“Woven from the Warp and Woof”: Sarah Gertrude Knott and the National Folk Festival

1936 National Folk Festival

Window card for the 1936 National Folk Festival

Sarah Gertrude Knott knew how to set a stage.

Born in Kevil, Kentucky in 1895, Knott was no stranger to the deeply rooted folkways of small southern towns, but it was the siren’s song of the small stage and the silver screen that called her west. In St. Louis, Knott served as a member in a local theatre guild, The Dramatic League. It was in this space—surrounded by vaudeville performers, snake handlers, comedians, and musicians—where Knott first found inspiration for what would later become the National Folk Festival (NFF).

Having received funding from the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the first festival was held in St. Louis in 1934 at a time when the country was still in the economic throes of the Great Depression. In her 1946 article titled “The National Folk Festival after Twelve Years,” Knott remembers that at the time of its inception, “folk beliefs, legends, superstitions, folk songs, music, and dances were considered ‘crude relics of an outlived past.’” Seeking to redefine what constituted “American” folklore, Knott used her critically creative eye to frame (and stage!) folklife traditions in a way that underscored their relevance to a contemporary audience in a contemporary space. After World War II, when the United States saw an influx in immigration numbers, Knott’s vision sought to include performances from “Scandinavians, Italians, Jews, Bulgarians, Chinese, Finns, Rumanians, Filipinos, Portuguese, Russians, Czechoslovakians, Poles, Spaniards, and Lithuanians.” While the idea of the United States as a melting pot may be idealized, Knott was determined to give equitable recognition to cultures and communities that were beginning to blossom, and flourish, during the early 20th century.

The new addition in the Department of Library Special Collections accentuates Knott’s expansive collection held in DLSC’s Folklife Archives is a “visually striking (and somewhat disconcerting) promotional window card for the third annual National Folk Festival.” The NFF, hosted in conjunction with the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936, was the final festival in a year-long string of celebratory events sponsored by the State Board of Education and Departments of Recreation in the Lone Star State. While Knott was primarily concerned with incorporating representatives of Texas’ diverse ethnic population into the program—such as the Kiowa and Tigua tribes and members of Mexican and Spanish communities—Anglo and African American performers dominated the stages.

As with most folkloristic programs related to performance and presentation, the NFF was not without its faults. Knott was often accused of allowing her own aesthetic and theatric interpretations to overshadow the artistic expressions of the tradition bearers, and sometimes these arrangements could lean toward stereotypical representations of ethnic identities. However, Knott’s commitment towards emphasizing the relevance and significance of folkways should not be overlooked. Knott concludes her article on a note of hope when she writes, “Our national culture is being woven from the warp and woof of the variegated color strains of many nations. No one would want to dull the richness of that pattern. How bleak indeed would be the cultural outlook for the future if we overlooked the distinctive, individual cultures in a universal, standardized, regimented culture!”

To visit the WKU Manuscripts and Folklife Archives website, click here!

Blog post written by WKU graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Explore World War I

A soldier's postcard (Price Family Collection)

A soldier’s postcard (Price Family Collection)

About 84,000 Kentuckians saw Army service in World War I.  About half of them served overseas, and out of a total of 2,418 deaths, 890 were battle-related.

In this anniversary year of the U.S.’s entry into the war, a web site now allows researchers easy access to information about the World War I collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Included in our collections are letters, diaries, photographs, military records, scrapbooks and other materials documenting the experiences of Kentucky soldiers and those they left behind on the home front.  Young men from the Commonwealth and elsewhere arrived at Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville’s massive training site, where they were inoculated, drilled, and prepared for war.  They wrote encouraging letters to lonely wives and sweethearts.  They endured the ocean voyage to England and France, and marveled at the sights and strange customs “over there.”  Some of them escaped wounds and death from battle, only to succumb to influenza and other communicable diseases.

Click here to go to the site.  Each listed collection comes with a link to TopSCHOLAR, WKU’s digital repository, from which a finding aid explaining the collection in more detail can be downloaded.

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Exhibit Commemorates Kentucky’s Role in WWI

Title panel for “Kentucky in the Great War.”

