Skip Navigation

(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Volume 52 "The Nearly Perfect State":
Governor Homer Adams Holt,
the WPA Writers' Project
and the Making of West Virginia:
A Guide to the Mountain State

By Jerry B. Thomas

Volume 52 (1993), pp. 91-108

One of the enduring products of the New Deal era has been the series of state guides produced by the Writers' Project of the Works Projects Administration.1 Even after fifty years, many of the guides, including the one on West Virginia, remain valuable. West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State, a brightly written, informative and entertaining compendium of folklore, history, geography and recommended tours, is among the best books ever written about the state.2

Perusing the Guide today, it is difficult to understand why, as it was being prepared for publication in the years 1939-41, it provoked almost hysterical concern among some politicians, especially Governor Homer Adams "Rocky" Holt, and in the press. Attempting to prevent its publication, Holt charged that the manuscript, "propaganda from start to finish," discredited the state. He protested to WPA officials and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Nation, the New Republic and nationally syndicated columnist Drew Pearson picked up the story and accused Holt of attempting to censor the West Virginia Guide. For months the manuscript reposed in limbo, its publication in doubt, while the debate raged between Holt and his consultant Roy Bird Cook on one side and the West Virginia Writers' Project and its federal officials on the other.

Previous accounts of the dispute have suggested that Governor Holt and his antagonists reached a compromise in the end.3 In fact, Holt never accepted anything but a severely purged version of the manuscript. The final version of the Guide, including the complete chapter on labor history which Holt never approved, took shape only after Holt left office in 1941. Several other states' guides caused political disputes and faced difficulties, but the West Virginia Guide, one of the last three to be published, was one of the most troublesome to federal officials.4

A native of Lewisburg, Holt graduated from Greenbrier Military School and earned his bachelor of arts from Washington and Lee University. In 1918 and 1919 he served in the Coast Artillery and in 1920 he returned to Washington and Lee to earn a bachelor of law degree. Holt taught briefly in the Washington and Lee law school before establishing a law practice in Fayetteville. Although only thirty-two, he was elected attorney general in the Democratic sweep of l932. Four years later he was elected to succeed Herman Guy Kump as governor.5

The debate over the West Virginia Guide involved several issues, not the least of which was the appropriate historical subjects to be covered and more particularly whether the struggles of workers and unions were legitimate history. The leadership of both major political parties in West Virginia had long clung to the notion that organized labor, especially among miners, was a deadly conspiracy to be ignored publicly and suppressed privately. Legitimizing labor by acknowledging its importance along with heroes of the frontier or Civil War was a bitter pill for the established political community to swallow.

The Guide project also became entangled in the intense factionalism that racked the Democratic party. Neither Holt nor his Democratic predecessor Kump welcomed New Deal labor and relief policies, including WPA, the parent agency of the Writers' Project. By the mid-1930s, the state Democratic party split, pitting the statehouse faction of Kump and Holt against the federal faction led by United States Senator Matthew Mansfield Neely. The statehouse Democrats, old-fashioned states' rights conservatives, resented federal power, barely tolerated New Deal reforms and feared the rising political clout of organized labor. Nonetheless, they eagerly sought to bask in the reflected glow of Franklin D. Roosevelt's popularity. The centralization of state government resulting from the 1932 Tax Limitation Amendment increased the already substantial patronage available to the ruling party in Charleston and helped to keep the gears of the statehouse machine well oiled. Neely's federal Democrats, at least rhetorically, embraced the New Deal, allied themselves with the increasingly powerful state labor movement and reaped the patronage benefits of loyalty to the national party. The meteoric rise and fall of maverick Rush D. Holt, "the boy Senator," further complicated the battle of the contending factions. Holt first attacked the statehouse machine, but finding Senator Neely in a commanding position in federal matters, began to attack Neely and the New Deal as he careened from the left to the right of the political spectrum during his 1935-41 U. S. Senate term.6

