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.

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Kentucky Live! presents Fenton Johnson and “The Man Who Loved Birds: A Novel”

The-Man-Who-Loved-Birds (3)

One of Kentucky’s most celebrated writers, Fenton Johnson, was a featured speaker in our Kentucky Live Series on April 20, 2017 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore. He talked about his newest novel The Man Who Loved Birds set in Nelson county Kentucky.

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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

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Far Away Places presents Ronald Fritze and “Egyptomania: A History of Fascination, Obsession, and Fantasy”

Egyptomania-A-History-Obsession-and-Fantasy (13)
Historian Ron Fritze, Dean of Arts & Sciences at Athens States University, was the featured speaker in WKU Libraries’ April Far Away Places series on Thursday, April 13, 2017 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Bowling Green, KY. Fritze talked about his newest book Egyptomania: A History of Fascination, Obsession and Fantasy, which, being the 11th of his books, has been drawing international attention.

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McGuffey Readers on Exhibit

McGuffey’s Second Eclectic Reader is one of many from the Library’s collection.

The Kentucky Library Research Collections currently has a display featuring early children’s readers.  William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873) was a U.S. educator who is best remembered for his series of elementary school reading books called McGuffey Readers. McGuffey was a graduate of Washington College in 1826.  He began teaching in Ohio frontier schools at the age of 14.  During breaks from college studies in Pennsylvania, McGuffey taught elementary school in Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky.  In 1823, McGuffey set up a school in the dining room of Reverend John McFarland, a Presbyterian minister, where he taught for three years.  During his 10 years as a faculty member at Miami University, McGuffey took interest in public education and began assisting teachers at local elementary schools.  He also established a model school in his home for the neighborhood children.

Experts estimate that at least 120 million McGuffey Readers were sold between the years of 1836 and 1960.  The sales of the Readers are in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary.  Since 1961, McGuffey Readers have sold at a rate of some 30,000 copies a year.  The readers are still in use today at some schools and by parents who homeschool their children.

A sample lesson taken from one of the Library’s McGuffey Readers.

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New Collection Documents Hopkinsville Asylum

The Department of Library Special Collections recently purchased a rare collection (Small Collection 3093) of documents related to the operation of the Western Lunatic Asylum (now Western State Hospital) in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.  The sixty-five items in the grouping includes contracts for food, coal and linens, as well as contracts for building projects, inventories, and several fascinating documents related to a devastating 1860 fire.

The Asylum was established in Hopkinsville by an act of the General Assembly on 28 February 28, 1848.  Hopkinsville citizens raised $4,000 to help fund the hospital.  N.B. Kelley, a Cincinnati architect, designed the first

Western Lunatic Asylum in Hopkinsville.

major Greek Revival building on the Hopkinsville campus. Master builders Samuel L. Slater and John Orr carried out Kelly’s design, and the institution opened on 18 September 1854 with twenty-nine patients.  A chimney fire ignited the wood shingle roof, and the facility’s chief building burned on 30 November 1860.  The staff helped find housing for the patients in the Christian County courthouse, a hotel, and private homes, while twenty-three log cabins were constructed on the grounds.  Reconstruction took six years at a cost of $258,900.

The Library’s new collection includes a printed broadside in the form of a letter written by the institution’s managers to then Governor Beriah Magoffin.  The letter was printed, because it was likely also disseminated to members of the General Assembly and other interested parties.  After making the governor aware of “the lamentable disaster,” the managers reported: “Every possible effort in now being made to recover and bring in those who fled from the scene of the disaster, and they are being brought in as rapidly as could be expected.”  “It is

Broadside issued by the Asylum’s managers to Governor Beriah Magoffin.

feared,” they added, “that one of the unfortunate patients (later identified as Isaac Stewart of Butler County) was consumed in the flames.”  The managers extolled the “self-sacrificing” tasks performed by the staff in saving the patients.  A good portion of the collection includes contracts and other data related to the reconstruction project, such as an agreement made between the institution and Samuel L. Slater under which the aforesaid agreed to perform “all the carpenters and joiners work, to complete the west front and western return wings of the Western Lunatic Asylum building” which included “all flooring, doors, door frames, window sash, casings [and]…mouldings.”  For his work, Slater would receive $4,050.

For more information about this new collection, see the finding aid by clicking here.  To see other manuscript finding aids, search TopSCHOLAR.

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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.

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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.

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Far Away Places presents “The Dominican Republic: The Land Columbus Loved, or the Land that Loathes Columbus”

Dominican-Republic (9)
Bellarmine historian Eric Roorda was the featured speaker in WKU Libraries’ Far Away Places series on the evening of March 23, 2017 at Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Bowling Green, KY, on the topic The Dominican Republic: The Land Columbus Loved, or the Land that Loathes Columbus. His talk concluded with him signing his eponymous book.

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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.

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