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The woman behind one of West Virginia’s fine bakeries.

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 5th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the fourth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

Freda de Knight authored the next featured cookbook, A Date with a Dish, but it would be better described as a midnight phone conversation with a friend who knows more than you.

She published this guide in 1948, but her culinary journey began at age 5 when she, like many girls at the time, helped her mother pack lunch for her siblings and prepare family meals.

A page from the guide includes a photo of Freda de Knight and the following biographical information, "This extremely charming, brown-skinned little woman who has written A DATE WITH A DISH brings a wealth of experience as well as a natural bent to her subject. 
"By the time I was five years of age," Freda de Knight relates, "I was able to bake my first loaf of bread, make biscuits, and garnish plates. Instead of cutting out paper dolls and playing house, I was cutting out recipes and playing cook."
After completing her early education in a convent at Salem, N. D., she took several courses at different colleges, majoring in home economics. She has acted as teacher and counsellor in all phases of the culinary arts in the New York schools. During the past twenty years she has collected thousands of recipes from Negro sources, and has used these recipes time and time again for gourmets and people who just love good food. 
She is the Cooking Editor of EBONY, popular Negro national magazine, in which her monthly column, A DATE WITH A DISH, is read by hundreds of thousands."

Freda didn’t hide from challenges facing Black cooks. This was the first cookbook I read that outright rejected the status quo, calling for “a non-regional cook book that would contain recipes, menus, and cooking hints from and by Negros all over America.” Here, there are hundreds of those recipes with anecdotes from the cooks themselves. I have no choice other than sharing one recipe by a West Virginia resident and baker, Ruth Jackson!

Text excerpt reads, "Ruth Jackson. As a girl, Ruth Jackson started her career as a "top notcher" in the Cooks and Bakers Class. Later she married a minister and became one of the pillars of her community when it came to good foods. All this helped toward her Epicurean education and for years she's been holding down first-class positions in her field. 
During her early years of cooking she studied and perfected the art of making pastries and candies. At one time she had charge of one of West Virginia's better bakeries. Everything that passed through her trained hands was baked to perfection, and her wedding cakes and petits fours were "picture-perfect," as if they had come out of the finest French bakeries."

I tried to find more information about Ruth, like her bakery’s name, city of residence, or even a photo. I had no success, although a more intensive search might work out. Either way, her memory lives on in A Date with a Dish.

When I think of West Virginia in the 1940’s, I never thought I’d hear about it from the perspective of a Black, female baker. It is truly awesome that Freda takes a moment to celebrate other women of color, whose recipes and ideas were generally shut off from popular cookbooks or publications. Wouldn’t it be great if they read about female entrepreneurs like Ruth Jackson in West Virginia history classes? The recipe is there, tucked away on a shelf in the West Virginia & Regional History Center. If you take away anything from this blog, don’t be afraid to fill a void in a story you care about.

Collecting Easter Postcards

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 29th, 2021

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

Happy Easter postcard featuring two bunnies

Postcards, a popular form of communication particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century, were sent to friends and family for all occasions.  Mail delivery was reliable, running twice a day in most communities, and cheap, since postage stamps were only a penny.  With the availability of twice daily delivery, postcards were nearly as quick as a telephone call, another late 19th century invention, and almost as fast as an email sent to your inbox today. 

I’ve collected postcards for many years.  I’ve purchased postcards from places I’ve lived, places I’ve visited, cards celebrating birthdays, and congratulatory cards filled with best wishes for their intended recipient, but my favorite collecting category is holiday postcards.     

It’s easy to find them.  I’ve collected hundreds of Christmas postcards over the years.  I’m also fond of cards depicting New Year’s Day, though they’re harder to find.  It’s very difficult to find Valentine’s, Memorial Day, George Washington’s birthday, or Thanksgiving postcards.  My collection includes only a couple of each of these cards. 

Easter postcards are my favorite collecting category. Besides the traditional bunnies, eggs, and chicks there are many unusual cards that we might not think of today as being associated with Easter.  My collection also includes many religious Easter cards, but today, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite cards featuring all the cute things you’d expect to find in your Easter basket. 

If you collect cards for a while, you’ll find that they can be organized by theme.  Eggs are the central focus of these cards.  These four postcards depict eggs as vehicles, such as the bunny train and the bunny drawn chick chariot.  Others are used for housing, such as the egg with a balcony and the one made from flowers with a little gnome peeking out the window.

Easter postcard showing an egg house with rabbits emerging from the front door and from the balcony
Easter postcard showing rabbits pulling an egg in which rides a chick
Easter postcard showing a train in which the cars are eggs and the passengers are bunnies
Easter postcard showing a person welcoming rabbits into his home, which is an egg

The postcards below have chickens or chicks for their central theme.  Eggs are still an important focus for the chick cards.  Notice these cards are all vertical in design, while the previous ones were all horizontal.  The second card is interesting because it shows a chick and egg surrounded by natural greenery seen in spring.  The yellow catkins dangling on each side are flowers from trees.  These look like the catkins of the birch tree.  The center egg is printed cloth with padding behind it.  Even after 111 years, this card is dated 1910, it still creates a charming effect.

