Ask A Librarian

Not just fried chicken.

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 3rd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preservation Week 2021

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 27th, 2021

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

Logo for Preservation Week April 25-May 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Disaster Recovery: Disaster planning, salvage, and restoration resources

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

Preservation Week Webinars: Free webinars on numerous preservation topics

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

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

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 23rd, 2021

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

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

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

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

Romeo and Juliet

Botanical illustration of a rose

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

The Winter’s Tale

Botanical illustration of a carnation

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

The Winter’s Tale

Botanical illustration of an iris

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

Othello

Botanical illustration of a poppy

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

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

Resources:

Carnation image

Rose image

Iris image

Poppy image

Quotes

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

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 19th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia articles consulted:

“1922 West Virginia Mountaineers football team”

“West Virginia Mountaineers football”

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

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

Sampling a New Collection: Historical Postcards of Railroad Depots

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

The Cicadas are Coming!

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 12th, 2021

Blog post by Angela Spatafore, Program Assistant, WVRHC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 5th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collecting Easter Postcards

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 29th, 2021

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

Happy Easter postcard featuring two bunnies

Postcards, a popular form of communication particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century, were sent to friends and family for all occasions.  Mail delivery was reliable, running twice a day in most communities, and cheap, since postage stamps were only a penny.  With the availability of twice daily delivery, postcards were nearly as quick as a telephone call, another late 19th century invention, and almost as fast as an email sent to your inbox today. 

I’ve collected postcards for many years.  I’ve purchased postcards from places I’ve lived, places I’ve visited, cards celebrating birthdays, and congratulatory cards filled with best wishes for their intended recipient, but my favorite collecting category is holiday postcards.     

It’s easy to find them.  I’ve collected hundreds of Christmas postcards over the years.  I’m also fond of cards depicting New Year’s Day, though they’re harder to find.  It’s very difficult to find Valentine’s, Memorial Day, George Washington’s birthday, or Thanksgiving postcards.  My collection includes only a couple of each of these cards. 

Easter postcards are my favorite collecting category. Besides the traditional bunnies, eggs, and chicks there are many unusual cards that we might not think of today as being associated with Easter.  My collection also includes many religious Easter cards, but today, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite cards featuring all the cute things you’d expect to find in your Easter basket. 

If you collect cards for a while, you’ll find that they can be organized by theme.  Eggs are the central focus of these cards.  These four postcards depict eggs as vehicles, such as the bunny train and the bunny drawn chick chariot.  Others are used for housing, such as the egg with a balcony and the one made from flowers with a little gnome peeking out the window.

Easter postcard showing an egg house with rabbits emerging from the front door and from the balcony
Easter postcard showing rabbits pulling an egg in which rides a chick
Easter postcard showing a train in which the cars are eggs and the passengers are bunnies
Easter postcard showing a person welcoming rabbits into his home, which is an egg

The postcards below have chickens or chicks for their central theme.  Eggs are still an important focus for the chick cards.  Notice these cards are all vertical in design, while the previous ones were all horizontal.  The second card is interesting because it shows a chick and egg surrounded by natural greenery seen in spring.  The yellow catkins dangling on each side are flowers from trees.  These look like the catkins of the birch tree.  The center egg is printed cloth with padding behind it.  Even after 111 years, this card is dated 1910, it still creates a charming effect.

The hen house is one of my favorites.  There’s the mother hen looking out her window, watching her chicks playing in the yard below.  And what in the world are those chicks doing pecking at that book?

Easter postcard showing a rooster and hens
Easter postcard showing chick and egg surrounded by natural greenery
Easter postcard showing chicks reading a book under an umbrella
Easter postcard showing hen in an egg house, watching her chicks play in the yard

Messages on the back of the postcards are another reason to collect them.  Letters home from World War I soldiers, cards posted to friends and family, love notes to a significant other, are all common.  Then there’s a message like this one, written on the back of the card above, showing a flock of chickens by a gate.  It’s a humorous note from a father to his daughter:

“You left the gate open and all the chickens got out. You will have no Easter eggs.”

Dad

Writing on a 1910 postcard

Other animals that may not come to mind as associated with the holiday made appearances on Easter cards too.  The geese, sheep, and kittens pictured here make for nontraditional Easter cards.  The goose was printed later than the others in this collection.  It was printed in 1931 in the Art Deco style, showing that Easter postcards remained popular. 

Two of the cards combine both secular and religious aspects of the holiday.  The sheep grazing in green pastures is reminiscent of the 23rd psalm, but the opposite panel shows all the traditional secular symbols of chicks, eggs and bunnies. The combination of bunnies with a cross over a spray of Easter lilies also brings together these two categories.   These are unusual, as least in my collection, as cards are either specifically religious or secular in theme.

