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Ancella Bickley Collection Highlights African American Teachers and School Integration

Jane Metters LaBarbara
May 14, 2019

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

Dr. Ancella R. Bickley is a celebrated author, historian and educator from West Virginia. The Ancella Bickley Research Papers (A&M 4208) held at the West Virginia & Regional History Center document her life, work, and service to the public, especially her research and writing on topics of African American history. 

Ancella Bickley wearing a graduation gown and mortarboard hat

Ancella Bickley speaking at Marshall University commencement in 1990. Image from the Bickley Collection.

One of the projects recorded in her papers are interviews of black women teachers in West Virginia that she undertook with Dr. Rita Wicks-Nelson.  The interviews are part of Series 4, Interviews and Oral History Interviews—Black Teachers, 1955-2011, and were completed during Bickley and Wicks-Nelson’s time as Rockefeller Scholars-in-Residence at Marshall University.  The series includes transcripts of the interviews, correspondence with interviewees, as well as background information about the women.  Additionally, the project files contain administrative records about the project and scholarly articles by Bickley and Wicks-Nelson that draw conclusions from the interviews.

The teachers interviewed came from three regions of the state: North-Central West Virginia (Marion County), the Eastern panhandle (Jefferson County), and South/Southwest West Virginia (Cabell, Kanawha, Logan, Fayette, McDowell, and Mercer Counties.)  Most had attended black schools and graduated from black colleges.  All taught in public schools and three became principals.  The teachers ranged in age from 54 to 92 years old at the time of their interviews.  They grew up in times when racial segregation was the norm.  Bickley notes that “over time, they became more aware and less accepting of racism. Among the profound changes they personally experienced was, of course, change in the educational system.”

Outdoor group portrait of Faculty at Douglass High School in Huntington, W. Va., ca. 1919-1920

Faculty at Douglass High School in Huntington, W. Va., ca. 1919-1920. Image from WV History OnView.

The interviews provide insights into integration of public schools in West Virginia from the teachers’ perspectives.  As the school systems combined white and black schools, African American teachers moved to previously all white schools, but not all black principals were given new assignments.  The transferred teachers had mixed experiences – some were treated well, while others were set up to fail – with principals, parents, and colleagues.  The teachers noted pros and cons for their students as well.  Integration provided better supplies and equipment and enabled a broader curriculum.  At the same time from the teachers’ perspectives, black students experienced poorer academic performance, fewer opportunities for getting involved in school activities, and a loss of history and culture that was embedded in their school buildings.  Overall, most participants were disappointed in the disparity between the promises and realities of integrated schools.    

Students seated at desks in a classroom as teachers look on

Students and teachers in class at the Kimball Negro High School in McDowell County, February 1950. Image from WV History OnView.

Selected quotations from the teachers illustrated the mixed feelings and experiences regarding integration.  Nancie Smith Robinson shared her feelings of alienation from her new colleagues:

“I’ve always been kind of a private person and I just, I wasn’t friendly with the teachers [at Jefferson Elementary School, an all-white school]. I just didn’t try to be friendly. I wasn’t mean to them or anything but I didn’t want to be [friends]—I just wanted to do my work, do my job, and come home. And that’s what I did…[the school] had a bowling team. Well, instead of them asking me—it was the teachers—instead of them asking if I wanted to be on the bowling team and give me the right to refuse or whatever, they didn’t. They would sneak off in the evenings like they weren’t going anywhere. And I never heard anything about it until I heard from one of the patrons at [the bowling alley], wanted to know why I wasn’t on the bowling team. I didn’t even know they had one. And then another thing, like they would have birthday parties for themselves and they wouldn’t tell me anything about it. And I just happen [sic] to go down the cafeteria and there they were after school having a party…And uh, I, I just, after that I just didn’t try to make friends with any of the teachers at [the school].”

Velma Twyman recalled difficult experiences with parents:

“I can remember one [parent], and this was not my first year there. But she had had a crisis in her family. And she came down, she came to my room, crying. I mean she was broken up…I don’t remember what had happened. Had she just lost somebody, or one of her children was really ill? Something. Anyway, I can remember putting my arms around her and consoling her. And all of a sudden, she thought about who I was, and she did one of these numbers [dropped her arms and jumped back over from her]. I just stepped back, and, and let her go…my problem was mostly with parents. And I can remember being in the grocery store and one of my students running up to me, and her mother in a strong voice saying, ‘Come here!’ And there was another time in the grocery store, one of my kids saw me and said, ‘Mom, Mom…There’s [my teacher].’ The mother said–, never turned one way or the other.”

