West Virginia Univeristy
9:30am - 4:30pm

News Blog

WVRHC Debuts New Archives Research Website

Jane Metters LaBarbara
March 13, 2018

The West Virginia & Regional History Center at West Virginia University Libraries has launched a powerful new tool to assist researchers anywhere in the world who have an interest in exploring the history of the Mountain State and its region.

The Center’s new Guide to Archives and Manuscripts provides enhanced descriptions for more than 4,300 archival collections, and that number grows every week. The new site is available at https://archives.lib.wvu.edu/.

The website is built with ArchivesSpace, an open source, web-based archives information management system supported by a community of over 300 member institutions and the LYRASIS network of museums, archives and libraries. WVU Libraries has been a member of the ArchivesSpace community since 2015.

For more information, check out the article in WVUToday: https://wvutoday.wvu.edu/stories/2018/03/12/west-virginia-regional-history-center-debuts-new-archives-research-website

If you have any questions about using the new site, please contact us!



Jane Metters LaBarbara
March 12, 2018

Blog Post by Jessica Eichlin, Photographs Manager and Preservationist

Driving on the back roads of West Virginia is one of my favorite parts of traveling to visit family in Virginia.  The natural scenery is gorgeous, I get to see incredible farm houses, and, as a bonus this last trip, I saw a Mail Pouch Tobacco sign on a barn.  I had heard of these rustic billboards before, but did not know much about the history behind them. 

Mail Pouch Tobacco was the most popular brand sold by the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company of Wheeling, West Virginia.[i]  Originally opened as a dry goods store in 1879, the brothers, Aaron and Samuel, switched solely to tobacco products after an 1884 flood.

Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company building in Wheeling, W. Va.

Undated photo postcard of the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company in Wheeling, W. Va.  The building, although under different ownership, still produces tobacco products. http://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/wvulibraries:44113

The Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company, advertising from their inception, began painting large advertisements on barns around 1925.[ii]  These now-iconic signs, in bold black, yellow, and white, still stand today as a testament to the power of the Mail Pouch Tobacco brand.  Painted barns, concentrated in the northeast, appeared in Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Connecticut, and even California.[iii]  Independent crews, contracted by the tobacco company, traveled the roads of the region, paying barn owners a small fee to paint a sign on their barn.[iv]  The Mail Pouch sign would be painted on one or more sides, and in some cases, even the roof of the barn.  A number of the barns painted with the Mail Pouch advertisement have been painted over, destroyed, or simply abandoned and reclaimed by their environment.  Others are still standing today, such as that one I saw on the backroads of West Virginia.

The brand, however, was not limited to barns in their advertising efforts.  Advertisements appeared in newspapers, on billboards, in periodicals, and on in-store displays.  To further entice customers and potential customers, Mail Pouch offered promotional items which could be redeemed in exchange for vouchers, conveniently included with every purchase of Mail Pouch Tobacco.  The promotional items, listed in a small catalogue, were “valuable and useful articles for ladies and gentlemen,” and included pipes, scarf pins, jewelry, sports equipment, suitcases, silverware, hot water bottles, and books.  The WVRHC has one of these catalogues in the Printed Ephemera Collection (P9033).

Page from a Mail Pouch Tobacco promotional pamphlet, showing items that vouchers could be redeemed for Page from a Mail Pouch Tobacco promotional pamphlet, showing items that vouchers could be redeemed for

Even though Mail Pouch made its headquarters in Wheeling, W. Va., the WVRHC has surprisingly few collections of company material. If you have Mail Pouch materials that you would like to donate to us, please get in touch at 304-293-3536!


[i] Jourdan, Katherine M. “Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 27 December 2010. Web. 23 March 2017.

[ii] Carl, Gerald P. “The Barns Remain but the Artists are Forgotten!” Mail Pouch Barnstormers. 1984. Web. 23 March 23, 2017.

[iii] “Mail Pouch Tobacco Barn,” Wikipedia. 10 March 2017. Web. 23 March 2017.

[iv] Carl, Gerald P. “The Barns Remain but the Artists are Forgotten!” Mail Pouch Barnstormers. 1984. Web. 23 March 23, 2017.


University Archives Update, Part 2: Beyond University Records

Jane Metters LaBarbara
March 7, 2018

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

In January, I wrote about WVU’s new records retention efforts and how that helps the University Archives collect WVU’s history.  University history goes beyond departmental and administrative records, though, so the University Archives collects more than just records created by the University. If you are interested in what the University Archives wants to collect, take a look at our Collection Policy.  It describes additional types of records and materials that we are collecting, including the following categories: 


Student organizations’ materials

In the University’s retention schedule, under Student Government and Organization Records, it says “Records of the student organization itself should be retained by the organization but may be archived at the discretion of the organization.”

Student organization records are valuable parts of the University Archives because they prove that an organization existed on campus and they show what was important to our students, who our students were, what challenges they faced, how they spent their time, what they advocated for, and more. According to the WVU Division of Student Life website, we have over 450 student organizations right now, not including all the groups that began and ended in the past.  As we build a bigger and better University Archives, we need the help of our students, staff, and alumni to bring these materials to our attention.

