Special Collections Gains Oral History Accreditation

Western Kentucky University’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives, a part of the Department of Library Special Collections, was recently granted accreditation status by the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC). Archives that receive accreditation serve as “permanent repositories for oral history collections, which KOHC sponsors through grant awarded funds.” With its newly appointed status, the Folklife Archives joins a group of state-recognized institutions dedicated to the long-term care, preservation, and maintenance of regionally-specific oral history projects. These projects, conducted by professional and amateur researchers, highlight the nuanced and complex issues surrounding community, identity, heritage, and tradition throughout the commonwealth. Accreditation is granted for a five-year period, after which the institution must re-apply.

The accreditation certificate issued to Manuscripts & Folklife Archives by the Kentucky Oral History Commission.

“Having accredited repositories available throughout the Commonwealth is an important asset to the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC). Preservation and statewide access are two of our keystone values, and WKU is now our western-most accredited institution. The KOHC has enjoyed a long and happy relationship with Western Kentucky University, and this distinction will only strengthen it,” said Sarah Schmitt, current Oral History Manager at the Kentucky Historical Society.

The application process, which was completed over the span of several months by Jonathan Jeffrey, the Department Head of Library Special Collections, and Delainey Bowers, a graduate student in the Folk Studies program, emphasized the Folklife Archives’ commitment to creating a repository, both as a physical space and as an online environment that values progressive storage policies and practices. With more than 5,000 audio recordings in analog form—including oral histories on reel-to-reel audiotapes and cassettes, as well as born-digital materials—the Archives places an importance on making collections available and easily accessible to the public. Through the use of online platforms, such as WKU’s TopSCHOLAR and Pass the Word, a KOHC-sponsored discovery tool geared towards oral history collections throughout the state of Kentucky, the Folklife Archives continues to prioritize recorded content in progressive and meaningful ways.

“I’m pleased that we have attained accreditation and met the standards set by KOHC’s progressive leadership. Kentucky has long boasted one of the country’s finest oral history programs. WKU’s Folk Studies and Anthropology and History departments have helped us amass a significant collection of audio material that document the Commonwealth’s folklore and history,” said Department Head Jonathan Jeffrey. Significant aid for this project came from former Folk Studies and Anthropology Department Head, Dr. Michael Ann Williams, current Folk Studies Director, Dr. Ann Ferrell, Director of the Kentucky Museum and Kentucky Folklife Program, Brent Bjorkman, Dean of Libraries, Susann DeVries, Library Systems Office Coordinator, Michael Moore, Provost, David Lee, and the Potter College of Arts and Letters.

According to Ferrell, “The Folklife Archives at WKU was started in 1953 by renowned folklorist D.K. Wilgus who taught in our program at that time. It includes collections completed by students and faculty since then, including retired Professor Lynwood Montell, as well as the collections of the Kentucky Folklife Program, which moved from Frankfort to WKU in 2012. We are thrilled about the receipt of this accreditation, as it will open further opportunities for the deposit of materials of regional significance.”

WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, housed in the Kentucky Building, has been collecting material related to the history and culture of Kentucky since the late-1920s. The Department has three units: the Kentucky Library, Manuscripts & Folklife Archives, and WKU Archives.

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“A long and sad day”

Norman Rockwell painting; RFK eulogy program

Norman Rockwell painting; RFK eulogy program

Still reeling from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, the country experienced another trauma with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy only two months later.  On June 6, 1968, Kennedy died after being shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, having just celebrated his victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.  His body lay in repose at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral where, on June 8, thousands attended a funeral mass and millions watched on television.

Like many Americans, Bowling Green’s Beulah Smith wrote letters of condolence to RFK’s widow Ethel and to his brother Senator Edward Kennedy.  She also expressed her sympathy to the Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, who had participated in the funeral mass but fell ill during the trip to Washington and was unable to officiate at the graveside service at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I returned from the funeral services physically exhausted and emotionally spent after a long and sad day,” Cushing recounted in his letter of acknowledgement to Beulah, a copy of which is in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  “It does not seem possible that a tragedy of this magnitude could have befallen the Kennedy Family once again.”  Cushing praised Kennedy’s commitment to American ideals and his “special concern for the poor, the neglected, the downtrodden,” and hoped that his life would inspire all to “treat our neighbors in need with the same concern which motivated his remarkable career.”

