Bring out the women!

It was the presidential election year of 1920, and Kentucky Governor Edwin P. Morrow had a woman problem. 

Sworn into office on December 9, 1919, Morrow, a Republican, had thumped his Democratic rival James D. Black by running on a progressive platform that included woman suffrage.  His party made good on its promise: on January 6, 1920, the Kentucky General Assembly ratified the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women the vote.  Two days later, Morrow invited a delegation of women, including representatives of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, to a ceremony to witness his official signing of the ratification bill. 

Governor Edwin P. Morrow signs Kentucky’s ratification of the 19th Amendment.

But the Nineteenth Amendment was not the law of the land, as it had not yet achieved ratification by the required 36 states.  Accordingly, Morrow signed another bill on March 29 giving Kentucky women presidential suffrage, in order to guarantee their right to participate in the November 1920 election.

But Morrow knew that the next crucial step would be to get this newly empowered bloc of voters to the polls to put Republican Warren G. Harding into the White House.  His letter to supporters in October betrayed a hint of desperation as he outlined the challenges they faced.  “The election in Kentucky hangs by a thread,” he wrote.  In order to counter the Democratic strongholds in the Bluegrass, the “mountain women” had to turn out to vote.  But the hoped-for stampede, it seemed, was to be driven by the sterner sex.  “For God’s sake,” Morrow begged, “put every effort forth.  Do everything!  See that organization is made with wagons and teams and, above all, fire every man so that he will bring his [sic] women out. . . . For the future of the Party and success at the polls, bring out the women!

Did the whip-cracking work?  Yes and no.  Harding won the presidency, but his Democratic opponent James Cox edged him out in Kentucky by less than a percentage point.

Governor Morrow’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopScholar and KenCat.

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A Clutch Performance

Sallie McElroy

In fall 1860, Sallie McElroy Knott enjoyed recording in her journal her impressions of the young Prince of Wales when he visited the St. Louis Fair.  Newly married, Sallie was living with her husband, future Kentucky governor J. Proctor Knott, in Jefferson City, where he was serving as attorney general.  But Sallie had other fair experiences, including one in Bowling Green, Kentucky, when she was still Miss Sallie McElroy, a teacher at the local female academy. 

It was late September, 1857, the school was closed “on account of the Fair,” and her students “were crazy” to go.  Sallie herself was somewhat indifferent, but had resolved to attend in order to root for some of the young people in their first public displays of horsemanship.  The next day, however, she had to confess to her journal of the “dire catastrophe my poor self met with yesterday!  Where to find a corner dark enough to hide my blushes or a washing tub big enough to contain the floods of tears issuing from my eyes!” 

Sallie had dressed quickly to meet her escort at the fair—as quickly as possible, given that these were not the days of shorts, tank tops and flip-flops—but in her rush she had neglected to notice that “my unmentionables were about to burst out at the buttonhole.”  Upon her arrival, “horrors!” Sallie wrote.  “The 1st step I took I felt a loosening around my waist.”  She tried to “clutch desperately” at her “most nether garment through crinoline, flannel etc. with both hands,” but then she met a flight of steps and her escort insisted on taking one of her hands.  Making it to the top “with the aforesaid garment dangling around my feet,” she found a place to sit down, then managed somehow to shed the rogue undies and stuff them in a crack under the seat. 

Sallie’s hope that no one would discover her cast-offs was disappointed in the worst way.  Some young boys not only found them, she wrote, but “twisted my poor lost trousers on a pole & perambulated with them round the Fairgrounds.”  A patron at the fair, one “Dr. Vanmeter,” gallantly intervened “& rescued my poor unfortunates,” but instead of attempting to reunite them with their owner’s “longing legs,” he carefully put them in his pocket!  “I’m afraid he’ll wear ‘em clean out,” Sallie concluded in a comic coda to this bizarre episode, “& I shan’t ever get a last fond look at ‘em.” 

Sallie (McElroy) Knott’s journals (we’ll hear from her yet again) are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopScholar and KenCat.

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Sallie and the Prince

It was the 1860 fall fair season, and St. Louis, Missouri was abuzz over a royal visit to the Fifth Annual Fair of the city’s Agricultural and Mechanical Association.  Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) was just eighteen when he arrived on September 27 with the Duke of Newcastle as part of a tour of Canada and the United States.  He had drawn large and appreciative crowds everywhere he went, and newspapers gushed over the young prince’s appearance and demeanor.  It was left to individual Americans, at once dazzled by and suspicious of this embodiment of inherited privilege, to offer more realistic impressions.