Easter postcard showing geese and flowers
Easter postcard showing chick, bunny, and sheep in a field
Easter postcard showing chick emerging from egg surrounded by kittens
Easter postcard with a cross and bunnies

If the delivery of Easter baskets were left up to these two lazy bunnies, pictured below, no one would wake up to treats or have fun at an Easter Egg hunt.  This is an undated European card according to the information on the back. There’s lots of interesting details that draw your attention in this card.  Like the catkin card above, the center egg is cloth and it has been padded underneath so that it will stand out from the card.  The surrounding shamrocks and pussy willow buds are edged in glitter with a dash or two of glitter on the pink clover.

Easter postcard showing rabbits next to an egg, surrounded by greenery
Typed portion of postcard showing the word Postcard in multiple languages

But never fear, the real Easter bunny, pictured below, is here and he’s going to make sure all the little children receive their Easter baskets.  This card, bordered with ribbons, eggs, chicks and flowers, copyrighted in 1905, borrows from the cookies and milk usually left out for Santa. Here, the Easter bunny asks children to make a nest for him in the kitchen so that he can fill it with eggs – chocolate ones of course!  He’s pictured here with a nest and eggs in his paws to prove it!

Dear Little Friend,

I will call at your house on Easter morning with a big lot of Eggs.  Make a nest for me in the kitchen and I will fill it.

Your friend,

Bunny

Postcard: "Dear Little Friend,
I will call at your house on Easter morning with a big lot of Eggs.  Make a nest for me in the kitchen and I will fill it.
Your friend,
Bunny"

If you’d like to see more vintage postcards there are several available in the archives at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  If you’d like to see more of my personal postcard collection, request A&M 3989, to see an antique postcard album filled with cards spanning various holidays.

Happy Easter!

I’ll have the molded cucumbers and meat stock rutabaga, please

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 22nd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

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

It’s a tall order, de-mystifying the history of a group that was, and still is, slighted by a clear lack of representation. Delving into the Ebersole Collection of cookbooks, I unlocked a treasure chest of personal records on the issue of race. Now, I want to shine the limelight upon the recipes themselves. Let their components and technique do the speaking for women like Mary Ellen Pleasant and their prowess in the culinary arts. Despite the trope that Black women had “natural cooking talent”, Mary’s recipes show an impressive level of education and technical skill in the culinary arts.

First, compare the meals Mary provided her Black wait staff and elite guests at the ex-governor of California’s dinner parties. She catered for Mr. Latham, the ex-governor and US Senator, with an international buffet that boasted boiled pigs feet and veal knuckle. She meticulously set tables with gold dinnerware. Apparently, the punch bowl had five types of wine mixed in — not your typical frat party.

Sketch showing people in fancy dress at Milton Latham's house
A drawing of one of the dinner parties that Mary would cater for Governor Latham.

Here’s a bit of her recipe for molded cucumbers, which Mary served to guests at New Year’s Supper:

“Slice cucumbers and put into salted water… Put into the water 1 blade of mace, 1 teaspoon of peppercorns and ½ bay leaf… Put 6 tablespoonsful of gelatin in 1 cupful of water to dissolve…  Add 1 cup of tarragon vinegar and several drops of green coloring… When the gelatine has set, drain the cucumbers, arrange in a layer in mold, pour the rest of the gelatine into the mold and let jell until firm…”

Whoo! I’d botch up at slicing the cucumbers. Every item sounds like something you’d learn at a prestigious school of culinary arts in Paris. Yet Mary, enslaved since birth, had no such education. She learned these techniques as a young girl and expanded her repertoire independently. She was fortunate to have her creations documented in this cookbook, as most Black women of her time didn’t receive recognition for their tremendous and diverse culinary skills.

This is evidence that Black women trained and practiced cooking in a formal way, even if it didn’t result in a formal certificate. There was, and remains, a stereotype that Black women are born with an intrinsic, homely knowledge of cooking, and that they exclusively whip up Southern comfort foods like fried chicken and gravy.

Jumping back to the food she’d serve to her Black staff members, here is a recipe for “Cheap John Rutabaga:”

Recipe for "Cheap John Rutabaga"

This is no walk in the park, either. The ingredients for Mr. Latham’s guests at their lavish New Year’s Supper party were expensive and imported, but the technique required to make the perfect rutabaga is formidable. When I first read the new section of recipes for Mary’s staff, I was troubled by the “lesser” quality of food. The recipes tell a different tale, one of resourcefulness and creativity. The staff section includes sour-sweet bites that require a double boiler to get just right and an ingredient I’ve never heard of: caraway seeds. The ingredients used for Mr. Latham and Mary’s staff may differ, but the thoughtfulness and technical merit are consistent across every page.

What the Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute has to add about Mary Ellen Pleasant can be found here.

The Stories Archives Tell

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 15th, 2021

Blog post by Katie Lehosit, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Census records, obituaries, and old newspapers aren’t just for genealogy. In fact, with a little bit of hard work, archival research can reveal stories stranger than fiction. Such is the case with the following story, first introduced to me by Dr. Jennifer Thornton of the WVU History Department. It’s a story of immigration, a missing single mother, and ultimately, the injustice of late 19th century Wheeling.