The hen house is one of my favorites.  There’s the mother hen looking out her window, watching her chicks playing in the yard below.  And what in the world are those chicks doing pecking at that book?

Easter postcard showing a rooster and hens
Easter postcard showing chick and egg surrounded by natural greenery
Easter postcard showing chicks reading a book under an umbrella
Easter postcard showing hen in an egg house, watching her chicks play in the yard

Messages on the back of the postcards are another reason to collect them.  Letters home from World War I soldiers, cards posted to friends and family, love notes to a significant other, are all common.  Then there’s a message like this one, written on the back of the card above, showing a flock of chickens by a gate.  It’s a humorous note from a father to his daughter:

“You left the gate open and all the chickens got out. You will have no Easter eggs.”


Writing on a 1910 postcard

Other animals that may not come to mind as associated with the holiday made appearances on Easter cards too.  The geese, sheep, and kittens pictured here make for nontraditional Easter cards.  The goose was printed later than the others in this collection.  It was printed in 1931 in the Art Deco style, showing that Easter postcards remained popular. 

Two of the cards combine both secular and religious aspects of the holiday.  The sheep grazing in green pastures is reminiscent of the 23rd psalm, but the opposite panel shows all the traditional secular symbols of chicks, eggs and bunnies. The combination of bunnies with a cross over a spray of Easter lilies also brings together these two categories.   These are unusual, as least in my collection, as cards are either specifically religious or secular in theme.

Easter postcard showing geese and flowers
Easter postcard showing chick, bunny, and sheep in a field
Easter postcard showing chick emerging from egg surrounded by kittens
Easter postcard with a cross and bunnies

If the delivery of Easter baskets were left up to these two lazy bunnies, pictured below, no one would wake up to treats or have fun at an Easter Egg hunt.  This is an undated European card according to the information on the back. There’s lots of interesting details that draw your attention in this card.  Like the catkin card above, the center egg is cloth and it has been padded underneath so that it will stand out from the card.  The surrounding shamrocks and pussy willow buds are edged in glitter with a dash or two of glitter on the pink clover.

Easter postcard showing rabbits next to an egg, surrounded by greenery
Typed portion of postcard showing the word Postcard in multiple languages

But never fear, the real Easter bunny, pictured below, is here and he’s going to make sure all the little children receive their Easter baskets.  This card, bordered with ribbons, eggs, chicks and flowers, copyrighted in 1905, borrows from the cookies and milk usually left out for Santa. Here, the Easter bunny asks children to make a nest for him in the kitchen so that he can fill it with eggs – chocolate ones of course!  He’s pictured here with a nest and eggs in his paws to prove it!

Dear Little Friend,

I will call at your house on Easter morning with a big lot of Eggs.  Make a nest for me in the kitchen and I will fill it.

Your friend,


Postcard: "Dear Little Friend,
I will call at your house on Easter morning with a big lot of Eggs.  Make a nest for me in the kitchen and I will fill it.
Your friend,

If you’d like to see more vintage postcards there are several available in the archives at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  If you’d like to see more of my personal postcard collection, request A&M 3989, to see an antique postcard album filled with cards spanning various holidays.

Happy Easter!

Libraries to host “The Equal Rights Amendment: Past, Present, and Future” panel discussion

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
March 24th, 2021

WVU Libraries will host a virtual panel presentation titled “The Equal Rights Amendment: Past, Present, and Future” on Thursday, April 8, at noon. The presentation is in conjunction with the Libraries’ “Undefeated: Canvas(s)ing the Politics Around Voter Suppression Since Women’s Suffrage” exhibition and the West Virginia and Regional History Center’s exhibitions on women’s suffrage and voting rights.

Join panelists Jeri Burton, chair of the NOW’s 28th Amendment ERA Committee; Linda Coberly, chair of the ERA Coalition’s legal task force; and Liza Mickens, Vote Equality US co-founder, for a discussion about past and present efforts, challenges, and strategies for passing the Equal Rights Amendment. Danielle Emerling, Congressional & Political Papers archivist and WVRHC assistant curator, will moderate the event.

Register for the Zoom event here.

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I’ll have the molded cucumbers and meat stock rutabaga, please

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 22nd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the third post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

It’s a tall order, de-mystifying the history of a group that was, and still is, slighted by a clear lack of representation. Delving into the Ebersole Collection of cookbooks, I unlocked a treasure chest of personal records on the issue of race. Now, I want to shine the limelight upon the recipes themselves. Let their components and technique do the speaking for women like Mary Ellen Pleasant and their prowess in the culinary arts. Despite the trope that Black women had “natural cooking talent”, Mary’s recipes show an impressive level of education and technical skill in the culinary arts.

First, compare the meals Mary provided her Black wait staff and elite guests at the ex-governor of California’s dinner parties. She catered for Mr. Latham, the ex-governor and US Senator, with an international buffet that boasted boiled pigs feet and veal knuckle. She meticulously set tables with gold dinnerware. Apparently, the punch bowl had five types of wine mixed in — not your typical frat party.

