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Before the Holiday: Remembering Child Labor in West Virginia

Jane Metters LaBarbara
September 5, 2018

Group photo of child miners, 1911

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

Faces smudged with coal dust, clothing torn and dirty, hands cut and bruised from reaching down to pick slate from chutes beneath them; this was the fate of the young boys who worked in the mines in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and elsewhere in the United States. 

The photo above, captioned “No Time for School in 1911,” portrays a group of young boys, aged nine to fourteen, at the end of their ten-hour shift in a West Virginia coal mine.  The “breaker boys” pictured here worked long hours, the same shifts as adults, six days a week, and earned less, an average of 50-75 cents an hour, because they were children. It was photographs like these, of young children with dirty faces, scarred hands, and bent backs, that led to the passage of effective child labor laws to prohibit the exploitation of young workers in mines, mills and factories throughout the United States.

Lewis Hine, (1874 – 1940) one of the most prominent photographers of the Progressive Era, dedicated much of his career to capturing scenes like this one.  A sociologist, Hine had a long history in photography.  During his years as an educator, Hine used photography as a means to teach his students.  After photographing immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island, Hine realized that photography could also be used to document current issues thereby providing images to support argument.  After a stint with the Russel Sage Foundation, Hine joined the National Child Labor Committee, (NCLC) where he spent over a decade photographing children at work.  A great deal of his time was spent in West Virginia photographing children working in coal mines and glass factories.  During his years with the NCLC, Hine’s photographs developed into an extensive body of work documenting child labor.  Hine’s career as a sociologist and educator, coupled with his interest in photography, ultimately changed the way people viewed child workers and influenced legislation.

Photo of a boy "running the trip rope" as part of mine work

Small boy running the trip rope, Welch Mining Co., Welch, W. Va. Credit National Archives 102-LH-70.  Photo by Lewis Hine.

When viewing Hine’s images today, we see an undeniable quality that is evocative of their era.  They are often compelling and also deeply moving, like the one below.  The young boy in this undated photograph has been identified as Vance Palmer, believed to be about 15 years old.  He worked as a door boy or trapper boy in an unnamed coal mine located in Harrison County.  Lewis Hine’s caption for this photo reads:

“Vance, a Trapper Boy, 15 years old. Has trapped for several years in a West Va. Coal mine. $.75 a day for 10 hours work. All he does is to open and shut this door: most of the time he sits here idle, waiting for the cars to come. On account of the intense darkness in the mine, the hieroglyphics on the door were not visible until plate was developed.”

This photo of Vance Palmer was taken by Hine one hundred and ten years ago, September 1908.  Originally, when Hine wrote his caption, he failed to include Vance’s last name.  It went unknown for 101 years until Joe Manning, an author, historian, and genealogist in Massachusetts, discovered this image on the Library of Congress website.  Intrigued, he was able to identify Vance from the initials he saw among the birds and notices Vance drew on the mine door, described by Hine in his caption as “hieroglyphics.”  You can see his initials, V.P., in the upper right hand corner of the photograph.


Boy sitting in front of a mine door with writing and images on it

Stories reflecting real life, such as this one, were translated into fiction and made available to children who were educated and had the ability to read.  Homer Greene’s story, The Blind Brother: A Story of the Pennsylvania Coal Mines, centers around two brothers, Bennie and Tom.  Bennie, the younger of the two, is blind, yet he can still work in the mine as a door boy and make a few cents a day in order to help support his family.  Although the focus of the book’s cover is on Bennie, we can see him clutching his brother’s elbow as he leads him to his job, then taking him home again when the working day is at its end.   

Decorated book cover of "The Blind Brother" showing a young boy clutching someone's sleeve

Books also told stories about the “breaker boys,” or “slate pickers.”  Two books that explored the lives of young boys working in coal mines are pictured below, Tom Martin: The Breaker Boy (1926) by R.P. Phelps, and Ben Burton, The Slate Picker, by Harry Prentice (1888).  Stories like these illuminated the real life travails of working children.