We already have a variety of organization and club records, including some student government records, records of the Ten Buck Club, a few collections of fraternity materials including those of Phi Sigma Delta and Phi Sigma Kappa, and more.

WVU students working on a parade float

Second Place Homecoming Float, built by Phi Kappa Sigma, Tau Kappa Epsilon, and Gamma Phi Beta.
The picture is undated–if anybody has a guess based on the car or the clothes, let us know!


Faculty papers

Did you know that a WVU professor…

worked on the Sydney Opera House and helped restore historic bridges across America? Dr. Emory Kemp’s papers are currently being processed.

was involved in the creation of the PRT? Dr. Samy Elias’ papers are available for research.

was “a dominant person in the development of forest entomology in America”? You can read more about the impact of A.D. Hopkins here; his papers are also available for research.

Faculty papers can contain a wide variety of materials, from typical administrative documents to drafts of creative works to research notebooks.  Faculty papers help us document the creation of new programs and schools, and they can also show the university’s impact by shedding light on professors’ involvement in state and national organizations, how they advanced research in their fields, and more.

Aerial view of plan for WVU's PRT route

 A model route of the Morgantown Demonstration Project (PRT) to connect WVU’s campuses. Things look a little different now.


Alumni materials

We collect materials from a variety of university alumni, from individuals who rose to prominence in their chosen fields to those who recorded their everyday lives as university students decades ago.

Materials from our leading lights help us document and share the great things that members of our student body go on to achieve, helping us build the university’s legacy. Examples of fantastic alumni who have chosen to share their papers with the archives are film composer Jay Chattaway, actor Chris Sarandon, and basketball great Jerry West.

Everyday life materials supplement other university and club materials to show us what life used to be like, what students were into back then, and what the Mountaineer legacy is. We have materials ranging from a photo album documenting student life in the 1890s (A&M 5164) to materials from a student journalist documenting the “Death of Higher Education” protest in 1988 (A&M 5088) to records of student activism on multiple issues (A&M 2828).

WVU student in pre-1900 footlball gear

Student football player, post-game, ca. 1898. This picture is from a student’s photo album.

Students on WVU campus holding hands as part of a protest

Students Protest ‘Death of Higher Education’ on WVU’s campus, 1988.


Artifacts and memorabilia

Those of you who are familiar with archives are aware of how much we love to collect papers and photographs, but artifacts and memorabilia from WVU’s past really bring the stories to life and make our past tangible. We have old freshman beanies, dance cards, pins, ribbons, pennants, a cadet uniform, a gym suit from the 1920s, and more.

Maroon WVU womens gym suit from 1920s

This gym suit belonged to Mildred Lorraine King, a student at WVU from 1925-1929. She was likely one of the first to attend gym classes in Elizabeth Moore Hall, a women’s PE building completed in 1928. The full uniform probably included a shirt to go either under or over this jumper, to cover the shoulders and upper arms.



Not every piece of university history fits neatly in the above categories. Did you know that there used to be a social club of those who managed and maintained fraternity and sorority houses at WVU? We have records of WVU’s House Mothers Club.


Great university materials are scattered throughout our Archives and Manuscripts collections, our photo database West Virginia History OnView, and our Printed Ephemera Collection.  If you are interested in learning more or if you know of materials you think the University Archives should have, contact us!


The Niagara Movement in West Virginia

Jane Metters LaBarbara
February 28, 2018

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

In August 1906, a group of African Americans signed a register to designate their entry into John Brown’s Fort in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  This burgeoning group, dubbed the Niagara Movement, made a special pilgrimage to the Fort during their first meeting on American soil held on the campus of Storer College. The Fort, the former U.S. Army Arsenal Engine House, was the site of Brown’s failed raid to foment a slave rebellion 1859, a precursor to the Civil War.  It had become a shrine for African Americans and many others who saw it as a symbol of freedom. 

Exterior view (on postcard) of John Brown’s Fort in 1859

John Brown’s Fort in 1907. Image from West Virginia History OnView.

The members of the Niagara Movement gathered at Harpers Ferry to plan and to advocate for full civil rights for blacks in the United States. Led by scholar and author W. E. B. DuBois, the group laid the foundation of the American civil rights movement.   The unassuming register book, with the signature of DuBois written fourth on the list, is part of the the Storer College Administrative and Operational Records collection at the West Virginia & Regional History Center. It documents visitors to the iconic building that was considered to be “hallowed ground” to the Niagarites, so sacred that they removed their shoes and socks upon entry.

Storer College Register book for the Niagara Convention, with list of signatures

Photograph of John Brown’s Fort Ledger, 1906.

Beyond being the location of the Fort, Storer College was an appropriate location for the Niagara meeting.  It had been established in 1867 by the Freewill Baptist Church to educate former slaves and was the only school in West Virginia providing education for blacks beyond the elementary level for a quarter century after its founding.

View of the Campus at Storer College, ca. 1900

View of the Storer College campus, circa 1900. Image from West Virginia History OnView.

