Meet the White Sisters: The First Women to Graduate From WVU with Bachelors of Science Degrees
The White Family Collection was “discovered” in the holdings of the Morgantown History Museum in Morgantown, while I (Lee Maddex, Preserve WV AmeriCorps member) was cataloging the museum’s extensive accessions as part of my AmeriCorps service. Discovering a collection of forgotten historic materials, such as the White Family Collection, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my service at the museum. Much of the story presented below was fleshed out with the use of the Ancestry.com website and Earl Core’s Monongalia Story: A Bicentennial History
In June 1895, twins Anna and Stella White graduated from West Virginia University (WVU) with Bachelors of Science degrees. The White Sisters were the first two women in WVU history to graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees. While their graduation was historic, there is more to this story than meets the eye at first glance.
The White sisters' education odyssey began in 1886 when their parents Robert and Mary White sold their 320 acre farm in Ross County, Ohio and moved their family to Morgantown, West Virginia. The White’s moved to Morgantown so their six children could take advantage of the educational opportunities afforded by WVU. Relocation for educational purposes was not unusual in the late nineteenth century, as many midwestern colleges and universities did not have dormitories needed to house students, especially women students. By June 1897, all six of the White children: DeWitt White (1864-1953), Charles White (1866-1899), Prescott C. White (1864-1948), twins Anna B. White (1871-1903) and Stella S. White (1871-1959), and Bennett S. White (1875-1962) had all graduated from WVU. The six White children were the largest single family cluster of children graduated by WVU in its first half century. The White family lived in Sunnyside at 118 Beverly Avenue (later 2184 University Avenue; no longer extant).
The WVU Bachelor of Science degree program was attractive to women, since it did not require the Latin and Greek language courses required for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Individuals enrolled in a Bachelor of Science degree program had the option of studying the French and German languages instead of the Classic Languages. Bachelor of Science degree program included coursework in History; English literature; Mathematics; Elementary science-Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Geology, Economics, and Sociology; French or German language; and Drawing for a total of 28 credit hours plus 14 elective credit hours. One elective was Library Science.
The United States Census for 1900 enumerates that Anna was a librarian and, in fact, the West Virginia University Course Catalogue for 1897-1898 lists Anna B. White as an assistant Librarian with a BS degree. Sadly Anna passed in 1903, from unknown causes. The same 1900 census data enumerates that Stella was a teacher. However later census returns for Stella indicate her occupation was listed as “none.” She was perhaps keeping house for her aging father and then later for her bachelor brother Prescott, a local lawyer. Stella never married and continued to reside in the family home after her fathers death. Stella lived a much longer life than her sister Anna, passing in 1959 at eighty-eight. The twins are interred at Oak Grove Cemetery in Morgantown, along with other members of the White Family. The White Family tombstone is inscribed with “Life Work: Education and Golden Rule as Foundation of World Peace and Happiness.”
The White Family Collection consists of a wide variety of items. These items include Anna and Stella White’s WVU grade cards, a teacher certificate for Stella, graduation notices for Bennett White, Prescott White’s grade cards from the WVU School of Law and an assortment of White children diplomas. Additionally there are some 168 letters to various family members including Stella White. Other items include a checkbook, souvenir booklets from vacations, coal accounting sheets for coal lands owned by the family in Logan County, and miscellaneous property deeds. Perhaps most interesting of all there is a huge group of photographs in this collection. The photographs include pictures of Anna and Stella White, Prescott White, Bennett White and other members of the White family and extended family. This assemblage is currently being cataloged and archived and will be available to the public in the near future
Lee serves as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with the Morgantown History Museum during the 2022-2023 program year.
During my term with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia’s AmeriCorps program, I have been granted the opportunity to serve the local community of Morgantown, West Virginia. Early on during my service, I noticed that local historical resources were not being utilized by the public. To generate interest in local history I contacted the Morgantown History Museum to coordinate with their institution in administering educational programming for children. I decided to make children the primary audience because of the importance of creating an appreciation and interest in history at a young age. I thought if more opportunities were available for local children regarding humanities such as history, it would lead to an overall community change in engaging with local historical institutions. The objective of this civic service project was to provide assistance to a local museum in connecting and engaging with their community and to also serve the local youth through providing free educational opportunities.
