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Autograph Books and Genealogy

Jane Metters LaBarbara
July 2, 2018

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

I recently accessioned an autograph book. By following some of the clues in the book and using some basic genealogy resources, I found out more about its owner.

Cover of autograph book, with gold-colored birds and flowers on it

Flipping through it, I saw that it included a lot of signatures from 1879 through about 1883, some poems, and some really beautiful hand-drawn art. 

Page from autograph book that says "A line is enough for memory" with a signature beneath

Some people chose to leave simple notes, like the one above.

Page from an autograph book, with drawing of blue flowers on a vine with green leaves, a poem, and a signature

Some people mixed their art with poetry–these flowers might be forget-me-nots, very appropriate for an autograph book.

I wondered who owned this autograph book, but I didn’t have to look far, as whoever gifted it to the owner wrote the owner’s name on the first page: Gertie L. Hayes. The second page includes a helpful note: “When by chance you see this page,/ May you remember when your age/ Reached Seventeen” dated February 26, 1879. That puts her birthday on February 26, 1862.

Drawing of a cat that has caught a mouse by the tail, and the words "Going far?"

Some people left art with no note!

Searching the state’s West Virginia Vital Records database for a Hayes girl born in 1862 returns one result, and Eliza Hayes from Monongalia County, born to parents Henry S. Hayes (listed as a farmer) and Ann Hayes, of Morgantown. Since Eliza and Gertie L. seem like they ought to be two different people, I needed more evidence.

Page from an autograph book, with drawing of pink flowers on a vine with green leaves and red berries, with a signature

I’m not sure if these are cherry blossoms or something else, but they are gorgeous!

The 1880 census shows an L. Gertie Hayes living with her parents and siblings in Morgantown. Myrtie Hayes, who signed the autograph book, is also present in the 1880 census, and their father, Henry, was by then listed as a retail grocer. Through various records, we find that her mother’s maiden name was Finnell, and two of Gertie’s Finnell cousins left signatures in the autograph book. In addition to a few cousins and two of her sisters, she had many friends sign the book, friends from across the West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland area. Some of her friends were very good artists.

Page from an autograph book, with drawings including men doing acrobatics, a man in a rowboat, a hunter, a frog with a banjo, and more. Also includes squares in which three men have signed their names.

I love the level of detail and amount of activity going on in the above image, especially the banjo-strumming frog.

Page from an autograph book, with drawing of a boy facing a big dog, and another boy saying "Walk over him, Johnny!"

I don’t think Johnny’s friend is providing good advice about how to interact with strange dogs in this drawing.

Looking through a few more census records, we see that Gertie worked as a bank clerk. In the 1910 and 1920 censuses, she lived with family on 147 Fayette Street. I checked the Sanborn fire insurance map for Morgantown in 1927, and by then her home was no longer standing at the corner of Fayette and Chestnut, but there is a picture of that house in WV History OnView.

The Hayes family home, with two cars next to it

I wonder if this undated photo was taken shortly before the house was demolished in the 1920s, since there are a few panes of glass missing. If anyone can date the cars, please let us know!

Since she was listed in the birth register as Eliza Hayes, I think that her name may have become Lizzie Gertrude, L. Gertrude, and/or Gertrude L. over time. The grave marker for L. Gertrude Hayes lies in Oak Grove Cemetery, along with many members of her family. She died on March 5, 1957, of pneumonia, at age 95.

Page from an autograph book, with drawing of pink flower with green leaves, and a poem

I am stumped on what kind of flower this is, and at the same time envious of the artist’s skill. [Edit: One of our readers pointed out that this is a rose!]

Also take a look at our previous post about autograph books: https://news.lib.wvu.edu/2017/04/13/19th-century-memorabilia-autograph-books/


West Virginians in World War I, Part 1

Jane Metters LaBarbara
June 28, 2018

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

A century has passed since the participation of the United States in the First World War in 1917-1918, and of course West Virginians volunteered, like so many other Americans, after declaration of war on April 6, 1917.  A recent acquisition of the History Center, including letters and photographs, details the war odyssey of West Virginian John Thorn of the 462nd Aero Squadron. 

There were numerous squadrons in the Air Service of the United States Army, and in addition to combat, they also performed duties of training, ground support, and construction.  The 462nd was a construction squadron in which John Thorn served as a master electrician.  The letters in the recently acquired John Thorn collection, A&M 4254, show him training in Texas in August of 1917, traveling through England in October, and finally serving in France in the month of November to build barracks, shops, and hangars at the Third Aviation Instruction Center.  Located in Issoudun, the Center was the largest airbase in the world at that time, encompassing 50 square miles of multiple airfields and facilities.  United States airmen were trained here prior to their deployment for aerial combat on the Western Front, including fighter pilots like Eddie Rickenbacker, Frank Luke, and others.

