The West Virginia State Library Conference was held recently at The Greenbrier, with three days of workshops and presentations for academic and public librarians. Dr. Charles Julian, director of the Mary F. Shipper Library of Potomac State College of West Virginia University in Keyser, presented a session he called Odd’s Bodkins.
He had sent out a request to libraries and historical societies around the state for odd bits of history concerning libraries in our state. Toni Ogden, curator for Greenbrier Historical Society and incoming president of the Monroe County Historical Society, responded to his request with photos of the circa 1906 library trunk in the Monroe County Historical Society’s collection.
Dr. Julian was thrilled. His dissertation as a PhD candidate was on the subject of the traveling library trunks that were the beginning of the public libraries we enjoy today. It is a little known fact that women’s clubs in West Virginia took up this initiative in the very late 1800’s to get books into the hands of the men, women and children of the state, no matter how rural the community, no matter how rough the roads. Trunks set out from Clarksburg, Wheeling, and Shepherdstown strapped onto horse drawn buggies. It would appear that of the original 16 trunks, this is the only one still in existence. The trunk in the photograph is stenciled with “Women’s Literary Club of Sistersville, West Virginia.”
What were people reading 100 years ago? The book titles reflect the tastes of turn of the century America – novels like The Blythedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper and Nicolas Nickleby by Dickens. Stories of Industry, Volumes I and II reinforced the drive toward progress in our corner of rural America. At this time farmers were moving from steam to gas powered tractors and factories like the Hollywood Woolen Mill were switching from water to steam powered automatic looms. Stories and Sketches of General Grant at Home and Abroad perhaps reflects Northern West Virginia’s sympathies during the Civil War. This is balanced by a volume added locally that bears John Rowan’s signature inside the cover – Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the Confederate States, published in 1862.
Glad Tidings: Sermons and Prayer Meeting Talks by Moody published in 1877 was a standard inspirational volume, still popular in the early 1900’s. The oldest dated book in the collection was almost 100 years old when it made its journey to our county – A Compend of History From the Earliest Times: Comprehending a General View of the Present State of the World published in 1808. And for the young people, a very well-worn Alice in Wonderland.
After Dr. Julian’s lively slide show and trivia quiz to a standing-room-only crowd, he invited close inspection of the “wonderful relic.” Librarians crowded around to admire the trunk and examine the books.
The Monroe County Historical Society’s mission is to preserve and protect the county’s history and make it available to the public. This traveling library trunk is an important artifact that reminds us of who we were over 100 years ago.