A finding aid for the papers of Beulah Smith can be downloaded here.  For other materials relating to Robert F. Kennedy, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Our Own Dear Soldiers”

On May 29, 1899, James McMillian “Jim” Scott sent one of many letters to his lady friend in Columbia, Kentucky.  The two had been corresponding for two years, but it would take the Cumberland County native another three months to finally declare his love for Ellie Garnett and propose marriage.  In the meantime, at Paris, Texas, where he was then living, he awaited formal discharge from his service in the Spanish-American War.

At the onset of the war, Scott had been eager to ship out to either the Philippines or Cuba, but only got as far as Key West, Florida, when a yellow fever scare drove his company north to Montauk Point on Long Island.  It was a harrowing journey: nine days at sea aboard the filthy and “reeking” transport San Marcos with “scarcely enough food to sustain life,” evidence that a soldier’s hardships extended far beyond the battlefield.  Fortunately, the ship was met by philanthropist Helen Gould, the daughter of tycoon Jay Gould and a prominent supporter of war relief programs.  She served “fresh sweet milk”—the first Scott had tasted in months—while her assistants passed out sandwiches to the half-starved men.

After returning safely to Texas, Scott looked forward to the observance of Decoration Day (now Memorial Day).  The day would begin with an assembly at City Hall, he wrote Ellie.  Then “the dear old Confederate and Union veterans will take the lead while we veterans of the Spanish-American War in full uniform will march behind.”  After services at a local church, “we will repair to the various cemeteries and decorate the graves of the fallen heroes.  Thus we show to the world that our own dear soldiers are never forgotten and that we appreciate their gallant services.  Let us do honor to these departed heroes of ours, not only that the world may see, but that their spirits may also see and rejoice that their comrades both old and young do honor to their ashes in remembrance of their noble deeds, done for a cause we all love so well.”

Jim Scott’s story is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more war collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Veteran Hugh Stephenson's declaration (Kentucky Library Research Collections)

Veteran Hugh Stephenson’s declaration (Kentucky Library Research Collections)

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347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Margie Helm and her notes on the Inter-Racial Commission of Bowling Green

Margie Helm and her notes on the Inter-Racial Commission of Bowling Green

Issued on May 17, 1954 (and cited above), the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruled that segregated schools deprived that city’s African-American elementary school students “of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”  The court threw out the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that had upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation for more than half a century.  (The lone dissenter in Plessy was Justice John Marshall Harlan, a Boyle County native and former Attorney General of Kentucky.  “We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples,” he wrote.  “But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow-citizens, our equals before the law.”)

Long before the Brown decision, the inequalities fostered by segregation had become a concern for Margie Helm, WKU’s Director of Library Services.  In 1947, during the rebuilding of Bowling Green’s public library after a fire, she and others seized the opportunity to establish a new branch for African Americans at 412 State Street.  “As a librarian,” remembered her niece, Margie Helm “took quiet actions to help everyone have access to the books they wanted to read even before local public libraries were accessible to blacks.”  In 1949, she joined Bowling Green’s Inter-Racial Commission, created to promote educational and vocational opportunities for African Americans in the city and surrounding counties.

On November 9, 1956, as the country struggled with the Supreme Court’s imperative to desegregate “with all deliberate speed,” Margie Helm, a thoughtful and lifelong Presbyterian, spoke to a local women’s club on “Attempts to Find the Christian Attitude Toward Integration of the Public School System.”  She acknowledged “different attitudes toward integration” among her friends and colleagues, but cautioned her listeners to understand the difference between opinions and prejudices; the latter, as she quoted author Pearl Buck, should be “kept locked up in our hearts, like our tempers.”  She also pointed out the illegitimacy of the “separate but equal” doctrine, which had not produced the educational or social results it claimed to guarantee.  Calling attention to the relatively peaceful trends toward integration in cities like Evansville, Indiana, Louisville, and even at WKU, she urged fellow Southerners to read, think, empathize and, in the face of changing times, walk away from ancient prejudices.  With the help of Christians, she believed, what was once a “great problem” would dissolve, little by little.