Sketch showing people in fancy dress at Milton Latham's house
A drawing of one of the dinner parties that Mary would cater for Governor Latham.

Here’s a bit of her recipe for molded cucumbers, which Mary served to guests at New Year’s Supper:

“Slice cucumbers and put into salted water… Put into the water 1 blade of mace, 1 teaspoon of peppercorns and ½ bay leaf… Put 6 tablespoonsful of gelatin in 1 cupful of water to dissolve…  Add 1 cup of tarragon vinegar and several drops of green coloring… When the gelatine has set, drain the cucumbers, arrange in a layer in mold, pour the rest of the gelatine into the mold and let jell until firm…”

Whoo! I’d botch up at slicing the cucumbers. Every item sounds like something you’d learn at a prestigious school of culinary arts in Paris. Yet Mary, enslaved since birth, had no such education. She learned these techniques as a young girl and expanded her repertoire independently. She was fortunate to have her creations documented in this cookbook, as most Black women of her time didn’t receive recognition for their tremendous and diverse culinary skills.

This is evidence that Black women trained and practiced cooking in a formal way, even if it didn’t result in a formal certificate. There was, and remains, a stereotype that Black women are born with an intrinsic, homely knowledge of cooking, and that they exclusively whip up Southern comfort foods like fried chicken and gravy.

Jumping back to the food she’d serve to her Black staff members, here is a recipe for “Cheap John Rutabaga:”

Recipe for "Cheap John Rutabaga"

This is no walk in the park, either. The ingredients for Mr. Latham’s guests at their lavish New Year’s Supper party were expensive and imported, but the technique required to make the perfect rutabaga is formidable. When I first read the new section of recipes for Mary’s staff, I was troubled by the “lesser” quality of food. The recipes tell a different tale, one of resourcefulness and creativity. The staff section includes sour-sweet bites that require a double boiler to get just right and an ingredient I’ve never heard of: caraway seeds. The ingredients used for Mr. Latham and Mary’s staff may differ, but the thoughtfulness and technical merit are consistent across every page.

What the Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute has to add about Mary Ellen Pleasant can be found here.

The Stories Archives Tell

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 15th, 2021

Blog post by Katie Lehosit, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Census records, obituaries, and old newspapers aren’t just for genealogy. In fact, with a little bit of hard work, archival research can reveal stories stranger than fiction. Such is the case with the following story, first introduced to me by Dr. Jennifer Thornton of the WVU History Department. It’s a story of immigration, a missing single mother, and ultimately, the injustice of late 19th century Wheeling.

We begin our story in Wheeling, West Virginia, in November 1879. Readers of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer could find, buried among news stories and society updates, an advertisement for “Chinese Laundry” at 1325 Market Street. The laundromat was run by Yee Wah, Jeui Lee, Yang Fou, and Wah Sing, who lived in a boarding house at 1136 Market Street. The four men immigrated from China, and found themselves in a booming industrial era Wheeling.

Colored Sanborn map showing buildings along Market Street
1890 Sanborn map of Wheeling at 14th St. and Market St. The arrow shows where the laundromat was located. Courtesy of WVRHC.

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer reported on the four men and their laundromat for decades. Usually, hate crimes were committed against the men and their shop. For example, in 1878, a drunk and disorderly citizen named Paul Heiler declared “war against China” and entered the laundromat and began attacking Yee Wah. While Heiler was arrested and put in jail, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer still painted Yee Wah as the villain, stating he had “vengeance in his heart” after the incident.

While articles like this were printed over the years, on March 24th, 1900, the accusations against the four men became even more serious. A woman from Bellaire, Ohio reported her daughter had gone missing. The daughter, 21 year old Rose Seamon, was a single mother who the press painted in a negative light, stating she was in a relationship with the men of the Chinese laundromat. Rose’s mother, for one reason or another, told the press she believed her daughter was being held captive at the laundromat. While others stated Rose either was there by her own will, or not even at the laundromat, law enforcement still arrested all four men, along with other Asian men in the city.

A postcard of Market St. in 1910. Courtesy of WVRHC.

Only one man was found guilty on trial, Ho Chy. Yet, all of the other men involved pleaded guilty without a trial. Ho Chy was fined $20, and Rose’s mother decided this was a sufficient penalty. Yet, this unfortunately is not the end of this story. A few weeks after the trial, a Chinese man named Sing Tong, committed suicide at a laundromat between 16th and 17th streets. It was speculated he was deeply affected by the trial and accusations against himself and the other Chinese men in Wheeling.

While this story doesn’t have a happy ending, it does show the racism showed against Asian individuals in Wheeling at the turn of the 20th century. Painted as villainous from the start, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer aided in the accusations against these Chinese men.

So, take some time to make a full story out of bits and pieces of research you’ve done. Regardless of the ending, remembering the injustices done against people only helps prevent them in the future. Plus, you’ll open the door for research on the story you put together!

*Note: I want to thank Dr. Jennifer Thornton for sharing her research with me, as well as the graduate students in Dr. Thornton’s Local History Methodology class.