Other teachers received support in their new schools. Fannie Ashe Thomas described the actions of her principal that eased relationships with parents:

“The first year I went to Fayetteville I was the first black teacher there. And the principal was standing there with me at the door that morning. I wondered why he kept standing there with me. Word had gotten around, this black teacher’s coming. And here came this lady with her little boy. And she said to him, ‘I hear my son’s going to be in a black woman’s room. I don’t want him in there. He’s not used to black folks.’ Mr. Thomas said, “Now this is a good chance for him to get used to them, because he’s going to be right in [my] room.’ He had all the names on the door, the kids who were in my room. She got to be one of my best friends before school was out.”

The Ancella Bickley Papers shed light on the lives and experiences of African American teachers in West Virginia during a time of profound change.  They are open to the public for further research.

Sources:

Many of the conclusions about integration discussed in this blog come from the following paper. Ancella Bickley and Wicks-Nelson, “Mosaic in Black and White: Black Teachers Remember School Integration in West Virginia,” paper presented at Piecing It All Together: Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia,  Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia, March 3-5, 2000, page 4. (A&M 4206, Box 11, Folder 2).

Note:

Special thanks to Library and Information Science Intern Grace Musgrave for her research assistance.

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A Snapshot of the Prohibition Era in West Virginia

Jane Metters LaBarbara
May 8, 2019

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

Recently, while working the reference desk in the Manuscripts Room at the History Center, I browsed the papers of West Virginia Governor Ephraim Morgan (1921-1925) that had been retrieved for a researcher and discovered a couple items of historical interest.  While the era of the early 1920s was a time in which Governor Ephraim’s attention was focused on the conflict between labor and management in the coal industry, a conflict known as the “mine wars,” it was also a time of prohibition in America, so it wasn’t surprising to discover letters in the collection related to its enforcement.

One of the noteworthy items I found is a letter of 21 November 1923 by James Wilcox, the Prosecuting Attorney of Doddridge County, to Governor Morgan.  The letter explains why a year long effort to arrest a moonshiner hiding in the woods had so far been a failure.  He notes that “citizens refuse to lend their support in a way that will implicate them as informers … usually giving as their reason the fear of some injury or damage.”

Letter from James O. Wilcox to Ephraim F. Morgan, Governor of West Virginia, in 1923

 (Letter from Wilcox to Morgan,
Collection A&M 0203, Ephraim F. Morgan (1869-1950) Papers, Box 22.)

The reluctance of locals to inform on moonshiners described here is consistent with the findings of Jason Sumich of Appalachian State University, who conducted a field study on moonshining in North Carolina in September 1997:

“I spent a month doing fieldwork in Alleghany County, NC. I was surprised at the ambivalence in peoples’ attitudes toward moonshiners. Some moonshiners were considered common criminals, but most were not viewed negatively. Even people who strongly adhere to the local religious code which is anti-alcohol were on a friendly, first-name basis with many unrepentant former moonshiners.”

In another letter I discovered dated 23 November 1923, we learn that William G. Brown, the State Commissioner of Prohibition, was impatient with James Wilcox, the Prosecuting Attorney of Doddridge County.  In this letter to Governor Morgan, Brown claims that Wilcox wasn’t interested in prosecuting liquor violations!  Although a lawyer from Nicholas County, West Virginia, Brown (unlike Wilcox) appears to be out of touch with the realities of prohibition in the culture of Appalachia.  Brown was idealistic and zealous, and had proclaimed that “in another generation, liquor will have disappeared, not merely from our politics, but from our memories.”

This local story plausibly fits a larger pattern in the history of prohibition, where the dry faction on the national level exhibited a similar idealism and zealousness to prosecute, which in turn contributed to the unraveling of prohibition.

When the Republican victory in the presidential election of 1928 was seen as a mandate for the dry agenda, Congress passed the Jones Law, which turned most Volstead Act violations from misdemeanors into felonies.  This strategy of applying harsher penalties, however, failed in its intent to promote respect for the law, and provided wet journalists an opportunity to pass judgement on the national experiment of Prohibition.  An extreme was reached when a Mrs. Miller in Michigan was sentenced to life in prison for selling an undercover policeman two pints of liquor, since Michigan mandated a life sentence upon a fourth violation of the liquor laws!

Discoveries like the letters presented here are made regularly in collections at the History Center by staff and researchers, leading to new perspectives on the past.