Although Tom Martin: The Breaker Boy, is a work of fiction, the story was all too representative of reality.  The difficult life led by children working in the mines is explored through the character of Tom Martin, who takes his first job as a breaker boy at the age of ten.  From this job, Tom moves to his next position as a Fan Boy, an extremely important job requiring him to keep the fans moving in order to circulate air within the mine.  To maintain the constant rotation of the fans was a manual job and it would be exhausting.  Failure to keep the air moving meant that the air quality would suffer; gas would be allowed to accrue in the mines resulting in an explosion.  When Tom is a little older he is given the job of coal pusher, keeping the coal moving down the chute as fast as the miner with him could work it out.  When he is not quite twelve years old, Tom is employed on the rotary hand screen.  The rotary screen was used to sort coal after it had been brought out of the mine.  His next job is driving the mules hauling coal along the mine gangway.  At thirteen Tom was hired as a miner’s helper.  It is at this job that Tom learns how to mine, becoming familiar with all the miner’s tools and their uses, and how to make a cartridge for blasting.  In Phelps’ story, Tom reaches the top of his profession, working as a miner, at the age of 14.

This was the typical work pattern of children in the mines.  A boy would spend his entire life, moving from job to job within the mine system, finally becoming a miner as an adult.

The story of Ben Burton, the Slate Picker, relates the tragic life of Ben, the son of David Burton, a miner who was injured in a blast in the Wyoming coal region of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  As the story unfolds, Ben bravely shoulders the burden of the family’s upkeep and joins the ranks of the breaker boys.  Prior to his father’s death, his parents hoped he wouldn’t have to work in the mines.  Ben had been allowed to go to school, where he proved to be a good student.  This point is established when he publishes a poem of his own composition in the local newspaper, the Anthracite Weekly Miner.  But as with all hopes and dreams in the coal fields, it was not to be.  Ben, too, would spend his life in the mines.

Book cover of "Tom Burton, The Breaker Boy" showing a boy walking away from a mine entrance

Book cover of "Ben Burton, The Slate Picker"

Several factors led to the alignment of forces to legislate child labor: the tenets of the Progressive Era, (1890s – 1920s) which supported social activism and political reform, the use of photography as a documentary tool, and government legislation to prohibit the abuse of child workers.

One of the challenges facing the proponents of child labor regulation can be found in a 1905 article published by the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science by Owen R. Lovejoy.

In his article, Lovejoy reported one of the difficulties facing legislation was the disparities that arose between states with similar industries.  For example, Lovejoy points out that the age of a child can determine how long and on what days the child may work which varied by state.  He cites a study of the glass industry in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, and the panhandle of West Virginia regarding child age limits.  In this study it was found that Ohio had the highest age limit, fourteen, for working children.  From this high point the limits decrease to thirteen in Western Pennsylvania and twelve for West Virginia.  The study further found Ohio prohibited children under sixteen from working at night, Pennsylvania permitted children of thirteen to work at night, while West Virginia allowed children as young as twelve to work at night.  When a manufacturer was confronted with age limitations for night work, he threatened to move his manufacturing facility to West Virginia in an attempt to avoid intended legislation.

Group portrait of boys going home from Monongah Glass Works

Group portrait of boys going home from Monongah Glass Works, Fairmont, W. Va. Photo by Lewis Hine.  Credit National Archives 102-LH-185.

As Lovejoy states, the study showed that legislation of child labor should be based on the broader perspective of similar working conditions rather than the local perspective of state boundaries.  Looking at these photographs today, we might wonder why children were allowed to work under such conditions.  The answer is a complex one, but the key word in this equation is small.  Industry and manufacturing owners alike employed children as young as three years old because they were small.  Their size allowed children to handle tools that were too small for adults to use effectively and they could work in spaces that were too small for adults.  Poverty stricken families relied heavily on the pay earned by their children to support them.  Even if the wages were small, their contribution was large.  Childhood as we know it today was not guaranteed and education was largely neglected.