We begin our story in Wheeling, West Virginia, in November 1879. Readers of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer could find, buried among news stories and society updates, an advertisement for “Chinese Laundry” at 1325 Market Street. The laundromat was run by Yee Wah, Jeui Lee, Yang Fou, and Wah Sing, who lived in a boarding house at 1136 Market Street. The four men immigrated from China, and found themselves in a booming industrial era Wheeling.

Colored Sanborn map showing buildings along Market Street
1890 Sanborn map of Wheeling at 14th St. and Market St. The arrow shows where the laundromat was located. Courtesy of WVRHC.

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer reported on the four men and their laundromat for decades. Usually, hate crimes were committed against the men and their shop. For example, in 1878, a drunk and disorderly citizen named Paul Heiler declared “war against China” and entered the laundromat and began attacking Yee Wah. While Heiler was arrested and put in jail, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer still painted Yee Wah as the villain, stating he had “vengeance in his heart” after the incident.

While articles like this were printed over the years, on March 24th, 1900, the accusations against the four men became even more serious. A woman from Bellaire, Ohio reported her daughter had gone missing. The daughter, 21 year old Rose Seamon, was a single mother who the press painted in a negative light, stating she was in a relationship with the men of the Chinese laundromat. Rose’s mother, for one reason or another, told the press she believed her daughter was being held captive at the laundromat. While others stated Rose either was there by her own will, or not even at the laundromat, law enforcement still arrested all four men, along with other Asian men in the city.

A postcard of Market St. in 1910. Courtesy of WVRHC.

Only one man was found guilty on trial, Ho Chy. Yet, all of the other men involved pleaded guilty without a trial. Ho Chy was fined $20, and Rose’s mother decided this was a sufficient penalty. Yet, this unfortunately is not the end of this story. A few weeks after the trial, a Chinese man named Sing Tong, committed suicide at a laundromat between 16th and 17th streets. It was speculated he was deeply affected by the trial and accusations against himself and the other Chinese men in Wheeling.

While this story doesn’t have a happy ending, it does show the racism showed against Asian individuals in Wheeling at the turn of the 20th century. Painted as villainous from the start, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer aided in the accusations against these Chinese men.

So, take some time to make a full story out of bits and pieces of research you’ve done. Regardless of the ending, remembering the injustices done against people only helps prevent them in the future. Plus, you’ll open the door for research on the story you put together!

*Note: I want to thank Dr. Jennifer Thornton for sharing her research with me, as well as the graduate students in Dr. Thornton’s Local History Methodology class.

Mammy Pleasant: An Agent of the Underground Railroad, Riverboat Chef, and West Virginia Abolitionist

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 8th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the second post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooks, featuring 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.

W.E.B. Du Bois compared Mary Ellen Pleasant to Harriet Tubman. He said, “Here was a colored woman who became one of the shrewdest business minds of the State.”

From “plantation lamb” to “smoked picnic tongue,” Mary Ellen Pleasant cooked it all and saw it all on her careful rise to culinary stardom in Victorian America. She was born into slavery on a Georgia plantation. Her training in the culinary arts began early in childhood, and once she was freed, she combined cooking and business skills to climb the ranks in gold-rush San Francisco and on a river boat owned by wealthy financiers. She used her connections with powerful figures to find jobs for colored people and led an effort to desegregate San Francisco’s streetcars, which established a legal precedent in the California Supreme Court for future civil rights suits (Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute). I’m left thinking, Where was this series of events in my American History class?

Taking her story closer to home, Mary Ellen was a leading figure in John Brown’s uprising at Harper’s Ferry. She financed his mission by donating $30,000, nearly $1 million in current money. When John Brown was hung in 1859 for treason, officials found a note in his pocket from an unknown, assumed-to-be-male source. It expressed complete support for the raid. That note was written by Mary Ellen Pleasant, self-made millionaire and West Virginia hero.

Portrait of Mary Ellen Pleasant, seated

Mary Ellen’s arduous journey is written between the lines of kitchen guidance, local recipes, and lists of common ingredients like nutmeg and bread crumbs. You get a sense of life’s everyday essence in the words of a chef to a novice reader. It’s conversational, light, yet studded with evidence of Mary Ellen’s home and career at the time. This timeline of food showcases her major steps, characteristic recipes, and social position throughout her life.

She’s a feminist leader whose name belongs beside modern icons like Simone de Beauvoir, Coretta Scott King, or Malala Yousafzai. I read about her campaign for justice in the pages surrounding quaint recipes for stews and cakes. No other book I’ve read detailed the process of stewing turtle meat with sherry wine or whipping cream with a rotary beater.

Like many women of color in the United States, Mary Ellen was artistically and academically restricted. She was blocked from etching her success, struggle, and feelings in popular documents. We must widen the reading lens of history, piecing together hidden accounts from secondary sources like cookbooks. Stories like Mary’s, a brilliant entrepreneur, self-made millionaire, and important abolitionist, cannot remain shrouded by discrimination.

