Category Archives: Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

“Look Navy, act Navy & talk Navy”

John W. “Billy” Beam

From his WKU credentials – Bachelor of Science (Biology), Chemistry-Physics Club, Band and Dramatic Clubs, Drum Major, and manager/second tenor in the Men’s Glee Club – it might have been easy to guess where Bardstown native John William Beam was headed next: perhaps to a high school to teach science and advise students in extracurricular musical and theater activities. 

But “Billy,” as he was known, followed two of his brothers into military service.  Where his older siblings had answered the call during World War I, however, 22-year-old Billy joined the U.S. Navy after graduating in 1935.  He entered the new aviation cadet training program at the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida, the site of heightened activity in the face of increasing world tensions.  Billy’s letter to WKU friend Tom Tichenor, who was working on an article about him for the College Heights Herald, offers a glimpse into the peacetime military as it sought to enlarge, modernize, and prepare for any contingency during the ongoing debate over America’s role in international affairs. 

Pensacola Air Station covered “several thousand acres,” Billy wrote, and housed 200 officers, 1,200 enlisted men and 1,000 civilian workers.  One of about 425 cadets in seven classes, Billy described a “very high type bunch” representing more than 75 colleges across the country.  Everyone resided in a six-winged barracks, making sure to keep beds made and lockers arranged with military precision.  Billy was intent upon learning the prescribed vocabulary: walls were bulkheads, windows were ports, upstairs was topsides, floors were decks.  “The time is screwy but when you get to 12 o’clock keep on going till 2400.”  The cadets’ mandate was simple: “We have to look Navy, act Navy & talk Navy,” he wrote.

Billy outlined the day’s routine, from waking up at 0600 to taps at 2200.  Groups of men alternated between squadron and ground school, where Billy had earned distinction in seven completed courses.  Flight training was a five-step, 350-hour regimen designed to make them pilots in about a year’s time.  Beginning with seaplanes, they moved to land planes, then to observation ships (“Here we get all formation flying, radio communication, navigation etc.”) to “big flying patrol boats,” and finally to “fast single seated fighters” where they learned “dog fighting, gunnery, bombing & everything else.”  As aviation cadets, Billy and his mates were given the status of officers outside of working hours, enjoying free shows, Friday night dances, and a choice of recreation on their Saturdays off.  And finally, “we get our wings & go to the fleet for three years & take our place alongside regular naval officers.”

“Billy Beam Enjoys Navy,” headlined his friend Tom’s article in the February 21, 1936 Herald.  But like that of too many young aviators, Billy’s story ended tragically.  He died on November 17, 1938 in a plane crash, ironically, at Pearl Harbor, where his country’s next war would begin.

Billy Beam’s letter to classmate Tom Tichenor is 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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“Rustle for yourself”

Mattie Gentry considers a move to Orange County, California

In 1896, Owen County, Kentucky native Robert Gentry struck out on his own.  At only 31, he founded the Bank of Sonora in Hardin County and, as it turned out, would remain associated with the bank for more than 50 years. 

In 1905, however, Gentry, his wife Mattie and two young sons were thinking about striking out again, this time for the West.

Beset by illness, the couple considered California as a place where Robert could resume banking or some other business, and both could recover their health.  Seeking information from friends and acquaintances who were familiar with the region, Robert received some enthusiastic responses about the potential of the Golden State.  One boasted of “over a million dollars of building” in Los Angeles in July 1904 alone.  Eager for a new investor, another friend touted the success of his Los Angeles printing business.  The city’s future was assured, he noted, by the approval of an ambitious (but controversial) aqueduct system to supply water from the Owens River in the east.

But what could Robert’s wife Mattie expect?  Suffering from a lung complaint, possibly tuberculosis, she seemed prepared to make the move first and leave her husband to tie up matters at home.  Accordingly, she would have carefully read a letter from Corinne Phillips, the Kentucky-born niece of a family friend and a resident of Tustin in Orange County, that provided some additional perspective on life in southern California.

