Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

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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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.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other collections relating to law and lawyers, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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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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“The Paralysis”

“More cases of paralysis and one death yesterday,” Martha Potter wrote her daughter.  It was summer 1935, and polio had broken out in Bowling Green.  The reactions of Martha and other Kentuckians to this crippling and sometimes fatal disease are documented in the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

Taking especially cruel aim at young children, polio or “infantile paralysis” brought fear to parents as it appeared in waves during the warm months.  As a consequence, Martha urged her daughter not to bring her grandson from Louisville for a visit.  Local children were being kept at home, she reported, and several new cases in a nearby community had prompted a quarantine.  As July turned to August, “the paralysis breaks out every few days with one more case, just enough to make us uneasy,” Martha wrote, but she hoped that approaching cooler weather would diminish the threat.

New summers brought new cases.  “Our daughter Ruth had polio last August,” Ione Edwards wrote her Bowling Green cousin Ruth Robinson in 1947.  Fortunately, treatment and exercise had left Ruth with only a limp.  The virus, however, was not finished with Ione’s family; her granddaughter had lost the use of one arm to the virus, but she hoped that the four-year-old would prove as resilient as Ruth.

In 1944, “my paralysis began with the muscles of accommodation,” wrote Oakland, Kentucky native Marietta Mansfield.  “I could not focus my eyes.”  Then polio attacked her breathing and swallowing.  A pastor and missionary, Mansfield wrote starkly of her hospitalization and struggle to regain movement.  She recovered, but suffered from muscle weakness for the rest of her life.

Polio victim Barbara Kiel, Bowling Green

Polio victim Barbara Kiel, Bowling Green

On April 26, 1954, the inoculation of elementary school students in Fairfax, Virginia launched a massive clinical study to determine the effectiveness of the Salk vaccine against polio.  As the program continued into the summer, more than half a million children were injected with either a vaccine or a placebo, and another million observed as a control group.  The results, announced on April 12, 1955 (the tenth anniversary of the death of polio victim Franklin Delano Roosevelt), brought elation as the vaccine was shown to have an 80-90% rate of effectiveness.  In hospital at the time battling “post-polio syndrome,” Marietta Mansfield experienced “tears of joy” and knew it was a “red letter day for the medical world and for mankind.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For other collections documenting Kentuckians’ battles with disease, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Special Collections Spring Intern

Marc Turley

Marc Turley

I am Marc Turley and I have just had the privilege of being an intern for the Department of Library Special Collections.  This is my last semester here at WKU and I will be graduating with a double major in history and social studies and a minor in business administration.

As a history major, I have always respected the importance of historical documents and articles, whether they be local or from a governmental organization, as they allow us to see how we have developed to this point.  In these past few months, I have worked on several projects that have only furthered my drive to work in a historical institution.

When I received an email advertising an internship with the Department last semester, I originally thought the position would consist of simple busywork, but after starting I was surely mistaken.  In the Department of Library Special Collections I was able to glance into the life of our predecessors through their photographs, correspondence, and even the maps that they left behind.  On the Kentucky Library Research Collections side of the department I was able to work on cataloging old photographs and handcrafted maps of local Kentuckians, indulging my personal passion for maps.  In the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives unit I helped to typescript letters from Noah S. Pond, who came to Kentucky from Connecticut early in the 19th century, scan industrial reports of Kentucky counties and post them online, and organize a collection of letters from the Vietnam era that offered a glimpse into the lives of Kentuckians from that time.  By making all these materials available online, whether they be a simple catalog entry or full text, we are encouraging others to visit the Department of Library Special Collections and experience its resources firsthand.

Map from Kentucky Library Research Collections

Map from Kentucky Library Research Collections

 

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“Covered with Carnage”

Early in the morning of Sunday, April 6, 1862, Confederate soldiers surprised an encampment of troops under Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh Meeting House, two miles inland from Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.  Thus began the Battle of Shiloh, a clash that would shock the nation with its nearly 24,000 casualties—making it the costliest battle in American history up to that time.  Among those killed was Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston.  The previous fall, Johnston had set up headquarters in occupied Bowling Green, Kentucky, and his name is now associated with the fortification that once occupied the Hill on WKU’s campus.

General Albert Sidney Johnston

General Albert Sidney Johnston

One of the witnesses to the destruction at Shiloh was Jacob W. Davis of McLean County, Kentucky.  After suffering the loss of his wife, the disconsolate farmer had left his small daughter in the care of his brother George and enlisted in the Union Army.  In a letter to George written a few days after the battle, Davis reported hearing the “roar of cannon” that Sunday from his camp nearby.  The next day, as Davis’s company waited to cross the Tennessee River, the battle resumed with “uncommon fury. . . and raged with all terror that can be imagined for it cannot be described.”

Finally, Davis crossed the river on Tuesday and surveyed the battle scene.  The ground “was covered with carnage,” and he was sickened “at the awful sight of men & horses in confused heaps putrifying together.”  He estimated the losses on both sides to be in the thousands, and learned from comrades that the recent battle at Fort Donelson “was nothing to this.”  Small gangs of Confederates remained in the area, he reported, shooting stragglers from the Union side and mutilating their bodies.