Books, such as exposés like John Spargo’s The Bitter Cry of the Children, were also credited with influencing legislation.  Spargo, a reformer of the Progressive Era, wrote about the poverty faced by the American child in 1906.  While Spargo’s book focused on child poverty, he recognized that poverty itself stems from a variety of causes.  The cover design of Spargo’s book is representative of one of his most compelling chapters, “The Working Child.”  The book’s cover portrays two little boys, tools in hand, who must work, but whose work does nothing to raise them or their families out of poverty.

Part of book cover of "The Bitter Cry of the Children" showing two children with tools in their hands

Hine’s photographs, in conjunction with the social reforms of the Progressive Era, coupled with government legislation, all came together to put an end to the conditions faced by working children in the United States.  If you would like to explore this subject further, please make an appointment with me, Stewart Plein, to see the books mentioned in this blog post.  To see these photographs and others depicting child labor in West Virginia, please stop by the West Virginia and Regional History Center or visit the website, West Virginia History OnView:  https://wvhistoryonview.org/


Articles and websites:


  • Images of books taken by the author, Stewart Plein, Rare Books Curator, from her paper: From Hopelessness to Hope: Stereotypical Images of Children in Appalachia. Publishers’ Bindings: 1879 – 1926.  Paper presented at the Thirty-Third Annual Appalachian Studies Conference, Friday, March 19 – Sunday, March 21, 2010.
  • Group photo of breaker boys, boy pulling rope, and boys at glass factory from West Virginia History OnView, West Virginia and Regional History Center.






Discovering World War I at the History Center, Part 3: The World War I Poster Collection

Jane Metters LaBarbara
August 27, 2018

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

One of the treasures at the Libraries’ History Center is a collection of original World War I propaganda posters, mostly American, acquired in the 1960s.  Their eloquence in communicating a message through text, composition, and coloration is testimony both to the urgency of their purpose, to convince Americans to support the war, and to the more limited channels of communication available at that time, since print media was a primary means of communication.  Television and the internet had yet to be invented, and radio was only in its infancy.  For example, one of the earliest radio stations, KDKA in Pittsburgh, began broadcasting in 1916.  It is in this context that it becomes comprehensible to us today why the method of distributing posters to the American public was a focus of the federal government’s efforts to advance its agenda, one of garnering public support for involvement in an European war. 

In 1917 the public information committee of the U.S. government formed a Division of Pictorial Publicity to be headed by George Creel, who in turn asked Charles Dana Gibson, one of the most famous American illustrators of the period, to join in his efforts.  As president of the Society of Illustrators, Gibson was able to enlist the assistance of the most successful and talented graphic artists of the era.  Since the names of these artists were incorporated into the designs of the posters, one can easily discover the profusion of talent harnessed by the public information committee to deliver the government’s message.  The posters in our collection, consequently, not only resonate historical themes, but also bear witness to an artistic legacy of American illustrators.  Some of the notable artists represented in our collection include Arthur William Brown, Howard Chandler Christy, Neysa McMein, and Edward Penfield.


On a table, Poster of soldier, child, and wife, saying For Home and Country, Victory Liberty Loan

“For Home and Country” by Alfred Orr, 30 in. x 40 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


In addition to their pictorial design, the large physical size of World War I propaganda posters was in itself a significant contributing element to their effectiveness in gaining the attention of a viewer, and possibly their support for a cause.  To help convey the scale of these artifacts, the photograph above juxtaposes one of our posters with a table and chair in our manuscripts reference room.  As can be seen, the poster occupies virtually the entire width of the table!

This blog will focus on nine posters regarding themes of the Liberty Bond, Victory Liberty Loan, United War Work Campaign, and recruitment for the Woman’s Land Army.