WVU Libraries to host online discussion on its new Feminist Activist Collection

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
March 15th, 2021
group picture of community team

Art in the Libraries’ Virtual Program Series will present “Don’t Throw it Out!” a conversation about documenting women and the new West Virginia Feminist Activist Collection of the West Virginia and Regional History Center on March 19 at noon.

Panelists Judith Stitzel, Professor Emerita of English and Co-Founder of Women’s Studies, and Carroll Wilkinson, University Librarian Emerita, come together with Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director of the WVRHC, to discuss collecting and documenting women’s lives, share some of their own photos, ephemera or objects, to encourage a broader and more accessible approach to archives and all it can encompass.

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Mammy Pleasant: An Agent of the Underground Railroad, Riverboat Chef, and West Virginia Abolitionist

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 8th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the second post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooks, featuring the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

W.E.B. Du Bois compared Mary Ellen Pleasant to Harriet Tubman. He said, “Here was a colored woman who became one of the shrewdest business minds of the State.”

From “plantation lamb” to “smoked picnic tongue,” Mary Ellen Pleasant cooked it all and saw it all on her careful rise to culinary stardom in Victorian America. She was born into slavery on a Georgia plantation. Her training in the culinary arts began early in childhood, and once she was freed, she combined cooking and business skills to climb the ranks in gold-rush San Francisco and on a river boat owned by wealthy financiers. She used her connections with powerful figures to find jobs for colored people and led an effort to desegregate San Francisco’s streetcars, which established a legal precedent in the California Supreme Court for future civil rights suits (Thomas Jefferson Knowledge Institute). I’m left thinking, Where was this series of events in my American History class?

Taking her story closer to home, Mary Ellen was a leading figure in John Brown’s uprising at Harper’s Ferry. She financed his mission by donating $30,000, nearly $1 million in current money. When John Brown was hung in 1859 for treason, officials found a note in his pocket from an unknown, assumed-to-be-male source. It expressed complete support for the raid. That note was written by Mary Ellen Pleasant, self-made millionaire and West Virginia hero.

Portrait of Mary Ellen Pleasant, seated

Mary Ellen’s arduous journey is written between the lines of kitchen guidance, local recipes, and lists of common ingredients like nutmeg and bread crumbs. You get a sense of life’s everyday essence in the words of a chef to a novice reader. It’s conversational, light, yet studded with evidence of Mary Ellen’s home and career at the time. This timeline of food showcases her major steps, characteristic recipes, and social position throughout her life.

She’s a feminist leader whose name belongs beside modern icons like Simone de Beauvoir, Coretta Scott King, or Malala Yousafzai. I read about her campaign for justice in the pages surrounding quaint recipes for stews and cakes. No other book I’ve read detailed the process of stewing turtle meat with sherry wine or whipping cream with a rotary beater.

Like many women of color in the United States, Mary Ellen was artistically and academically restricted. She was blocked from etching her success, struggle, and feelings in popular documents. We must widen the reading lens of history, piecing together hidden accounts from secondary sources like cookbooks. Stories like Mary’s, a brilliant entrepreneur, self-made millionaire, and important abolitionist, cannot remain shrouded by discrimination.

When you step back and absorb Mary’s well-rounded recipes, you can almost taste her march toward self-empowerment and social change. As we move through this blog, let’s celebrate the women who built modern food systems and simultaneously campaigned for freedom.

“I’d rather be a corpse than a coward.” -Mary Ellen Pleasant


Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Timeline of Major Events:
(Dates are approximate, as they were not listed explicitly in the cookbook. Scroll over blue boxes to read more.)

Image of Mary Ellen Pleasant:

Source of quotes and more information about Mary Ellen Pleasant from the New York Times:

WVU Libraries to mark Women’s History Month

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
March 4th, 2021

The State Journal published this article on March 3.

By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries

Women – of all backgrounds – have made important contributions to society. Only recently are we learning more about these individuals and learning to give credit to women where that credit is due. The way we have learned more is through evidence. Often that evidence sits in archives used by historians and others to document how women have shaped society. Due to a long tradition of underrepresenting women and women’s contributions, there are archival silences or gaps in what has been preserved. This undervaluing perhaps also causes those making contributors to undervalue documenting what they have done.

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The Martinsburg Herald

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 1st, 2021

Blog post by Rachael Barbara Nicholas, WV National Digital Newspaper Project grant assistant, WVRHC

The Republicans of Berkeley County once bemoaned how difficult it was to edit a political paper when “the Republican backbone” in Berkeley “was weakened by Democratic domination.” This perceived difficulty did not prevent editors A. S. Goulden and John T. Reily from establishing the Martinsburg Herald in 1881. A thoroughly Republican paper, the Martinsburg Herald retained its original management until 1885, when Reily purchased Goulden’s interest in the paper and associated himself with George F. Evans, a manufacturer of cigars and wholesale dealer in tobacco. In addition to being a Republican paper, the Martinsburg Herald was “A Weekly Family Journal—Devoted to Home Interests, Local News, &c.” It followed a fairly consistent format: the first page contained literature, the second political reports, the third local news, and the fourth advertisements.