When you step back and absorb Mary’s well-rounded recipes, you can almost taste her march toward self-empowerment and social change. As we move through this blog, let’s celebrate the women who built modern food systems and simultaneously campaigned for freedom.

“I’d rather be a corpse than a coward.” -Mary Ellen Pleasant

Resources:

Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Timeline of Major Events: https://timelines.gitkraken.com/timeline/8afdcc6908984b1887c2dce8884f2b1d?range=1830-01-01_1879-08-08
(Dates are approximate, as they were not listed explicitly in the cookbook. Scroll over blue boxes to read more.)

Image of Mary Ellen Pleasant:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Ellen_Pleasant

Source of quotes and more information about Mary Ellen Pleasant from the New York Times:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/obituaries/mary-ellen-pleasant-overlooked.html

The Martinsburg Herald

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 1st, 2021

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

The Republicans of Berkeley County once bemoaned how difficult it was to edit a political paper when “the Republican backbone” in Berkeley “was weakened by Democratic domination.” This perceived difficulty did not prevent editors A. S. Goulden and John T. Reily from establishing the Martinsburg Herald in 1881. A thoroughly Republican paper, the Martinsburg Herald retained its original management until 1885, when Reily purchased Goulden’s interest in the paper and associated himself with George F. Evans, a manufacturer of cigars and wholesale dealer in tobacco. In addition to being a Republican paper, the Martinsburg Herald was “A Weekly Family Journal—Devoted to Home Interests, Local News, &c.” It followed a fairly consistent format: the first page contained literature, the second political reports, the third local news, and the fourth advertisements.

Portrait of John T. Reily
John T. Reily, a Catholic historian, published frequently throughout his life. During his tenure as editor, he published Conewago, A Collection of Local Catholic History, Gathered from the Fields of Catholic Missionary Labors within Our Reach (1885).

The Republican element of the Martinsburg Herald was secondary under Reily and Evans, but it was not absent. Reily and Evans championed protection and denounced free trade during the presidential election of 1888. It was their belief, and that of the Republican Party, that restricting imports from other countries would promote American producers, businesses, and workers. They utilized the rhetoric of labor to equate protectionism with agricultural and working-class interests. “Protection always won when the issue was openly against Free Trade,” the editors said of the 1888 Republican victory. “Labor of all kinds fears free trade, and well it may. Labor was aroused, and Labor is the Lion of America.” The lion Reily and Evans envisioned represented unity, something they wanted for the Republican Party.

A healthy repugnance of party factionalism followed the Martinsburg Herald into the Progressive Era, even as it became increasingly political. It no longer bore the title “Family Journal” after A. B. Smith and J. H. Mowbry replaced Reily as editor on July 22, 1893. As a Republican newspaper, the Martinsburg Herald published extensively on free silver—a monetary policy that favored unlimited coinage of silver into money on demand—and territorial expansion. Both Smith and Mowbry and the editors who succeeded them (U.S.G. Pitzer in 1899, George F. Evans in 1900, Wilbur Thomas in 1904, and W.E. Hoffheins & Co intermittently) criticized free silver and its populist Democrat defender, William Jennings Bryan. They predicted an economic collapse under Bryan’s silver standard and urged farmers, the potential beneficiaries of free silver, to “not pursue a phantom and bring down on his own head worse ills than he now suffers.” They also chastised Bryan’s opposition to the imperialist war being fought in the Philippines. Invoking the memory of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, Smith informed his readers “[that] Mr. Jefferson was nothing if not an expansionist… and if alive today both would be found supporting the foreign policy of William McKinley.” The editors of the Martinsburg Herald equated progress as a nation with rampant imperialism.

Political cartoon referencing William Jennings Bryan and a cross of gold.
In defense of free silver, Bryan famously proclaimed in 1896 that he would not allow mankind to be crucified “upon a cross of gold.”

The reformist spirit of the Progressive Era did not penetrate the pages of the Martinsburg Herald. A few reports addressing prohibition and women’s suffrage graced its columns, but they never received lengthy coverage. The editors had other concerns, particularly in 1912, when ex-president Theodore Roosevelt ran against incumbent William H. Taft, creating a schism in the Republican Party. They accused the newly formed Progressive Party of putting “local candidates into the field against the Republican candidates in every State and congressional district” in “a war of extermination” against Republicans. There was no subtlety in their assertion that the “motto of the new party seems to be ‘Kill the Republican party; elect Roosevelt at the same time if possible, but in any event kill the Republican party.” Republicans and Progressives alike felt the sting of defeat when Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912 and 1916.

A political cartoon showing the GOP elephant sick because of Teddy Roosevelt
A political cartoon from February 5, 1916, depicting a “third party” sickness. The markings on the GOP elephant are caricatures of Roosevelt’s face.