After declaring war on Germany on 6 April 1917, the United States government initiated bond drives to literally invest the American public into the allied war effort.  Known as “Liberty Bonds,” these securities were issued four times in the period 1917-1918 with yields of around three to four percent each.  The History Center’s collection includes a striking exemplar of a Liberty Bond poster:


Poster depicting soldier in battle which reads "Come On! buy more Liberty Bonds"

Poster for Liberty Bonds Campaign
“Come On! buy more Liberty Bonds” by Walter Whitehead, 20 in. x 30 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


A fifth bond, issued in April 1919 after the allied victory in November 1918, was known as the “Victory Liberty Loan.”  They yielded 4.75 percent after four years.  In addition to the “For Home and Country” poster pictured above, our collection includes other posters for this bond campaign:


Poster depicting submarine and ships, encouraging investment in Victory Liberty Loans

Poster for Victory Liberty Loan Campaign
“They Kept the Sea Lanes Open, Invest in the Victory Liberty Loan”
by L.A. Shafer, 29 in. x 39 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


Poster depicting a woman in front of a flag, "Americans All! Victory Liberty Loan"

Poster for Victory Liberty Loan Campaign
“Americans All!  Victory Liberty Loan”
by Howard Chandler Christy, 27 in. x 40 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


In addition to the “Liberty Bond” campaign to support the military effort, there was also a “United War Work Campaign” to support non-military services through organizations that boosted the morale of troops, including the American Library Association, Jewish Welfare Board, Knights of Columbus, the Salvation Army, War Camp Community Service, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).    Initiated by US President Woodrow Wilson for the period of 11-18 November 1918, this campaign aspired to raise $170,000,000 to sustain support of these services in the immediate post-war period.  The services provided by the YMCA alone, for example, included operation of 26 R&R centers that accommodated 1.9 million American officers and men, maintenance of 4000 “huts” for recreation and religious services, mobilization of 1470 entertainers to perform for the troops, and operation of 1500 canteens and post exchanges within military guidelines, among other amenities.

The “United War Work Campaign,” like the other fund raising campaigns documented here, was advocated to the public through posters.  Our collection at the History Center includes several examples of these:


Poster for United War Work Campaign "For Your Boy" depicting an older man giving a soldier a hot drink

Poster for United War Work Campaign
“For Your Boy” by Arthur William Brown, 20 in. x 30 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


Poster for United War Work Campaign "One of the Thousand Y.M.C.A. Girls in France" depicting a young woman holding coffee and books

Poster for United War Work Campaign
“One of the Thousand Y.M.C.A. Girls in France”
by Neysa McMein, 28 in. x 42 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


Poster for United War Work Campaign "Back Our Girls Over There" depicting a uniformed woman operating a switchboard, with soldiers outside the window

Poster for United War Work Campaign
“Back Our Girls Over There” by Clarence Underwood, 21 in. x 28 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


Poster for United War Work Campaign "For Every Fighter a Woman Worker" depicting a woman in overalls, holding a biplane in one hand and what might be a canister or ordnance in the other

Poster for United War Work Campaign
“For Every Fighter a Woman Worker” by Adolph Treidler, 30 in. x 40 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


Another organized effort that emerged from World War I, the “Woman’s Land Army of America,” is represented by a recruitment poster in the collection:


Poster for Woman’s Land Army of America "The Girl on the Land Serves the Nation’s Need" depicting women in work clothes leading horses, carrying rakes and hoes, and carrying a bushel of vegetables

Poster for Woman’s Land Army of America
“The Girl on the Land Serves the Nation’s Need” by Edward Penfield, 25 in. x 30 in.
(Poster from collection A&M 1957, World War I Posters)


Taking over farm work from men serving in the war, this “Land Army” comprised 20,000 women from towns and cities organized by a consortium of women’s organizations, including gardening clubs, suffrage societies, and the YWCA, among others.

This blog provides a large sample of the “World War I Posters” collection at the History Center.  We are pleased to be able to share these artifacts to commemorate the centennial of America’s participation in World War I.

