The Musical Million: The Ruebush-Kieffer Company, Singing Schools, and the Birth of Southern Gospel

By Gregg D. Kimball, Library of Virginia

Musical Million mastheadThe close of the American Civil War brought two young men back to a devastated Shenandoah Valley and an uncertain future. Aldine Silliman Kieffer had joined the Tenth Virginia Volunteer Infantry and campaigned with the Army of Northern Virginia until his capture and imprisonment in 1864. Waiting to greet him on his release from Fort Delaware was his brother-in-law and friend, Ephraim Ruebush, who had served in the Union Army. The war divided many Valley families, but Kieffer and Ruebush put the past aside and renewed their friendship.

Before the war, both had worked for Kieffer’s grandfather, the pioneering Mennonite music publisher and singing master Joseph Funk. Now Funk was dead and the business lay in ruins. These two men would revive Funk’s legacy and build a company that was the foremost publisher of sacred shape-note books in the nineteenth century South: the Ruebush-Kieffer Company of Singer’s Glen and later Dayton, Virginia, in Rockingham County. To honor that legacy, the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Chronicle website has launched a fully searchable run of the company’s music journal —The Musical Million: A Journal of Music, Poetry, and Chaste Home Literature. We give special thanks to Eastern Mennonite University and Simone Horst for facilitating the digitization of their copies of the journal. The Musical Million spread the Gospel of congregational shape-note singing far and wide and laid the groundwork for the proliferation of singing schools across the South.

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Shape-note hymnody came about because of a practical problem—Protestant denominations became convinced that the people of the church should praise the Lord through song, but how to accomplish this end was uncertain. Churchmen had long puzzled over how to lead congregational singing among the untutored and often illiterate. The first solution … read more »

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From Virginia Chronicle, One Century Ago: Three Dailies & Four Weeklies Report the End of the Great War

“It was a few minutes before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I stood at the window of my room looking up Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square, waiting for Big Ben to tell that the War was over. . .And then suddenly the first stroke of the chime. I looked again at the broad street beneath me. It was deserted. From the portals of one of the large hotels absorbed by Government Departments darted the slight figure of a girl clerk, distractedly gesticulating while another stroke of Big Ben resounded. Then from all sides men and women came scurrying into the street. Streams of people poured out of all the buildings. The bells of London began to clash. Northumberland Avenue was now crowded with people in hundreds, nay, thousands, rushing hither and thither in a frantic manner, shouting and screaming with joy. I could see that Trafalgar Square was already swarming. Around me in our very headquarters, in the Hotel Metropole, disorder had broken out. Doors banged. Feet clattered down corridors. Everyone rose from the desk and cast aside pen and paper. All bounds were broken. The tumult grew. It grew like a gale, but from all sides simultaneously. The street was now a seething mass of humanity. Flags appeared as if by magic. Streams of men and women flowed from the Embankment. They mingled with torrents pouring down the Strand on their way to acclaim the King. Almost before the last stroke of the clock had died away, the strict, war-straitened, regulated streets of London had become a triumphant pandemonium. At any rate it was clear that no more work would be done that day.”

–Winston Churchill (From The World Crisis 1911-1918, Vol. 2)

RTD Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)Alexandria Gazette Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)World News Nov. 11, 1918 (full front page)PlanetClinch Valley News Nov. 15, 1918 (full front page)Presbyterian of the South Nov. 13, 1918 (full front page)Big Stone Gap Post Nov. 13, 1918 (full front page)read more »

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Carpetbagger or Reformer?

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Portrait of Edward Daniels, courtesy of Board of Regents, Gunston Hall.

By Kevin Shupe, Senior Reference Archivist at the Library of Virginia.