Men standing in front of rows of airplanes, in hangar

Wing and Body Room of minor repair department, Instruction Camp, Aviation Field No. 3, 3rd Air Instructional Center, Issoudun Aerodrome, France, May 21st, 1918.
The 462nd construction squadron could have erected these facilities.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons, in public domain.)

Thorn’s letters during the war were censored so they mention little regarding the conflict and the specific activities of his unit at the Center and elsewhere.  Censorship immediately after the war, however, was apparently less severe as evidenced by the content of the letters.  And since surviving photographs in the collection mostly or entirely document the post-war era, this blog will focus on his experiences during allied occupation of the Rhineland after the armistice.

Envelope from J.A. Thorn of the 462 Aero Squadron to Mrs. Lelia O. Thorn, bearing censorship stamp

Envelope bearing censorship stamp.
(Item from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

After the war the 462nd was initially assigned to occupy the city of Trier on the Moselle River, but soon moved to Koblenz in the American occupation zone.

In a letter to his mother of 5 December 1918, Thorn reports on how the civilians of Trier were treating the soldiers:

“The civilians have certainly treated us royally since we came.  We are billeted in some of the finest homes in the city, and the people are eager to make every sacrifice and do everything possible for our comfort and convenience.  I am sleeping in a room with a private family, and such fixtures and finishing I have never seen the equal to.  Electric lights, baths, running water, and a big feather bed all to myself that I almost get lost in at night.  We can’t understand why the people seem so friendly to us, but it has France beaten in every respect for hospitality.  We are all on our guard, however, and the last thing I do before going to bed is to place my loaded pistol under my pillow, as do the other boys.  Don’t think we will be here more than two or three weeks longer.”  (Letter from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

Thorn’s photographs of some of the German civilians he was acquainted with seem to corroborate the observations of his letter, like this one of local children:

Group portrait of three children and dog in front of Christmas tree

“Treves [Trier], Germany — Dec. 25/18 — Three children of the old man who owns the building in which our office & hqrs. are located”.
(Photograph from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

These same three children, without their pet dog, joined some of the soldiers of the 462nd for a group portrait during the holiday season:

Group photo of soldiers and children, with Christmas tree at left

“A few of our boys, around the kitchen — note our Xmas tree — Dec. 30/18,
Treves [Trier] Germany”.
(Photograph from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

The civilian home serving as unit headquarters, noted on the back of the picture of the three children, was also the subject of one of Thorn’s photographs, although someone else was holding the camera:

Two men standing in front of door marked 462 Aero Squadron Headquarters

In this photograph, John Thorn is on the right.
“Treves — Germany — Taken in front of our Hqrs., just before starting to the city, Dec. 30/18 — The other fellow is our Top Sergeant”.
(Photograph from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

This inscription on the back of the headquarters photo suggests his intention to sightsee, as mentioned in his letter of 5 December:

“This [is] one of the most picturesque cities I have ever seen.  It is the oldest city in Germany, and before the war had a population of 200,000.  The population now is only about 55,000.  I haven’t had time to do much sight-seeing but there are old ruins about the city which date back to the time of Christ.  Many of the buildings and bridges now in use were built by the Romans.  The city’s chief products are steel, pianos and glassware.”  (Letter from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

The same letter also refers to the effects of the worldwide 1918 flu pandemic back home:

“It’s very sad about all the deaths in town recently, and I do hope you will manage to escape the epidemic of influenza.  So many of my Welch friends have died that I can scarcely realize it, and am sure the place will not seem the same when l go back.”  (Letter from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

Aero squadron captain with two other soldiers in an old car

“Capt. Cobb, our commanding officer, his chauffeur and one of his assistants.
— Dec. 26/18 — Treves, Germany.”
(Photograph from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

Finally, the letter of 5 December also included an enclosure, an extract from “General Orders Number 29” issued after the armistice on 21 November 1918:

“The Army Air Service Commander, First Army, desires to make of record in General Orders of the First Army Air Service his extreme satisfaction with the conduct of the officers and soldiers of the following units:

4. 462nd Aero Construction Squadron, during the advance of our troops in the St. Mihiel and Argonne-Meuse offensives, constructed five airdromes on the retaken territory with such alacrity as to enable our flying squadrons to carry on operations without delay.