The Republican Party survived its splintering and the victory of Wilson; the Martinsburg Herald did not. The final issue appeared on December 27, 1919, under the World Publishing Company. The editorial body gave no indication that this issue would be the Herald’s last. It published a variety of articles, as it always had, including a speech from its former political rival, William Jennings Bryan. It was strangely ironic—maybe even appropriate—that Bryan had the final say in a paper that had spent twenty years opposing and denigrating his policies.

Editor’s note: The Martinsburg Herald is one of the newspapers that will be digitized during the current WV NDNP grant cycle, so it will eventually be available on https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.

An Undergraduate’s Take on Race, Justice, and Social Change Through Cookbooks

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 22nd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This series of blog posts will feature the following books: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code

Collage of cookbook covers
Emphasis on race, gender, socioeconomic status, and themes of social justice

Note: The cookbooks in this series feature revolutionary and talented women of their times. Reading their stories in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, I chose to refer to the authors by their first names. Their casual tones conveyed a desire to connect with the reader, and being one of those readers, I wanted to uphold that connection while maintaining the highest respect for the work they created.

I found a place on campus I never knew existed. The West Virginia & Regional History Center houses doorways into the past, into the day-to-day struggles, relationships, and moments of sweet relief. I’m sifting through the realities of women, Black Americans, and other marginalized groups to elucidate forces that affected their lives. These forces, far from obsolete, persist into today’s social landscape, whether it is in private conversations at the Mountainlair or national media coverage.

Donated by the late Lucinda Ebersole, an acclaimed writer and cookbook collector, hundreds of cookbooks await analysis on the sixth floor of the Downtown Library. I started with Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, which captures the travels and fierce entrepreneurship of Mary Ellen Pleasant.

Double doors with sign above that reads "Rare Book Room"
The Rare Book Room at the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

I realized that recipes cast a new light on history with an intimate truthfulness. Standard high-school history books don’t reveal the ins and outs of stewing a turtle, running a renowned kitchen on a senator’s riverboat, or feeding enslaved people at secret boarding houses of the Underground Railroad. The language around recipes, be it an author’s note or long introduction, tells a story about a time period. How are specific groups of people described? Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook uses “Negro,” while later books opt for “African American” or “Black.” Who knew a timeline of societal awakenings and changes in norms is etched between the dinner and dessert section of a cookbook?

As I flipped the page of a hundred-year-old cookbook, a plume of dust shot into the air. I caught a whiff of an unfamiliar scent that reminded me of my grandmother’s stack of outdated newspapers, musty yet potent. I felt like a foreigner in an unexplored country, getting to know the smells and rituals of a group whose history was scrubbed and sanitized by dominant groups.

For example, the “mammy” stereotype — a jolly, rotund Black woman who cares for everyone and whips up a southern feast — seemed awful but extinct in today’s world. However, it was only three months ago that the international brand Quaker Oats removed a notorious mammy stereotype from their most famous product line, Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix.

Check out this TikTok on “How to Make a Non Racist Breakfast.” The creator spells out how a pancake icon propagated racism: https://twitter.com/singkirbysing/status/1273053553876074496

The content of these frayed cookbooks is so pertinent to the current moment. Their lessons on racial identity and inclusion matter in policy decisions, university trainings, and dorm-room discussions among friends.

My goal in these blogs is to share stories from sources as raw, as delicious, and as unfiltered as personal recipes. I don’t mind if opinions are unsettled or comfortability is shaken. I’ll also let you in on experiences that I’ll likely never witness, like skinning an opossum or preparing fruit punch for a hundred people at a church social.

At some points, I found myself agitated over a cookbook. I texted friends and annoyed my family about what I read, mostly injustices against the authors and their communities. Civil rights, intercultural blending, mental health, women’s suffrage, gender issues, slavery, single parenthood, poverty, environmentalism, and more fills the pages of the Ebersole Collection. This blog would be lucky to dust off just one of those topics!

I invite you to accompany me into the daily lives of skilled chefs who objected in the most cunning, illusive way. Their judgements and hopes are woven into the blank spaces between recipes for roast duck and spice cake.

I’m excited to show you what I uncovered after hours in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, carefully leafing through these antique cookbooks on a special book pillow.

I’m a senior pursuing a double major in Biology and International Studies and intern at the WVU Center for Resilient Communities. Welcome to my excursion into the Ebersole Collection!

Display of cookbooks featuring Black women
An exhibit of cookbooks written by Black women, an underrepresented group in culinary publications. This case and others can be viewed at the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

*I will capitalize the term “Black” in agreement with the New York Times’ 2020 decision to respect a shared cultural identity. Read more about their decision here.

Members of the WVU community can make an appointment to browse and read books from the Ebersole Collection by visiting: https://wvulib.wufoo.com/forms/modzhm01sagr2x/

A warm thank you to our dedicated Rare Book Librarian, Stewart Plein, and our Reference Supervisor, Jessica Eichlin, for empowering me during this process. Without their work, organizing the hundreds of books and spreading the word about their content would not happen.

