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
“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.
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.”
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.
Because her parents had suffered through the Great Depression and because she had no doubt heard stories of people who lost their jobs in economic downturns, Donna Jean Allen wanted to enter a secure profession after high school. When she considered her options in the summer of 1963—almost a full year before graduation—she was confident that with proper nursing training she would be employable in a necessary, thus secure, profession. Allen, who at that time lived in Annandale, Virginia, began a correspondence with the School of Nursing at Louisville General Hospital (LGH). School officials sent her promotional material and explained the benefits of LGH’s program. At that time many large hospitals operated nursing programs, and most vocational nurses trained at medical facilities rather than at colleges or universities. The highly respected program at LGH had operated since 1886 and had trained over 1,100 nurses by 1963.
When corresponding with Allen, Registered Nurse Mary Cecil, the school’s guidance counselor, noted that the LGH program was one of five accredited ones in the Louisville area and that the curriculum was similar at all of them. The real difference Cecil noted was in the clinical experience: “Ours is a large public teaching hospital and admits all patients regardless of color, race, creed and disease from the group of citizens who cannot pay for medical care.” LGH was operated by the Louisville & Jefferson County Board of Health which provided universal health care to all. Cecil added: “The private hospitals, as you know admit usually those patients who can pay for care; these hospitals may or may not discriminate in admission policies.”
In March 1964, Allen took some “pre-nursing tests” and scored highly enough to be considered for admission to the LGH program. The following month she boarded an Eastern Air Lines flight to Louisville in order to spend two days visiting the hospital, talking with administrators, taking more tests, and completing a physical examination. She stayed in Henninger Hall on the LGH campus, where she was mildly warned to consult with the Housemother before leaving the premises and more sternly advised to “not leave or return to residence alone after dark.”
In May she was informed that her application for admission had been approved, and she started her course of study in September 1964. The program was not all work, as plenty of social activities were available in the city; planned and impromptu trips were also part of Allen’s LGH experience. Besides following the rigors of medical training, Allen also matured socially as administrators frequently mentioned when writing to her mother, Mildred. Although the majority of Donna’s twenty-eight member class consisted of white females, like herself, it did include one African American and two males. One of the interesting requirements for continued progress in the program required that students remain single for the first two years of the program, then they could request permission to marry but it must be done in writing and at least one month before the marriage date and must be “endorsed by the parents.” Donna completed the program in June of 1967, and enjoyed a steady career in nursing. Eventually she married, becoming Donna Hill, and was the mother to two boys.
Recently Donna Hill donated her nursing uniform from the LGH program to the Kentucky Museum and papers related to her school program to Library Special Collections, which is always pleased to add collections related to the medical and allied health fields in Kentucky. This material helps document the importance of the medical field to the Commonwealth’s history, and it supports outstanding academic programs at WKU.
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.
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.
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.
I get asked all the time what are you majoring in, what are your plans once you graduate, and what kind of career do you want? I used to tell them any other answer than the truth, because for a long time I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had no clue what I wanted in the future because it always seemed so far away. Now I am within a year of graduating Western Kentucky University with a degree in Anthropology and I can finally say the truth. I want to work in a museum, or archives setting, and that is exactly what I have been doing for the last few weeks. I have had the extraordinary privilege of interning in the WKU Archives. I cannot tell you how amazing it has been. Continue reading
Far Away Places presents Soleiman Kiasatpour on “Morocco At the Crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East”
Soleiman Kiasatpour, an Associate Professor of International & Comparative Politics in the Department of Political Science at Western Kentucky University, talked about “Morocco At the Crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East” in our Far Away Places series sponsored by the Friends of WKU Libraries on the evening of April 12, 2018, at Barnes & Noble Bookstore.
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
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.