Born in 1897 at Borah’s Ferry in Butler County, Lena Grey Annis taught school for 44 years in Kentucky, West Virginia and Arizona. After her death in 1996, two of her nieces found a treasure trove of family history among her personal belongings. Included were some 800 letters, written mostly to Annis by family members. Although the bulk of the letters dated from 1945 to 1973, the complete collection covered 70 years.
After carefully sorting and reading the letters and compiling a family tree to show the relationships of the writers, Annis’s niece, Doris Annis Tichenor, recently donated the collection to WKU’s Special Collections Library. Tichenor herself best explains the significance of the letters. They represent, she wrote, “a remarkable contemporary record” of change in a Kentucky farming family–from the advent of electricity and the first tractors and pickup trucks to the shift from animal feed crops to cash crops, the passing of home poultry flocks, the struggle to control flooding, and the closing of Borah’s Ferry, a fixture in Butler County for 150 years. Annis spent 20 years of her teaching career in Arizona but returned to Kentucky almost every summer, where she retained a share in the family farm. The letters also document, in Tichenor’s words, the “difficult and tedious work” of “five fractious siblings and their descendants” to hold the farming enterprise together.
A finding aid for the Lena Grey Annis Collection can be downloaded here.