Portrait of John T. Reily
John T. Reily, a Catholic historian, published frequently throughout his life. During his tenure as editor, he published Conewago, A Collection of Local Catholic History, Gathered from the Fields of Catholic Missionary Labors within Our Reach (1885).

The Republican element of the Martinsburg Herald was secondary under Reily and Evans, but it was not absent. Reily and Evans championed protection and denounced free trade during the presidential election of 1888. It was their belief, and that of the Republican Party, that restricting imports from other countries would promote American producers, businesses, and workers. They utilized the rhetoric of labor to equate protectionism with agricultural and working-class interests. “Protection always won when the issue was openly against Free Trade,” the editors said of the 1888 Republican victory. “Labor of all kinds fears free trade, and well it may. Labor was aroused, and Labor is the Lion of America.” The lion Reily and Evans envisioned represented unity, something they wanted for the Republican Party.

A healthy repugnance of party factionalism followed the Martinsburg Herald into the Progressive Era, even as it became increasingly political. It no longer bore the title “Family Journal” after A. B. Smith and J. H. Mowbry replaced Reily as editor on July 22, 1893. As a Republican newspaper, the Martinsburg Herald published extensively on free silver—a monetary policy that favored unlimited coinage of silver into money on demand—and territorial expansion. Both Smith and Mowbry and the editors who succeeded them (U.S.G. Pitzer in 1899, George F. Evans in 1900, Wilbur Thomas in 1904, and W.E. Hoffheins & Co intermittently) criticized free silver and its populist Democrat defender, William Jennings Bryan. They predicted an economic collapse under Bryan’s silver standard and urged farmers, the potential beneficiaries of free silver, to “not pursue a phantom and bring down on his own head worse ills than he now suffers.” They also chastised Bryan’s opposition to the imperialist war being fought in the Philippines. Invoking the memory of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, Smith informed his readers “[that] Mr. Jefferson was nothing if not an expansionist… and if alive today both would be found supporting the foreign policy of William McKinley.” The editors of the Martinsburg Herald equated progress as a nation with rampant imperialism.

Political cartoon referencing William Jennings Bryan and a cross of gold.
In defense of free silver, Bryan famously proclaimed in 1896 that he would not allow mankind to be crucified “upon a cross of gold.”

The reformist spirit of the Progressive Era did not penetrate the pages of the Martinsburg Herald. A few reports addressing prohibition and women’s suffrage graced its columns, but they never received lengthy coverage. The editors had other concerns, particularly in 1912, when ex-president Theodore Roosevelt ran against incumbent William H. Taft, creating a schism in the Republican Party. They accused the newly formed Progressive Party of putting “local candidates into the field against the Republican candidates in every State and congressional district” in “a war of extermination” against Republicans. There was no subtlety in their assertion that the “motto of the new party seems to be ‘Kill the Republican party; elect Roosevelt at the same time if possible, but in any event kill the Republican party.” Republicans and Progressives alike felt the sting of defeat when Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912 and 1916.

A political cartoon showing the GOP elephant sick because of Teddy Roosevelt
A political cartoon from February 5, 1916, depicting a “third party” sickness. The markings on the GOP elephant are caricatures of Roosevelt’s face.

The Republican Party survived its splintering and the victory of Wilson; the Martinsburg Herald did not. The final issue appeared on December 27, 1919, under the World Publishing Company. The editorial body gave no indication that this issue would be the Herald’s last. It published a variety of articles, as it always had, including a speech from its former political rival, William Jennings Bryan. It was strangely ironic—maybe even appropriate—that Bryan had the final say in a paper that had spent twenty years opposing and denigrating his policies.

Editor’s note: The Martinsburg Herald is one of the newspapers that will be digitized during the current WV NDNP grant cycle, so it will eventually be available on

Two Students receive Dean of the Libraries’ Student Art Award

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 23rd, 2021

The Art in the Libraries Committee and Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz selected Anna Allen, a BFA candidate in painting, and Raymond Thompson, Jr., an MFA student in photography, to receive the 2020 Dean of the Libraries’ Student Art Award.

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An Undergraduate’s Take on Race, Justice, and Social Change Through Cookbooks

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 22nd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This series of blog posts will feature the following books: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code

Collage of cookbook covers
Emphasis on race, gender, socioeconomic status, and themes of social justice

Note: The cookbooks in this series feature revolutionary and talented women of their times. Reading their stories in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, I chose to refer to the authors by their first names. Their casual tones conveyed a desire to connect with the reader, and being one of those readers, I wanted to uphold that connection while maintaining the highest respect for the work they created.

I found a place on campus I never knew existed. The West Virginia & Regional History Center houses doorways into the past, into the day-to-day struggles, relationships, and moments of sweet relief. I’m sifting through the realities of women, Black Americans, and other marginalized groups to elucidate forces that affected their lives. These forces, far from obsolete, persist into today’s social landscape, whether it is in private conversations at the Mountainlair or national media coverage.

Donated by the late Lucinda Ebersole, an acclaimed writer and cookbook collector, hundreds of cookbooks await analysis on the sixth floor of the Downtown Library. I started with Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, which captures the travels and fierce entrepreneurship of Mary Ellen Pleasant.