Margie Helm’s remarks and her other collected papers are part of the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Coe Campbell, the Delroy & Patricia Hire Intern Recipient

My name is Coe Campbell and I was honored to receive the Hire Memorial Scholarship for 2018. Jonathan Jeffrey, the Department Head of Special Collections describes the internship. He says that “the Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Internship was established in 2015 to provide students with professional experience working in a special collections library, specifically with material from Allen and Monroe counties in Kentucky and Macon County in Tennessee.” This scholarship opened the opportunity for me to work in the Department of Library of Special Collections at WKU. This funded internship was more than an academic opportunity; it was a life changing experience. 

While doing research and working here at the Library, I felt like I was discovering myself as well as preserving history. I have learned to value everything while interning here, Christmas cards, letters, old farm signs and even business cards are important. I have found that behind every good textbook and history book there is a plethora of sources that no doubt came from a library. I have heard many say that libraries are boring places, others have stated that libraries as we know them are soon to die-out altogether; but I must beg to differ. A Special Collections library, like WKU’s, is a rich and vibrant source of knowledge and information. I would recommend anyone to come to the Special Collections Library spend even one hour in research; I promise they will find something that will spark their interest on almost any topic.   

This internship has inspired me to put my history major to use by hopefully pursuing a MA in Library Science so one day I can help people reconnect to their past. I also want to help to preserve the history of common folk so future generations will know that everyone regardless of their social or economic status is important in the history of us all. History to me is more than dates and important people. History is web of stories, personalities, and people all interconnected. I am thankful somewhere in that web of life; my own history will be found.  

Take a look at some of the things that I processed at Kentucky Library Research Collections  and through TopSCHOLAR.

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The School Over Frankfort

Student Henry Harris sketched the Montrose Law College, 1856

Student Henry Harris sketched the Montrose Law College, 1856

As an ambitious young man heading off to study law in the 1850s, Henry T. Harris of Lincoln County, Kentucky could have done no better than to enroll in Montrose Law College, described by its founder not as in Frankfort, Kentucky, but over it.

Before he departed for Dixie in 1861 to pledge his allegiance to the Confederate States of America, Thomas B. Monroe (1791-1865) resided at “Montrose,” his spacious residence on a bluff overlooking the Capitol building in Frankfort.  While serving as a U.S. District Court Judge, he also conducted law classes at his home.  In 1854, Montrose Law College was formally chartered.  Its mission had a curiously British flavor, with authority to operate departments such as “inns of chancery” and “inns of court” and to confer the degrees of “batchelor, of barrister, and of sergeant at law.”

Session Announcement

Session Announcement

Upon arrival, Henry Harris and his classmates found that Judge Monroe was the institution’s heart and soul.  “It will be observed,” stated the prospectus, “that one Professor only fills all the Professorships in this College, but all his time, not required by his judicial duties, is employed with his students,” all of whom would have at least 3 lessons a day.  Subjects ranged from civil, criminal, mercantile, maritime and international law to rhetoric, logic, and (to allow students to cut their teeth in a courtroom setting) a twice-weekly moot court.

Limited to an exclusive group of 10, all students resided at Montrose, where a fee of $230 per session covered their instruction, room and board, supplies and use of the library.  Henry Harris was delighted enough with his situation to make a sketch of the building showing the location of his rooms, the library, dining room, parlors, classroom, and even the tree under which he sat “of an evening.”

Henry Harris’s souvenirs of Montrose Law College are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For other collections relating to law and lawyers, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“But when you love the green backed dollar, sorrow always bound to follow”

The 1978 Kentucky Derby Winner, Affirmed

The 1978 Kentucky Derby Winner, Affirmed

Bettin’ on the ponies ain’t no easy task, but former folk studies students Robert Sherman and William Adams may have cracked the code. In their 1972 paper titled “Kentucky Horseracing and Horse-Betting: Various Gambling Patterns and Techniques of the Kentucky Horseracing Community,” Sherman and Adams hoofed it to Churchill Downs on Opening Day to learn the ins-and-outs of wagering, handicapping, and risking it all for sweet taste of victory.