This blog is part of a continuing series commemorating the First World War.  See also:

Discovering WWI at the History Center, Part 1: The John A. Thorn Collection
Discovering WWI at the History Center, Part 2: The Elmer A. Walton Collection

Sources consulted:

Wikipedia articles regarding:
Liberty Bond, 2018
Woman’s Land Army of America, 2018

Smithsonian.com articles:
The Posters That Sold World War I to the American Public, 2014
Before Rosie the Riveter, Farmerettes Went to Work, 2009


Worldwar1.com article:
The History of the YMCA in World War I, 1997

Archival Collection:
World War I Posters, A&M 1957


Out of this World! Isaac Asimov in the West Virginia University Rare Book Room

Jane Metters LaBarbara
August 6, 2018

Image of a planetarium and a starry, moon-filled sky

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

Although Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction authors of all time, passed away in 1992, his work lives on in the West Virginia University Rare Book Room.  One of the most prolific science fiction authors of the twentieth century, Asimov made a huge impact on how we view the future.

Asimov was responsible for more than 500 authored and edited publications.  Among his most popular novels are the Foundation Trilogy, The Martian Way, and The Stars like Dust.  Books that were turned into movies include I, Robot, the Fantastic Voyage, and the Bicentennial Man.

Perhaps Asimov’s single most important work is the short story/novella, Nightfall, published in 1941.  This story is considered the best science fiction short story written prior to the 1965 establishment of the Nebula Awards, the organization responsible for recognizing the best in science fiction or fantasy published in the United States.  The Rare Book Room holds important copies of Nightfall in a variety of formats, including books and records.  Its popularity led the story to be adapted for radio, film, podcast, and vinyl. 

WVU received the Asimov Collection through the generosity of donors.  Larry Shaver, class of 1974, founded the Asimov Rare Book Collection with the gift of his personal collection of rare and fine Asimov books and artifacts.  After receiving the Shaver gift, the library announced the collection through a small digital exhibit: https://lib.wvu.edu/collections/exhibits/asimov/.  This digital exhibit attracted the attention of Carlos Patterson, from California, who reached out to WVU to offer his personal collection of Asimov material.  Mr. Patterson’s gift has also been added to the Rare Book Room collection.  This year, both donors have continued to contribute.   Mr. Patterson recently donated books associated with Asimov, while Mr. Shaver donated a first edition of Asimov’s book, Our Angry Earth with the original dust jacket.

Cover of Isaac Asimov's book, I, Robot, showing a robot

First published in 1950 by Gnome Press. Gift of Larry Shaver.

Cover of Isaac Asimov's book, The Gods Themselves

This novel won the Nebula Award for best novel in 1972.  Gift of Carlos Patterson.

Other donors have also contributed to the Asimov collection this year.  Eric Wright has recently donated Asimov’s Election Day 2084.  Mr. Wright has also given other Asimov titles over the years.  Last week, John Frederick donated a signed paperback of The Currents of Space.

Thanks to these collectors, West Virginia University has one of the largest Asimov collections in the nation, with many rare and signed books.

Cover of Isaac Asimov's book,Election Day 2084, showing a face and a list of contributing authors

Cover of Isaac Asimov's book, The Currents of Space, showing an alien's head and an outer space view

The summer 2017 issue of the WVU magazine created a two page photo spread featuring highlights from the Asimov Collection for their Staff Picks article, shown below.  Dr. Jay Cole, who recently taught a class on Asimov for WVU, and I, got the opportunity to select some of our favorite items from the Asimov Collection.  One of Dr. Cole’s picks was the Fantastic Voyage.  Dr. Cole says of this book, “Thanks to the Asimov treatment, it becomes a page-turning thriller featuring accurate biology and physiology.”

Assortment of Asimov-related books and a game

For me, as a fan of the original Star Trek television series, my favorite was William Shatner’s reading of “The Psychohistorians,” a story about scientists from one of Asimov’s most popular novels, Foundation, on vinyl.

As a class project, the students in Dr. Cole’s Asimov class, Science Fiction and Fantasy, were asked to write a short science fiction story as part of their course assignment.  After the class, Dr. Cole collected the stories and published them in the book, Umbra.  This collection of Asimov inspired short stories is currently housed in the Rare Book Room.  It is also available for purchase from Amazon.