In 1871 Massachusetts-born Edward Daniels became the editor of the state’s flagship Republican newspaper, the Daily State Journal. He had moved to Virginia just three years previously, purchasing Gunston Hall – the formerly grand estate near Mount Vernon that had once belonged to George Mason. Daniels undoubtedly brought a Northerner’s viewpoint to the newspaper. Not only had he spent 40 years residing in New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and most recently Chicago, he had also taken a leading role in agitating against slavery before the Civil War, was one of the founders of the Republican Party, and he had commanded a Wisconsin cavalry unit early in the war. Within a few months of taking over the newspaper, Daniels tried to win elected office. In 1871, he ran for a seat in the Virginia state legislature. A year later, he was the Republican candidate for a seat in U. S. House of Representatives. While he made a respectable showing, he lost both elections.

By all appearances, Daniels fit the stereotype of the dreaded carpetbagger — a Northerner who moved to the South after the Civil War, seeking to impose Northern political beliefs and looking to benefit from the chaotic post-war economy. This stereotype, conjured in the struggles of Reconstruction, remains a vivid censure, but it is one that in ways obscures the motives that brought Daniels briefly into the spotlight of Virginia politics. Daniels came of age in an era of rapid cultural changes, a seemingly progressive trajectory that envisioned a modern America grounded on economic and social equality. To that end he became a leading voice in a chorus of reformers who sought answers to the nation’s economic … read more »

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A Talent at the Starting Gate: Nell Blaine and the Monocle

Nell Blaine Photo Monocle 17 Mar 1939

The Monocle, 17 Mar 1939

Richmond’s John Marshall High and its outstanding student newspaper, the Monocle, have had a lot to be proud of over the years and a recent Style article reminded readers of just that, with a story on prominent artist and John Marshall alum, Nell Blaine.

Born in Richmond in 1922, Blaine attended John Marshall High during the late 1930s and worked on the Monocle’s editorial staff, contributing writings and illustrations. Known as a visual artist, her writings in the Monocle convey serious talent on the literary front as well. She also worked on other student publications, including the Recorder and El Aguila, a Spanish language newspaper created by John Marshall’s Spanish Club.  Below is an excerpt of one of her articles published in the Feb. 10, 1939 issue of the Monocle:

Nell Blaine 10 Feb. 1939 Monocle

Article Monocle Feb 10, 1939After high school, Blaine attended Richmond Professional Institute (RPI)—what later became Virginia Commonwealth University—where she studied art and served as associate editor of RPI’s newspaper the Postscript. Her artistic talent won her two Virginia Museum of Fine Arts traveling fellows, leading her to New York to study under artists Hans Hofmann and Stanley William Hayter. As the Style article points out, she also became the first art director of New York City’s beloved and long running Village Voice, designing its original masthead:

Voice mastheadAs an eminent “Marshallite,” Blaine’s name appears in the Monocle many times over the years from 1937 until well into the 1960s. To be exact, a search of “Blaine” in the Monocle in LVA’s Virginia Chronicle database turns up over forty articles written by or about her.  Long after Blaine’s graduation, the paper continued to report on aspects of her life from her rising art career to a bout with polio in 1959. Check out the Monocleread more »

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Assembling The Digital Page: Team VNP Attends National Digital Newspaper Program Conference In DC

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The Library of Congress, Madison Building. Meeting place for the 2018 National Digital Newspaper Program Conference.

What’s true of most conferences was true of ours last week in Washington:  An opportunity to share a common language with people of the same mission in the same space.  The space was provided by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the co-administrators and grant source for our Project and others across the country.  The mission, no longer young, now entering its thirteenth year, seeks to rescue from an unstable environment to a manageable digital home as many historical newspapers as possible.chronamThe circled total of pages on the screen shot above from the Chronicling America homepage is a number to which we’ve made a significant contribution already.   It’s always increasing and at least two hundred thousand of that increase a year from now will come from the Virginia Newspaper Project (VNP).  One half of that contribution will be additional Virginia newspapers prepared by VNP and the other from an ongoing partnership with West Virginia University in which we split responsibility-research and selection on their side, digitizing on ours.