Sallie (McElroy) Knott

One such onlooker in St. Louis was Sarah “Sallie” (McElroy) Knott.  Married for two years to Missouri’s attorney general J. Proctor Knott, 26-year-old Sallie was still having difficulty adjusting to life away from her family in Bowling Green, Kentucky and being the wife of a “public man” (Knott would later become Governor of Kentucky).  But she found a confidante in her journal, in which she recorded her earnest thoughts and sometimes acid takes on the people and events around her.

When a procession of carriages carrying the Prince of Wales and his retinue arrived at the St. Louis Fair, Sallie was there.  Like so many of her countrymen and women, she had written in her journal, “I anticipate the pleasure of feasting my Republican eyes with a sight of royalty!”  Afterward, she described her experience with the requisite amount of Republican snark.  “He sat in a carriage,” she wrote, “with the Duke of New Castle beside him, & drove round the circuit of the grounds, for the gratification of the plebeian crowd of a hundred thousand or more, all eager to see a future King.  I stood within three feet of him, & gave him a specimen of American manners in the shape of my best tuck & bob curtsey! of which he was ill-bred enough to take no manner of notice!!”  The massed spectators did not prevent Sallie from getting a close look at what Queen Victoria’s genes had wrought: “He was a gawky Dutch-English stripling, sitting with head tucked down like any awkward boy, & picking to pieces a bouquet he held in his hands.  He is the possessor of an immense nose – huge feet & hands – bandy legs – blue eyes & quantity of light hair – ruddy complexion, almost fair as a girl’s – upon the whole rather a good face, but nothing uncommon.” She also found the “old Duke” to be nothing special beyond “a portly, good natured looking Englishman.”  It was an age before paparazzi, when the strobe of camera flashes was yet to annoy the royal retinas, but Sallie also found the Prince spared of another hazard: the halitosis of over-adoring commoners.  “The multitude had sense enough to keep quiet,” she observed, “& so the cortege swept by, undisturbed by sniffing the air, tainted by the huzzahing breath of the ‘great-unwashed’”!

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales

Sallie (McElroy) Knott’s journals (there will be more of her wisdom to come) are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopScholar and KenCat.

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Dear Congressman Carter

On February 6, 1974, a resolution of the House of Representatives gave the Judiciary Committee authority to investigate the possible impeachment of President Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal.  Watching the proceedings closely was Kentucky’s Fifth District representative, Republican Tim Lee Carter.  Serving the fifth of his eight terms, the physician from Monroe County had brought his own causes to Congress, including a plan for national health insurance and, in 1967, a call to end to the Vietnam War.  With respect to impeachment, however, Carter was a strong defender of Nixon and, as he would later point out, was the first member of Congress to give testimony on the President’s behalf.

Like other legislators, Carter heard plenty from voters in his district and around the country on the question of impeachment.  From October 1973 to November 1974, he received hundreds of letters, cards, telegrams, petitions and preprinted cards from both supporters and opponents of the measure.  Some were brief – “Censure Yes Impeachment No” read a terse telegram from a couple in Coral Gables, Florida — while another telegram from California declared: “Immediate impeachment and trial of President essential to country nothing less will serve act promptly.”

A “fishing expedition,” a/k/a “witch hunt”?

Many communications, not surprisingly, were lengthy and passionate.  “President Nixon is the victim of a relentless witch hunt,” wrote a Missouri couple. “We urge that you stand firm and cast your vote against impeachment.”  From Richmond, Kentucky, an EKU faculty member wrote, “I think this nation cannot stand to allow people in high offices to get away with unconstitutional acts. . . .  Nixon will accomplish not a generation of Peace but a generation of under-the-table crooked deals!”  Some saw mere partisanship—“Why are the democrats stirring up such a fuss over campaign donations when they are spending and wasting so much money trying to drag up some evidence to impeach Pres. Nixon?” asked a couple from Summer Shade, Kentucky.  “The envy, harassment, venom of the Media and Leftists would destroy the U.S. to get Nixon,” came from Mount Vernon, Kentucky. 

. . . or a slam dunk?