Whether betting across the board, eyeballing a Daily Double, or keeping your fingers crossed for a win, place, show, playing the ponies is a beacon of light for casual bettors and professional gamblers alike. Sherman and Adams’ subjects divulged their reasons for hitting the tracks, which ranged from hopes of financial gain to enjoying a simple recreational pastime, but all agreed that horse-betting—an art form in and of itself—requires patience, dedication, and a small touch of luck.

If you’re willing to go all-in for the Longines Kentucky Oaks filly race today, or if you’d rather raise the stakes at tomorrow’s Derby, you may want to keep these tips ‘n tricks in mind:

1. Let the Lucky Numbers Be Your Guide

Jim Ray, a native Kentuckian, is a believer in the power of lucky numbers. Writes Sherman, “He told us that he selects the horse according to the last digit in the weight that horse carries. If the weight of the horse is 118 pounds, then he would bet on the 8th horse listed.” Ray admits that his technique is a little unusual, but the cash in his wallet speaks for itself.

2. Go With Your Gut

Intuition exists for a reason, or at least Martha Bangston believes it does. Bangston keeps her system simple, an amateur approach that favors the odds without running against any longshots. Sherman explains it as, “There are usually nine races on a daily card. [Bangston] breaks these down into three groups of three races each. In the first race of each group, she bets the horse with the best odds on the program. In the second race, she bets the horse with the second best odds and so on.” Her success rates with this method are high, and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

3. A Thoroughbred by Any Other Name

Lorene Budd, a cautious gambler at best, factors in the horse’s name when placing her bets. “A horse that has a name similar to one of her friends or relatives is the one that she selects,” writes Sherman. So if you have an uncle’s whose name sounds similar to Firenze Fire (and don’t we all?), or a bestie named Magnum Moon, you’d better start the drive up to Louisville.

For more information on the Kentucky Derby, racetrack betting, or jockey lore, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Former Governor Steve Beshear at the Southern Kentucky Bookfest

The SOKY Bookfest was honored to have former Governor Steve Beshear as one of our very special guests on Saturday, April 21 for our 20th Anniversary. Brian Coutts moderated his 11:00 a.m. session.

Beshear was elected the 61st Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 2007 and reelected to a second term in 2011. Among the many issues he focused attention on were sustainable economic growth, lifelong learning opportunities and Affordable Health Care and enjoyed considerable success in each one of these. He used the Affordable Care act and Medicaid expansion to insure some 300,000 previously uninsured Kentuckians.

So successful was he that the Democratic Party selected him to give the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017.

Susann deVries, Dean of WKU Libraries, speaks with Steve Beshear

Since leaving office he’s served as a Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School and written a new memoir People Over Politics.

Following his talk he answered numerous questions about his memoir and current political issues and signed copies of his book.

Steve Beshear (left) with Brian Coutts

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“Our Day of Affliction”

Lincoln assassination proclamation

Lincoln assassination proclamation

Late in April 1865, the nation was still reeling from the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14.  Twelve days after the tragedy in Ford’s Theater, Union soldiers had tracked fugitive killer John Wilkes Booth to a Virginia farmhouse, set it on fire, then apprehended Booth after he was shot in the neck.  Booth died a few hours later.

On April 21, as the funeral train departed Washington D.C. for interment of Lincoln’s remains in Springfield, Illinois, Kentucky Governor Thomas E. Bramlette issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, May 4 as a “day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer” for the citizens of his state.  The “sad calamity which has fallen upon our country,” read the proclamation, called upon “us as a people to humble ourselves before a Merciful God, and pray Him that the sin of our people, which has culminated in such great crime, be forgiven.”  He asked Kentuckians on that day to “suspend all secular business, and, at the usual hour for service, attend their respective places of worship, and engage in the solemn and earnest observance of the day. . . in this our day of affliction.”

A facsimile of Governor Bramlette’s proclamation is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For other collections relating to Lincoln and the assassination, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Beth Sutherland: Intern Experience

This is it. This is my last week in the Department of Library and Special Collections, and I am very grateful for the time I have spent here. Since I finished working on the Parking Exhibit, which if you have not checked out yet you should, I have moved on to processing files and photos from the WKU Theatre and Dance program. I have to admit I was a little nervous before I started going through everything. There was so much history and hard work that was being showcased in the photos and programs. I wanted to make sure it was all preserved and documented so people years from now could enjoy it. I enjoyed learning about the Western Players. Continue reading

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