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Manuscript Fragments and Repurposed Realities

Posted by Admin.
July 18th, 2022

By Destinee Harper

This summer, I worked as an intern in the Rare Book Room studying manuscript leaves and fragments in antiquarian books. I was terrified. What if I dropped one of the books? Turned a page too fast and ripped it? Committed a major faux pas to the world of rare book study?

I did make a few blunders (note: do not compliment the condition of a book “considering its age”), but I avoided most of the nightmares that worried me most. I did not break anything, rip off any covers, etc. Something unexpected did happen, though—my attitude toward books changed entirely.

I had always appreciated stories and the power of a good book. But it did not occur to me that the most valuable books might not be the signed first editions, but the book bound in manuscript. I had never thought about the value of a book’s binding or the history it might share. Rarely did I think about what happened to the volumes upon volumes of manuscript after the invention of the printing press. Now, though, these are the first things I think of when an old book is placed in front of me.

The Rare Book Room’s collection of manuscript fragments is varied and encourages those that study it to consider the multiple repurposed realities manuscripts faced as technology progressed. This 1566 edition of A Summarie of our Englyſh Chronicles by John Stowe, for example, has manuscript fragments hiding inside its covers. Their intended purpose is unclear. They are too small to be pastedowns or endpapers, and it is not possible to discern if they reinforced the binding in any way. Perhaps they were cut. It is a mystery that we might never uncover. What we are sure of, though, is that these fragments, like many in our collection, were recycled and used as scraps for binding purposes. After the invention of the printing press, manuscript fragments were considered junk—certainly not valued as they are today!

Three images of old manuscripts, a worn brown leather cover, an and books open to old script in red and black.

Even further hidden in the binding are the fragments inside this Bible printed in 1493. The fragments are barely visible peeking through the spine. Can you spot them?

A worn tan cover of an old book and a close-up of the inside of the spine.

This dictionary, rather than having manuscript fragments tucked away inside, is bound in a manuscript leaf. On its back cover is a doodle of a man. The doodling is likely contemporary to the book, which was printed in 1731.

Three images of a very old volume, with a light tan cover, and red and brown script. There are small doodled illustrations on one page.

Fragments come in all shapes and sizes. This choir book, commissioned by Andres Camacho in 1450, is huge. There is an elaborate manuscript fragment used as a pastedown inside the rear cover. The decorative initial is gorgeous, but this fragment was cut, repurposed, and meant to be ignored in the back of the book.

An old volume with a rich warm brown cover, decorated with metal corner adornments an a piece in the middle that resembles a gear. The the right is an image of black writing and an ornate decorate opening letter.

Some manuscript fragments survived long enough to be sold as antiques. The library has a small but impressive collection of individual leaves like this Book of Hours fragment. This leaf was printed then hand illuminated, meaning a scribe decorated the capital initials by hand after the text was printed. This single leaf is worth hundreds of dollars!

The inside of an old volume, decorated with an ornate printed border and black calligraphy text. There are blue and red highlights throughout.

Collectors often sell individual leaves rather than full manuscript texts because they can increase their profit this way. Some go so far as to cut leaves into smaller pieces, which they then frame and sell.

Sections of old books removed and placed in photo frames.

This process of deconstructing and selling manuscript texts makes Fragmentology—the study of manuscript fragments—quite difficult. The pieces are scattered and oftentimes impossible to reassemble. Still, we are able to learn a lot about early book and manuscript history from each fragment and how they were repurposed!

If you are interested in learning more about West Virginia University’s manuscript collection, you can read this bibliography I created as part of my internship that provides in-depth descriptions and pictures of each fragment in the collection. I also designed this slideshow with pictures and information about the collection that you are welcome to share in a classroom setting.  

You can also schedule a visit to see the library’s collection in person!

Shakespeare’s Third Folio: Tracing Ownership over 350 years

Posted by Admin.
April 22nd, 2022

Written by Stewart Plein

Most people have heard of Shakespeare’s First Folio, but the subsequent folios don’t seem to get quite as much press as the first one.  What’s so great about a later printing of Shakespeare’s folio?  Turns out – plenty! 

William Shakespeare's third folio, open to the title pages. On the left is an illustration of the author. on the right the title page.

The third folio is particularly interesting.  Basically, it’s the third printing of the first folio, which was the first printing of Shakespeares’ plays.  The first folio gave us eleven plays that were unknown before its’ publication including Macbeth, The Tempest, Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night.  A significant literary achievement.