Others took the longer view.  “We have to have faith in the truthfulness of our leaders, and he [Nixon] has caused us to be sadly skeptical of every word he says . . . since he and his aides still persist in covering up and fighting the investigations, he must be impeached by Congress,” a writer argued from Barbourville, Kentucky.  “There is so much evidence of wrongdoing committed to enhance the President’s power, his prestige, or his individual niche in history, that I no longer trust his leadership.  If allowed to remain in office, Mr. Nixon will probably continue the pattern he has set,” concluded a voter from Monticello, Kentucky, conveying “a sincere expression of a tragic concern” and “not another anti-Nixon vendetta.”  Congressman Carter wanted to maintain the focus on Nixon’s positive achievements, particularly in the area of foreign policy, and some of his constituents made clear that distressing domestic issues such as energy and food prices, taxes, abortion, and perceived media bias were coloring their opinions of the impeachment crisis.

Even after the Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment and Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974 rather than face trial in the Senate, the letters to Congressman Carter continued.  Words like “traumatic” and “tragedy” appeared, as did expressions of both support and opposition toward granting the President a pardon or immunity from prosecution.  A week after the resignation, Carter regretted that Nixon’s administration had been “involuntarily terminated” but looked with gratitude to the Constitution and its provisions for a smooth transfer of power.  “Recent events,” he wrote, “have clearly demonstrated the strength of our government, our people, and the principles that have guided us through our great history.”

Letters to Congressman Tim Lee Carter regarding the impeachment inquiry into President Richard Nixon are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Nothing New Under the Sun

A recent acquisition for the Department of Special Collections highlights the American or Know-Nothing Party of Kentucky. The flier offers notice to the Subordinate Councils of Kentucky as they clearly state the organization’s purpose. It was, in part, to “put down all foreign influence in the country – to alter or repeal the naturalization laws – to put down the designs of the Romish church – in short, we want an American Party.” The party hoped to “thoroughly Americanize your neighborhoods. As they [resolved] “that Americans shall rule America.” One result of the philosophy showcased in the flier was “Bloody Monday.” This event occurred on August 6, 1855, an election day, when German and Irish Catholic neighborhoods were attacked.

Know-Nothing Party Flier

See this and other fascinating fliers, broadsides and other illustrative materials at TopScholar and KenCat. Email spcol@wku.edu for further information or assistance.

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He Knew his ABCs

FDR and some of his New Deal federal agencies

Perhaps feeling justified during a time of war, in 1943 Congressman Hampton P. Fulmer decided to push back against a cranky voter.  The South Carolina Democrat, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, had received a complaint from Eugene M. Biggers of Houston, Texas concerning the plethora of federal agencies created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—“Alphabetical Agencies,” as they were called, because of the acronyms by which they were known: the NRA (National Recovery Act), WPA (Works Progress Administration), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), and so on. 

“I would like to know just what line of business you are engaged in,” the congressman challenged Biggers.  “In the next place, I would like to know whether or not you would prefer going back to the conditions which existed in every line of business in 1930-33,” referring, of course to America’s tumble into the Depression.

Biggers, meanwhile, had been busy compiling a list of agencies and offering copies to interested parties.  The response, he found, was overwhelming.  Small businesses, taxpayers associations, educational groups, farmers, and the press clamored for confirmation of what many had long maintained: that these “damnable Bureaus,” as Biggers wrote, were wasteful, oppressive, and manipulative, run by “fan-tailed theorists” burdening the American people with regulations and regimentation.  In a three-page reply to Congressman Fulmer, Biggers railed against the “Roosevelt New Deal Party” and, despite the war, presented an unapologetic indictment of the “experimenters in Washington” who had imposed themselves between producers and their markets and upended the laws of supply and demand.

And just what was Biggers’ line of business?  Unfortunately for Congressman Fulmer, it was printing.  Even without the internet, he was well positioned to “go viral” with his views.  He offered, for the low price of $1 per hundred, a reproduction of the congressman’s letter, his own response, and his list of 104 “Alphabetical Agencies” (out of a total of 2,241 agencies, bureaus and commissions that he had uncovered) as souvenirs of “the goofiest period in America’s history.” 