In simple matters of heat and humidity, Corinne advised, there were many choices.  Though it was the “garden spot” of Orange County, Tustin could be a little too damp for those with weak lungs.  The town of Orange offered a drier climate, as did communities like Riverside, Redlands and San Bernardino.  Even drier—“on the verge of the desert”—were Palm Springs, Beaumont and Hesperia.  Pasadena, with its healthy climate, was called the “Second Paradise.”

But Corinne knew that other aspects of her new home would be important to Mattie.  The desert towns, she warned, “are rather lonely places” for an unaccompanied woman, and Westerners in general, though possessed of some good qualities, were not as sociable as Kentuckians.  “I speak of the southern people,” she wrote, “because I know the South is dear to your heart.”  Santa Ana, for example, “has quite a number of southern people in it,” but Mattie should keep in mind that “every man is “rustling for the ‘Almighty Dollar’ and he takes it for granted that you are doing likewise.”  In a region where “everything is business” she would have to shed any tendency to “be dependent on the stronger sex.”  Women were “placed on an equal footing with men,” Corinne observed, “and you are supposed to rustle for yourself.” 

Overall, Corinne advised, Mattie should come prepared to be flexible and “to make the best of things.”  She should bring a letter of introduction from her pastor, “for it will open to you an avenue of friends.”  She might “see and hear things that would shock your modesty, but don’t worry over it let it go.  For everything goes out west.”  Boarding house rates varied – from two to six dollars per week – but if she committed to a stay of six months to a year, Corinne declared, Mattie would never want to leave.  “You will send for your husband and children [and] build for yourself a house in sunny, southern California.”

Corinne Phillips’s letter to Mattie Gentry is 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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“A flock of hawks”

On the Memorial Day weekend of May 29, 2021, the remains of Barren County Navy seaman Howard Scott Magers, killed aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor, were finally brought home.

Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941

On the morning of December 7, 1941, nineteen-year-old Logan County, Kentucky native Warren Tinsley was asleep aboard the U.S. Navy destroyer Aylwin, moored near Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  He and his mates were enjoying the looser discipline of that Sunday morning, when many sailors were sleeping off hangovers from their shore leave in Honolulu; some, in fact, including several senior officers, had not yet returned from liberty.   

As a consequence, no one stirred right away when the general alarm buzzer sounded, as it was used for everything from “man overboard” to a fire drill.  But the catastrophic news came quickly: the Japanese were attacking.

Tinsley emerged from below decks to see the attack already under way.  Hit below the waterline, the “old battleship Utah was slowly turning over,” its starboard side high in the air.  Its dazed crew were either struggling in the water or trying to get over the starboard side to swim to Ford Island.  Tinsley hurried to his battle station to find four junior officers trying to decide who would assume the duties of the absent captain.  As the crew rushed to break out the Aylwin’s ammunition, Tinsley saw hostile planes everywhere.  “They reminded me of a flock of hawks attacking a chicken farm in the Kentucky hills.”  Low-flying fighters were “bombing our ships at tree top levels,” giving special attention to the mighty battleships.  One of his mates yelled “There goes the Arizona!” as the vessel exploded, the casualty of a direct hit on her ammunition magazines. And there was the battleship Oklahoma:  it had “turned over as a result of the hits that she suffered and lay like a dead whale with its belly shining in the air.”

Returning fire, Tinsley’s ship managed to make it down the western channel of Pearl Harbor and out to open sea, past the “burning and smoldering mass that was Ford Island.”  After a day of searching for the enemy, the Aylwin returned to the “graveyard of what had once been a formidable fighting force.”  Tinsley also returned to a changed Navy, in which the military routines of peacetime had suddenly vanished.

Warren Tinsley’s vivid account of the attack on Pearl Harbor is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid and full-text download can be accessed here.  For more of our collections detailing the service and sacrifice of veterans, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Feast Your Eyes

As we learned during the pandemic, one of the challenges (and miracles) of grocery stores has been their ability to keep shelves stocked with our favorite foods and provisions, or at least with comparable substitutes.  Essential to their mission is the maintenance of supply lines with a corps of manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.