Despite the horrors, Davis cast his mind back home to his deceased wife Katherine and their small child.  “If heaven so wills that I never get back,” he wrote George, he was to place a proper headstone on Katherine’s grave and “take special care” of “poor little Ada.”  Those duties would indeed fall to George, as Jacob now lies buried in Shiloh National Cemetery.

J. W. Davis gravestone, Shiloh National Cemetery

J. W. Davis, Shiloh National Cemetery

Jacob Davis’s letter is part of the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid and typescript can be downloaded here.  For more collections relating to the Battle of Shiloh, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.  Click here to browse all of our Civil War collections.

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“An’ it harm none, do what ye will”

"The cards are only suggestions, but if I see something that has a lot to say in it, then I can transcribe it," says Turner.

“The cards are only suggestions, but if I see something that has a lot to say in it, then I can transcribe it,” says Turner.

In his 1929 publication titled Witchcraft in Old and New England, famed literary studies folklorist George Lyman Kittredge paints witches—specifically, women—as harbingers of maleficium when he writes,

…she is hunted down like a wolf because she is an enemy to mankind. Her heart is full of malignity. And her revenge is out of all proportion to the affront, for she is in league with spirits of evil who are almost infinite in strength. The witch is a murderer, or may become a murderer on the slightest provocation. She cannot be spared, for there is no safety for life, body, or estate until she is sent out of the world.

While Kittredge was commenting on prevailing attitudes towards witches in 16th and 17th century England, his descriptions still ring true within a modern framework. It comes as no surprise, then, that those who embraced Neopaganism, Wicca, or witchcraft in the 20th century continued to battle deeply-rooted stereotypes. The conjured image of a gnarled hag whispering incantations over a bubbling cauldron may never disappear entirely, but there are those within the alternative healing community who actively seek to dismantle such outdated models of understanding and reorient public perceptions of healers and psychic practitioners.

In October 1980, folk studies graduate student Jan Laude was introduced to Peggy Sue Turner, a contemporary psychic living in Bowling Green. Over the next 20 months, Laude worked closely with Turner as she made the attempt to understand the “connection between a woman’s  life history and her supernatural experiences.” Laude’s findings were published as her 1982 Master’s thesis titled “A Contemporary Female Psychic: A Folkloristic Study of a Traditional Occupation” and highlight the intersection between narrative and folk belief. Turner’s experiences with “palmistry, the tarot, automatic writing, faith healing, witchcraft, and herbs” are placed within an occupational context, and Laude is intentional in looking at how successful alternative healers “must, to be successful, balance tradition with adaptive mechanisms to accommodate contemporary cultural and social needs.”

Turner, who was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1932, had her first visionary incident at a young age. She shares with Laude,

…I was roller skating one day. And I had fallen as usual, you know, with the sidewalk burns that you get…And I happened to look up at the sky. It had a cloud formation, or something. I don’t know, it was a vision or what, but it was a huge throne and it was brilliantly outline in the brightest light. I mean, it wasn’t white light. It was bright. That’s all.

Throughout her early twenties and into her forties, Turner practiced her psychic work informally, often dressing up as a stereotypical fortune teller and providing her friends with herbal remedies. In the mid-1970s Turner attended a meeting of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, a “non-profit group for individuals interested in psychic phenomena,” for the first time. This network of believers was instrumental in allowing Turner to feel more comfortable with her supernatural inclinations. Over the next several years, Turner continued to her hone her psychic abilities, which she described as “God-given,” while supporting her children as a single mother. She details her emergence from the “long period of psychic isolation” to become a woman confident with her innate capability to from strong, meaningful connections with clients, address and ameliorate emotional and physical maladies, and carry on traditionally-based beliefs surrounding health and the supernatural.

Laude weaves together a masterful narrative that details the complex relationship between womanhood, religion, medicine, and community. Without sensationalizing Turner’s psychic skills, and by offering an intimate glimpse into how healers play a role within their communities, Laude helps to give a strong, clear voice to those who are so often misunderstood.

For information on additional psychics, witches, faith healers, and other practitioners of alternative and supernatural modalities, 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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“They have never known peace”

Donald R. Elmore, Bowling Green; Robert Michael Bradley, Bowling Green; Paul Douglas Aton, Franklin, Ky.

Donald R. Elmore, Bowling Green; Robert Michael Bradley, Bowling Green; Paul Douglas Aton, Franklin, Ky.

As I sit out here in the jungle, I have time to do a lot of thinking.  As I sit here with the Bugs and ants crawling over me, inspect the places on my legs and arms where the leeches have sucked my blood I remember how good I had it back in the world.

So wrote Charles Edward Bingham (1944-1997) of Butler County, Kentucky, in his Vietnam diary on June 27, 1968, amid notations of numbers killed and wounded, patrols, encounters with the enemy, and that day’s passwords.  As of this March 29, National Vietnam War Veterans Day, Bingham’s experience is one of dozens documented in the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Library Special Collections.   More from 1968:

Feb. 22:  Knocked out 2 enemy bunkers, had four confirmed kills.