These printed materials created by Eugene M. Biggers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Miss Em

Emily Perry in 1888

It was summer 1913, and Put-in-Bay, Ohio was gearing up to celebrate the centennial of one of the most important naval battles of the War of 1812.  On September 10, 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry wrested control of Lake Erie from the British Royal Navy, forcing the surrender of a squadron of ships and opening his terse report of the victory with the memorable phrase, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Remarkably, at the center of the excitement, and one of the most honored guests expected at the celebration, was “a frail, sweet-faced, silver haired Kentucky woman.”  Emily Perry was the daughter of the late Reverend Gideon Babcock Perry, who had been born in Rhode Island at the same family homestead as his cousin, the famous Commodore.  Emily had followed her father through numerous pastoral postings in the Midwest and South until they reached Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1867, where Reverend Perry became rector of Grace Episcopal Church.  “Miss Em,” as she became known, immersed herself in social, cultural and charitable activities, organizing concerts and other entertainments for worthy recipients like Hopkinsville’s public school library.  Now, with her parents and three brothers gone, she lived with her sister, Maria Efnor, who had been adopted into the family as a child.  In addition to superintending the work of her United Volunteers Musical and Literary Society, Emily was a devoted scrapbook-keeper, pulling together newspaper clippings on the vast number of topics that attracted her interest: Civil War history, music, poetry, celebrities, and women as well as men who had made names for themselves in politics, science, arts and culture. 

Alas, as proud as she was of her heritage, and despite being promised every comfort and consideration she might have wished for, Emily decided to decline the invitation to the festivities.  At 69 years of age, her eyesight was failing, and that of 82-year-old sister Maria’s was completely gone.  Emily instead remained at the family home at Ninth and Campbell streets, ultimately compelled to obey the command on Oliver Hazard Perry’s battle flag—“Don’t give up the ship.”

Papers and photographs of the Perry family, including Emily Perry, are 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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Hudson Is Hire Intern for Fall 2019

Hannah Hudson, the youngest daughter of Mark and Scarlett Hudson, has been named the Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Special Collections Intern for 2019.

Hannah is a lifelong resident of Macon County, Tennessee, and a 2018 graduate of Red Boiling Springs High School. She is currently a sophomore at WKU pursuing a degree in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Folk Studies.

Hannah Hudson is the 2019 Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Library Special Collections Intern.

The Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Internship was established in 2015 to provide students with professional experience working in a special collections library, specifically with material from Allen and Monroe counties in Kentucky and Macon County in Tennessee. Hudson is the fourth Hire Intern to date.

Hudson states that growing up listening to stories and folktales about the history of Red Boiling Springs led her to pursue a career in anthropology and folk studies. From a young age, she enjoyed studying the history and folklife of different cultures and was especially interested in stories from the southeastern United States. Studying cultural anthropology and folklore at WKU seemed like the perfect fit for her interests.

“I hope to pursue a career in applied anthropology, doing museum and archival research, because I find it important to preserve diverse cultures and sub-cultures,” said Hudson. “I am grateful for this opportunity to intern with the Special Collections Library and be a part of the preservation of my county and the surrounding Kentucky counties that have shaped my life.”

Dr. Delroy Hire, the son of Osby Lee Hire and Lillian K. Garrison, was born and raised in Monroe County. He graduated from Tompkinsville High School in 1959.  Dr. Hire is a 1962 WKU graduate and a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He is board certified in anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology. After furthering his education, Dr. Hire went on duty as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and served for more than 20 years. He retired as the Deputy Armed Forces Medical Examiner based out of Washington, D.C., and now lives in Pensacola, Fla.

“In the Department of Library Special Collections, we have unique collections that allow students to literally touch history,” said Jonathan Jeffrey, Department Head for the unit. “This is more than a magnanimous gesture from Dr. Hire, it is an investment both in our collections and future curators of similar collections. Hannah Hudson is a fine example of Dr. Hire’s investment, and we are thrilled to offer her and other WKU students this opportunity.” 

Hudson will work with a number of items related to the three counties in which Dr. Hire is interested. She will scan and log photographs from the Tim Lee Carter collection to aid in the curation of an exhibit honoring the Congressman for Monroe County’s Bicentennial. In addition, Hudson will transcribe the 1850 slave census from Monroe County and Allen County, and write a historical summary for Macon County with an annotated bibliography.  The slave census data and the Macon County paper will be accessible on TOPScholar, WKU’s digital repository (digitalcommons.wku.edu)

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“A straight shirttail for home”

An all-too-common crinoline fire (Wellcome Collection CC BY)

William Weldon was 22 when he left his mother, father and 16-year-old brother Vachel in Ballard County, Kentucky and struck out for Arkansas in 1848.  The entire family was on the lookout for opportunities elsewhere: Vachel would decamp for Texas in 1854, and his widowed father followed. 