Cover of Umbra, showing an eclipsed sun

Just last week, WVU’s Osher Life Long Learners stopped by the Rare Book Room for a class about our collection and an opportunity to learn a little more about Isaac Asimov.  The class spent a couple of hours examining Asimov’s books and looking over a collection of Asimov related archives that cover everything from films on VHS and DVD formats, calendars, computer games, and many more interesting items that were released during Asimov’s lifetime.

If you’d like to see books or archives from the Asimov Collection, give us a shout!  We’d be happy to make an appointment to share our fascinating Asimov collections with you.  If you’d like to donate to the Isaac Asimov collection, please contact me, Stewart Plein, rare book librarian, at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.



Banner image: Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/99245.Nightfall

I, Robot book image:  Stuff Point: I, Robot: Science fiction picture: http://stuffpoint.com/science-fiction/image/158912/i-robot-picture/

The Gods Themselves book image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Themselves

Wikipedia:  Nightfall:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightfall_(Asimov_novelette_and_novel)

Isaac Asimov: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov

The Gods Themselves:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Themselves

Asimov’s Election Day 2084 book image: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/isaac-asimov/election-day-2084/

Asimov’s Currents of Space book image:  http://asimov.wikia.com/wiki/The_Currents_of_Space

WVU Today Archive article:  “WVU to showcase notable Isaac Asimov collection to Public.”  http://wvutoday-archive.wvu.edu/n/2010/10/21/wvu-to-showcase-notable-isaac-asimov-collection-to-public.html

WVU magazine article: https://wvumag.wvu.edu/departments/staff-picks/isaac-asimov

Umbra book image: https://www.amazon.com/Umbra-Stories-Ph-D-Jay-Cole/dp/197399738X


Discovering World War I at the History Center, Part 2: The Elmer A. Walton Collection

Jane Metters LaBarbara
July 30, 2018

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

Elmer Walton (1897-1960) of Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, as a member of the 4th Regiment, 3rd Division of the American Expeditionary Force in France, participated in the Second Battle of the Marne (July 15 to August 6, 1918), and in two campaigns of the final “Hundred Days Offensive” including St. Mihiel (September 12-15, 1918) and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September 26 to November 11, 1918).


Full length portrait of Elmer A. Walton

Portrait of Elmer A. Walton, By a Photographer in France, 1918.
(Photo from collection A&M 3694, Elmer Arthur Walton, Soldier,
World War I Letter, Scrapbook, and Other Material) 


Although ultimately prevailing, the advance of the AEF into the Argonne forest proved to be costly, particularly for Walton’s unit.  After 30 days in action the 4th regiment suffered 80 percent casualties during this final drive, a shocking statistic comparable to the horrific casualty rates typical of the American Civil War, such as the Iron Brigade’s 61 percent and the 26th North Carolina’s 89 percent, both at Gettysburg.  Withdrawn for rest and replacements, the war ended before the 4th could be reengaged.


Group of soldiers posed on and around a bed in a barracks

Fellow Soldiers of Elmer A. Walton, ca. 1917-1918.
These are likely members of the 4th Regiment.
(Photo from collection A&M 3694, Elmer Arthur Walton, Soldier,
World War I Letter, Scrapbook, and Other Material)


These experiences of death and loss were ones that Walton wanted to put behind him, as evidenced in the conclusion of a letter written from Base Hospital No. 24 in Limoges, France, on November 24, 1918:

“Well Dad I have told you a few of the many adventures and incidents that I have [seen] and gone through.  I also participated in the drive at St. Mihiel and the last drive at the Argonne [Forest].  I have witnessed many horrible sights and now I am trying to forget.”

The Elmer Walton collection at the History Center includes, among other material, his scrapbook of both civilian and wartime photos, and a 32 page letter he wrote to his father regarding his life as a soldier in France.