The marquee is always changing on Chron Am.  That circled front page is one of ours, so we grabbed it for use here.  Perhaps an unnecessary reminder, but behind these digital newspaper pages is a busy, jargon-filled world.  To assist in the identification and navigation of digital images we employ such technical terms as Alto, METS Alto, Bagger, PREMIS, LCCN, JPEGS, Fixity Check, METS XML and that’s likely enough examples.  These terms of use speak to deliverables, the papers, and not directly to the maintenance of Chron Am itself.

The annual NDNP conference is proper reminder to its participants of the considerable effort the IT staff of the Library of Congress devotes to not merely the website’s current … read more »

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Reading Obituaries as Historical Texts

Reading Obituaries as Historical Texts

By Kim Bowman, LVA Summer Intern

On February 19, 1887, the Afro-American Churchman published an obituary for Reverend Samuel V. Berry.  From this entry, we learn how Rev. Berry received his calling, where his talents lay in his job, and how much his work was valued by his community.  This entry also tells us about the frequency with which he relocated for work and his major accomplishments with each move.  Just over a decade later, the Clinch Valley News published an obituary for Mrs. Eliza Young.  In it, the author briefly documented her life as an enslaved African American, as a mother, and as a nurse.

Obituaries are a fixture of many newspapers featured in Virginia Chronicle’s database.  When we take time to look closely at their contents, we not only get a sense of the individuals they describe, but also the time period within which they lived and died.  An attentive reader might ask why we learn so much about Rev. Berry’s work when the only mention of Mrs. Young’s years of service as a nurse is limited to one sentence.  These kinds of observations can help identify the expectations placed on people from different backgrounds living in past societies.  For example, in the 1800s, many communities tended to value women who focused on family and the home.  This may be why Mrs. Young’s career outside the home received little attention compared to Rev. Berry’s work.

A paired-text activity like this one can be a powerful critical thinking activity for students in a classroom or an important research experience for someone unearthing their family history.  So, next time you are reading the obituary section, ask yourself “What’s the focus here and why?”, “What might be left unsaid?”, “What opportunities might one person have … read more »

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Back to School

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

As the start of the K-12 school year looms, and college students gear up for their fall semester, the Library of Virginia peers back at how the back-to-school frenzy used to look in America’s historical newspapers.  Make sure to check next week on Chronicling America’s #ChronAmParty twitter page to see how newspapers from around the country announced back to school time.

RTD 1920-09-10 Back-to-School ClothesFirst thing’s first, kids: you have to have the right outfit.  As Burk & Co. said, going back to school isn’t easy after summer vacation, but “It’s easier on the boys if they go back wearing stylish new clothes.”  Buy Burk & Co. for “quality that saves money.”  Oh, and don’t forget to buy some new dresses “That’ll truly please [even] the most critical young school miss of six to fourteen years.”[1]

RTD, 1919-09-28 Energy-Giving Meals

And don’t forget the importance of a nutritious breakfast!  Mrs. M. A. Wilson of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reminded parents, “Chilly mornings and evenings mean that from now on the body will require additional heat and energy foods,” and she provides her own recipes for preparing calorie-packed breakfast cereals.  Kettle not included.[2]

Cohen Co. Back-to-School NeedsStudents needed just as many supplies for the classroom during the 1910s as they do now in the 2010s, but how did their parents get them in the era before Amazon…or any online shopping?  They shopped at the Cohen Company, of course!  Don’t forget your writing ink and gum for art class![3]

 

Times-Dispatch 1904-02-17 Proper EyewearI can testify from personal experience about the importance of being able to see well in the classroom.  Students with poor vision need prescription glasses, so that they can see the board and complete their homework assignments without struggling to read the questions.  Luckily, famous optician Charles Lincoln Smith is here to help.  The Times-Dispatch reported … read more »

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WWI Centennial Anniversary – “Queens of the Spy World”

By Kyle Rogers, LVA Newspaper Project volunteer

1917 War Poster – Beware of Female Spies

In recognition of the centennial anniversary of the Allies’ victory in World War I, the Newspaper Project remembers the “Queens of the Spy World Whose Intrigues Sway the Fate of Nations.”  As this melodramatic article published in 1918 by The Sun (New York, NY) demonstrates, women spies not only were instrumental in the gathering of military secrets but also made for sensational headlines on the homefront.  In “Queens of the Spy World,” The Sun compared the often tragic and short-lived espionage careers of Germany’s female agents during The Great War.