Five months into his absence, however, William was still anxious to hear all the news from back home in Kentucky—marriages, crops, religious conversions, and so on. But he had his own story to tell about a recent test of his gallantry.  It involved a young lady, “Modest, Handsome, & sensable,” but afflicted with “a disease which is very common in Kentucky called the flirts.”  Indeed, Weldon wrote in a letter, “Miss Fanny” was really on her game one “coald dry day,” pausing only briefly from her non-stop coquetry to pose herself dangerously close to the fireplace.  Weldon considered warning her but thought, no worries, she’ll “flirt away soon.” 

He was wrong.  Fanny’s dress, no doubt a flammable mix of crinoline, muslin and gauze, suddenly ignited, and “she broke for the door with the blaze higher than her head.”  With no water handy, and without time to consider what a gentleman should do in such circumstances, Weldon surrendered to the “painful necessity” of tearing off her burning clothes.  “Just think of a young man stripping a lady in company,” he wrote sheepishly.  But it was all over quickly and Miss Fanny, her dignity no doubt as charred as her wardrobe, “made a straight shirttail for home.” 

William Weldon’s letter telling of his rescue of Fanny the Flirt is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid and typescript.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Serendipity Knocks

A graphic image from a Grayson Lily flour bag produced at Falls of Rough, Kentucky

Mike Sisk, a WKU alumni and teacher in the Hardin County Schools, recently donated a collection of family and business letters related to the Green family of Falls of Rough in Breckinridge County.  This complemented a collection of fifty-two boxes of Green family material already located in the Manuscripts unit of Library Special Collections.  While reading through the material in preparation for cataloging, the manuscripts curator noted that in the late-1880s Lafayette Green received several letters of recommendation related to a milling position at the flour and woolen mill he owned at Falls of Rough.  One of those letters was from Willie Green, no relation to Lafayette.  In the letter Green recommends Mr. Montford, because he is familiar with the more traditional grinding mills rather than “the new roller process and the consensus is that the mill he is running don’t get a great deal to do—as it is an old fashion one or a mill like yours and his employers cannot afford to pay him a salary sufficient to remain.”  At the end of the 18th October 1886 letter, he notes that “Mr. Montford’s address is at South Union, Logan County, Ky.”  Indeed, Lafayette Green was not only consulting various experts about upgrades at the mill, he was also aware that the dam needed to be re-engineered.

Willie Green provides the forwarding address for Montfort at South Union

The manuscripts curator went immediately to Shaker Record D (the daily journal of the Shaker community at South Union) to see if Mr. Montford was mentioned.  Indeed Montford and his family were mentioned several times in Record D as Francis Monfort, Sr. (variant spelling).  The first Monfort mentioned is John, Francis’s son.  The record keeper noted that on Sunday, 1 February 1880:  “Boy Received.  John Monfort aged 13 years on the 5th of May next.  His Father resides at Tunnel Hill Ky. & expects to come himself—This Boy arrived here last Monday the 26th of Jany Ult.”  On August 18, Francis came “with his family wife and 3 children…Francis wants to live a Shaker life.  His wife is not ready.  Therefore we have fixed up the Tan house—now called the halfway house for them to reside in as Francis a miller he will be handy to this work.”

In September we learn that at the age of 50 Francis was admitted to the Shaker community.  Again the record keeper notes that Francis “is a Miller & now goes to the Mill.”  Although the record never says that his wife Nancy joined the Shakers, she is listed for a number of years in the census records with the other Sisters.  In 1885, the family is listed in the West Family census. 

The Centre House at South Union

On December 31 Francis and his family left the society; “they go to Auburn for a present home.  They consist of 5, F[rancis] & wife [Nancy].  One daughter [Naomi] and three Sons [Francis, Jr., Frederic and John]. 

The letter to Lafayette Green was dated 18 October 1886, and the family was obviously in dire straits as Record D indicates they returned to South Union in the summer of 1887 and united with the Centre family.  The journalist didn’t record the specific date of their return, but he mentioned on 15 July 1887 that the temperature was 100 degrees and the “Demise [of]  Francis Monfort,…at 4 A.M. this morning.  Not of us tho he intended [to] be.  Aged 56 years.”   On 5 August 1889 Nancy and Naomi Montfort “left with privileges of returning if desired.”  Apparently the boys had already left and Nancy and her daughter must have never “desired” enough to return.  The Montfort family is not mentioned again in Shaker Record D.  It was fascinating to see how these items from different collections dovetailed.

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