Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

“The Approbation of His Tutoress”

Asa Young's good report

Asa Young’s good report

“This is to show that Asa Young is head in the first class and merits the approbation of his tutoress.”  Dated December 14, 1850, this handwritten and decorated slip of paper would have been, like all good news, proudly delivered to the young schoolboy’s parents in Barren County, Kentucky.

Collections in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections show generations of Kentucky students receiving an “A,” “B” or “C” for their three Rs, but their report cards also judged them on habits and values deemed crucial to their development as adults.

Bowling Green student William J. Potter‘s third-grade report cards for 1908-09 recorded his days present, absent and tardy, and gave numerical grades for his classroom work, but included a “Verbal Merit Report” evaluating less tangible attributes like “Progress,” “Effort” and “Deportment”–which, parents were advised, was “a better index to what your child is doing in school than the scholarship report.”

Charles Ranney‘s second-grade report card for 1930-31 at Hartford Graded School was full of “As” for scholarship, but also required his teacher to evaluate “Interest” (from “Lacks Interest” to “Very Interested”) and “Conduct” (from “Rude,” to “Annoys Others” to “Inclined to Mischief” to “Very Good”).

Myrtle Chaney‘s seventh-grade report card from Logan County in 1922 was even more exacting in its standards.  A bad attitude toward school work might get a check mark beside “Indolent,” “Wastes Time,” “Copies; Gets Too Much Help,” or “Gives Up Too Easily.”  Less than good behavior could peg one as “Restless; Inattentive,” “Whispers Too Much,” or “Discourteous at Times.”

Margie Helm‘s 1908 report card from Auburn Seminary was set up like a ledger, with her subjects listed down the middle between the “Right Side” (a choice of “Fair,” “Good” or “Excellent”) and the “Wrong Side” (a choice of “Poor,” “Very Poor” and “Failure”).  As was common, the back of the report card preached about the value of a parent’s contribution in securing regular attendance and study.

Right Side or Wrong Side?

Right Side or Wrong Side?

Occasionally, however, the year-end evaluation reminded everyone of their fallibility.  Sarah Richardson‘s 1958 report card from College High cast her in an approving light, but the document somewhat undermined its credibility with the heading “COLLEGE HIGH RPEORT CARD.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For others relating to schools, students and report cards, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

A “Glorious Old Friend”

In 1986, the journal of Thomas Benjamin Chaplin (1822-1890) was published as Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter.  Covering primarily 1845-1858, it documents the life and times of the master of Tombee (“Tom B.”) plantation on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, and presents (to quote its Amazon listing) “a study of the dull horror of plantation slavery.”

Thomas Laurens Jones

Thomas Laurens Jones

On July 4, 1876, when Chaplin sat down to write a letter to Kentucky congressman Thomas Laurens Jones, the Civil War had made his life unrecognizable from the one chronicled in his journal.

Chaplin expressed delight at regaining contact with the “glorious old friend” and fellow Southerner he mistakenly thought had died in prison during the war.  He picked up their friendship where it had left off 30 years ago, giving Jones a candid account of his travails during and after the conflict.  The fall of Port Royal to Union forces in November 1861 had forced his family to flee “in very disagreeable haste,” leaving everything behind.  “Words cannot tell the sufferings of that cruel war,” Chaplin wrote, which had left his family “homeless, houseless & destitute.”  One of his sons was killed in battle, another wounded, and another later died from the effects of imprisonment.

After the war, Chaplin and his wife returned to St. Helena Island to live more modestly near the plantation.  “We constantly see our old slaves,” he told Jones, “& much of our property,” now owned “by the Yankees who have settled there.”  Chaplin praised Jones’s support of a recent amnesty bill that sought to restore citizenship to Jefferson Davis–who, Chaplin oddly believed, “did less harm than any ‘reb.'”  Though embittered by the war’s effects on his fortunes, he seemed to accept the new political status of African-American men.  “Do tell me Mr. Jones how do these fellows look?” he asked, curious about their presence in Washington.  His own representative, he observed (likely referring to former slave Robert Smalls, elected in 1874), was “a very good fellow I believe.”