The third folio, published in 1663, is important because very few copies have survived.  Traditionally, a few hundred copies of a book were published, then stored in a warehouse while waiting for buyers.  Three years after its publication, while many copies of the third folio were still warehoused, the Great Fire of London erupted.  The fire destroyed many booksellers’ warehouses along with their inventories, thus, few copies of the third folio have survived. 

WVU’s rare book room is fortunate to have a copy of the third folio donated by an alumnus, Arthur Dayton.  WVU received five Shakespeare folios in the Dayton donation, the first, second, an additional second printing, the third and the fourth folio.  These comprise the complete set of Shakespeare’s folios. 

The Dayton third folio is interesting for another reason.  Several names, notations and bookplates appear on the first couple of pages.  These notes and bookplates document previous owners.  Evidence of previous ownership is called “provenance.”  Provenance is considered to be a record of an items’ history, or a record of ownership.  If you’re a fan of the PBS series, the Antiques Roadshow, you know that provenance, such as purchase receipts, bookplates, author signatures, and gift presentations, are important tools used to establish the authenticity of an item.     

So, what can we learn from bookplates and notations in books?  What role does ownership play in the life of a book?  Let’s take a look at the bookplates and notations in Shakespeare’s third folio to find out.

First documented owner: Thomas Sharp.

The first thing we see is an ownership stamp for Thomas Sharp, (1693 – 1758).  Sharp was a clergyman.  He was named to the important position of Archdeacon of Northumberland on February 27, 1722.  According to Wikipedia, the Archdeacon of Northumberland is a senior officer responsible for the disciplinary supervision of clergy within his region.  An important position, indeed. 

Below, we see a portrait of Thomas Sharp.  Beneath is the book stamp he used in the third folio. Sharp held a number of positions throughout his lifetime, but the presence of the stamp verifies that Sharp acquired the third folio while serving as Archdeacon. 

An illustration of Thomas Sharp, a middle-aged white man with a high collared shirt, black robes, a thin nose, and curly gray hair.
Thomas Sharpe's book stamp, used in the third folio. It is an oval with a shield inside, the head of a bird is over the top point of the shield, and laurels surround the outside

Although this attribution is important – there is no record of previous owners.  Since the third folio was printed in 1663, there’s 60 years of ownership unaccounted for.  That is disappointing, but it is great that we can pick up on who may be the second, or third owner.

Second documented owner:  Clare Hall, Cambridge University, England.

The college of Clare Hall, founded in 1326 as University Hall, is the second-oldest college at Cambridge University.  In 1338 the college was renamed Clare Hall, in honor of Elizabeth de Clare (1295 – 1360), the 11th Lady of Clare, who provided an endowment for the college.

A large building with three stories and ornate stone architecture.

The notation marking Clare Hall’s ownership is on the title page of the third folio.

A page of the third folio with the inscription "From Clare Hall, March 1843."

This brings us to the question – why did the college dispose of the 3rd folio? And when did they dispose of it?  We may never know.

Third documented owner:  Shakespearean actors, Edward Hugh and Julia Marlow Sothern.     

The Sotherns are shown here, photographed in costume as Lord and Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, in 1911.  Edward Hugh Sothern (1859-1933) was an American actor and author who appeared on the stage in New York and London.  Julia Marlowe (1865-1950) primarily acted in New York. They met in 1904 when they starred in a play together.  They married a few years later in 1911.  Following their marriage, they toured across the United States, mainly in Shakespeare plays, until Julia retired in 1924.  Their bookplate is pasted inside.

An ornately decorated bookplate with a shield in the middle and ribbons reading "Edward Hugh" and "Julia Marlowe" and below, "Southern."
  Edward Hugh and Julia Marlow Sothern’s bookplate.
A woman and a man, dressed in ornately decorated robles and dresses, each wearing golden crowns and covered in golden detailing. They hold hands, the man looking downward.
  Shakespearean actors, Edward Hugh and Julia Marlow Sothern.

Fourth documented owner: Arthur Dayton

A graduate of WVU with a degree from the College of Law, Arthur Dayton’s lifelong dream was to own all four of Shakespeare’s folios.  He accomplished his goal, and after his death, his wife Ruth donated his entire Shakespeare collection, including the 5 Shakespeare folios, to WVU.  The folios now reside in the rare book room, which was founded in 1951 to house his collection.  Dayton purchased his folios at auction in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, when folios regularly appeared on the market.  Today, most of the surviving Shakespeare folios are owned by institutions like WVU and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

A bookplate showing WVU's documentation of Arthur Dayton's gift of the folio.
A photograph of Arthur Dayton, an adult white man with light colored hair, glasses, and wearing a suit and tie.
Arthur Spencer Dayton (1887-1948) from Phillipi, WV.