More about the Ebersole Collection: https://news.lib.wvu.edu/2018/12/05/the-importance-of-a-good-cookbook/

Written by Christina White
Biology and International Studies
cdw0030@mix.wvu.edu

*photos taken by Christina White

Friendship in the Archives

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 15th, 2021

Blog post by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Valentine’s Day yesterday got me thinking about love and friendship, and how that is reflected in the things we save. The WVRHC has preserved the evidence of probably thousands of friendships in the form of funny greeting cards, charming letters, scrapbooks, reminiscences, published works, and photographs. I wanted to share some of those photographs with all of you, to highlight the many forms of friendship which carry us through good times and bad.

Siblings

Two children in a cutout of a larg Valentine's Day card
Jeanette and Gladys Green, early 1900s, remind us that sometimes our very first friends are our siblings.

Childhood friends

Little girls pushing dolls in prams.
Sometimes the friendships of childhood last a lifetime. Here, Virginia Rumsey and her friends are taking a walk, 1907.

Coworkers

Group of men posed on and around a car
Work is much more pleasant when you have friends to share it with. Here we have Sammy Walsh posing with his work friends in the Civilian Conservation Corps, ca. 1930s (if you can ID any of the folks in this picture, please let us know!)

Beloved pets

Woman with spaniel
For some of us, our pets have been helping us get through the isolation of this pandemic. This photo is actually titled “Nell Keller and Friend, Avis,” ca. 1920.

The goofy ones

Thrre men with a mule in a hat
Joe Drumheller and his associates pose with a mule, ca. 1915. Were they work friends? School pals? I’m not sure, but it’s great to have friends with whom you can be yourself.

Friends from school, clubs, social organizations, etc.

Posed group portrait of the Black Unity Organization
Sometimes strong bonds can be formed with others who share our interests and our challenges. Here’s to the friends we find in academic clubs, social organizations, and activist groups. This is the Black Unity Organization, WVU, 1969.

Romantic partners and old friends

An elderly man and woman in rocking chairs, in front of an old photo and a cake, with a "60" decoration
Since it’s the day after Valentine’s Day, I can’t ignore the friendships between romantic partners, and I also want to celebrate friendships that last through the years. Here we have (hopefully) both: an unidentified man and woman are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in Martinsburg, West Virginia, undated. (If you know this couple, please get in touch so we can add their names to the photo record!)

Military comrades and friends who we’ve lost

Memorial wall with flower wreaths along the bottom
I found this image in my search, and it seemed a fitting place to end, celebrating the bonds forged while serving in the armed forces, as well as friends who have passed away. This is the Memorial Wall for the 8th Air Force at Madingley American Cemetery in Madingley, England, undated.

These and many more photos can be found in our database of historic photographs, West Virginia History OnView.

Our New National Park: The New River Gorge

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 1st, 2021

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

The New River, among the oldest in the nation, has now been named the newest national park in the United States.  This designation comes as part of the recent stimulus package signed by President Trump.  With over 70,000 acres stretching along the New River, the new national park offers a variety of fine water activities, such as whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.  If dry land is more your speed, outdoor activities include hiking, rock climbing, hunting, bird watching, camping, as well as one of West Virginia’s most popular sports, mountain biking.

Of course, one of the most compelling features of the New River gorge is its stunning bridge.  Take a look at some of the photographs and postcards in the West Virginia and Regional History Center showing the gorge and the bridge over time.

The gorge is not far from other natural resources within the state.  The photograph below shows a view of the New River Gorge from Hawks Nest, dated 1939.  This photograph comes from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company Advertising Department, A&M 1710. 

New River Gorge with bridge

The area is rich in cultural history as well.  Before the bridge, timber was an important resource.  This photograph, below, shows loggers and two small boys posing on a small Peerless Engine and its cargo of logs in the New River Gorge, Fayette County, date unknown.  Note that the track rails are made of logs.  A National Park Service Photo.  Published by Katy Miller. (postcard collection)

People standing on a train carrying logs

Under Construction

Jump forward nearly one hundred years to the technological marvel that was the building of the New River Gorge bridge.  Now known nationally and globally as the site for Bridge Day, when traffic is at a halt and people are allowed to traverse the bridge, and even jump off of it!  According to the Bridge Day website, every third Saturday in October, thousands of people gather on the bridge to base jump.  I think this falls under the heading: If you build it, they will come!

Two ends of New River Gorge bridge, with the middle missing, still under construction

 Above: This jaw dropping image shows the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayette County, W. Va.  ca. 1976.  Photo of the steel bridge construction by the United States Steel Corporation. The bridge’s arch was the world’s longest main arch at 1,700 feet.

New River Gorge bridge under construction

Above: ca. 1976.  A group of unidentified construction workers are scattered across the site.

New River Gorge Bridge under construction

This beautiful shot shows the New River Gorge Bridge under construction, ca. 1976.  Fayette County

New River Gorge from Hawk's Nest Rock State Park, drawing

This postcard from 1941 shows the New River Canyon from Hawk’s Nest Rock State Park, near Ansted.  The caption on the back of postcard reads: “Once called Marshall’s Pillar for Chief Justice John Marshall who came here in 1812. Engineers declare the New River Canyon, 585 feet deep, surpasses the famed Royal Gorge. Tunnel for river makes vast water power here. On U.S. Route 60.”  Published by Genuine Curteich. (From postcard collection).