Among the items in the scrapbook is a published notice of wartime “safety regulations” for ocean travel on the USS Great Northern.  Published in April 1918, the same time the 4th Regiment steamed for France, this handbill was distributed to members of the unit before embarking on the Great Northern on their way to war.


Safety Regulations Notice document from the USS Great Northern

Safety Regulations Notice, USS Great Northern, 1918.
(Item from collection A&M 3694, Elmer Arthur Walton, Soldier,
 World War I Letter, Scrapbook, and Other Material)


The USS Great Northern ship

USS Great Northern, Transport for the 4th Regiment, 1917.
(Photo from Naval History and Heritage Website, Photo NH 105905)


From clippings in the scrapbook, we learn that Walton earned a Distinguished Service Cross for carrying “a message over territory generally thought impassable during daylight. He accomplished his mission in spite of having been wounded and nearly buried by a shell explosion.”  An excerpt from his November 24th letter seems to recall this incident during the Second Battle of the Marne:

“So we crossed the Marne Sunday night on July 21, 1918…Next morning word was received that we were to attack immediately … Shrieks from dying and wounded.  The ground was littered with relics of our charge, packs, German helmets, rifles, bayonets, and German machine guns and belts of cartridges, and very many German graves … We kept moving steadily forward amid the racket of hammers from the machine guns, like the riveting of bolts with a riveting machine … The fire continued and increased all that day and all the next day.  So for two days and nights we were without sleep, food, and were fighting at night amid the downward pour of rain … That evening as things became more quiet I found one of the platoons.  We marched back to a woods where we intended to reorganize our company.  I started out immediately to locate our rolling kitchens as hunger and thirst [were] driving me mad.  It was on this mission that I was hit by an exploding shell, and a small fragment of shrapnel tore its way thru my left hand.  I was sent back to the field hospital in trucks and later was sent by train to Contrexeville Base Hospital 32, 40 miles from the front.”


Interior view of "dressing room" at Hospital A at Base Hospital 32, Contrexeville, showing a group of soldiers and staff

Hospital A at Base Hospital 32, Contrexeville, ca. 1917-1919
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons, In Public Domain)


After recovering at Contrexeville, Walton returned to the front.  Wounded in the hand again in the Argonne Forest, Walton apparently saw the end of the war while hospitalized, and was able to return to the States in December, 1918.  He, with other members of the 4th Regiment, was awarded the Croix de Guerre 1914–1918.


Postcard showing a crowd of people filling a French city street, with the text in English and French, "The Great War is Finished!"

“The Great War is Finished!”
 A postcard Walton acquired while in France, 1918.
(Postcard from collection A&M 3694, Elmer Arthur Walton, Soldier,
 World War I Letter, Scrapbook, and Other Material)


This blog is part of a continuing series commemorating the 100th anniversary of America’s participation in the First World War.  See also:

Discovering World War I at the History Center, Part 1:  The John A. Thorn Collection

Sources consulted:

Wikipedia articles regarding:
4th Infantry Regiment (United States)
Hundred Days Offensive
Second Battle of the Marne
Battle of Saint-Mihiel
Meuse-Argonne Offensive

The Distinguished Service Cross, World War I, To Members of the U.S. Army

Archival Collection:
Elmer Arthur Walton, Soldier, World War I Letter, Scrapbook, and Other Material, A&M 3694


WVRHC’s latest newsletter now available

Jane Metters LaBarbara
July 27, 2018

Cover of a newsletter, showing article about and photo of Louis Johnson of Steptoe and Johnson

The latest newsletter of the West Virginia & Regional History Center is now available online.  The two feature articles are “Papers of Attorney and Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson Now Open to Research,” detailing the life and accomplishments of one of the founders of Steptoe and Johnson, and “WVRHC Research Grants Assisting Scholars from Around the Globe,” which includes reports from three recipients of the WVRHC research grants.

You can read a PDF copy of the newsletter online or contact the Center to request a print copy.  If you want to see back issues of the newsletter, they are all online and accessible through our Newsletter webpage.