Above is the bookplate added by WVU to document Dayton’s gift to the University.

The letter below, from the previous owner, Julia Marlowe Sothern, discusses Dayton’s purchase of “their” third folio.

Julia Sothern describes how happy she is that Arthur Dayton, a collector of Shakespeare’s works, purchased “her” folio. 

A page of a letter
A page of a letter

Do you have any books that once belonged to someone else?  Who might that be? How do you know?  Did the previous owner sign their name or add a bookplate?  Let us know!

If you’d like to examine the provenance in Shakespeare’s third folio, please send an email to Stewart Plein at to make an appointment.


Third Folio image: 

Image of Thomas Sharp: 

Image of Clare Hall:,_Cambridge#/media/File:Clare_college.jpg 

Information regarding Edward & Julia Marlowe Sothern: 

Images of provenance: taken by author.

Wheeling’s German Newspapers

Posted by Admin.
April 11th, 2022

Written by WVU History Department doctoral student Jack Webster

The masthead for the Deutsche Zeitung

The Deutsche Zeitung (literally German Newspaper) was a German language newspaper from Wheeling publishing under that name beginning in 1901. It was not the first German newspaper in the state. German language journalism in western Virginia precedes the Civil War with the Virginische Staats-Zeitung, (Virginia State Newspaper) 1848 – 1863, which became the West Virginische Staats-Zeitung following West Virginia statehood in 1863. Other German newspapers, namely Der Arbeiter-Freund (the Worker’s Friend), also had its start during the Civil War era. 

a two page newspaper spread of the WV Staats-Zeitung

The Deutsche Zeitung was not the first Deutsche Zeitung in the state. The previous paper by that name combined with the Wheelinger Volksblatt (the Wheeling People’s Paper), to form the West Virginische Staats-Zeitung in the 1880s. The West Virgische Staats-Zeitung was actually the precursor to the Deutsche Zeitung of 1901.

Surviving editions of the Deutsche Zeitung commemorate anniversaries, including one in 1906, and another sixtieth anniversary of German reporting in the region in 1910. The 1906 edition includes a list of the men who ran the newspaper, all German immigrants: Fidelis Riester, president, born in Wuerttemberg, who immigrated in 1869; Christian Steinmuetz, vice president, from the Rhineland, immigrated 1866; Constantin Bente, secretary, from Westphalia, immigrated 1879; Michael Kirchner, treasurer, from Franconia, immigrated 1867; and Jacob H.H. Beu, also from the Rhineland, a German Army veteran, immigrated 1881. Bente was the principal owner, editor and manager. All members of the board were involved with a variety of German-American civic societies in Wheeling, including the German American Central Bund, and organizations for Germans from particular regions, such as Bavaria and the Rhineland.

These special editions ran similar articles, including histories of German communities in the Ohio Country and of German language reporting in the state. They also include profiles about towns in West Virginia such as Morgantown and Charleston, as well as their major industries and points of interest, both natural and man-made. The centers of German-American community were the historic German Churches, which could be Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed. These newspapers took pride in their identity as German-Americans: they date from around the Fourth of July, and report stories of German patriots from the American Revolution. One even claims that the tune of “Yankee Doodle” was a Hessian folk song! Each paper also features a page reporting events from German Central Europe, categorized by regions, such as East Prussia and Austria.

Advertisement in the May 1907 issue of the Deutsch Zeitung.
Advertisement in the May 1907 issue of the Deutsch Zeitung.

Papers like the Deutsche Zeitung not only expressed the voice and culture of German-Americans, they revealed the connections between these people and the Americans of other backgrounds. Each edition contains advertisements for translating services, and both German- and English-speaking entrepreneurs, politicians, and other public figures feature on their pages. Unfortunately, the Deutsche Zeitung appears to have met the same fate as other expressions of German culture from the early twentieth century, going out of publication in 1916. That same year, another German, Austin Brodoehl founded the West Virginia Patriot perhaps responding to a culture now hostile to Germans in the leadup to American intervention in the First World War.

Our New Collection: The Hatfield Family Papers

Posted by Admin.
April 4th, 2022

  By: Katie Saucer, Graduate Service Assistant

(An 1891 photograph of the Hatfield Family, courtesy of our OnView collection.)