So, what are you waiting for?  There are plenty of winter activities to enjoy at our newest national park and the gorge looks beautiful under a blanket of snow.  Need something for the whole family to do together?  See it firsthand this weekend!

Resources:

History of Lakin State Hospital

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 25th, 2021

Blog post by Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Mental illness and its treatment have a long history in the United States as well as West Virginia. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries several hospitals were built in West Virginia to service the developing communities in a growing state. Today, West Virginia is home to some famous old hospitals which attract visitors every year in search of either a catered scare or a dive into the macabre past tied to these places. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a popular and well visited location in Weston. 

Hospital building
Women’s Ward Building, Lakin State Hospital, 1930

There was another institution however, which functioned for just over fifty years and today has nearly vanished. The Lakin State Hospital was built in 1926 in Point Pleasant and served as the African American mental hospital for the state during the era of segregation. The hospital was part of a series of community services and institutions proposed by African American delegates in West Virginia’s Legislature. West Virginia’s political make up looked different in the 1920s. The Republican Party ran on a platform of progress and moral reform spearheading the successful implementation of prohibition in 1916 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. These Afrian American delegates, T. G. Nutter, Harry Capehart, and T. J. Coleman saw accessible and state funded mental health services for African American West Virginians as essential and in tow with the Republican Party’s platform. 

Hospital building
State Hospital for Colored Insane, 1924

The campus was built gradually. The original staff at the hospital shared quarters with the patients until employee dormitories were constructed. The buildings exhibited an emerging modern “budget Deco” style. They were composed almost entirely of brick with symmetrical double-hung windows and ornamental columns along the facades. The main building for the hospital’s campus also featured a two story portico supported by rectangular columns. These design features evoked the streamlined themes of the emerging Art Deco architectural style which exploded throughout the United States during the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. 

Lakin State Hospital was West Virginia’s state hospital for African-American mental health patients, then called the “colored insane,” and was also completely staffed by African Americans. These demographics were very atypical for mental hospitals which normally employed at least one white physician. In addition to the all African American staff, specialists would often visit the hospital. One of these specialists was the infamous Dr. Walter Freeman, an enthusiastic proponent of lobotomization. Freeman performed over 150 lobotomies at Lakin between 1940 and 1960. The hospital shared its campus with the West Virginia Industrial School for Colored Boys and eventually the site became the Lakin Correctional Facility, a women’s prison. Few images still exist from the hospital, and only the administration building remains standing. 

Three hospital buildings surrounded by fields and trees
Lakin State Hospital Campus, 1930

Three Powerful West Virginia Black Women: Their Work Revealed In Ancella Bickley’s Collection

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 19th, 2021

Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita

Dr. Ancella Bickley’s extensive collection of her research materials and writings in the West Virginia and Regional History Center reflects her research on a wide range of topics pertaining to the Black experience in America and particularly the West Virginia Black experience.  Bickley, an educator, historian, and writer, was especially interested in revealing the unique contributions of Black women.  While the transcripts of her oral history interviews with Black teachers who experienced the integration of schools reveals the major contributions of many Black West Virginia women, I have chosen three other noteworthy women to introduce here. 

Headshot of Dr. Ancella Bickley
Dr. Ancella Bickley, ca. 1999

The amount of information about each of these women varies widely.  Dr. Bickley collected enough information to write an entire book about the first woman, Memphis Tennessee Garrison.  She found a little less about the second woman, Bessie Woodson Yancey who was recognized by scholars for her writing. As for the third woman, Mollie Gabe, she largely remains hidden in history except for the research and recognition by Ancella Bickley.

Memphis Tennessee Garrison
1890-1988

Candid headshot of Memphis Tennessee Garrison with corsage
Photograph from the Huntington Dispatch, February 17, 2008

Dr. Bickley’s book, written with Lynda Ann Ewen, Memphis Tennessee Garrison, the Remarkable Story of a Black Appalachian Woman narrates the life of a woman of accomplishment during the heyday of mining in West Virginia and the Jim Crow era of the 1920s through the 1940s.  Memphis Tennessee Garrison was a community activist, coal company mediator, and educator.  One of her most impactful activities was to spearhead the NAACP Christmas Seals, a fundraising program, as just part of her long commitment to that organization.  She used her voice to support the Republican Party and its candidates too by working with the Party’s women’s organization.  She developed cultural and recreational opportunities in the mining communities by bringing entertainment to the miners and their families; and was also a liaison with the coal companies and miners to calm labor and racial disputes. As an educator she created techniques for teaching special needs children before the term “special education” was coined. 

Memphis Tennessee Garrison was one generation removed from slavery and was a powerful activist for the Blacks of West Virginia and the nation. As the book about her life notes, she “deserves her place in the lists of important women, important black Americans, and important Appalachians.”