Thomas Chaplin’s letter, part of the papers of Thomas Laurens Jones, can be found in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For the papers of other Kentucky politicians, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on A “Glorious Old Friend”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

A Woman With Pull

George Anna Hobson

George Anna Hobson

Early in the 1900s, the crack of shotguns could be heard around the Bowling Green home of George and Anna Hobson.  Used for storing Confederate munitions during the Civil War, the property (now known as Riverview at Hobson Grove) was home to a trapshooting operation, and its star was the Hobsons’ young daughter, George Anna.

Born in 1907, George Anna moved to Riverview with her family in 1912.  Under her father’s tutelage, she quickly made a name for herself in the sport of trapshooting.  At the 1920 State Fair Gun Club Tournament in Nashville, onlookers marveled at the “stellar gunning” of this “dainty 12-year-old miss,” who bested her own father when she broke 76 out of 100 targets.

At age 16, George Anna, now a three-time women’s champion of the Kentucky Trapshooters League, took the national crown at the Amateur Trapshooting Association championship in Vandalia, Ohio.  Congratulatory letters came from gun and ammunition manufacturers looking to capitalize on their part in her achievement, including the Western Cartridge Company and du Pont’s “Sporting Powder” division.  George Anna’s use of an Ithaca Gun Company trap gun to win the national title prompted a request for a photograph to use in the firm’s advertising.  “When you pose please get one from each side, first showing you lined up ready to shoot with your face towards the camera, then turn half way around and pose with the gun stock nearest the camera,” instructed the company vice president.

While profuse in their praise, some of her admirers couldn’t help looking at George Anna’s skills through the lens of gender.  Complimenting her photo in Sportsmen’s Review, the editor of Outdoors South remarked, “I think you look awfully cute in knickers.”  An observer sent her some snapshots taken at the national competition–“without your knowledge,” he wrote, “but thought you might like to have them as evidence of your graceful poise, even though you are under the strain of competition.”

Letters and other material relating to George Anna Hobson’s trapshooting career are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more on the Hobson family, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on A Woman With Pull

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Shaker Collections in Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

When the United Believers in the Second Coming of Christ established a religious colony at South Union in Logan County, Kentucky in 1807, they were fulfilling the missionary vision of Ann Lee (1736-1784), a British-born immigrant to New England and the founder of their faith.  “Mother Ann” had infused singing and dancing into worship services to such a degree that onlookers described an early meeting as full of “shaking, trembling, speaking in unknown tongues, prophesying and singing melodious songs.”  Thus was born the popular name for her followers, the Shakers.

Shakers dancing during worship

Shakers dancing during worship

The South Union Shakers were objects of curiosity for their practice of pacifism and celibacy, but by the time the colony dissolved in 1922, they had left a rich heritage of music, craftsmanship, and innovation in industry and agriculture.  Known especially for their packaged garden seeds and preserves, the Shakers also operated mills, sold livestock and poultry, and offered public meetings in addition to their private religious services.

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections is the premier destination for anyone interested in the history of the South Union Shakers.  Researchers can now browse a list of our principal Shaker collections, which focus on South Union but include materials relating to other Shaker colonies, by clicking here.  The collections include Shaker journals of daily activities, records of Shaker businesses, hymnals, memoirs, photographs, and the papers of leading Shaker scholar and WKU faculty member Julia Neal.  A fascinating Civil War resource is the diary of eldress Nancy Moore, which chronicles the hardships of the Shakers as both Confederate and Union troops descended upon them demanding food, provisions and horses.  Each listed collection includes a link to TopSCHOLAR, WKU’s digital repository, where a detailed finding aid is available for download.  For even more Shaker materials, search KenCat, the Kentucky Library Research Collections catalog.

