This Week in West Virginia History

May 26, 1888: City Founder Alfred Beckley Dies at 86

May 26, 2017
Alfred Beckley
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

  City founder Alfred Beckley died on May 26, 1888. It was his 86th birthday. He was the son of John James Beckley, the first Librarian of Congress and a political ally of Thomas Jefferson. With help from President James Monroe, Alfred Beckley received an appointment to West Point.

May 25, 1937: William Kendrick, Pioneer of West Virginia’s 4-H Program, Dies at 55

May 25, 2017

On May 25, 1937, William Kendrick, a pioneer of West Virginia’s 4-H program, died at age 55. “Teepi,” as he was nicknamed, was born in Alabama and moved to Morgantown to attend West Virginia University. In the decade before World War I, WVU had established corn clubs for boys and canning clubs for girls as a way to teach modern agriculture. Kendrick became the state agent in charge of these groups and adopted the 4-H name. He soon broadened the scope of the clubs beyond agriculture to emphasize various aspects of youth development.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  On May 22, 1861, Thornsberry Bailey Brown became the first Union soldier killed in battle during the Civil War. It occurred during a brief stand-off at Fetterman in Taylor County.

At the beginning of the war, both Union and Confederate forces were scheming to control the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which had arrived in Taylor County in 1857. The railroad would be a key to moving troops and supplies.

May 19, 1920: Miners, Baldwin-Felts Agents Killed in Matewan Massacre

May 19, 2017
West Virginia Focus

On May 19, 1920, one of the bloodiest events in the West Virginia Mine Wars unfolded in the Mingo County town of Matewan. Four months earlier, the United Mine Workers of America had launched a major campaign to organize southern West Virginia’s non-union coalfields. Along the West Virginia-Kentucky line, some 3,000 miners joined the union and were fired from their jobs. Hundreds had to leave their coal company-owned houses. Those who refused were evicted by the detested Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency.

May 18, 1932: Industrialist I.T. Mann Dies at 68

May 18, 2017
I.T. Mann
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Financier and industrialist I. T. Mann died in Washington on May 18, 1932, at age 68. As a young man, the Greenbrier County native apprenticed at his father’s bank. Then, in 1889, he helped organize the Bank of Bramwell in Mercer County. The bank became a financial pillar of the southern coalfields and attracted wealthy coal operators to the town. Bramwell soon achieved the distinction of being the “richest small town in America.”

Minnie Buckingham
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

  On May 15, 1886, Minnie Buckingham was born in Putnam County. She later moved to Keystone in McDowell County and married E. Howard Harper, who was elected to the legislature in 1926. When Harper died in the middle of his term, the county Republican executive committee unanimously recommended Minnie to replace him. In January 1928, Governor Howard Gore appointed Minnie Buckingham Harper to complete her husband’s term, making her the first African-American woman in U.S. history to serve in a state legislature.

May 12, 1971: Nurse Col. Florence Blanchfield Dies at 87

May 12, 2017
 Florence Blanchfield
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Colonel Florence Blanchfield died in Washington on May 12, 1971, at age 87. She was born in Shepherdstown in 1884, the daughter of a nurse and a stonecutter. After training as a nurse in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in 1917 and served in France during World I.

May 11, 1930: Artificial-Heart Researcher John C. Norman, Jr. Born in Charleston

May 11, 2017
 John C. Norman, Jr.
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Physician John C. Norman Jr., a pioneer in artificial-heart research, was born in Charleston on May 11, 1930. His father was West Virginia’s first licensed African-American architect.

Norman was valedictorian of his class at Charleston’s Garnet High School in 1946. He went on to Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1954. As a surgeon at Boston City Hospital in the 1960s, he began researching organ transplants and, in 1967, successfully transplanted the spleen of a healthy dog into a hemophiliac dog. He also started experimenting with a battery-operated pump for heart patients.

May 8, 1892: U.S. and Confederate Congressman Alexander Boteler Dies

May 8, 2017
 Alexander Boteler
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

U.S. and Confederate Congressman Alexander Boteler died on May 8, 1892, shortly before his 77th birthday. Before launching his political career, Boteler was a farmer and the owner of a hydraulic cement plant on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown. He entered the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig in 1859. That same year, he interviewed John Brown extensively after Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. A skilled artist, Boteler also made a sketch of the imprisoned abolitionist.