Further Reading:

Buchanan, Harriette C. Appalachian Journal, vol. 29, no. 3, 2002, pp. 369–371. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40934867. Accessed 6 Jan. 2021.

Wikipedia contributors. “Memphis Tennessee Garrison.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Dec. 2020. Web. 6 Jan. 2021.

Bessie Woodson Yancey
1882-1958

Portrait of Bessie Woodson Yancey

I am a Negro,
Dusky
As my native jungles,
Subtle
As the creatures that move therein,
Rollicking
Like the noon-day sun.
Suffered all,
Yet I bring goodwill,
Turning loss to gain,
Wrestling joy from pain,
Changing tears into laughter!

Bessie Woodson Yancey penned the poem above, and many more, for her book Echoes from the Hills which was published by her brother, Carter G. Woodson, the famed Black historian and activist.  Katharine Rodier wrote of Yancey’s book “her poetry signifies a self-determining moment in the history of African American writing.”  In the poem, Yancey demonstrates her deep pride in her race.  In addition to her race figuring in her poetry, Yancey was also influenced by her Appalachian identity.  Here she demonstrates her deep pride in her state.

If you live in West Virginia,
Come with me and pause a while.
See her wealth and power rising,
See her plains and valleys smile!

Aside from her poetry Yancey wrote more than one hundred pieces, mostly editorials, for Huntington’s Herald-Advertiser, 1946-1956. Her writing demonstrated “evidence of a lively mind engaged in the vital political issues of the day” (Katherine Smith) from the local, national, and international levels.  She was particularly vocal regarding West Virginia’s place on the national scene.  Her voice also supported the civil rights movement, and she received a death threat from Huntington’s Ku Klux Klan, yet she continued to express her opinion on race up to ten years later.  Katherine Smith also said of her “Yancey’s editorial work unsettles assumptions about women’s experiences as African-American Appalachians.”

Bessie Woodson Yancey rose above the strictures placed on Black women in mid-century America to speak her truth regarding world affairs and to offer the world beauty through her poems.

Further reading:

Rodier, Katharine. “Cross-writing, music, and racial identity: Bessie Woodson Yancey’s Echoes from the Hills.” MELUS, vol. 27, no. 2, 2002, p. 49+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A92589725/LitRC?u=morg77564&sid=LitRC&xid=c5862914. Accessed 6 Jan. 2021.

Smith, Katharine Capshaw. “Bessie Woodson Yancey, African-American Poet and Social Critic.” Appalachian Heritage, vol. 36 no. 3, 2008, p. 73-77. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/aph.0.0060.

Mollie Gabe (Mary Elizabeth Johnson)
ca. 1853-1957

Mollie Gabe, seated
From Bickley’s Appalachian Heritage article

Mary Elizabeth Johnson was born into slavery in Falls Mills in Braxton County.  Mollie Gabe’s mother Jane Rhea was enslaved by Dr. John Rhea who brought Jane and other slaves from Virginia.  According to varying accounts Dr. Rhea sold Mollie as a child to a family in Clay County where she worked until the Civil War ended.  Although Mollie did not know that the war had ended and she was a free person, her mother did know and sent her brother, Mollie’s uncle, to fetch Mollie back to Falls Mill where she remained the rest of her life. Johnson acquired the nickname Mollie Gabe when she married Alexander “Gabe” Johnson in 1871.

In Falls Mill she developed a reputation for being an energetic hard worker, and a midwife and healer using traditional Appalachian remedies.  In Ancella Bickley’s profile of Mollie Gabe, she counts Gabe among the “ordinary people who faced day-to-day challenges in the best way they knew how, serving their families and their communities with honor and earning the high regard of many who knew them.”  She traveled from farm to farm washing clothes or helping with butchering.  Her husband Gabe (Alexander) was also an itinerant laborer.  He and his brothers had been slaves of the Braxton County family of William Haymond with whom Mollie and Gabe continued a cordial relationship. They both provided labor for the community and since Gabe owned a team of horses, he delivered groceries, plowed fields, hauled items and worked with his brothers as extra hands as needed. 

I doubt that Mollie could read, but she is believed to have traveled to Black colleges and Black high schools to tell her story of being enslaved. It is also said that she walked about a mile at 86 years old to the polls to cast her vote for the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. 

According to the 1910 census, Mary and Alexander Johnson had been married 42 years and had 10 children and she said in an interview that she raised many more.  Her gravestone in Falls Mills shows that she lived to be 99 years old, but other accounts show her age at death to be 104.

Further Reading:

Bickley, Ancilla. “Mollie Gabe.” Appalachian Heritage, vol. 19 no. 4, 1991, p. 34-37. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/aph.1991.0063

Interview with Mollie Gabe.  Braxton Democrat, February 2,1939 and reprinted October 29, 1982. http://sites.rootsweb.com/~wvbraxto/mollie.html  Accessed January 5, 2021

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.