June 29:  Received sniper fire, one man from 3rd Plt. was killed. . . Ended up with 2 KIAs and 2 WIAs, had a bad day.

July 31:  Went out today and hauled in body of P.F. which was blown away by Viet Cong mine.

Sept. 19:  Brown was killed by booby trap while going out on ambush.

Despite these grim entries, Bingham composed a poem in which he observed of the Vietnamese:  These people have been fighting all their lives,/ They have never known peace as you and I.

And on another occasion:  For those who fight for it, Life has a flavor that the protected never know.

For more collections of letters, journals, photographs, personal narratives and oral history interviews of Vietnam War veterans, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Soldier in the War on TB

Beulah (Morgan) Smith

Beulah (Morgan) Smith

On the 24th day of this (Women’s History) Month, we mark World Tuberculosis Day and recall a woman who took a leading role in one of Bowling Green and Warren County’s greatest health initiatives.

It began in 1939, with the discovery of a Warren County mother, ailing with tuberculosis, laid up at home with five children and expecting another.  Tuberculosis was an urgent public health problem, spread by afflicted persons through coughing, sneezing and spitting.  During the 1930s, the annual death rate in Warren County alone stood at approximately 30, and the infection rate was much higher.

Citizens raised funds to send the young mother to a private sanatorium, but similar cases highlighted the need for a tuberculosis hospital where patients could be treated and their family members safeguarded from infection.  In August 1940, two benefactors purchased a house on 122 acres near Richardsville and donated it to the recently formed Bowling Green-Warren County Tuberculosis Association.  More donations renovated and equipped the home as a hospital, and in 1941 citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of a special tax assessment to maintain the facility.  With a capacity of about 30 beds, the Warren County Tuberculosis Sanatorium was dedicated in September 1942.  Warren County residents received free treatment, and others paid $3.00 per day.

Spearheading this “hospital movement” was Beulah (Morgan) Smith (1894-1987).  A Graves County native, the wife of WKU education professor Bert Raldon Smith had seen both her grandmother and mother afflicted by tuberculosis.  As president of the Tuberculosis Association and a trustee of the hospital, she worked to keep the facility staffed and funded, to educate the public about the causes and prevention of tuberculosis, and to encourage screening with the aid of mobile chest X-ray clinics.  In 1944, Governor Simeon Willis appointed her as the sole woman on the Tuberculosis Sanatoria Commission of Kentucky, a 12-member body charged with selecting sites for state-funded hospitals in six districts throughout the state.  Although Bowling Green lost out to Glasgow as the site selected for one of the hospitals, the Warren County Tuberculosis Sanatorium operated until 1956, when patients moved to the new Sunrise Hospital.  As for Beulah Smith, she earned numerous commendations for her work on behalf of this and other causes, including the Kentucky Tuberculosis Association’s “Loyalty Award” in 1949 for making the greatest voluntary contribution to the state’s fight against tuberculosis.

Christmas seal campaign flyers distributed by TB Associations

Christmas seal campaign flyers distributed by TB Associations

Beulah Smith’s papers documenting her service in the fight against TB are 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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“Perfectly Harmless, and Sure to Do Good”

Advertisement for Lyon's French Periodical Drops

Advertisement for Lyon’s French Periodical Drops

Women’s History Month got you down?  Maybe it’s just those women’s “monthlies.”  From the Helm Family Papers in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Library Special Collections, we give you Lyon’s French Periodical Drops and Female Regulator.  “Powerful in their action, but harmless in their operation,” these miracle drops were the concoction of Connecticut-based, Paris-trained physician John L. Lyon.

Advertised from the Civil War until the early 20th century, this contribution to the vast pharmacopoeia of American patent medicines was for relief of “Irregularities, Painful and Imperfect Menstruation” or “Monthly Sickness of Females.”  A mere $1.50 paid for one bottle of Drops, to be taken daily by teaspoonful with an equivalent dose of molasses or honey.

Embedded in the lengthy advertisement was some fascinating text that instructed in the regulation of more than the monthly cycle.  The drops, warned the doctor, should not be taken if “Pregnancy be the cause of the stoppage” as “they will be sure to cause a miscarriage.”  On the other hand, three-times daily doses ahead of an “expected period” would operate “TO PREVENT CONCEPTION.”  Along with the honey-or-molasses chaser, Dr. Lyon also recommended “Strong Tanzy” or “Pennyroyal Tea”—both traditional abortifacients—as “beneficial in some cases in connection with this medicine.”

Lyon’s French Periodical Drops eventually fell victim to Progressive-Era regulation of food and drugs.  After a look and a sniff in 1908, the Kansas Board of Health found [surprise!!] alcohol in a compound marketed as “entirely vegetable.”  The Board dismissed the rest of the ingredients as a probable (and toxic) “aromatic solution of ergot and oil of savin.”

For more of our collections that feature medicines and prescriptions, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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