoped that this area of history would be incorporated into general history survey classes but did not achieve that goal. However, as Dr. Kemp pointed out, history of technology classes are now in the engineering curriculum at WVU, but only as part of the general education requirements. Many of his books on historic structures that date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were used as part of the effort to incorporate this class into the curriculum.  They were also used by Dr. Kemp when he worked on the restoration of the Wheeling Custom House, also known as the West Virginia Independence Hall. 

Upon the retirement of Roland P. Davis, Dean of the College of Engineering at WVU, Dr. Kemp acquired some of his published works, as Dean Davis was a noted bridge engineer, and had been an instrumental part of creating the West Virginia State Road Commission in 1919. While many of Dean Davis’ works are in the WVU Library, it only holds two volumes from his personal collection of engineering books; Dr. Kemp has one, as well.  It was the practice of the Department of Engineering that, upon the retirement of a faculty member, the books they left behind were put into a big box in the hallway and anyone could choose ones that they wanted—Dr. Kemp said that was how he acquired the works of Dean Davis.  Dr. Kemp felt that modern engineers had no use for dated works, but he believed they still had a great deal of value. 

The history of religion and theology forms the last section of Dr. Kemp’s collection.  Although he donated many of his books in 2016, the donation did not include these volumes, since he was a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church and used these books for reference in writing sermons. The donation of his collection to the library, Dr. Kemp felt, was “painful,” as it was almost like “giving yourself away.”  While he continued to use many of his remaining books for reference, he regretfully acknowledged that there probably wouldn’t be very many people interested in the books in his donated collection.   

Sadly, Dr. Kemp passed away on January 20, 2020, but his recollections as recorded in this oral history will continue to remain a valuable resource for all of us.  The books Kemp donated , as well as the oral histories, are part of his collection of papers at the WVRHC.