Early in the twentieth century, the McClure Brothers (Joseph Schuyler and Jonathan “John”), carried a vast inventory of foodstuffs, dry goods, farm equipment, clothing, shoes and toiletries at their general store in the Grayson County, Kentucky community of Millerstown.  The store purchased stock from dozens of suppliers; many were in Louisville but some were elsewhere in Kentucky or in neighboring states.  The invoices rendered to McClure Brothers tell us something of the thriving consumerism of the region.  In addition, their content gives us small history lessons about the businesses, and their striking designs show us the purely aesthetic side of commerce.

There was the American Grocery Company, wholesalers who supplied McClure Brothers with coffee, vanilla, toothbrushes, note paper, nails, sewing needles and more, on payment terms carefully enumerated on the invoice.

American Grocery Company, Louisville

There was Charles W. White’s Louisville Coffee Company, which sold McClure Brothers not just several brands of  coffee but sausage, cheese, turpentine, cigars, face powder, and castor oil.

Louisville Coffee Company

There was the K & I Fruit House of Fred Kohlhepp, the son of German immigrants, and Italian immigrant Joseph (Guiseppe) Iula, from whom McClure Brothers also bought potatoes and cabbage.

K and I Fruit House, Louisville

There was the Louisville Grocery Company, where McClure Brothers obtained candy, chewing gum, peppers and pickles.

Louisville Grocery Company

There was Italian immigrant Michael DeSopo’s fruit company, providing McClure Brothers with oranges, lemons, bananas and watermelons.

M. DeSopo & Company, Louisville

Finally, to prepare all these goodies, there were stoves supplied by the Louisville Tin and Stove Company, a firm in business since 1888.

Louisville Tin and Stove Company

And, for four-legged customers there was animal feed and medicines from the International Stock Food Company in Minneapolis.  Billing itself as the “Largest Stock Food Factory in the World,” the firm covered the reverse of its colorful invoice with fine print explaining its guarantees, offering a free “Spring Canvassing Wagon” for use by agents, and giving tips on “How to Have a Big Sale.”  Attractive displays and show cards were important, but the company warned that the “VERY WORST” thing a merchant could do was to discount prices.  Looking to protect its brand, the company advised sticking to the regular retail price in order to maintain profits and avoid the impression that the goods were somehow damaged or deficient.

International Stock Food Company, Minneapolis

Supplier invoices for the McClure Brothers store are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid can be downloaded here.  For more collections documenting Kentucky merchants, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Never stop singing, mother”

When the U.S. entered World War II, Charles Henry Duff of Jackson, Kentucky had already been in the Army for 17 months.  A few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he accompanied his infantry unit to Hawaii to begin 3½ years of active duty in the Pacific theatre.  He would earn a Combat Infantryman Badge for exemplary conduct on Saipan.  Though wounded, Duff came away with a Japanese pistol and saber as souvenirs of the battle.

Charles Duff’s mother, Linnie Duff

But the day after Mother’s Day in 1943, he was just another soldier happy to receive a letter from his mother, Linnie Duff. Worried that she was worried after having received no recent letters from him,  Charles made up for it with a heartfelt reply that paid tribute to his mother’s hard work and sacrifices throughout his life.

“Thinking of the times when I used to sit in the kitchen,” wrote the grateful son, “and watch you cook dinner and how you would scold us kids for fighting over who got to sit on the stool or who got to lick the cake pan. . . And how you used to come home from work so tired you could hardly walk.  And start right in ironing a shirt for me to wear to town.  And oh how it hurt me to see you have to work.”  He recalled the guilt he experienced when, as a young man, he couldn’t contribute financially to their Depression-era Breathitt County household.  “I couldn’t even get a job big enough to wear decent clothes, much less take care of a family.  Who wanted to hire a little ole boy seventeen years old and not big enough for a boy of twelve.” 

Charles remembered the “fuss” his mother made when he wouldn’t take medicine, or how she “used to lay awake nights waiting” for him to come home.  “But the one thing that stands out more than anything,” he wrote, “is the way you would sing.  When you were washing, ironing, cooking or anything that had to do with work you always did it with a song.” 

Attributing his own passion for music to his mother, Charles made one request.  “Music to me is everything.  It’s life, love and even death.  So never stop singing mother, no matter what happens.”  And if he didn’t make it home from the war, she shouldn’t cry over him.  “Just sing for me instead like you have always sung.”  In the meantime, he told her never to doubt that he was thinking of her, because to this son “every day is Mother’s day.”