By Order of Colonel [Thomas] Milling”
[Chief of Air Service, First Army]
(Document from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

Sources consulted:

Wikipedia articles regarding:
American entry into World War I
Issoudun Aerodrome
List of American Aero Squadrons

Archival Collection:
John A. Thorn World War I Papers, A&M 4254

Outdoor casual group photo of soldiers with young boy

“Some of our comrades in front of a French billet [with] our ‘adopted’ orphan.
The bottle in my lap is empty — we used it to feed a pet pig.”
John Thorn is wearing a brimless hat, undated.
(Photograph from A&M 4254, West Virginia and Regional History Center.)


West Virginia Day celebration to examine law and lawyer in the Mountain State

Monte Maxwell
June 15, 2018

West Virginia invitation cover

West Virginia University Libraries and the West Virginia and Regional History Center will address the law and lawyers in the Mountain State to mark the 155th anniversary of West Virginia’s founding on June 20.

“Justice for All; Law and Lawyers in West Virginia” will commemorate the key role the legal profession has played throughout the history of the nation’s 35th state.

“Few people are aware that West Virginia has made nationally significant contributions to law and legislation in fields including labor and industry, natural resources, medicine and education among others,” WVRHC Director John Cuthbert said.

This year’s theme honors Steptoe & Johnson’s recent donation of the papers from the firm’s co-founder, Louis A. Johnson.

“In addition to being an accomplished attorney, Louis A. Johnson was a leading statesman of the mid twentieth century,” Cuthbert said. “Johnson served as Assistant Secretary of War under FDR and Secretary of Defense under Truman among many other posts.”

Time magazine cover

This Time magazine, from August 22, 1938, featuring Assistant Secretary of War Louis A. Johnson, is among the several artifacts in WVRHC’s upcoming exhibit.

Festivities begin at 9 a.m. with a reception in the James and Ann Milano Reading Room of the Wise Library, followed by a panel discussion to include John Fisher, the William J. Maier, Jr. Dean Emeritus, WVU College of Law; David C. Hardesty, Jr., WVU President Emeritus; Gregory Hinton, Senior Professor of Business Law, Fairmont State University; Marjorie McDiarmid, Steptoe & Johnson Professor of Law & Technology, WVU College of Law; Robert Steptoe, Jr., member and former CEO and managing partner, Steptoe & Johnson; and Dr. Ray Swick, historian emeritus for West Virginia State Parks.

Guest speakers will address several topics relating to the history of law in West Virginia, such as pioneer lawyer James Wilson; J.R. Clifford, the state’s first African-American attorney; Louis A. Johnson; women in the field of law; and WVU’s School of Law.

Following the talks, the WVRHC will open an exhibit of photographs, artifacts and documents chronicling the history of law in West Virginia in the James Hornor Davis Family Galleries. One gallery will be devoted to Johnson and other notable attorneys hailing from Clarksburg and Harrison County.

Those visiting the WVRHC during the opening will receive a free commemorative West Virginia Day poster. Also to mark the occasion, attendees can stop by the Downtown Campus Library Atrium to enjoy a slice of birthday cake. All events are open to the public.


West Virginia v. Barnette: 75 years later

Jane Metters LaBarbara
June 14, 2018

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

Seventy five years ago today, on Flag Day, June 14, 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down its decision in the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.  This landmark case expanded religious freedom for all Americans under the free speech clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  The ruling said that mandatory flag salutes in public schools violated free speech and were therefore unconstitutional – reversing a decision from just three years earlier.

outside the Greebrier School, Hinton, W. Va., ca. 1950, pledging allegiance to the American flag

Students pledge allegiance to the flag on Veterans Day at the Greebrier School, Hinton, W. Va., ca. 1950, image from WV History OnView

In the 1940 case, Minersville School District v. Gobitis, the Supreme Court had ruled that schools could compel students to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.  In an 8 to 1 decision, the Court decided that the flag salute and pledge were secular practices designed to encourage patriotism and national unity. The Gobitis family were Jehovah’s Witnesses and objected to the flag salute.  The Witnesses consider the salute to be a form of idolatry and participating in it unfaithful to God.  Although the United States had not formally entered World War II in 1940, patriotic sentiment in the country was very high and skyrocketed after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941.  Seen as traitors, Jehovah’s Witnesses across the country endured violent attacks after the Gobitis decision. The hostility caught the attention of national figures like Eleanor Roosevelt as well as the Supreme Court justices who had ruled in Gobitis.