Group photo of men in suits, outdoors, most holding rifles or shotguns.

(Photograph of WV Prohibition Agents from ca. 1925
from Goldenseal magazine, Winter 2017.)

offline sources consulted:

1. “Last Call” by Daniel Okrent, 2010.  (Includes information regarding the Jones Law.)

2. A&M 0203, Ephraim F. Morgan (1869-1950) Papers, Box 22, letter of 21 November 1923.

3. A&M 0203, Ephraim F. Morgan (1869-1950) Papers, Box 22, letter of 23 November 1923.

4. “The Revenooers, Enforcing Prohibition in West Virginia” by Merle T. Cole in “Goldenseal”, Winter 2017.  (Includes information on William G. Brown.)

online sources consulted:

1. Appalachian State University, Department of Anthropology, Ethnographic Field Study in Southern Appalachia, “It’s All Legal Until You Get Caught: Moonshining in the Southern Appalachians” by Jason Sumich, 1997.    https://anthro.appstate.edu/research/field-schools/ethnographic-and-linguistic-field-schools/summer-2007-alleghany-county

2. West Virginia Encyclopedia:
Ephraim Franklin Morgan

3. Wikipedia:
Increased Penalties Act (Includes information regarding the Jones Law.)
Prohibition in the United States
Volstead Act

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The Scott’s Run Memory Project

Jane Metters LaBarbara
April 29, 2019

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

In 2018, the WVU Humanities Center funded a project to explore the memories of the Scott’s Run community through oral history and photography.  For the project, grant team members chose a set of historical images of the Scott’s Run area from the West Virginia & Regional History Center’s online photographs database, West Virginia History OnView. Over a series of interviews with community members who gather every Saturday at the Scott’s Run Museum, team members recorded residents’ memories and observations derived from viewing the selected photographs. 

The Scott’s Run area consists of a five-mile stretch of communities in Monongalia County, adjacent to Morgantown, WV. ​These communities include Osage, Pursglove, Jere, and Cassville among others. During the early 1900s the area saw a booming mine industry, particularly as World War I increased the demand for coal.  This was a major shift from its agricultural roots and as land was sold from farmers to coal companies. Scott’s Run was well positioned for this industry given its coal resources, access to river ways and railroads, and proximity to Pittsburgh. ​

Row of wooden homes with front porches, belonging to coal miners, along a dirt road

Coal miners’ homes at Scott’s Run, ca. 1940.

The workforce in this area expanded and was uncharacteristically diverse, including immigrants from twenty or more countries and African Americans.  About sixty percent of the population was foreign-born and twenty percent were African American. Many were recruited by agents from the South and from Eastern Europe.  Local men also joined the coal labor force as agricultural work had declined.​ The Great Depression of the 1930s, however, saw a deflation of this industry and hit Scott’s Run particularly hard.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the area in 1933 and was deeply saddened and moved by the experience leading to the creation of the Arthurdale experimental community.

African-American and white men seated on log benches in front of a house.

Picket Line at the Pursglove Mine, ca. 1933  Scott’s Run residents reacted to this image saying “Up above there is a row of houses. There was a black house, then a white house, then two black houses… The houses were owned by the coal company and rented for $8 a month” and when miners came out of the mines, “they were all black” (with coal.)

The area and its plight also drew the attention of Walker Evans and other famous photographers.  Documenting the conditions and lives of those living in rural America was sponsored during these times by the Farm Security Administration (part of the USDA). The Scott’s Run area became one of the faces of the economic misery in the coalfields. 

Family posed outside of a building; two parents, eight children, and a pet.

This image was labeled as “Typical Family at Scott’s Run.” Residents responded “there really wasn’t a typical family.”

Federal relief efforts (such as those associated with the New Deal) also began at this time, although this was after state and local agencies had exhausted almost all of their resources.  Even during the coal boom this community suffered from problems such as lack of access to health care and poor sanitation.  The years continued to be unfavorable to the Scott’s Run area.  During the 1940s the area experienced a series of mine disasters and the growing development of machines to mine decreased the need for human labor.  Other technologies (such as those used in powering locomotives) reduced the need for coal in general.

During the past century, churches and the organizations they sponsor have played a major role in Scott’s Run community.  As an initiative of the United Methodist Church, Scott’s Run Settlement House was founded in 1922.  Although beginning as a bible school, it grew to provide classes geared toward immigrant families such as naturalization.  Not long after, the Presbyterian Church began similar efforts in the community, resulting in an organization called “The Shack Neighborhood House” in 1932.