Germany’s extensive Wilhelmstrasse spy service included such femmes fatales as Felice Schmidt, Mlle. Sumey Depsy, Mata Hari, and Mme. Despina Storch.  The article describes how these women spies infiltrated the governments of the Allies by posing as teachers, courtiers, dancers, courtesans, and even the occasional fruit vendor.  Schmidt, for example, had herself exiled from Germany as a “suspicious character” in 1915, so that she could establish herself in London in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to seduce Britain’s Secretary of State for War, Horatio Herbert Kitchener.[1]  In The New York Evening World’s “Stories of Spies” section, Felice Schmidt – The German Spy Sent to Tempt Kitchener, reporter Albert Terhune elaborated on Schmidt’s story.  After realizing that it was impossible to pry military secrets out of Kitchener, Schmidt instead insinuated herself in Marseilles as an apple seller, so that she could study the French artillery.  After being caught by the French police while making a sketch of their guns, she was tried as a spy and put to death.[2]

One of the Allies’ most famous female spies was British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed by the German military for helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.  Her death by firing … read more »

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“By What Right?” Two Baptist Newspapers from Tazewell

TBCRecently, the Library of Virginia acquired two Baptist newspapers, the Primitive Baptist and the Tazewell Baptist, both from Tazewell, Virginia. The two papers share more than just denomination and place of publication: both are small format, measuring 9.5” x 12”, both issues are dated April 1890 and both are volume one, number four. It seems there was a rift in the Baptist Church and it played out in competing, and very similar, newspapers that began at about the same time. There is only one extant issue of each, so the duration of each paper is unknown.Baptist 2

Portrait of J. A. Leslie, from the Tazewell County Public Library Photograph Collection. Digital copy is available at the Library of Virginia.

The Tazewell Baptist, published by Rev. Joseph Albert Leslie, described itself as “Devoted to the work of the New Lebanon Association” and, among other causes, hoped to raise money for state missions. Leslie arrived in Tazewell to minister for the “fledgling flock” of the Tazewell Baptist Church and later served as a teacher at Tazewell College. The Primitive Baptist was published by John Newton Harman, Sr., also a teacher and one of the founders of Tazewell College. Harman’s newspaper espoused the ideas of the Primitive Baptist movement, a more conservative sect of Baptists, which claimed to adhere strictly to the teachings of the New Testament, with rules that forbade instrumental music, the collection of tithes and dancing, among others.

Page one of the April issue of the Tazewell Baptist posed the following question: “By What Right? We mean, by what right do our brethren assume the titles of “Regular” and “Primitive” Baptist? Do they mean that they are the only lawful representatives of the “first,” or “regular” Baptists of the New Testament, or even of America? We simply … read more »

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Extra, Extra! Virginia Chronicle Reaches 1,000,000 Pages!

VCVirginia Chronicle has surpassed a major milestone: 1,000,000 pages! Thanks to grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, agreements with publishers, cooperative projects, generous gifts, and continued support from the Library of Virginia, the Virginia Newspaper Project has added over 1,000,0001,000,000 newspaper pages to Virginia Chronicle–and looks forward to adding many more in the coming months. Recent additions include: 1879-1959 of the Northern Neck News of Warsaw, additional West Virginia titles and the Idle Hour of Glen Allen.

For newcomers, check the feature-laden menu that offers an alphabetical list of titles, a pin map of digitized newspapers, titles grouped by category and much more.

Visit often to see what’s new!NNNread more »

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