I recently had the pleasure of processing a special collection at the WVRHC. The new “Hatfield Family Papers” collection (A&M 4490 if you want to schedule a visit) is a compilation of papers, photographs, and artifacts all pertaining to the infamous southern West Virginia family. From trinkets and treaties to biographies and a bible (Louvisa Hatfield’s, that is), everyone can find something that interests them within this collection.

The collection was compiled by descendents of Louvisa and Anse Hatfield, and a ton of the material came directly from Louvisa’s belongings. Much of the material, though, is related to subjects bigger than the Hatfield family. There’s content about the Pocahontas Coal Company, information about local politics, and so much more. Any researcher or lover of West Virginia history will have a wonderful time perusing this collection. 

My personal favorite part of the collection are the greeting cards and postcards. Not only do many of them have unique early 20th century illustrations, the content is also fascinating. In popular media, the Hatfields are remembered strictly alongside the McCoys. Violence and feuding seem to run the narrative. These cards, though, show the normalcy of the family. From sympathy cards to updates about grandchildren, it is interesting to see what Louvisa Hatfield’s children wrote to her about.

If you’re interested, I urge you to come in and look through the collection yourself. It really is a time capsule into the early 20th century, with helpful printouts regarding genealogy and timelines. Plus, you can sit down with the original 19th century Hatfield and McCoy treaty- which is as neat as it sounds! 

Music of the Southern Coalfields

Posted by Admin.
March 14th, 2022

By Caleb Paul, intern with the West Virginia & Regional History Center in fall 2021 from The Catholic University of America

The Chappell Collection: Music from the Coalfields Digital Collection is the product of a collaboration between the West Virginia and Regional History Center and the blog Folk Music of the Southern West Virginia Coalfields, an ongoing documentation project by scholars Chris Haddox, a traditional musician from Logan County, and Gloria Goodwin Raheja, author of the forthcoming book Logan County Blues: Frank Hutchison in the Sonic Landscape of the Appalachian Coalfields. Haddox is an Associate Professor of Interior Architecture and Design Studies at WVU and Raheja is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota.

It is the first-time recordings from the Chappell Collection have been available digitally. Not only are a selection of the recordings now available, information about the performers Chappell recorded, including pictures and interviews with descendants are featured on the blog.

Above: Technician using Recording Equipment at the Home of West Virginia University Professor Louis W. Chappell.

When it comes to the study of the folk music of West Virginia and larger Appalachia, the Chappell Collection’s historical and cultural significance cannot be overstated. Louis Watson Chappell was a folklorist, ballad and folk music collector, and a professor of English at West Virginia University. Between 1937 and 1947, Chappell recorded 647 discs in the field. This amounts to over 2000 individual recordings of ballads of every type and topic, fiddle tunes, instrumental music, social music, gospel tunes, and Appalachian song. He is also noted for a landmark 1933 study on the origins of the ballad John Henry.

Music from the Coalfields focuses on Chappell’s summer of 1940 collecting trip to the Southern West Virginia counties of Lincoln, Logan and Mingo. These landmark recordings give a glimpse of the vibrant Appalachian music and culture of a region known for its coal camps, historic border feuds, and for the violent labor uprisings of the West Virginia Mine Wars. Included are recordings of Kate Toney, from whom Chappell made a staggering 85 recordings in one day-long session. Toney, a Logan County ballad singer, had a high lonesome vocal style, and a sizable, unique repertoire that compares to the likes of Texas Gladden and Almeda Riddle.

Click to access the digital collection, the blog, and a podcast which features music from the Chappell collection framed by a discussion of the stories of these performers, analysis of rare ballads, vernacular styles, and traditional techniques featured in the recordings.

Why aren’t we talking about John Hunt?

Posted by Admin.
February 28th, 2022

    By Katie Saucer

John Hunt at Indian Rocks Resort, c.a. 1925-1932. Courtesy of OnView. 

In 1890, the 19-year-old son of a former slave moved to Morgantown and became a millionaire. Intriguing, right? Now, what if I told you this same man owned 23 businesses in the area, helped black residents establish businesses, and had a granddaughter who became the first black woman to receive an undergraduate degree from West Virginia University? You’re probably perplexed as to why John Hunt isn’t a household name in Morgantown history. I know I was.

The first time I came across John Hunt was in our OnView photograph collection. WVRHC Instruction and Public Services Coordinator, Miriam Cady, showed my Digital Humanities seminar an image of one of his businesses, Hunt’s Oysters and Ice Cream Parlor. The odd combination of oysters and ice cream, along with the basic knowledge (from Cady) that Hunt was an influential Black entrepreneur in Morgantown, piqued my curiosity. My research took off from there, and now I can say, with full confidence, that it’s time we start talking about the incredible life of John Hunt.