In March and April, I held a total of eight programs. The programs were administered on select Saturdays at the Morgantown History Museum with two programs available for each day. All programs were available for ages 8-12 and consisted of a lesson, activity, and snack.
Each program was designed for the children to learn about an important part of West Virginia’s history with a particular focus on Morgantown. The programs were as follows: Native Peoples of West Virginia, The Textile Industry in West Virginia, Mining in West Virginia, and the Wildlife of West Virginia. Every program incorporated artifacts held at the museum that children were able to interact with.
During that two-month time frame, several children attended the Morgantown History Museum for the very first time. Throughout the programs, the children had a lot of fun and were able to learn and engage with their local history. All of the children were excited to have been able to attend and informed me that they would attend other events like it. The programs encouraged the local youth to visit the Morgantown History Museum where they were able to expand their knowledge of their state and local history in an enjoyable manner. Many of the families who partook in the programs enjoyed the experience immensely and made plans to visit again.
The programs had made such an impact on the local community and for the museum that this summer they were held again as part of my regular site duties. For the summer two programs were held in accordance with a local daycare center. For Kindergarten through 2nd grade, the children attended the Native Peoples of West Virginia Program and 3rd grade through 5th grade attended the Wildlife of West Virginia Program. During both programs, the children were excited to learn something new and engage with all of the artifacts that they had access to. After the programs, the children took a tour of the museum to see all of the exhibits. They were all very curious about all of the artifacts and asked numerous questions as they excitedly went about exploring. Many of the children informed me that they hoped to visit the museum again with their families.
I am thankful to the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and the Friends of the Morgantown History Museum who provided funding, to have had the opportunity to positively impact both the Morgantown History Museum and the local community. The programming provided the museum with materials that can be reused to connect and engage with their local community, especially the youth. As well as generate excitement and appreciation of the state and local history among the children in the community.
Autumn Martino served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with the West Virginia Association of Museums during the 2021-2022 program year.
Returning to my hometown and serving at the Barbour County Historical Museum has given me the opportunity to connect with museum visitors. I enjoy answering questions and learning things for and with the visitors. I do my best to connect the museum to each person’s own interests and history, for even if they’re from far away there is something in the history of Barbour County for all.
One visit that stood out was that of Zachary and Katherine Cunningham. Zach is a Barbour County native who recently returned to the area with his wife Katie to open up a chiropractic office in Philippi. Katie’s mother was visiting Philippi for the first time and they all three passed by the museum and saw it was open. Though Zach had been there several times as a child, Katie and her mother had never been. At the time there were several guests in the museum and I was circling around the museum to answer any questions.
Wandering by Zach, Katie, and her mom, I overheard a discussion between the two of them looking at the high school photos, searching for Zach’s father. I asked them what years he was in school, between 1959-63. The Barbour County Historical Museum had recently received some year books, including the year Gary Cunningham had been in school. Later I asked Zach and Katie about their visit to the museum and about Gary Cunningham. Gary Cunningham had spent his first three years at Philippi High School and was part of the first class to graduate from Philip Barbour High School. He went to Fairmont State and returned as a biology teacher, after which he went back to school to become a dentist. Gary Cunningham passed away in January of this year.
I didn’t know any of this when I went searching for the yearbooks. Zach later told me that seeing his father in a yearbook photo gave him a sense of nostalgia. He could imagine his dad as young kid, growing up in Philippi in a way that is both so different and so similar to today. He said he was impressed on how quickly I picked up on cues and brought them the yearbook. It gave him a personal connection to the Barbour County Historical Museum and and demonstrated how his own family history fits into it. Katie also told me how they walked away from the museum talking about how special it was.
Though I don’t have a yearbook with everyone’s parents in it, I do try to make that personal connection with people. Whether they’re from Barbour County or not, there is something in the story of this place that connects with their own story. I love to find those connections and share them with visitors.
Marisa Terwilliger served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at the Barbour County Historical Museum for the 2021-2022 program year.