The Department of Library Special Collections invites you to view an exhibition titled “Kentucky and the Great War” through January 28 in the Jackson Gallery found on the second floor of the Kentucky Building.  The exhibit highlights several themes including military service, the costs of war, life on the home front, and the effects of war on the family.  Over 150 artifacts, documents, photographs, posters and sheet music specimens are used to document Kentucky’s involvement in the war effort.

World War I (July 1914 – November 1918) was a global and devastating conflict that attracted the attention of the world’s leading powers.  Shortly into the war, the death toll crescendoed for all nations involved in the hostilities.  German submarines began sinking passenger ships traveling across the Atlantic resulting in the deaths of many American civilians.  In response, American forces entered into the war  in April of 1917 with support from most United States citizens.

A medic uniform and helmet worn by a Kentucky soldier.

This exhibit highlights the lives of a few Kentucky soldiers and their contributions to the war effort.  We are able to follow our soldiers from the U.S. to France via correspondence and photos.  In addition, we take a look at the home front and how civilians on U.S. soil, particularly Kentuckians, aided the troops from home.  The ‘Great War’ resulted in millions of lives lost on all fronts.  This exhibit aims to honor their memory and celebrate their lives.

One of the exhibit cases features letters, photographs, and other memorabilia documenting the supreme sacrifice made by George Dewitt Harris of Simpson County, Kentucky.  The Harris Family Collection contains well over 50 letters written by George, a lawyer from St. Louis, to his family back in their hometown of Franklin.  They brim with confidence and are filled with detailed insights into military life from an educated professional.  George was wounded near Epionville, France when a piece of shrapnel broke his jaw as he aided a wounded commanding officer off the field on October 7, 1918.  George died a week later and was buried in France.  Later letters document how the family handled the grieving process as they continued to search for answers surrounding George’s death.  The collection also documents the eventual return of George’s body to the U.S. and internment in Franklin’s Greenlawn Cemetery.

A doughboy doll from the Kentucky Museum.

Another case documents the construction of Camp Zachary Taylor, the largest of the sixteen cantonments built in the continental U.S.  Camp Taylor, located near downtown Louisville, consisted of nearly 2,000 chiefly frame buildings which hosted nearly 40,000 troops at a time.  Despite its vast size the cantonment was built in a mere 90 days.  It closed in 1920 and only one of its buildings still stands today.

The main purpose of the exhibit is to demonstrate how international events trickle down to the local stage.  It all boils down to one person at a time being engaged in the event, whether that person served in the military or participated in the war efforts on the home front.

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Over Here and Over There: World War I Songs

Patriotic recruitment song published in Louisville, KY.

In The Piano in America, 1890-1940, Craig Roell states that by 1915 the majority of white middle-class urban families had pianos. With such a large market, it is not surprising that author Bernard Parker located over 9500 patriotic songs published in the United States between 1914 and 1920.
WKU Library Special Collections currently has a total of 4,438 pieces of sheet music. Our World War I holdings include titles that show the many facets of the war experience. Probably the best known hit patriotic song written for troop recruitment was George M. Cohan’s “Over There.” Louisville, Kentucky, musicians did their part with Clarence Zollinger and Billy Smythe’s rallying recruitment song, “Fight for the Flag We Love.”
Tucked among many love songs is the title “I Wish I had Someone to Say Goodbye To.” Children of soldiers are represented by “Don’t Leave Me Daddy,” “I Miss Daddy’s Goodnight Kiss,” and “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy Over There).” Loved ones left stateside were admonished not to let their tears add to the soldiers’ hardship in “Keep the Home-Fires Burning (‘Till the Boys Come Home).”
Soldiers’ experiences vary from “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” to “When Yankee Doodle Learns to ‘Parlez Vous Francais’.” A lyric that also speaks to the world experience gained in France appears within “Johnny’s In Town:” “he’s been aroun’, He knows French and ev’rything, You should hear him when he goes ‘Ooo-la-la-la.’” A father’s concern about the Paris exposure is expressed in the well known “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm.”

Popular WWI songs often spoke of the gaiety of Paris.