Group of children in front of building labeled "The Shack" for Christmas Party

A Christmas Party at the Shack, ca. 1940.  Resident’s recalled, “I grew up at the Shack.”  “It was our social life…there was nothing else.” “We lived at the Shack.” “They had separate programs for the races. On Wednesday half of the day was for white kids at the pool and the other half for black kids.”

The Shack and Scott’s Run Settlement House remain an integral part of the community and continue to provide outreach to immigrants.  St. Ursula’s Food Pantry is operated by the Catholic Church and also provides critical services in this community.  These organizations provide food assistance, child care, baby clothes and other items, as well as home repair, social programs, and other key services for persons of all ages in this community and the surrounding county.

Group of well-dressed men and women posed in front of a car

Photograph of the First Group of Sunday School Teachers at Scott’s Run, ca. 1930.  When residents saw this image their thoughts turned to how people would dress up and go out on Saturday nights rather than church or Sunday school.  

Today, Scott’s Run is very different from the days of the coal boom.  Since the coal bust, the population has dropped significantly.  Currently, 255 people live in Osage and 1,111 people reside in Cassville. The residents and the organizations that serve the area are committed to preserving the rich history and building a future for Scott’s Run.  In addition, several projects have formed to tell their past and present stories (i.e. the Scott’s Run Writing Heritage Project and the Songs and Stories of Scott’s Run). 

The Scott’s Run Museum celebrates and preserves the history of coal and the coal boom era in the communities that make up Scott’s Run and encourages growth and development in the area.  ​Since the Museum opened six years ago, each Saturday, current and former residents of the community gather for fellowship and to share stories of their past​.  

Hear the voices of Scott’s Run residents in this video:

The grant team consists of Catherine Gouge, Associate Professor, Department of English; Kristina Hash, Professor, School of Social Work; Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, West Virginia & Regional History Center; Tamba M’bayo, Associate Professor, Department of History; Christine Rittenour, Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies; Tyler Redding, student in the School of Social Work and Honors College.

A physical exhibition featuring some of the images and selected quotes from the participants is on display on the 6th floor of the Downtown Campus Library near the front elevator.

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Celebrating Shakespeare’s 455th Birthday on April 23

Jane Metters LaBarbara
April 24, 2019

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

Portrait of William Shakespeare

Spring is here and what better way to celebrate William Shakespeare’s 455th birthday, than to look at the way he used flowers in his plays. 

The book shown below, Plant-Lore and Garden Craft of Shakespeare, was written by Henry Nicholson Ellacombe (1822–1916), a British vicar who had a passion for botany and gardening.  He wrote a number of books on gardening including this one, now part of the WVU Rare Book Room Shakespeare Collection. 

Book cover of "Plant-Lore and Garden Craft of Shakespeare"; red cover with gold lettering, and gold and green flowering vine design

This copy is the “new edition illustrated.”  The first edition was not illustrated, and due to its popularity, a new edition was published with floral illustrations.  While most people consider the first edition as the most valuable, this book proves the exception.  The second edition with the illustrations is of greater importance that the first printing. 

Title page of the "New Edition Revised" of "Plant-Lore and Garden Craft of Shakespeare", with flowering vine detail on side and top

Title page

The first illustration in Ellacombe’s book shows the home that was Shakespeare’s birthplace and its surrounding gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Sketch of "Shakespeare's Garden" showing a house with trees, bushes, and other plants around it

Flowers, among other plants, were the focus of Ellacombe’s book.  Flower portraits appear throughout the text coupled with a line from one of Shakespeare’s plays that mention it.  The eglantine, below, is the name of a rose that is described as having hooked thorns and aromatic leaves which were often used in potpourri.

Book page showing a sketch of a sweet eglantine, with the quote "of all flowers methinks a rose is best"
Book page showing text "my fair flower-de-luce" with sketch of two irises

“What sayest thou, my fair flower-de-luce?”  Henry, V, v.2, 323.

The Flower de Luce, is derived from the French term, fleur de lis, for what we call an iris.  The iris can also be used as an herb.  The roots can be dug up and ground and used for medicinal purposes. 

The rose and iris will soon be blooming in Morgantown.  If you can’t wait, make an appointment to see this book, and other works on Shakespeare and botany in the Rare Book Room.   The Internet Archive has a version of this book online:  https://archive.org/details/b21687882    

Resources

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The 1918 Spanish Influenza in Morgantown

Jane Metters LaBarbara
April 15, 2019

Blog post by Jessica Eichlin, Reference Supervisor, WVRHC.