In the course of my AmeriCorps service at the Morgantown History Museum (located at 175 Kirk Street, Morgantown, West Virginia), I have processed a number of collections. This process involves consulting the accessions inventory and locating the donated item (which can be time consuming). This is followed by tagging each item with a unique number, then scanning or photographing each item, and finally entering a description and image of each item in the Museum’s database. Of all the various collections, perhaps my favorite Museum collection is the Katherine Forman Sterling Faucet Collection. The Museum has many items and objects related to the Sterling Faucet Company, such as Sterling Faucet newsletters, corporate documents, and even a sculpture presented to a retiring executive. These items offer a corporate or a top-down look at the Sterling Faucet. The Forman Collection, however, offers a worker's perspective or a ground-up consideration of work at the Sterling plant.
The now demolished Sterling Faucet Company plant was located along WV State Route 7 in Sabraton, a one-time suburb of Morgantown. Sterling Faucet began operations at the site in 1942 (replacing the earlier American Sheet and Tin Plate works, which ceased operations several years earlier). Katherine Forman joined the Sterling Faucet work force in 1963 and remained employed there until the plant’s closure on March 29, 1996. During Forman’s career at Sterling, she witnessed much change in the workforce, especially change related to women’s role in the workforce.
Katherine Forman and her family donated well over one hundred items to the Museum in 2012. These items run the gamut from Sterling Faucet faucet parts, such as faucet handles to her Sterling Faucet windbreaker to a series of Dominion Post newspaper articles covering the period from 1989 to 1996 and reporting on the plant’s planned shutdown into its final days of operation.
There are many other items of course, some of which are generic, such as, Forman’s service pins, with letters congratulating her on her years of service, but interestingly she also received a brass clock as part of a 25 year service award. Other interesting items include “swag” or awards from plant production competitions, including a pin back button with her picture on it, a Sterling Faucet coffee cup, and even a Mepps fishing lure.
Because Sterling Faucet was a union shop, Forman was a member of United Steelworkers of America Local 6214. The Museum has her membership card and a woman’s watch awarded to her by the USWA for 25 years of service.
Perhaps most interesting of Forman’s Sterling Faucet donations, are some of her tools and work gloves that she used at the plant, and perhaps the most interesting of all is her final time card, which is marked “The End.” This timecard adds a certain finality to her career at Sterling Faucet.
The Katherine Forman Sterling Faucet Collection is an excellent collection which not only represents life as an employee at Sterling Faucet, but provides many insights into the career of a woman whose work experience spanned the 1960s into the 1990s.
Lee R. Maddex
Lee Maddex served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at the Morgantown History Museum during the 2021-2022 service term.
On the morning of July 16th, a group of volunteers set out in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve to spruce up the Kaymoor Top parking lot. The lot serves a large system of trails in the area and is one of the park’s most heavily used parking spaces. After years of wear-and-tear, it was time to give the lot a fresh face.
The park’s phenomenal Roads and Trail crew spent the week prior setting the volunteers up for success by regrading the lot, putting down fresh gravel, and laying delineation timbers. Saturday, the group of volunteers finished out the project by giving the vault toilet a fresh coat of paint, pruning vegetation, seeding vacant ground, and staking down the new parking bumpers and border timbers.
The group consisted of ten volunteers, including NERI’s Acting Superintendent, Jason Newman, as well as several other park staff members who helped to facilitate the event. Some visitors who were passing through to get to nearby trailheads also stopped momentarily to try their hand at driving stakes!
Initially, the project was expected to run 8 am to noon, but the exceptional volunteer group surpassed expectations and concluded work half an hour early- just in time for the weekend recreation rush.
In addition to improving visitor experience, this project ultimately contributes to a larger preservation effort being made at the site of Kaymoor, WV - a National Register site with several ruins that are exemplary of the area’s rich coal mining history.
Kate Caplinger served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve for the 2021-2022 program year.
cemetery preservation in morgantown
The morning after moving to Wheeling, I woke up early to drive to Morgantown for a cemetery preservation workshop. Beyond being a place of final rest for loved ones, cemeteries are invaluable repositories of local history. From who was buried there, in what location, what materials were used to construct the monument, to what was written on their epitaph, much can be gleaned from a visit to a local cemetery. I have long used headstones to corroborate genealogical research, especially when inconsistencies in spelling or dates may occur.