Double doors with sign above that reads "Rare Book Room"
The Rare Book Room at the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

I realized that recipes cast a new light on history with an intimate truthfulness. Standard high-school history books don’t reveal the ins and outs of stewing a turtle, running a renowned kitchen on a senator’s riverboat, or feeding enslaved people at secret boarding houses of the Underground Railroad. The language around recipes, be it an author’s note or long introduction, tells a story about a time period. How are specific groups of people described? Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook uses “Negro,” while later books opt for “African American” or “Black.” Who knew a timeline of societal awakenings and changes in norms is etched between the dinner and dessert section of a cookbook?

As I flipped the page of a hundred-year-old cookbook, a plume of dust shot into the air. I caught a whiff of an unfamiliar scent that reminded me of my grandmother’s stack of outdated newspapers, musty yet potent. I felt like a foreigner in an unexplored country, getting to know the smells and rituals of a group whose history was scrubbed and sanitized by dominant groups.

For example, the “mammy” stereotype — a jolly, rotund Black woman who cares for everyone and whips up a southern feast — seemed awful but extinct in today’s world. However, it was only three months ago that the international brand Quaker Oats removed a notorious mammy stereotype from their most famous product line, Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix.

Check out this TikTok on “How to Make a Non Racist Breakfast.” The creator spells out how a pancake icon propagated racism:

The content of these frayed cookbooks is so pertinent to the current moment. Their lessons on racial identity and inclusion matter in policy decisions, university trainings, and dorm-room discussions among friends.

My goal in these blogs is to share stories from sources as raw, as delicious, and as unfiltered as personal recipes. I don’t mind if opinions are unsettled or comfortability is shaken. I’ll also let you in on experiences that I’ll likely never witness, like skinning an opossum or preparing fruit punch for a hundred people at a church social.

At some points, I found myself agitated over a cookbook. I texted friends and annoyed my family about what I read, mostly injustices against the authors and their communities. Civil rights, intercultural blending, mental health, women’s suffrage, gender issues, slavery, single parenthood, poverty, environmentalism, and more fills the pages of the Ebersole Collection. This blog would be lucky to dust off just one of those topics!

I invite you to accompany me into the daily lives of skilled chefs who objected in the most cunning, illusive way. Their judgements and hopes are woven into the blank spaces between recipes for roast duck and spice cake.

I’m excited to show you what I uncovered after hours in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, carefully leafing through these antique cookbooks on a special book pillow.

I’m a senior pursuing a double major in Biology and International Studies and intern at the WVU Center for Resilient Communities. Welcome to my excursion into the Ebersole Collection!

Display of cookbooks featuring Black women
An exhibit of cookbooks written by Black women, an underrepresented group in culinary publications. This case and others can be viewed at the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

*I will capitalize the term “Black” in agreement with the New York Times’ 2020 decision to respect a shared cultural identity. Read more about their decision here.

Members of the WVU community can make an appointment to browse and read books from the Ebersole Collection by visiting:

A warm thank you to our dedicated Rare Book Librarian, Stewart Plein, and our Reference Supervisor, Jessica Eichlin, for empowering me during this process. Without their work, organizing the hundreds of books and spreading the word about their content would not happen.

More about the Ebersole Collection:

Written by Christina White
Biology and International Studies

*photos taken by Christina White

WVU Faculty Senate Endorses Licensing Principles for Vendors

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
February 17th, 2021

By Beth Royall, chair, WVU Libraries Collections Advisory Committee

Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz and Beth Royall, chair of the Libraries’ Collections Advisory Committee, presented the Licensing Principles for Vendors document to the WVU Faculty Senate at the February 8, 2021 Senate meeting. Anyone who has been following the development of this document may note the title change. Dean Diaz explained that discussions with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee made it clear the previous title, “Vendor Policy,” was misleadingly stringent, and the new title better represents how we will use this document. The new Licensing Principles for Vendors have now been approved by the Dean of Libraries, the Library Faculty Assembly, and the WVU Faculty Senate.

Faculty are encouraged to share these principles with their vendor contacts and engage in candid dialogue about the serious need for—among other things—fair, transparent, and sustainable pricing models; compliance with usability and accessibility standards; and interlibrary loan privileges for e-books. Change isn’t easy, but when the WVU community speaks with one voice the impact is powerful.

Friendship in the Archives

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 15th, 2021

Blog post by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Valentine’s Day yesterday got me thinking about love and friendship, and how that is reflected in the things we save. The WVRHC has preserved the evidence of probably thousands of friendships in the form of funny greeting cards, charming letters, scrapbooks, reminiscences, published works, and photographs. I wanted to share some of those photographs with all of you, to highlight the many forms of friendship which carry us through good times and bad.


Two children in a cutout of a larg Valentine's Day card
Jeanette and Gladys Green, early 1900s, remind us that sometimes our very first friends are our siblings.

Childhood friends

Little girls pushing dolls in prams.
Sometimes the friendships of childhood last a lifetime. Here, Virginia Rumsey and her friends are taking a walk, 1907.