Shaker colony at South Union

Comments Off on Shaker Collections in Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

It Ain’t Easy Being a Woman

Alice Hegan Rice

Alice Hegan Rice

Or is it?  Are women loved?  Hated? Revered?  Feared?  Pampered? Oppressed?  All of the above?  It depends on where you look in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For this International Women’s Day, here are a few examples:

It is my sad lot to write you that it is a girl instead of a boy. Bill Gossedge of Louisville, announcing the birth of his daughter in 1939.

I was liberated on the day I was born–in 1920!  Women have always been able to do what they wanted to if they wanted it enough–and have a family as well. Martha Mauldin of Bowling Green, responding to a 1996 “Rush Limbaugh Position Poll” to show “that feminists are out of step with most Americans.”

Woman is the embodiment of soul, romance, beauty and delicacy, that gives refinement to society, delight and enjoyment to the senses, and happiness to the mind. Byron R. Gardner, decrying supporters of woman suffrage “as if it were a greater boon to act with wicked men than to influence them.”

This will could never be recorded, as your wife was a married woman. — Bowling Green lawyer Daniel Webster Wright, returning to Simon P. Morgan his deceased wife Cassandra’s 1871 will.  She had left everything to her husband, but marriage deprived her of her legal identity and property rights, so the will was meaningless.

And, of course, on this “Day Without a Woman,” it’s worth remembering that some of the fondest words spoken about women come after they’re dead.  Here’s Rev. Benjamin S. McReynolds of Butler County, writing on the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1816:  My dear Elizabeth is gone / To inherit an immortal crown. / Reserved for her in heaven above, / Where she’s inflamed with joy and love.  Or this from poet Cale Young Rice, in a letter to his brother eleven months after the death of his wife:  My life seems to have run into a blind alley at present.  The loss of Alice and my home, the feeling that I have finished my work . . . leaves me desireless.  “Alice” was Alice Hegan Rice, author of the classic story of life in a Louisville slum, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.  Two weeks later, Cale took his own life, unable to cope “without a woman.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on It Ain’t Easy Being a Woman

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

In Our Time

Martha Potter's letter from Time

Martha Potter’s letter from Time

The inaugural issue of Time on March 3, 1923 introduced Americans to a weekly tradition of news-reading that continues to this day.  At home on State Street in Bowling Green, Martha Potter warmed to the magazine’s format and content.  “I am taking a new periodical ‘Time,’ she wrote her children in 1925, “which comes every week and which I like because it gives the news in short paragraphs, and is a very thin little volume which I can read in a short time.”  She even suspected she could “get some valuable pointers from it” for her letters, which often ran to excessive length.  In 1939, however, Martha was not so enthused when she wrote to Time complaining about some “cuss words” in letters to its editor.  “Such words can indeed be in very bad taste,” replied a staffer, but “when they add color to the reader’s comments, or fit in with what he wants to say, we let them stand.  This will not become a habit, I assure you.”

To get a mention in Time, nevertheless, is to hit the big time.  In a June 15, 1959 profile of Auburn, Kentucky native and New York banker Harold Helm, the magazine lauded the “expansion-minded” chairman of the Chemical Corn Exchange Bank, who had successfully engineered a merger with the New York Trust Company to create the nation’s fourth largest financial institution.  After the article appeared, congratulatory letters came to Helm from Kentucky friends old and new, including one who remembered boarding with his parents in Auburn in 1892.

The honor of gracing the cover of Time’s first issue went to former Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon, about to retire from a long tenure in the U. S. House of Representatives.  In a letter to his grandchildren, Kentucky Congressman William H. Natcher told a story about “Boss Cannon,” so nicknamed because of his power as Speaker and as Chairman of the Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees.  It was Cannon, said Natcher, whose fondness for the bean soup served in the House dining room mandated its inclusion on the menu every day, a tradition that continues.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these letters, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on In Our Time

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Advice from an “Infidel”

Letter from the Emersons, 1822

Letter from the Emersons, 1822

Like his three brothers, Romanus Emerson (1782-1852) seemed destined for the ministry, but a speech impediment sent the New Hampshire native instead to work as a carpenter and merchant in Boston.  A cousin of transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Romanus remained a devout Baptist until his 50s when, under the influence of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason and his own freethinking nature, he washed his hands of all religion and became an atheist – in his word, an “infidel.”  His self-composed funeral oration condemned theology as “a system of deceit and fraud” and exhorted his survivors to get a good education, observe the golden rule, and accept that “there is no part or parcel of the creature man that survives his decomposition.”