The workshop began with a tour of the grounds. Jon’s passion and expertise were evident as we walked around admiring the headstones. He explained different monument styles, trends, and noted obvious conservation work that had been done in the past. Members of Monument Cleaning & Repair, a volunteer organization in Morgantown, also shared with the group the conservation work they had conducted.
Following this tour, we gathered around a group of headstones and Jon explained the basics of safely cleaning headstones. He stressed the importance of using a cleaning solution appropriate for the headstone as well as soft, natural bristle brushes. Occasionally wooden sticks may be needed to clean out impressions.
After returning from lunch, we went into monument resetting. This process can involve setting the headstone to the base with a mixture of putties and lead wedging, or can just involve “shoring up” the entire fixture to counteract the natural settling or erosion of the ground.
The first project our group worked on was gently digging around a headstone with a base and placing gravel underneath so that it sat level. Then the headstone was placed over the gravel, and the earth around it was filled back into creating a more even surface.
The second project our group worked on was resetting. Using wooden wedges and old sections of fire hose as cushions, we were able to move heavy stone monuments, clean the contact surfaces, and use adhesive materials to reattach stones to their bases.
Shortly after this I hopped in my car and drove back to Wheeling. Although I wish I had stayed for the second day, the road trip was catching up with me. This workshop was a lovely “welcome” to service year in West Virginia!
Kate Wietor served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage during the 2021-2022 program year.
On June 20th, 2022 Dr. Thomas Jordan, and Dr. Jeffery Dick from Youngstown State University joined me and several AmeriCorps volunteers at the Old Hill Cemetery in Weston to start our long awaited Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) project to document the upper portion of the cemetery.
This technology is used to look under the ground and can be used to measure a variety of things. In our study we used a lawnmower-esque GPR machine to push across the landscape, dropping down to depths of 10ft, looking for adipose air. Adipose, commonly referred to as ‘fat’ in the human body, leaves a very specific signature of the GPR readings that can be used to detect human bodies at various stages of decomposition under the ground.
For our purposes, GPR was necessary to properly survey our cemetery and document graves in a location that had no headstones and no prior documentation. The reason for this is it was historically an African American Cemetery. This theory, formulated by Kristen Bailey and myself, was recently confirmed in an Oral History I conducted on African American history in the town and Lewis County more broadly.
The importance of documenting this section of the cemetery cannot be overstated. Preserving African American history in West Virginia is important to give voice to an underrepresented population. The volunteers who came out to help with this GPR project really made the difference in how much of this survey we were able to get done in one day.
A huge storm the night before knocked down several massive trees, blocking off some of the property and destroying some of the older headstones. With the quick action of our AmeriCorps volunteers, and local volunteers like Robert Weaver who came out to the cemetery last second with his chainsaw, we were able to move all the debris and completely survey the area of the cemetery we had planned to go over.
While the results of this survey are still being gone over by the professionals at Youngstown State, no doubt the findings will be monumental for the preservation of African American history in our county. Without the time commitment and resources from Drs. Jordan and Dick, the manpower from our AmeriCorps volunteers and the quick thinking of locals like Mr. Weaver, certainly none of this would have been possible.
Jamie Billman served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member for the Weston Historic Landmark Commission during the 2021-2022 program year.
Recently at the Randolph-County Public Library a woman came in and asked at the front desk if the library had some books on local history. I overheard her request and took the opportunity to tell her about my AmeriCorps service project. Since placing the majority of books in the library’s entire collection in storage as a result of water damage around the beginning of 2022, the only books currently available for checking out are all fiction. The woman stated that she was in town from California to visit family and had taken a trip on the tourist train in Elkins earlier in the day and was interested in local history.
I was more than happy to show her how to access the material I have digitized on the library’s website and she was extremely interested in learning about the project. That alone was rewarding for me as it’s been a bit of a challenge to garner interest in the project. A few days later she returned and we talked some more and to my surprise she stated that after reviewing one particular book I had digitized, ‘Chronicles of Border Warfare’ by A.S. Withers, she purchased a copy locally from the Elkins Depot Welcome Center. We discussed the book for a bit and how it was especially interesting because of the areas where the book primarily takes place, north-central West Virginia and eastern Ohio.