Group of men posed on and around a car
Work is much more pleasant when you have friends to share it with. Here we have Sammy Walsh posing with his work friends in the Civilian Conservation Corps, ca. 1930s (if you can ID any of the folks in this picture, please let us know!)

Beloved pets

Woman with spaniel
For some of us, our pets have been helping us get through the isolation of this pandemic. This photo is actually titled “Nell Keller and Friend, Avis,” ca. 1920.

The goofy ones

Thrre men with a mule in a hat
Joe Drumheller and his associates pose with a mule, ca. 1915. Were they work friends? School pals? I’m not sure, but it’s great to have friends with whom you can be yourself.

Friends from school, clubs, social organizations, etc.

Posed group portrait of the Black Unity Organization
Sometimes strong bonds can be formed with others who share our interests and our challenges. Here’s to the friends we find in academic clubs, social organizations, and activist groups. This is the Black Unity Organization, WVU, 1969.

Romantic partners and old friends

An elderly man and woman in rocking chairs, in front of an old photo and a cake, with a "60" decoration
Since it’s the day after Valentine’s Day, I can’t ignore the friendships between romantic partners, and I also want to celebrate friendships that last through the years. Here we have (hopefully) both: an unidentified man and woman are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in Martinsburg, West Virginia, undated. (If you know this couple, please get in touch so we can add their names to the photo record!)

Military comrades and friends who we’ve lost

Memorial wall with flower wreaths along the bottom
I found this image in my search, and it seemed a fitting place to end, celebrating the bonds forged while serving in the armed forces, as well as friends who have passed away. This is the Memorial Wall for the 8th Air Force at Madingley American Cemetery in Madingley, England, undated.

These and many more photos can be found in our database of historic photographs, West Virginia History OnView.

Art in the Libraries to host Art of the Mask virtual event

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 10th, 2021
collage of people wearing masks

Masks are the new symbol of our time. WVU’s Art in the Libraries Program will host a free virtual event titled “The Art of the Mask: A Community Discussion and Show-and-Tell” Monday, Feb. 15, from noon-1 p.m.

The Zoom gathering, in conjunction with the Art in the Libraries’ online exhibit, The Art of the Mask, will feature an informal sharing of masks and discussion by Suzanne Gosden-Kitchen, assistant chair and teaching associate professor in the Department of Management, John Chambers College of Business and Economics, and Matthew Tolliver, an adjunct faculty member at WVU and a certified professional school counselor, Monongalia County Schools. Their mask creations are part of the digital Art of the Mask exhibit.

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Join the “Amplifying Appalachia” Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 4th, 2021
Hand holding a paintbrush

WVU Libraries is hosting “Amplifying Appalachia” Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, an effort to amplify the stories and figures of under-represented Appalachian artists, writers, and other creators, particularly women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

“Amplifying Appalachia” is open to all and will run virtually from March 1-5. Participants can contribute whenever is convenient them. Prior Wiki experience is not necessary.

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Libraries hosting workshop focused on lowering textbook costs for students

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 4th, 2021

Are you an instructor who is concerned about the impact of high textbook costs for your students’ academic success? WVU Libraries will host an Open Textbook Workshop and Textbook Review on March 4 at 10 a.m. that will help instructors explore possible open textbook solutions to this growing financial issue.

Over the past few years, 60 percent of students surveyed said they delayed purchasing textbooks until they received their financial aid and 70 percent chose not to purchase a required textbook because of cost, according to the Open Education Network, a group that studies how the high cost of course materials impede students’ academic success.

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Libraries extends free professional development opportunity to WVU community

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 3rd, 2021

WVU Libraries is pleased to announce a free professional development opportunity available to University faculty and staff – complimentary registration for the OLC Innovate Virtual Conference scheduled for March 15-19.

This unlimited virtual package is a prize won by Engineering Librarian Martin Dunlap at the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate 2020 conference.

The Innovate Conference’s schedule includes more than 100 sessions and workshops and covers topics such as Blended Teaching and Learning; Career and Technical Education; Instructional Technologies and Tools; Leadership and Advocacy; Open Learning; Process, Problems and Practices; Research: Designs, Methods and Findings; and Teaching and Learning Practice. There are also “targeted summits,” which are thematically focused gatherings for Community College, HBCU, Instructional Design, Research, International and K-12.

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WVU Libraries leading menstrual product drive

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 3rd, 2021

WVU Libraries’ Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in collaboration with the Prioritize Periods Campaign of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, has launched “Take One, Leave One,” a menstrual product drive, in their campus locations including Downtown Campus Library, Evansdale Library, and Health Sciences Lactation Room, as a trial through the spring semester.

“Take One, Leave One” bins are located in public, yet discreet, locations in the buildings and welcome students and Library users to donate or take what they need. Locations will be posted on bathroom mirrors in each of the buildings. Bins will be monitored to record use and donations for potentially more long-term use or future initiatives.

“While access to basic hygiene on campus such as soap and toilet paper is routine, access to menstrual products is not at this point,” Libraries Dean Karen Diaz said. “We are happy to participate with Prioritize Periods Campaign to work on changing that and are happy to provide space to pilot improving access to this basic health requirement for so many in our community.”