But Romanus was still a believer in 1822 when he and his wife Jemima wrote to 33-year-old Fanny Goodridge, who had left Boston to teach school in Lexington, Kentucky.  Jemima was interested in sharing news and hearing of Fanny’s “sorrows and joys,” but was also anxious about her new life “amungst strangers” and hoped that after serving the next generation “in that place,” she would return safely to her “native land.”  Romanus, on the other hand, wrote in full lecture mode, instructing her to remain pious above all else and never to lose sight of God.  “Let the blessed bible,” he urged, “be your first and your last, your highest and your lowest, your furtherist and your nearest . . . your downsiting and your uprising.”

Even if Romanus ended up disowning his own advice, Fanny stayed the course.  A year later, she began a Sabbath School in Michigan, and a few years after that emigrated with her new husband to Kansas, where they spent most of their lives as missionaries and teachers among the Potawatomi Indians.

Romanus and Jemima Emerson’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on Advice from an “Infidel”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Kentucky Live! presents David J. Bettez with “Kentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front”

Kentucky-and-the-Great-War (3)

David Bettez, the retired Director of the Office of International Programs at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, spoke in this year’s Kentucky Live! series on March 9, 2017 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore (1680 Campbell Lane). He talked about his newest book Kentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front . The publication of his book and his talk coincide with the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I.

Photo Album | Sound Recording | Podcast RSS

Continue reading

Comments Off on Kentucky Live! presents David J. Bettez with “Kentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front”

Filed under Events, Flickr Photos, General, Kentucky Live, Latest News, Manuscripts & Folklife Archives, New Stuff, Stuff, Uncategorized

Her Ninth Heart

Valentine to William Carson

Valentine to William Carson

On this Valentine’s Day, here is our most spectacular, and probably oldest (ca. 1850) appeal to the affections — in this case (we think) of one Mr. William Carson — from a “love sick Maid.”  Measuring a full 12 inches in diameter, its verse begins on the outer edge with the lady’s decision to choose him “for my Vallentine,” then circles inward with dizzying entreaties to the gentleman not to “Refuse to be my love” — “for you are my chiefest hearts delight / you can my darkest hours make bright.”

portion of ValentineAs for all those handmade cutouts: There is Eight hearts Plain in your view / The ninth I lost when I saw you.

portion of ValentineThis valentine (and many more) can be found in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

portion of Valentine

Comments Off on Her Ninth Heart

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Milling Around

Title Panel for the Milling Around Exhibit in Library Special Collections.

Western Kentucky University’s Department of Library Special Collections is pleased to present “Milling Around: Flour in Our Cupboard,” an exhibit that features forty of the nearly two hundred Kentucky flour bags from its collection.  The bags with bold and bright iconography document an industry that was once local but is now consolidated into huge conglomerates.

At one time almost every hamlet of any consequence boasted one or more water- or steam-powered mills that produced flour and/or corn meal.  Beside flour bags, the exhibit features stationery with mill logos, books about mills—including a 1795 copy of the Young Mill Wright, photographs, and other ephemera, as well as a millstone.  One case features cloth flour bags.  After consuming the flour, customers used the bleached cotton bags for towels, cleaning rags, backing for quilts and even clothing.  As a marketing ploy, many flour mills eventually sold their flour in printed cotton fabric bags of varied colors and designs.  These bags were specifically made to be converted into fabric for clothing, quilting and other household uses.

“Milling Around” will run from February 1 to May 12, 2017.

Big Ben flour bag from Rocky Hill, Edmonson County, Kentucky.

Comments Off on Milling Around

Filed under Events, Manuscripts & Folklife Archives