Nevertheless, relying on the Gobitis decision, in January of 1942, the West Virginia State Board of Education made saluting the flag mandatory for all students and teachers in any school supported by public funds.  The Barnett family (their name was misspelled by the SCOTUS) of Kanawha County had become Jehovah’s Witnesses in the mid-1930s. When the question of the flag came up, father Walter Barnett instructed his daughters Gathie and Marie to stand respectfully but to not participate in the salute or the pledge.  The girls attended Slip Hill Grade School near Charleston.  Although their teacher was sympathetic, their principal enforced the State Board rule and expelled them from school.

African-American boy saluting and holding an American flag

African-American Boy Holding an American Flag, Morgantown, WV, 1961

The Barnett family filed suit in the United States District Court for themselves and other Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area.  They won the case.  In the two years since the Gobitis judgement, three justices who had supported the majority opinion had made it known they no longer agreed with their decision.  Because of this, the District Court felt they did not have to accept the decision “as binding authority.” The State Board of Education then appealed.

The appeal went to the Supreme Court.  Justice Harlan Stone had been the lone dissenter in the Gobitis case.  He was now the Chief Justice.  The SCOTUS ruled 6 to 3 to overturn the decision.  Stone assigned the writing of the ruling to Justice Robert Jackson.  In the majority opinion in West Virginia v. Barnette, Jackson wrote:

The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

The Barnette decision is considered one of the Supreme Court’s most extensive statements on elemental freedoms established in the Bill of Rights.  For more information about this landmark case that emanated from West Virginia see:

The West Virginia Encyclopedia article: The Barnette Case

Cornell Legal Information Institute for the text of the majority opinion and dissent

The Constitution Center Conversation Daily Blog

The Robert Jackson Center Barnette web page

The Robert Jackson Center Recollections article

Children holding up an American flag

Flag Raising, Morgantown, WV, ca. 1960-1970


A New Gift for the Rare Book Room: Edith Wharton’s Italian Villas and Their Gardens, Illustrated with Paintings by Maxfield Parrish

Jane Metters LaBarbara
June 12, 2018

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

Cover of book "Italian Villas and their Gardens" including gold details and an image of a garden with fountain, flanked by an image of a woman with a basket of grapes on the left and a garden with trees and a building on the right

Recently, the WVU Libraries received a large gift from the late Lucinda Ebersol, a collector, book lover, publisher, and bookstore owner, totaling over 11,000 books.  Yes, that’s right, over 11,000 books.  This extensive collection arrived in near pristine condition, all books in their original dust jackets, and with many rare and antiquarian titles included.  Today on the blog, I would like to highlight a book from the collection that I am very excited about, one of those rare and antiquarian titles that I have longed to have in the collection. 

Cover of book "Italian Villas and their Gardens" including gold details and an image of a garden with fountain

The book is Edith Wharton’s Italian Villas and their Gardens, published in 1904, and illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, a favorite artist of the day.  Edith Wharton, (January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937) pictured below, was the author of novels such as The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and The Buccaneers.  She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for her novel, The Age of Innocence. She also had interests in architecture, interior design, and gardening.  Her home, the Mount, was designed and built by her in 1902.  Wharton established many formal gardens at The Mount, now recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

Portrait of Edith Wharton in black dress and hat

Wharton had a great love of travel and she traveled as frequently as possible.  While spending time in Italy she visited villas and their gardens.  Wharton observed the way the villa, the garden, and the landscape were designed as individual elements that when brought together, formed a magnificent whole.  Inspired to describe what she saw as “Italian garden – magic” in her book, which is now considered one of the most important gardening books of the 20th century, Wharton described the relationship of these three principles as the guiding force for laying out an Italian garden.  These gardens were not dependent on flowers as the central focus, but instead, were reliant on form – the shape of trees in conjunction with marble pools and fountains, as these elements were set into the larger landscape.

Beautiful full color plates by noted American artist Maxfield Parrish, whose paintings of dreamy landscapes were well suited to illustrate the “Italian garden-magic” Wharton saw in the villas and gardens she visited.  In addition, there are a few black and white photographs documenting gardens and scenes for the book.

Painting of Villa Campi, showing trees and statues

If you’d like to see this beautiful book, or any of the other landscape architecture or gardening books in the rare book collection, please contact the West Virginia and Regional History Center to make an appointment.  I’ll be happy to share our treasures with you.