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.
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