Due to the generosity of numerous donors, including Mary Clyde Huntsman, Drucilla Jones, and Bob and Carol Crowe Carraco, WKU is fortunate to have a good representation of the songs of World War I.

For additional reading, see: Bernard Parker, World War I Sheet Music: 9,670 Patriotic Songs Published in the United States, 1914-1920, with More Than 600 Covers Illustrated. Jefferson, N. C.: McFarland, 2007; Vogel, Frederick G., World War I Songs: A History and Dictionary of Popular American Patriotic Times with over 300 Complete Lyrics. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland and Company, Inc., 1995; Watkins, Glenn.. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2003.

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Picturing World War 1


World War 1, this was it, this was going to be the “the war to end all wars.” Sadly, as we all know, this did not happen. The cessation of hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany occurred on November 11, 1918 so the 100th anniversary will soon be commemorated. The first’s years commemoration occurred in November 1919 as President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations….” The war however would not officially end until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles several months later. The war affected South Central, Kentucky as it did the whole country. In Warren County, the citizens of our area responded quickly with about 1000 serving in the war; four received Distinguished Services Crosses; two were awarded the Croix de Guerre; 49 gave their lives during the war. In the holdings of the Kentucky Library Research Collections are photographs, real photo postcards, and other materials. One of the highlights of the collection is a rare poster featuring Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson with accompanying text: “Washington gave us freedom,” “Lincoln kept us united,” and “Wilson fights for America and all humanity.” These are primary sources, the raw materials of history, and they bring the first great worldwide conflict of the twentieth century to us in direct, unfiltered ways. Photographs from albums documenting World War I era service and stereo cards that were produced by the Keystone View Company show the events and tragedy of World War I. For more visual collections, search TopScholar or KenCat or contact Special Collections at 270-745-5083 or spcol@wku.edu

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Camp Zachary Taylor

Barracks at Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky

Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky

“Some things I’ve seen here I [wouldn’t] believe if I hadn’t seem them.”  So declared an awestruck soldier on finding himself in Louisville, Kentucky, for military training at Camp Zachary Taylor.

After the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Camp Taylor (named for the U.S. president and former Louisville resident) materialized in a mere 90 days.  The largest of 16 such camps across the country, it grew to the size of a small city, with more than 2,000 buildings and a population of as many as 47,000 troops.  As they passed through the camp, soldiers wrote to family and friends with their impressions, and the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections holds many such letters.

Some noted the rigors of their training.  “We hiked about three miles with all of our equipment,” wrote “Mack” Muncy, “and I have been tired ever since.”  Arthur Miller, an enlistee from Connecticut, complained of “the nervous tension” resulting from a three-month crash course in artillery.  But other aspects of military life drew more frequent comment as young men were ushered into a new world of routine and regimentation.  Part of their “processing” ordeal was receiving vaccinations, which left many of them light-headed, sore-armed and sick.  Of his two shots, Wilson Sprowl wrote “that first Doce [dose] made some [of] the Boys sick and some fa[i]nted.”  Several of his mates, confirmed Grant Sorgen, “laid down from the vaccination, but I got thru O.K.”  Contagious illness, nevertheless, plagued this large group of assembled humanity from all parts of the country.  Fay Alexander found himself part of a quarantine “because one of the fellows got awake with the measels.”  Jim Grinstead had already had measles, but was worried that if too many of his fellow soldiers fell ill, “they will keep all of us in and that will give me hell” for “I have a date with my girl.”

Soldiers training at Camp Taylor

Soldiers training at Camp Taylor

Other aspects of camp life were more satisfying.  From most accounts, the food was tasty and plentiful.  “This morning we had coffee, biscuits, fried potatoes, cream of wheat and bacon,” wrote Fay Alexander.  “They sure do eat up the grub.”  Grant Sorgen was happy with “a fine shower bath to-day and three good meals.  So far, ‘This is the life,’” he declared, “but may not last long.”  Just as memorable was the hospitality of the local citizenry.  Arthur Miller enjoyed regular Saturday entertainment at the “Hawaiian Gardens” dance hall, courtesy of “numerous, sweet and innocent southern maidens.”  Mack Muncy concurred: “Yes the girls are pretty free with us boys it is no trouble to get acquainted down here; if a fellow hasn’t got a girl it is his fault I am shure.”