Lucy Shuttlesworth, a twenty year old West Virginia University student, recorded the 1918 flu epidemic in her diary, writing that “the Spanish influ[enza] is spreading like mad, 150 of the boys have it, (the Delt house has been taken over as a hospital) ten girls at the hall and five of our kids at the house” have it.  The particularly deadly strain of Spanish influenza initially appeared in August 1918, but the first mention of the fall epidemic did not appear in a local Morgantown newspaper until September 11, 1918.  By September twenty-fifth, an unidentified Associated Press author states that “Spanish influenza has spread over the country so rapidly that officials of the public health service, the war and navy departments and the Red Cross conferred today on measures to help local communities in combating the disease,” which had spread to twenty-six states.  By October first, the number of cases nationwide reached 88,000, and the Spanish flu finally arrived in Morgantown.

The first local article about the Spanish influenza appeared in Morgantown’s The New Dominion.  Influenza had arrived in Morgantown among college students in the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) on October first.  On the fourth, the local chapter of the American Red Cross took over the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house for use as a hospital to treat “mumps and epidemic influenza” patients.  No one at West Virginia University or in Morgantown had yet died, but the state was not taking chances, given the terrifying reports of influenza from across the country.

Exterior of a three story house with wraparound porch

The Delta Tau Delta house, which was utilized as a hospital for influenza patients, ca. 1918.

On October seventh, there were seven full articles, both local and national, about the epidemic.  An Associated Press article from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania dated October 6th pleaded for “500 doctors and 250 nurses . . . to fight influenza.”  Directly below this appeal is a small advertisement from Sturgiss Pharmacy, located on High Street, which announced extended hours until 11:30 pm “during the present epidemic of influenza.”  The longest article about influenza on the seventh detailed the “strict rules in effect to stop epidemic” which included “schools, places of amusement and soda fountains closed indefinitely, public gatherings, including churches and Sunday schools, prohibited, meetings of the grand jury and petit jury postponed, and other restrictions imposed.”  By shutting down most of the public meeting places and events in town, Morgantown officials attempted to avoid the full impact of the disease.

West Virginia University cancelled classes as well, and students were given permission to return to their homes, perhaps further spreading the disease.  Despite these measures, by October ninth, the “total number of cases in the city and among University students was estimated . . . as 300.”  Two days later, on October eleventh, the total cases reported was at 543.

Influenza spread in Morgantown, although not quite as rapidly as it did in larger cities.  On October twelfth, the number of cases in Morgantown hit 600, and two days later, it hit 700.  Reporters at The New Dominion attempted to give a report on the number of deaths in the city, but “the undertaking establishments were too busy to give complete reports of the deaths.”  On the fifteenth of October, the number of cases increased to 786 and people began dying rapidly.

Six separate deaths were reported on the sixteenth, including a ten-year-old girl and a university professor who died suddenly.  An October sixteenth article on the status of the epidemic in Morgantown takes a drastically different tone than previous articles, just as the total number of cases reached 850.  Describing the Spanish influenza, the author laments that “the ever spreading wave of the disease appears to be more formidable than it has been at any time since it first made its appearance in Morgantown . . . and the prospects for abatement of the epidemic are still not in sight.”

Red Cross nurse group photo, with women standing outside in white nursing uniforms

Group of Red Cross nurses in front of Morgantown Post Office.

Luckily, beginning on October eighteenth, local officials believed that “the crest of the wave” of influenza had been reached.  On the twenty-first, reports from local physicians indicated that there was a “slight decrease” in the number of new patients infected, and by the twenty-second, there was “a sharp decline” in the number of cases, leading the health department to believe that “the epidemic [was] drawing to a close.”  The unofficial quarantine of the city would continue through November 5, and daily reports of deaths continued as well, but the epidemic had largely run its course through Morgantown.

Resources:

“Delta Tau Delta House, West Virginia University,” West Virginia History OnView, accessed February 9, 2019, https://wvhistoryonview.org/image/023365.jpg.

Diary written by Lucy Shuttleworth Dunlap, 1918-1921, A&M 4024, Lucy Shuttleworth Dunlap, West Virginia University Student, Diary and Scrapbook, West Virginia and Regional History Center, WVU Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia. [https://archives.lib.wvu.edu/repositories/2/resources/3344]

“Group Portrait of Nurses in Front of Post Office in Morgantown, W. Va.,” West Virginia History OnView, accessed February 9, 2019, https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/034477.

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