May 5, 1923: Golfer Bill Campbell Born in Huntington

May 5, 2017
Bill Campbell
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Golfer Bill Campbell was born in Huntington on May 5, 1923. He would win more than 30 championships over seven decades, establishing him as one of the greatest amateur golfers in history.

  His father introduced him to the game when Bill Campbell was only three. At age 15, he played in his first U.S. Amateur Tournament, where he met Sam Snead. Snead would become first a mentor and then lifelong friend to Campbell.

May 4, 1896: Children’s Home Society of West Virginia Founded in Charleston

May 4, 2017
Children's Home Society of West Virginia
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On May 4, 1896, the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia was founded in Charleston. The Society was part of a national movement to place orphaned and neglected children with caring families, rather than crowding them into county poorhouses, where children often lived in squalor, with conditions resembling a Dickens novel.

May 1, 1930: Labor Leader Mother Jones Celebrates 100th Birthday

May 1, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

On May 1, 1930, labor leader “Mother” Jones celebrated her 100th birthday at a party in Maryland. The firebrand did what she did best: ruffle feathers. On this occasion, she denounced the nation’s prohibition on alcohol, saying it violated her right as an American to drink beer instead of water.

April 28, 1924: 119 Miners Die in Benwood Mine Explosion

Apr 28, 2017
Graveside service for miners lost in Benwood coal mine
e-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

 A little after 7 a.m. on April 28, 1924, miners at Benwood in Marshall County were preparing their work areas for their daily shift. One miner approached a roof fall, thinking incorrectly that it’d been examined by the fire boss.

His open light ignited firedamp, which is an explosive mixture of methane and air. An explosion ripped through the mine, which was dry and dusty with poor ventilation and sprinkling practices. The explosion spread quickly, and slate and debris blocked portions of the main entry.

April 27, 1978: Willow Island Disaster Leaves 51 Men Dead

Apr 27, 2017
e-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia
WV Division of Tourism, David Fattaleh

On April 27, 1978, a disaster at Willow Island in Pleasants County left 51 men dead.

The workers were building a cooling tower at the Monongahela Power Company’s Pleasants Power Station. They were working on scaffolding 168 feet above the ground when it plunged to the ground. Most of the 51 victims were local construction workers. One unfortunate family lost four of five sons, a brother, two brothers-in-law, and three nephews.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Civil rights leader Leon Sullivan died on April 24, 2001, at age 78. The Charleston native graduated from Garnet High School and West Virginia State College before being trained in the ministry at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. In 1950, he became minister of Philadelphia’s Zion Baptist Church. During his 38 years at Zion Baptist, the church grew into one of the nation’s largest congregations.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Traditional musician Phoeba Cottrell Parsons was born in Calhoun County on April 21, 1908. When she was 10, she picked up her brother Noah’s banjo. She later recalled of that moment, ‘‘He didn’t want me to play because he was afraid I’d beat him.’’ She soon became accomplished not only at the banjo but also at singing ballads, telling stories and riddles, flatfoot dancing, and playing the fiddle sticks.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Poet Irene McKinney was born in Belington in Barbour County on April 20, 1939. She earned degrees from West Virginia Wesleyan College and West Virginia University and, in 1976, published her first book of poems, The Girl with the Stone in Her Lap. She served as director of creative writing at West Virginia Wesleyan and, in 1984, published another poetry collection entitled The Wasps and the Blue Hexagon.  The next year, she won a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and other prestigious honors.

Frank Leslie / wikimedia Commons / user: Btphelps

On April 17, 1861, Virginia politicians voted to secede from the Union. The move came just days after the Civil War had erupted at Fort Sumter and after President Abraham Lincoln had called for 75,000 volunteers. For months, Virginia and other states in the Upper South had refused to join the new Confederate States of America. But, Lincoln’s call for volunteers tipped the balance.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via West Virginia & Regional History Collection

On April 14, 1875, Hallie Davis married Stephen Elkins, bringing together two powerful political families. Hallie Davis was the eldest child of Henry Gassaway Davis, a U.S. senator and one of West Virginia’s richest men. She grew up primarily in the Mineral County town of Piedmont and in Frederick, Maryland. When she met Stephen Elkins, he was serving as a delegate to Congress from the New Mexico Territory. They later lived in Washington and New York.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Attorney and presidential candidate John W. Davis was born in Clarksburg on April 13, 1873. The Democrat launched his political career in the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1899, and was elected to Congress in 1911. He resigned shortly into his second term to become U.S. solicitor general and later served as President Woodrow Wilson’s ambassador to England.

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