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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
In the early 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 of people died or were injured, and thousands were left homeless. The cleanup, investigations, and lawsuits that followed further strained the community.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster, WVU Libraries and the Department of History have created exhibitions online and in the Downtown Library’s Atrium that will remain on display through December.
In conjunction with the exhibits, the Libraries’ Local to Global Film Series and Department of History will host a virtual screening of Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man and Buffalo Creek Flood Revisited followed by a discussionwith award-winning film director Mimi Pickering on March 3 at 7 p.m. Registration for the event is open.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
WVU Libraries recently received an award notification for a West Virginia Humanities Council major grant for an upcoming exhibit, Indigenous Appalachia. The exhibition will be displayed at WVU Downtown Library and virtually from August 2022 through May 2023 before traveling to WVU Beckley Library, Appalachian State University Library and Marshall University Library.
The exhibit will also become a digital exhibit available on the WVU Libraries’ website and archived on the Research Repository at WVU.
The goal of the exhibition is to increase awareness of the contributions made by Indigenous Appalachians to the region both historically and contemporarily, while recognizing the continuing injustices faced by Indigenous people.
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.
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!)
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.
Are you an instructor who is concerned about the impact of high textbook costs for your students’ academic success? WVU Libraries will host an Open Textbook Workshop and Textbook Review on March 10 at 10 a.m. that will help instructors explore possible open textbook solutions to this growing financial issue.
Over the past few years, 60 percent of students surveyed said they delayed purchasing textbooks until they received their financial aid and 70 percent chose not to purchase a required textbook because of cost, according to the Open Education Network, a group that studies how the high cost of course materials impede students’ academic success.
Open textbooks can help alleviate the burden of textbook costs for students and provide faculty with content that can be customized for their course. Open textbooks are complete and authoritative, adopted by many faculty across the country and licensed to be freely used, edited, and distributed.
Plan to log on to “Justice for Afghan Women and Girls Now: Understanding and Action,” a virtual event January 25 from 6-7 p.m. that will explore the aftermath of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 that has placed many women and girls in crisis.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Danielle Emerling, congressional and political papers archivist for West Virginia University Libraries, addressed the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress on December 3 about a groundbreaking, grant-funded project to make congressional archives from across the country more discoverable and accessible.
In May, WVU Libraries received nearly $60,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the American Congress Digital Archives Portal project. The project will provide easier access to archives for scholars, educators, and the public by digitizing historical materials from multiple institutions and aggregating them in a single online platform.
The Downtown and Evansdale libraries have added spin bikes to help students get exercise while studying for final this week. Three bikes are in Eliza’s on the fourth floor of the Downtown Library, and three bikes are in Evansdale Library, Room G18. Thanks goes out to the WVU Student Recreation Center for providing the equipment.
Students are encouraged to donate their old textbooks to the WVU Libraries to help grow the Shining Minds Textbook Loan Collection.
This program, developed by a WVU graduate student as a social action project, is intended to build a collection of textbooks to help student acquire textbooks needed for their studies. Textbooks in this collection can be checked out from the Libraries for a semester.
Drop boxes can be found in the front of the Downtown and Evansdale libraries through the end of the semester.
The Shining Minds Textbook Loan Program is dedicated to ending barriers that are an impediment to students pursuing their education.
The Art in the Libraries Committee and Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz selected Payton Brown, a first-year MFA candidate in painting, and Liuqing Ruth Yang, a senior BFA candidate in painting graduating this December, to receive the 2021 Dean of the Libraries’ Student Art Award.
Brown received the award for her work, “The Star Theatre,”an oil canvas painting. Brown describes the subjects of her paintings as, “vintage, seemingly outdated scenes of urban life in America” with the goal of perpetuating a “sense of nostalgia and longing amongst viewers.”
The WVU Libraries Faculty Assembly is seeking nominations for the Outstanding Librarian Award and Distinguished Service Award. These awards are presented once every three years to recognize exceptional contributions toward the delivery, development or expansion of library services or special programs for the constituencies of WVU.
The Outstanding Librarian Award honors WVU Libraries faculty for their significant contributions. It is open to all current and retired Libraries faculty who have been employed by the Libraries for at least two years.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Health Sciences Center Pylons, November 2021-May 2022
Healthcare in the Mountain State, like many areas in rural Appalachia has obstacles to overcome such as employing a diverse population of providers and equitable access to quality healthcare. Historically, People of Color in health care navigated their own path through discrimination, segregation, and systemic racism to become practitioners. Today’s practitioners continue the legacy of providing communities quality care and generating People of Color’s increased trust in medical institutions thus increasing the quality of public health and well-being. This exhibit looks at the past, present and future of West Virginia People of Color in Healthcare with historical imagery and text, current perspectives and WVU initiatives and more. View the online exhibit here.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Jay Cole, senior adviser to WVU President E. Gordon Gee, explained the meaning behind to the event’s title. “Pearls of wisdom” is a saying and a metaphor expressing the belief that wisdom is valuable and worthy of admiration. By inverting this saying to “wisdoms of Pearl,” referring to Pearl S. Buck, we have the theme for the 2021 Pearl S. Buck International Symposium.
“This theme allows us to examine the ‘wisdoms’ Buck shared through her writings, speeches, advocacy, and global humanitarian efforts, both during her life and as part of her legacy since her death. This theme also allows us to examine the ‘wisdoms’ many others have gained from Buck’s work, from literary scholars and historians to artists and diplomats,” Cole said.