My introduction to the story of John Hunt, undated. Courtesy of OnView.

Born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania in 1871, Hunt moved to Morgantown at age 19 and began work as a cook. Two years later, he became one of the first African Americans in Morgantown to operate a restaurant, which was located on High Street. He later opened Hunt’s Oyster Parlor for Ladies on Walnut Street. In 1900, he opened the first ice cream plant in the county. (Fun fact: Hunt used cut and stored winter ice from the Monongahela River to create his famous “Hokey Pokies”, which were ice cream bricks on a stick). Hunt was also known for his aid to black residents in Morgantown. He “either transferred or shared his business license with cooks Eddie Dooms and B.W. Anderson”. Both of these men eventually owned prominent restaurants in the area.

Hunt at age 19, c.a 1890. Courtesy of OnView.

Hunt, his wife Anna Davis, and their eight children lived in a home on Hunt Street (Yes, named after John Hunt himself) between Colson Hall and Purinton House on West Virginia University’s downtown campus. As the century progressed, Hunt became known in the area for his catering. When WWI broke out, he served food to local soldiers in training, and was appointed chairman of the State Council of Defense for black West Virginians by Governor Cornwell. 

In the 1920s, Hunt established three resorts located in Preston County and the Cheat Lake Area. The most famous of these was Indian Rocks Resort near Reedsville, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The resort boosted walking trails, sun bathing areas, and private cottages for white guests. Hunt, though, continued his history of employing local black workers. In 1928, he constructed a large dining hall for the resort.

Inside of Indian Rocks, c.a. 1925. Courtesy of OnView.

During the Great Depression, Hunt and his family made financial sacrifices to save the  Indian Rock’s new dining hall, including the loss of their home. In 1932, 61-year-old John Hunt died at his beloved Indian Rocks Resort. His granddaughter, Annette Chandler Broome, went on to become the first black woman to receive an undergraduate degree from West Virginia University in 1957.

With a remarkable life story and lasting influence on Morgantown (and the surrounding areas) it is difficult to understand why Hunt is not discussed regularly as being a vital part of the state’s growth during the early 20th century. Hunt represents the efforts of black West Virginians pre-civil rights. His aid to his community, Morgantown, and the state coupled with his business endeavors, prove Hunt is a vital part of West Virginia history. It’s time we start talking about Hunt, along with other West Virginians missing from the popular historical record. 

Hunt outside of his ice cream factory, which was located on the corner of Hough Street and Beechurst Avenue, undated. Courtesy of OnView.

I would like to thank Miriam Cady for introducing me to the story of John Hunt. To piece together Hunt’s life, I used “Our Monongalia: A History of African Americans in Monongalia, West Virginia” by Connie Rice, along with the Indian Rocks National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.

Graduate Assistant Reflects on Buffalo Creek Disaster 50th Anniversary Archives and Exhibit

Posted by Admin.
February 21st, 2022

By Crystal Coon

Early on the morning of February 26, 1972, a coal slurry impoundment on Buffalo Creek collapsed, sending millions of gallons of wastewater rushing into the valley below. Hundreds died or were injured, and thousands were left homeless. The cleanup, investigations, and lawsuits that followed further strained the community.

Located in Logan County, West Virginia, the Buffalo Creek Valley is a series of communities built upon the coal mining industry along the banks of a small stream known as Buffalo Creek. At 8 o’clock in the morning on that fateful day, Dam No. 3 failed, sending 132 million gallons of water careening down the Buffalo Creek Valley. It traveled in a twenty- to thirty-foot-high flood wave that moved at about seven feet per second. Within three hours, the wall of water had traveled over seventeen miles, and seventeen communities were partially or totally destroyed by the flood. In total, 118 people were killed in the flood, while seven were never accounted for after the disaster. There were 1,119 people who were physically injured by the floodwaters. Approximately 4,000 people were left homeless when 507 homes were destroyed, 273 homes were left with major damage, and 44 mobile homes were completely destroyed. Ten bridges were destroyed in the flood as well as hundreds of miles of roads and highways. The destruction left behind in the valley after the water receded would take years to recover from, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Photograph of property damage done in the Buffalo Creek area by the flood, 1972 | from the Arch A. Moore Papers

Governor Moore created the Ad Hoc Commission of Inquiry into the Buffalo Creek Flood to investigate the reasons for the failure of Dam No. 3. The commission was charged with determining who was at fault for the collapse of the dam and the resulting loss of life and the destruction of property. The Commission gathered witnesses, heard testimonies, and talked to experts in the field of coal mining operations to best figure out why the tragedy occurred, who was responsible for it, and how it could be avoided in the future. In their conclusion, the Commission placed the blame on the parent company of Buffalo Mining Company but acknowledged that the lack of laws and regulations by the state and federal governments contributed to the failure of the dam.