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Our New National Park: The New River Gorge

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 1st, 2021

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

The New River, among the oldest in the nation, has now been named the newest national park in the United States.  This designation comes as part of the recent stimulus package signed by President Trump.  With over 70,000 acres stretching along the New River, the new national park offers a variety of fine water activities, such as whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.  If dry land is more your speed, outdoor activities include hiking, rock climbing, hunting, bird watching, camping, as well as one of West Virginia’s most popular sports, mountain biking.

Of course, one of the most compelling features of the New River gorge is its stunning bridge.  Take a look at some of the photographs and postcards in the West Virginia and Regional History Center showing the gorge and the bridge over time.

The gorge is not far from other natural resources within the state.  The photograph below shows a view of the New River Gorge from Hawks Nest, dated 1939.  This photograph comes from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company Advertising Department, A&M 1710. 

New River Gorge with bridge

The area is rich in cultural history as well.  Before the bridge, timber was an important resource.  This photograph, below, shows loggers and two small boys posing on a small Peerless Engine and its cargo of logs in the New River Gorge, Fayette County, date unknown.  Note that the track rails are made of logs.  A National Park Service Photo.  Published by Katy Miller. (postcard collection)

People standing on a train carrying logs

Under Construction

Jump forward nearly one hundred years to the technological marvel that was the building of the New River Gorge bridge.  Now known nationally and globally as the site for Bridge Day, when traffic is at a halt and people are allowed to traverse the bridge, and even jump off of it!  According to the Bridge Day website, every third Saturday in October, thousands of people gather on the bridge to base jump.  I think this falls under the heading: If you build it, they will come!

Two ends of New River Gorge bridge, with the middle missing, still under construction

 Above: This jaw dropping image shows the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge, Fayette County, W. Va.  ca. 1976.  Photo of the steel bridge construction by the United States Steel Corporation. The bridge’s arch was the world’s longest main arch at 1,700 feet.

New River Gorge bridge under construction

Above: ca. 1976.  A group of unidentified construction workers are scattered across the site.

New River Gorge Bridge under construction

This beautiful shot shows the New River Gorge Bridge under construction, ca. 1976.  Fayette County

New River Gorge from Hawk's Nest Rock State Park, drawing

This postcard from 1941 shows the New River Canyon from Hawk’s Nest Rock State Park, near Ansted.  The caption on the back of postcard reads: “Once called Marshall’s Pillar for Chief Justice John Marshall who came here in 1812. Engineers declare the New River Canyon, 585 feet deep, surpasses the famed Royal Gorge. Tunnel for river makes vast water power here. On U.S. Route 60.”  Published by Genuine Curteich. (From postcard collection).

So, what are you waiting for?  There are plenty of winter activities to enjoy at our newest national park and the gorge looks beautiful under a blanket of snow.  Need something for the whole family to do together?  See it firsthand this weekend!


History of Lakin State Hospital

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 25th, 2021

Blog post by Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Mental illness and its treatment have a long history in the United States as well as West Virginia. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries several hospitals were built in West Virginia to service the developing communities in a growing state. Today, West Virginia is home to some famous old hospitals which attract visitors every year in search of either a catered scare or a dive into the macabre past tied to these places. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is a popular and well visited location in Weston. 

Hospital building
Women’s Ward Building, Lakin State Hospital, 1930

There was another institution however, which functioned for just over fifty years and today has nearly vanished. The Lakin State Hospital was built in 1926 in Point Pleasant and served as the African American mental hospital for the state during the era of segregation. The hospital was part of a series of community services and institutions proposed by African American delegates in West Virginia’s Legislature. West Virginia’s political make up looked different in the 1920s. The Republican Party ran on a platform of progress and moral reform spearheading the successful implementation of prohibition in 1916 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. These Afrian American delegates, T. G. Nutter, Harry Capehart, and T. J. Coleman saw accessible and state funded mental health services for African American West Virginians as essential and in tow with the Republican Party’s platform. 

Hospital building
State Hospital for Colored Insane, 1924

The campus was built gradually. The original staff at the hospital shared quarters with the patients until employee dormitories were constructed. The buildings exhibited an emerging modern “budget Deco” style. They were composed almost entirely of brick with symmetrical double-hung windows and ornamental columns along the facades. The main building for the hospital’s campus also featured a two story portico supported by rectangular columns. These design features evoked the streamlined themes of the emerging Art Deco architectural style which exploded throughout the United States during the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. 

Lakin State Hospital was West Virginia’s state hospital for African-American mental health patients, then called the “colored insane,” and was also completely staffed by African Americans. These demographics were very atypical for mental hospitals which normally employed at least one white physician. In addition to the all African American staff, specialists would often visit the hospital. One of these specialists was the infamous Dr. Walter Freeman, an enthusiastic proponent of lobotomization. Freeman performed over 150 lobotomies at Lakin between 1940 and 1960. The hospital shared its campus with the West Virginia Industrial School for Colored Boys and eventually the site became the Lakin Correctional Facility, a women’s prison. Few images still exist from the hospital, and only the administration building remains standing. 

Three hospital buildings surrounded by fields and trees
Lakin State Hospital Campus, 1930