The Niagara group had met for the first time the year before on the Canadian side of the border near Niagara Falls after being denied accommodations in Buffalo, New York.  Guided by DuBois, they called for an end to segregation and disenfranchisement and resisted Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of conciliation and assimilation.

Outdoor portrait of men of the Niagara movement: W.E.B. DuBois (seated) and (left to right) J.R. Clifford, I.M. Hershaw, and F.H.M. Murray at Harpers Ferry, 1906

W.E.B. DuBois (seated) and (left to right) J.R. Clifford, I.M. Hershaw, and F.H.M. Murray at Harpers Ferry, 1906. Image from West Virginia History OnView.

West Virginia’s first African-American lawyer and Storer College graduate, J.R. Clifford, organized the local arrangements for the second meeting at Storer.  At the meeting, DuBois launched a call for the unimpeded right to vote; the end of discrimination in public accommodations; the right to interact with all people without interference; the federal government to take action against illiteracy; and justice.

Outdoor group portrait of the women of the Niagara movement: Mrs. Gertrude Wright Morgan (seated) and (left to right) Mrs. O.M. Walker, Mrs. H.F.M. Murray, and Mrs. Mollie Lewis Kelan, Mrs. Ida D. Bailey, Miss Sadie Shorter, and Mrs. Charlotte Hershaw

Women gained full membership in the Niagara organization at the Harpers Ferry meeting. Pictured, Mrs. Gertrude Wright Morgan (seated) and (left to right) Mrs. O.M. Walker, Mrs. H.F.M. Murray, and Mrs. Mollie Lewis Kelan, Mrs. Ida D. Bailey, Miss Sadie Shorter, and Mrs. Charlotte Hershaw. Image from West Virginia History OnView.

The Niagara Movement heralded the civil rights movement in the 20th century.  After the meeting in Harpers Ferry, the group was active for another five years until it was superseded by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1911.


Snapshots of WVU in the 1960s, Part 1, The Computer Center

Jane Metters LaBarbara
February 19, 2018

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

Not long ago the History Center received a collection of archival photographs from University Relations that contains images documenting people, activities, and events at West Virginia University from the 1960s to more recent times.  This blog will focus on photos that show the beginning of computing services at WVU. 

According to the 1979 guide “Computing at WVU,” computer processing at WVU began in 1958 when the College of Agriculture acquired an electro-mechanical calculator.  But “actual computer use in the modern sense” began in 1960 when an IBM 605 was installed in Stewart Hall, a card programmed electronic calculator.

IBM Card Programmed Electronic Calculator

This advertising photograph shows the first computer that WVU acquired, an IBM Card Programmed Electronic Calculator.  (Photograph from Columbia University Computing History site.)

In March 1963 WVU submitted “A Proposal for Support of a Computer Center” to the National Science Foundation, and on September 1 the first director of the Center was appointed, officially launching the WVU Computer Center.  In 1964 the Center’s IBM 1620 systems were replaced by an IBM 1401 and IBM 7040, a configuration that lasted until 1969.

Two men standing, one woman operating the control panel of an IBM 7040 at WVU

This photo shows what is essentially the beginnings of computing services at West Virginia University in September 1964.  Here we see the control panel of an IBM 7040 in operation, a system that was apparently popular at universities due to its reasonable price.  The identities of the people in the photograph are unknown.  If anybody in the campus community can identify them, please share that information with us so we can enhance our cataloging and preserve the historical record.  (Photograph from A&M 5188, West Virginia University, News Service, negative file 00045.)

Woman working with IBM 7330 data tape storage units at WVU

Complementing the 7040 at WVU Computer Services were IBM 7330 data tape storage units, pictured here in operation in September 1964.  These storage devices were employed with many 7040 installations.  (Photograph from A&M 5188, West Virginia University, News Service, negative file 00045.)

Group photo of three men and two women in room with typewriters, WVU's "printing composing room"

This photograph was shot in May 1968 to commemorate the installation of equipment for a “printing composing room.”  The individuals are unidentified.  (Photograph from A&M 5188, West Virginia University, News Service, negative file 00884.)

Cluster of equipment in WVU's "printing composing room"

This image provides an overview of the configuration of the “printing composing room” in May 1968.  (Photograph from A&M 5188, West Virginia University, News Service, negative file 00885.)

In 1969 WVU Computing Services moved up to an IBM 360, which included 512K bytes of “high speed core storage.”  The 360 was a marketing success, since it was a family of mainframe systems that allowed users to migrate from small to large without having to reprogram, or replace peripheral devices.  Sold between 1965 and 1978, this type of system established a new paradigm in computing that facilitated future migration, as of course happened at WVU and other institutions as computer technology evolved.

Control panel, in color, of the IBM 7040

Control panel, in color, of the IBM 7040.
(Photograph from Wikipedia.)


Sources consulted:
A Proposal for Support of a Computer Center by West Virginia University, March 27, 1963.
Computing at WVU by WVU Computing Services, 1979.
Columbia University Computing History website.
Wikipedia webpages regarding IBM computers.