Telegram from William Egan, Governor of Alaska, 1972 | from the Arch A. Moore Papers

On the 50th anniversary of the disaster, an online exhibit explores its history and implications for the present. The Buffalo Creek Disaster: 50 Years From Flooding is an online exhibit that showcases the disaster and aftermath of the devastating flood that hit Logan County in 1972. Curated from documents and photographs available through the West Virginia and Regional History Center, this exhibit focuses on the tragedy and recovery of the Buffalo Creek area. There is also an in-person exhibit that will be on display in the Downtown Library Atrium until December 2022. This exhibit will have some documents and photographs from the archives that show and discuss the disaster. During the spring semester, Mimi Pickering, filmmaker and director of “The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man,” will be hosting a virtual screening on her film at the Downtown Library. More information will be available as the event draws closer.

Photograph of Crystal standing next to the exhibit she worked on in the downtown library, personal photo

Having had the opportunity to sort through the papers from the Arch Moore administration about the disaster, I feel more connected to the event and the devastation that it left behind. Putting the exhibit together allowed me to sift through some of the more unseen side of the flood and people’s response to it. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the response of people all around the world when disaster strikes and they see other people in need. Seeing the letters, photographs, newspaper articles, disaster reports, and memos telling the governor of another body that was identified has allowed me to truly see even more meaning in the work that archives do in preserving emotion and memory.

$1.4M estate gift to benefit the WVU Libraries’ West Virginia & Regional History Center

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 15th, 2022

History buffs statewide will benefit from a $1.4 million estate gift from a late West Virginia University professor to support the West Virginia & Regional History Center at WVU Libraries.

Professor Emerita Betty Lou Ramsey, of Belington, West Virginia, passed away July 19, 2014. Her recently completed trust gift supports a namesake fund she and her late sister, Effie Lucille Ramsey, established prior to their deaths to support WVU Libraries. The fund helps to collect, preserve and provide public access to library materials that honor the history and culture of West Virginia and the central Appalachian region.

Read the rest of this entry »

West Virginia History Makers: Black Women’s Activism in the Archives

Posted by Admin.
February 8th, 2022
Recording of the Black Women’s Activism in the Archives event.

Discover the stories of four Black women and their impact on education and community in this recorded presentation by Dr. Tamara Bailey and Dr. Sheena Harris. In September 2021, Bailey and Harris discussed the lives of Black women activists and educators from West Virginia at an event at the Kanawha City Community Center in Charleston, WV.  Each historian reflected on their experiences using archives in their research, shedding light on how historic records and documents, or the lack thereof, affected the ability to tell the stories of the women’s lives.

Dr. Bailey presented on  Memphis Tennessee Garrison’s work in Cabell and Logan County through the NAACP to make sure local school boards followed through with school integration. Dr. Bailey also reflected on the work of educator and researcher, Ancilla Bickley, Garrison’s biographer.  Bailey is an Assistant Professor of History and Coordinator of Wesleyan Abroad at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Photograph of Memphis Tennessee Garrison, undated, from the WV Encyclopedia. 
Writer, educator, and historian Ancella Bickley (left) with author Alice Walker at an event at the University of Charleston, Charleston, WV, 1999. Image from the Ancella Bickley Collection at the WVRHC.

Dr. Harris spoke about her research on Fanny Smith Washington and Oliva Davidson Washington, the first and second wives of Booker T. Washington. Smith and Davidson were educators and institution builders in their own right and impacted Washington and the Tuskegee Institute. Harris is an Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of the Africana Studies Program at West Virginia University.

Photograph of Fannie Norton Smith Washington, undated. Image from AAREG.
Portrait of Olivia Davidson Washington, undated. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The session also included information about the West Virginia Feminist Activist Collection at the WV & Regional History Center at WVU Libraries, an effort to document women’s lives through archives and oral histories. 

This session was presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities. The City of Charleston also provided additional support for this program.

American Ginseng in Appalachia: a Sengin’ Goldmine

Posted by Admin.
February 1st, 2022
A large patch of ginseng in an enclosure made of wood logs. On the right side of the image a woman stands, wearing a white dress.
Above: The Lehmann family ginseng patch in Helvetia, WV, early 1900s. Courtesy of the WVRHC.