On September 9, 1918, Private Ivan Wilson arrived at Camp Taylor.  Wilson, who would go on to a long teaching career in WKU’s art department, was a diminutive 5 feet 4-1/2 inches and just over 100 pounds.  Nevertheless, the gentle Calloway County native resolved to meet the challenge.  Though consigned to clerical duties, he found the Army “thrilling”: “When I really did get my uniform on,” he wrote in his diary, “I knew that Germany would soon surrender.”  And Germany did.  On February 24, 1919, Wilson was discharged from Camp Taylor a “150% better man than when I came.  I am going back into civilian life much better prepared to face the issues of life: to pass things which formerly have depressed me and has caused me to pine my life away in vain.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  In this centennial year of the U.S.’s entry into World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat for more of our war collections.

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Kentucky Live! presents Ann DAngelo, author of ‘Dark Highway: Love, Murder, and Revenge in 1930s Kentucky’

Dark-Highway-Love-Murder-Revenge-Kentucky (10)

WKU Libraries’ last of this semester’s “Kentucky Live!” speaker series featured Ann DAngelo, an attorney for the Kentucky Department of Transportation Cabinet on the evening of November 16, 2017, at Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Bowling Green, KY. She talked about and signed her new book Dark Highway about the case of Verna Garr Taylor’s death on the night of November 6, 1936.

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Strikeout Artist

Cumberland University baseball team; Laban Lacy Rice

Cumberland University baseball team; Laban Lacy Rice

As this year’s World Series wraps up, we look back at Dixon, Kentucky native Laban Lacy Rice, whose long life as an educator, classicist, hoax artist, astronomer and cosmologist began to take shape when he entered Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee and organized its first baseball team.

From 1890 to 1893, Rice and his younger brother Cale Young Rice were, as pitcher and catcher respectively, the team’s feared battery.  In the early days of his career, when the pitcher’s mound was nine feet closer to home plate, Rice, who possessed control, velocity and mastery of one of the first curve balls inflicted on local batters, regularly recorded 15 to 18 strikeouts; he recorded 21 against an unfortunate team from Hopkinsville.

However, it was Cumberland’s rivalry with Vanderbilt University that attracted the most enthusiasm.  Behind Rice’s pitching, Cumberland regularly defeated Vandy and whenever the players returned from a road game, throngs of cheering citizens would meet them at the train station and escort them back to town.  But there was no line drawn between amateurs and professionals, and when Vanderbilt engineering student Ben Sanders—also a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies—took the mound, Cumberland finally fell to its arch rival.

Besides Rice, Cumberland fielded other players who later excelled in their chosen careers, such as Tennessee Chief Justice Grafton Green and Missouri Supreme Court Justice James T. “Tom” Blair.  Lacy Rice himself became chancellor, then president of his alma mater.  Although he tried his hand briefly at professional baseball, his interests soon expanded “from curved balls to curved space” as he counted among his many academic achievements an expertise in Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Laban Lacy Rice’s career in baseball and education is documented in his collection of papers held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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World War I Resources in WKU Archives

WKU Barracks, 1918

WKU Barracks, 1918

WKU Archives is located in the Kentucky Building and is open Monday-Friday 9 AM – 4 PM.

Canon, E.H. Oral History, 1977

Cherry, Henry. Lost Sheep in the Army, 1918

Cherry, Henry. Personal Papers

Cherry, Henry & Earl Sullenger. Correspondence, 1918

Diddle, E.A. Interview, nd

Grise, Mary. Oral History, 1977

Orendorf, Jo. Oral History, 1978

Poteet, James. Oral History, 1975 Continue reading

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Far Away Places presents Holly Tucker, author of ‘City of Light, City of Poison’

Holly Tucker speaking at Barnes & Noble

Holly Tucker, a professor at Vanderbilt University, was the featured speaker at the WKU Libraries’ “Far Away Places” speaker series on the evening of Thursday, November 9, 2017, at Barnes & Noble Bookstore. She talked about and signed at the end of the talk her book City of Light, City of Poison–Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris.

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