Charles Duff’s letter to his mother 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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“Get your report in”

Things were simpler back then . . . not.  As we race to conclude the current (though extended) tax filing season, here’s how a member of the Carley family of Georgetown, Kentucky once puzzled through the process of “rendering unto Caesar.”

A native of Ontario, Canada, George Carley took his family to Kentucky via Pennsylvania in the 1870s.  One daughter, Lizzie, remained at home and another, Georgia, married and moved to Arkansas.  As World War I unfolded, the family saw income taxes rise dramatically to accommodate the costs of American involvement in the conflict (a war for which Georgia’s cousin Maggie Fortune, still living in Canada, had some choice words).  In any event, on March 1, 1919, Georgia wrote sister Lizzie of her attempts to understand the Revenue Act of 1918.  The revised law imposed a “normal” tax of 6% on the lowest bracket and 12% on higher incomes, but the real pain came with an additional, graduated surtax: on 1918 incomes over $1 million, it brought the government’s bite to a whopping 77%.  The Act promised some relief for 1919 incomes, but not much: the normal tax would drop by a few percentage points, while the surtax remained intact.

Georgia carefully studied the helpful information provided by her bank, not only to understand her own obligations but to assess what emotions—jealousy, sympathy, or schadenfreude—she should reserve for better-off Americans.  “What we have is bad enough,” she wrote Lizzie, “but aren’t you thankful your income is not a million.”  She had checked the charts and discovered that “those poor unfortunates” would have a normal tax bill of $119,640 and a surtax of $583,510, “leaving the owner of such wealth only $296,850 out of which he must live and pay his state county and city tax.  Well I don’t envy him.” 

Given that $296,850 had the purchasing power that $5.2 million does today, Georgia was probably being sarcastic.  However, at a normal rate of 6% and a surtax rate of zero, the grab on her own income (which we can deduce was less than $4000) was “not so bad”—and the next year, she reported, “it will only be 4% for small people like me.”  She gave a gentle reminder to her sister to “get your report in before March 15”—a date that would remain the deadline for tax filers until changed in 1954 to April.

The Carley family’s letters 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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“Fire it back promptly”

Hal Bryant’s journalism

For almost 44 years, Lexington, Kentucky native Hal Farnsworth Bryant (1888-1975) labored as a statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, first in West Virginia and then in Louisville.  In his youth, however, he spent a rollicking few years as a reporter for the Lexington Leader.  Not content merely to serve the audience in his home town, Bryant partnered with a Leader editor to offer stories and photographs for syndication to newspapers and magazines around the country.

From intrigues in Frankfort to social and political gossip across the state, Bryant and his colleague churned out copy and sent it off with instructions to editors to either “remit at your customary rate” or “fire it back promptly with postage herein.”  Early 20th-century doings in the Bluegrass State provided lots of fodder.  There was horse breeding, railroad construction, tobacco markets, the Night Riders, colorful public figures, and the seemingly endless feuds and violence roiling eastern Kentucky.  Human interest stories abounded:  for example, that of a “greybeard ‘Yank’” and an “old ‘Johnny Reb,’” two former officers on opposite sides of the Civil War, who operated a peach orchard together near Cumberland Gap.  There was the clergyman who served both the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Clifton, Tennessee, and who wrote Bryant a touching personal letter explaining the arrangement and the difficult life he had led up to that time.

Other stories had more of a tabloid flavor.  There was the legend of Colonel John Bartlett, a Revolutionary War veteran and Nelson County planter who watched his daughter endure the persistent and unwelcome attentions of a fellow officer.  Long story short: the pesky suitor became a gruesome part of the Bartlett agricultural output, having been churned up in a cotton baler and shipped off to a mill in Boston.  And then there was Lexington’s beautiful Mason “Macie” Talbott, engaged to marry a family boarder, a Canadian book salesman who the family found quite unsuitable.  The next anyone knew, the preacher and wedding guests had been sent home, the gifts all returned, and Miss Talbott whisked off by her brother for a lengthy tour of Europe.