Last summer, I was lucky enough to be chosen as an intern for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s American Ginseng Project. Because of the ongoing pandemic my internship was virtual, but that doesn’t mean my experience was lacking. In fact, it was quite the opposite! 

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that before this experience, my knowledge of ginseng was almost non-existent. Don’t ask me how, as a native West Virginian, I had never heard of this amazing plant before, (aside from ingredient labels on multivitamins) but I hadn’t. So you can imagine that it came as a shock to me to learn about how prominent ginseng and ginseng culture is in Appalachia.

Highly prized for its medicinal properties, American Ginseng, like it’s Asian counterpart, thrives in mountainous regions. Thus, Appalachia is the perfect home for ginseng to be “forest farmed” (Visit West Virginia Forestry’s website for more information about ginseng farming, digging season, and ginseng laws).

The American Ginseng Project “presents the stories of a wide variety of people with intimate knowledge of the harvest, cultivation, trade, medicinal use, and conservation” of ginseng. The stories are presented in the form of ginseng profiles, which allow website visitors to dive deeper into the world of ginseng farmers, harvesters, sellers, conservators, researchers, and academics. 

A screenshot of the Folk Life site of ginseng profiles. There are four columns and three rows of square pictures of individuals who have experience with ginseng.
Above: example of the ginseng profiles that can be found at

I spent my summer focusing on this project in a variety of ways. First, I aided my supervisors with research by digging into WVRHC’s archives. After getting some preliminary information from our collections, ( I recommend this folder if you want to come in and learn more!) I then got to work organizing contact information for the ginseng profiles. While entering phone numbers and emails into Microsoft Excel may not seem like the most exciting way to spend a July afternoon, it allowed me to learn about the diversity in the Appalchian ginseng world. 

From people like Ed and Carole Daniels, who harvest ginseng for their company Shady Grove Botanicals, to West Virginia University Professor Emeritus James McGraw, the ginseng profiles showcase the diversity in ginsenging. My favorite thing about the profiles is that it details the work of Appalachians who have spent their lives working trade jobs, alongside profiles of National Park Rangers and professional chefs. The world of ginseng and ginseng research is truly open to anyone and everyone (Again, please make sure to check out your local ginseng laws, and ‘seng responsibly!)                                                                                   

A pile of ginseng root on a concrete surface. The root is a light tan color and resembles singer. The root is large and has many offshoots and smaller roots growing out of it
Above: Ginseng root dug in West Virginia and sold to Coffman’s Metals in Birch River, courtesy of WVRHC’s West Virginia Folklife Digital Collection.

While my internship certainly wasn’t traditional, it gave me the opportunity to step my toes into the waters of digital humanities, while also learning about an important plant native to where I grew up. I urge everyone to take a look at the American Ginseng Project, and spend a few minutes learning something new. And, if you have your own ginseng stories, the project will allow you to share them on the website with the click of a button. A win win! 

This post was written by Katie Saucer, Graduate Service Assistant and Public History Master’s student.

Preserving the Past for the Future: Following the Yellow Brick Road through the Wonderful World of Oz

Posted by Mary Alvarez.
December 22nd, 2021

This fall, I had the opportunity to work with part of one of our incoming collections, an assortment of children’s books that included upwards of 60 volumes either part of, or in direct connection with, L. Frank Baum’s Oz Stories. These books belonged to one Alice Marie Hunt, a name I came across countless times as I examined each volume. The books range from vintage first editions, to vibrant reprints, to glossy reference books and encyclopedic volumes. Part of the collection is what Oz fans have lovingly named the “Famous Forty,” the go-to moniker for the first 40 Oz books, those that are considered an official part of the Oz canon. While L. Frank Baum is certainly the most celebrated and universally acknowledged author of the Oz series, he isn’t the only one. In fact, he wasn’t the author that wrote most of the Famous Forty. That honor goes to Ruth Plumly Thompson, with a total of 19, who picked up from where Baum left off. Her first book, “The Royal Book of Oz,” was published under Baum’s name.

"The Royal Book of Oz," published as an L. Frank Baum story, but written by Ruth Plumly Thompson.
“The Royal Book of Oz,” published as an L. Frank Baum story, but written by Ruth Plumly Thompson.

The most immediately striking and noticeable part of this collection are the beautiful covers and interior illustrations, the majority of which were drawn by John R. Neill. Neill’s illustrations have become an integral part of the Oz works, and many reference books and newer editions include prints of his color plates and black and white drawings. The colors are at once lively and soft, and the linework is simple but creates instantly recognizable characters that match well with their personalities on the page. It’s easy to see why so many readers, both young and old, were enamored with the world of Oz. In my opinion, it has just as much to do with the covers and illustrations as it does with the writing.