Interest in local history by the general public, as far as I can tell, is admittedly limited, so this occasion stood out and hopefully there will be more interest generated in my service project in my next year of service and perhaps she will spread the word about the project to friends and family who are also interested in local history. I hope to achieve this by planning some days to demonstrate the project to the public and continuing to put the word out on social media which could result in having more similar great stories to share as a result.
Josh Wanstreet is the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with the Elkins-Randolph County Public Library during the 2021-2022 service year.
At the end of March 2022, Preserve WV AmeriCorps members participated in a windows restoration project at Pricketts Fort State Park in Fairmont, WV. Restoration was completed on five of the windows in the Job Prickett house. The farmhouse was constructed in 1859 by Job Prickett, the great-grandson of Captain Jacob Prickett, and it is located just outside the recreated 18th century fort.
The first portion of the project consisted of a two-day workshop led by Derrick Smith of Belmont College and the Smith Family of Workshops LLC and Kellie Ahmad of Rust Belt Restoration LLC. Preserve WV AmeriCorps members were joined by AmeriCorps members from the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area and members of the public for the training. During the workshop participants received instruction on window anatomy, repair tools and techniques, and the care of historic wooden windows. The group then worked to assess the condition of the Job Prickett house windows and remove those selected for restoration work.
Instructors Smith and Ahmad then led the group through hands-on training in the process to remove old glazing, clean the glass panes, remove the paint and make any necessary epoxy repairs, replace the glass panes, re-glaze the windows, and then prime and paint the sashes.
After two-days of training, Preserve WV AmeriCorps members completed two additional workdays to sand, repair, and re-glaze the ten window sashes (two per window) under the guidance of Kellie Ahmad. The first day the members worked on removing the old glazing from each pane and cleaning each piece of glass, sanding the sashes, and making any necessary repairs. After letting the epoxy repairs dry overnight, on the second day members finished sanding and scraping the sashes, replaced any broken panes of glass, and re-glazed the windows. By the end of the workdays the group had all ten sashed finished and set up for drying as the glazing takes several weeks to set up and completely dry.
Three weeks later, in late April, three Preserve WV AmeriCorps members returned with Kellie Ahmad to paint and reinstall the restored windows into the Job Prickett house. At the end of a long day of painting and scraping paint off the glass panes, the group reinstalled the five windows back into place.
Through this training opportunity AmeriCorps members learned hands-on restoration skills and provided important volunteer service to Pricketts Fort to assist them in preserving their historic structures.
dr. kathleen thompson
Kathleen (Katie) Thompson serves as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member for the Clio Foundation during the 2021-2022 service year.
Bluemont Cemetery Cleanup
The Taylor County Historical and Genealogical Society hosted a clean-up of the Bluemont Cemetery on Saturday, April 9, 2022. The project was led by Megan Nielson, the current 2021-2022 Preserve WV AmeriCorps member. Each AmeriCorps member is required to complete two civic service projects in the community that they are serving. Ms. Nielson was born and raised in Grafton, West Virginia, and wanted to find a way to bring pride to her hometown, especially before Memorial Day.
Assisted by the Taylor County Historical and Genealogical Society, Taylor County Corrections, and Leer Mine, Ms. Nielson and those who volunteered picked up any trash and tree limbs that littered the property. Ms. Nielson felt this project was important because of the depth of historical graves that are located in this cemetery. You can find the husband and a son of Anna Jarvis, the woman who established Mother’s Day, and the man who reportedly did the autopsy on John Wilkes Booth. It is also believed that there are individuals who died in the Buffalo Creek disaster buried here.
The history that surrounds Bluemont Cemetery is vital to the pride of Grafton, West Virginia. The cemetery itself was donated by a Mr. Blue. Grafton, West Virginia has a rich history that is consolidated within this one cemetery, including an African American woman who endured Jim Crow, but had her forgiveness etched onto her grave for all to see and know her story.
Despite the cold weather during the clean-up, it was successful thanks to the hard work of the Taylor County Corrections volunteers and the dedication of the members of the Taylor County Historical and Genealogical Society. In the coming months of the 2021-2022 term, Ms. Nielson is excited to begin work on her second Civic Service Project and figure out how she can effectively serve the residents of Grafton.
Megan Nielson is the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with the Taylor County Historical and Genealogical Society during the 2021-22 program year.
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