Perhaps the strangest story Bryant covered is only hinted at in his papers.  It’s a photograph of a baby, labelled on the back as a Bourbon County infant, “raffled off Paris Opera House.”  Indeed, in September 1910,  a standing-room-only crowd watched as this child of destitute parents was awarded to the winning ticket holder, a local police officer.  “As soon as the necessary adoption papers can be secured,” reported the Bourbon News, “he will come into legal possession of the cherubin.” 

Hal Farnsworth Bryant’s journalism is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid can be downloaded here.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Man For All Seasons

John E. Younglove and his weather records for March

When John E. Younglove (1826-1917) came to Bowling Green in 1844, the town gained a curious and inquiring citizen.  Over his long life as a druggist, town trustee and cemetery commissioner, Younglove collected rare books, archaeological specimens and tales of local history.  He also collected weather.

From 1849-50 and 1851-52, Younglove kept daily records of temperature (four readings a day), “clearness of the sky,” wind, and clouds.  A member of a national network of volunteer observers, he forwarded his data to the Smithsonian Institution for use in its new meteorology program, then tackling “the problem of American storms” and how to predict them. 

Younglove added other remarks to his notations, usually concerning the intensity of rainfall.  But his entries for June and July 1849 included another phenomenon that deserved close attention.  Early in the year, a wave of cholera had begun to make its way from India and across Europe.  Everyone knew that it would soon arrive in America – and that the nation was unprepared.  On June 9, 1849, Younglove’s weather notes recorded three deaths from cholera, “the first we have had.”  In a month characterized by high heat and excessive rain, the steady drip of deaths continued: one on the 14th, one on the 19th, two on the 22nd, five on the 23rd, and so on. 

Younglove’s record-keeping grew less frequent until 1886, when he resumed in earnest.  Through 1901, he filled his ledger with four-times-daily temperature readings, kept for the Department of Agriculture’s Climatological Service.  In addition to contemporary records, he preserved stories of weather and atmospheric phenomena gathered from his own experience and that of old-timers: the reverberations of the 1811 New Madrid earthquake; a magnificent meteor shower in 1833; the 18-below-zero day in February 1835 and the 24-below-zero chill in January 1877; the total eclipse of 1869; an 1870 tornado that destroyed Cave City; the 28-inch snowfall that buried Bowling Green in February 1886; and various record-breaking storms, killer frosts, locust infestations and river rises.  When an even deadlier visitation of cholera arrived in 1854, courtesy of the infected members of a travelling circus company, Younglove suspected that the outbreak was made worse by heavy rainfall during a performance “which caused the steam to arise” inside the crowded tent.  His chronicle was wide-ranging and unique: in annual narratives covering 1870 through 1909, Younglove looked back on each year’s weather patterns as they brought prosperity or hardship to the gardeners and farmers of his community – and formed a backdrop, in a few cases, to serious public health crises.

John E. Younglove’s meteorological record is 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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A Golden Injection

With the growth of the temperance movement in the late 19th century came a tide of programs for the treatment of addiction, not just to alcohol but to tobacco and drugs.  Some were faith driven, but others were from the medical community and became so popular that they evolved into business franchises.  One of these was the Hagey Institute, an enterprise that made an appearance in Bowling Green in the 1890s.

Only a few years earlier, in 1889, William Henry Harrison Hagey, a physician and chemist, had opened the first institute in Norfolk, Nebraska.  Like several other aspiring addiction specialists, he touted bichloride of gold, a remedy that would supposedly eliminate the craving for alcohol and tobacco and for drugs like morphine and opium.  Patients drank a tonic and also received injections of the compound which, it was said, left a gold stain on the upper arm.  Hagey Institutes soon opened in California and as far away as Australia.

Bowling Green’s Hagey Institute was established no later than July 1892, when the Todd County Progress advised those “addicted to the liquor or morphine habit” to seek a cure there.  The principals were local pharmacist Gilson E. Townsend and Glasgow’s Dr. Charles T. Grinstead (“Physician in Charge”).  An advertisement assured patients of a “guaranteed” solution for “the Terrible Morphine Disease.”  As for the “liquor habit,” the Institute did not sermonize; like drug addiction, it was a disease rather than a moral failing, “fully as much to be dreaded as consumption, or any chronic or hereditary ailment.”  The ad further offered “$100 in gold” to anyone who, at the end of three weeks of treatment, confounded the cure by managing to keep down a drink of liquor.