One of my favorite covers from the collection, "The Purple Prince of Oz," illustrated by John R. Neill.
One of my favorite covers from the collection, “The Purple Prince of Oz,” illustrated by John R. Neill.

In the process of taking an inventory of this collection, I felt I really got to know these books. On a basic level, I learned more about the Oz series than I ever thought I would know. By the time I had made my way through a third of the collection, I had memorized the names of authors, publishing companies, and illustrators. I found myself getting distracted researching the fantastical and fun world of the series, both from a narrative perspective, and a behind-the-scenes one, as I traced which author wrote which book, how many they contributed, and if they had other involvement in the series as a whole—John R. Neill actually wrote three of the 35 books he illustrated! I came across a multitude of databases and sites dedicated to sharing information about the Oz series. There are books specifically written for the purpose of guiding Oz book collectors, and ones that celebrate the world of Oz in its entirety, including the many film and television adaptations.

An illustration from the cover of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," printed in an Oz reference book.
An illustration from the cover of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” printed in an Oz reference book.

Something else struck me, the deeper I got into the cataloguing process. As the technicalities of where they were worn, what parts were delicate or damaged and what condition they were in faded away, becoming second nature after writing them repeatedly for so many books, I started to notice other patterns. Alice’s name written inside the front cover of almost 40 of the volumes. Books that were in shockingly pristine condition. Inscriptions written in neat cursive: “To Alice,” they said, “from Mother, Easter 1950,” “from Uncle Jim,” “from Grandpa, Mimi, and Mommy,” “from Papa, Mama, Unkie and me,” “Love & Merry Christmas 1954 from Uncle Jim.” I realized how much Alice must have cared for these books, how her family clearly knew of her interest in them and wanted to get her a gift that would bring her joy and contribute to her collection.

A bookplate from L. Frank Baum's "Glinda of Oz," with an inscription reading "From Papa, Mama, Unkie and me," and Alice's name and address written twice.
A bookplate from L. Frank Baum’s “Glinda of Oz,” with an inscription reading “From Papa, Mama, Unkie and me,” and Alice’s name and address written twice.

There were books where Alice’s name was written twice on the bookplate—once in pencil in a child’s handwriting, and another in pen, in a neat, small cursive. Others where some of the illustrations were traced, like the owner was trying to learn to draw the scenes. There is no way of knowing which of the books’ owners practiced their art this way, but it called to mind such a universal childhood experience—consuming a story and realizing that the characters have stuck with you, that something in the plot or the essence of the work felt good, even after you had finished reading. So, you practice drawing the characters, tracing over the lines to “get it right” so that one day you can draw them on your own. It’s such a specific—and yet still relatable—display of interest and joy.

A bookplate from L. Frank Baum's "The Royal Book of Oz," with an inscription reading, "from Mother, Easter 1950," and Alice's name written twice.
A bookplate from L. Frank Baum’s “The Royal Book of Oz,” with an inscription reading, “from Mother, Easter 1950,” and Alice’s name written twice.

When we collect objects like these, it is not just preservation of a piece of literary history, but preservation of a personal history, written onto the pages and into the fabric just as easily as the story itself was printed there. This collection is a testament to that history, to the love and determination Alice had to have possessed in order to acquire such a complete collection of books. To the attentiveness and love Alice’s family had for her, knowing that these books were something she cared about. These books are a particularly good example of this because they are considered children’s literature, and you can clearly see that a child adored these books. Between the traced illustrations, the carefully removed color plates, and the proof of ownership inside each cover, evidence of use is abundant. And with objects like books, evidence of use is evidence of love.

An illustration of the eponymous Ozma, from L. Frank Baum’s "Ozma of Oz," traced over with pencil.
An illustration of the eponymous Ozma, from L. Frank Baum’s “Ozma of Oz,” traced over with pencil.

Tourist Homes in 1930s West Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postcards in Post-War Peace

Posted by Admin.
November 2nd, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asimov Symposium to illuminate “Night of the Living Dead”

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

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

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

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This Day in History: John Brown’s Fort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m still hungry (for racial justice).

Posted by Admin.
October 11th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

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

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

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

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

Not true!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off the syrup bottle and out of society

Posted by Admin.
September 27th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Toni Tipton-Martin

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

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 14th, 2021

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

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

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Preacher dinner

Posted by Admin.
September 13th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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