Although the Hagey treatment promised to be “perfect and pleasant,” these gold-based regimens soon fell out of favor.  It came as no surprise, perhaps, that laboratory tests showed the secret formula for the elixir to contain not gold but practically everything else, including quinine, strychnine and other poisons, and even alcohol, morphine and opium!  Rather than instituting a pleasant withdrawal, it more commonly made users nauseous, fatigued, inebriated, confused, and even “insane.”  But as the shadow of quackery began to advance over the gold cure, there is no evidence that Grinstead and Townsend’s enterprise was operating under less than good faith.  Townsend later served twice as mayor of Bowling Green, and Dr. Grinstead deployed the Institute’s impressive gold-tinted letterhead to support Barren County physician John B. White in his attempts to defend himself against the “tattlers and liars” attacking his competence.

Dr. Grinstead’s letters from the Hagey Institute of Bowling Green can be found in the Jones Collection, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more of our collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Mothers Club

Every woman that is the Mother of one child or children, should get a pension, it does not make any difference who she is, a Mother is enough.  Soldiers draw a pension, why not a Mother? 

So declared Barren County native Virginia Edmunds in a 1915 letter to her sister.  Foretelling today’s proposals to enact a “Marshall Plan for Moms” struggling with work, childcare and healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, she reminds us that over generations, Kentucky women have grappled with what most see as the greatest joy and the greatest challenge of their lives.  They have grumbled and protested, but they have also campaigned, organized, survived and even triumphed in the experience of motherhood.

Take Bowling Green native Lida Calvert Obenchain, married in 1885 and the mother of four children in ten years.  Though fiercely proud and protective of her brood, she despaired at the plight of the “tired, overworked housekeeper”—the all-in-one “cook, scullion, nurse, laundress, charwoman, dining room servant, and chambermaid” tasked with care of the “new baby that is laid in the cradle every two or three years.”  She became a convert to woman suffrage as a way to protect the interests of all such women, and cited with approval an idea of author and reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman to establish cooperative kitchens to supply families with prepared food and other domestic assistance.  Like Virginia Edmunds, she called for tangible measures to back up the routine paeans her culture offered to motherhood.

Virginia, however, was quick to point out that she would have done it for free.  She had spent “the best part of this life in bringing up a family” and had “not a word to say against it, for it was my duty, and I took pleasure in it.”  On February 12, 1925, a group of Bowling Green women with the same approach organized the Mothers Club to enhance their experience of both the duties and the pleasures of raising children.  They adopted their club constitution with a view to “appreciating the advantages of friendship; believing in mental, spiritual and physical development; and recognizing the value of training our children for future citizens.”

Mothers Club yearbook, 1928-1929

Over its 73-year existence, the Mothers Club fulfilled its mission with programs, social activities, and civic uplift.  Its first year included programming on “Care of Children’s Teeth,” “Food for the Pre-School Child and School Lunches,” “Heredity and Environment,” “Music for Children,” and “Adapting Discipline to Individual Temperament.”  The club, recalled member Ruth Brown Denhardt, was “a very staid organization” when she joined in 1947.  Dressed in their hats, gloves and best dresses, members addressed each other as “Mrs.” and presented programs assigned to them by a committee, not chosen by themselves.  Children and husbands were guests at an annual picnic, and members also conducted a book exchange. 

As their children grew older and social conventions less formal, Mothers Club members turned increasingly to literary and educational pursuits at their meetings.  Through charter memberships and reunions, nevertheless, they maintained the bonds between those who had joined the club as harried young mothers and left it as grandmothers.  Like today, shared understandings in challenging times sustained them.  Harriet Downing, the wife of WKU President Dero Downing, joined the club in 1952 and valued the friendships she made as much as the “many valuable lessons on motherhood” she absorbed from the programs.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections about mothers, 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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