Continued national economic insecurity and concerns about totalitarian regimes abroad, joined with the increasingly rancorous factional fight in West Virginia, generated a supercharged political atmosphere. In the summer of 1938, Texas Democrat Martin Dies, chairman of the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities, allowed witnesses to make unsupported charges of subversion against individuals, newspapers and organizations, including such dubious targets as Shirley Temple, the Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls. The Dies Committee also investigated alleged radicalism within the Writers' Project of the WPA, and Dies accused the state guides of being vehicles for "material along the lines of class struggle and class hatred."7 Although many labor leaders and New Dealers thought the committee a modern witch hunt, Governor Holt believed it did necessary and patriotic work. When John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers' leadership in West Virginia supported an effort to defeat Dies in the 1938 election, Holt cited it as evidence of their "totalitarianism."8

The WPA, designed to provide work relief for the able-bodied unemployed, established the Writers' Project in 1935 to provide work for unemployed writers and teachers. The Guide was the largest undertaking of the Writers' Project in West Virginia and by November 1938, when Bruce Crawford became director of the West Virginia Writers' Project, the Guide was nearly complete. Four directors had preceded Crawford, and only his immediate predecessor John L. Stender had held the position for more than a few months. Correspondence in the agency's files suggests that state WPA director Witcher McCullogh, Senator Holt and Senator Neely all sought to control the postion. It is unclear who sponsored Crawford, but it was almost certainly Senator Neely.9

Crawford, who became a central figure in the fight over the Guide, was a World War I veteran who had turned to journalism after the war. During the early days of the Depression, he edited and published Crawford's Weekly, a crusading left-wing labor newspaper in Norton, Virginia. In July l931, he achieved some national notoriety when he was shot in the leg by an unknown assailant while providing sympathetic coverage to the National Miners' Union in Harlan, Kentucky. Four months later he returned to Kentucky with Theodore Dreiser and others of the National Committee for Defense of Political Prisoners seeking to publicize conditions in the coalfields. After his weekly failed during the Depression, Crawford worked as editor of the Bluefield, West Virginia, Sunset News, a Democratic afternoon paper owned by the Republican Shott family. As Crawford later remembered it, Democratic friends knew he was "kind of tied down by the Republican ownership" and helped him obtain the job as director of the Writers' Project.10

Under Crawford's leadership, the West Virginia staff added some original essays and extensively revised the Guide manuscript in accordance with editorial suggestions made by the national office. In May 1939, Crawford reported to his superiors that the Guide would be completed in July 1939 and that the writers would then work on a West Virginia encyclopedia and other projects.11 Crawford's projected completion date proved too optimistic, because the project soon ran into serious problems. WPA regulations required that each publication have a sponsor who would contract with a private publisher. Crawford's predecessor had arranged with Governor Holt for the Conservation Commission to sponsor the state Guide. Governor Holt appointed Roy Bird Cook, a Charleston druggist and avocational historian, to assist the Conservation Commission in reviewing the manuscript. Cook, something of an authority on frontier history and Stonewall Jackson, read the manuscript carefully and critically and was troubled by its content. Among other things, he thought it improper to discuss such matters as "the so-called armed miners' march," labor trouble in Logan County, living conditions in coal company camps, "frivolous statements such as `tobacco spitting loafers on the steps of the Post Office in Charleston'" and "slurring allusions" to former governor William G. Conley and other prominent persons in the state.12

As the sponsor for the project, the director of the Conservation Commission Major H. W. Shawhan routinely signed a publication contract with Viking Press in February 1938. Viking, however, tired of delays and dropped the project. In June 1939, Oxford University Press agreed to publish the Guide and sent Major Shawhan a contract which, under Governor Holt's orders, Shawhan refused to sign. Crawford reassured Shawhan repeatedly that the sponsor would have final review of the manuscript. Holt, however, worried whether all of the material proposed to be published would be submitted for review.13

In an attempt to liberate the manuscript from the uncooperative Conservation Commission, Crawford arranged with Superintendent of Education William Woodson Trent for the State Board of Education to assume sponsorship. Trent, an elected rather than an appointed official and therefore unbeholden to Governor Holt, was also sympathetic to the federal faction of the Democratic party. Hearing of the proposed change in sponsorship, the governor angrily protested to the state director of the WPA that Crawford deliberately sought to circumvent the governor and the critical review of the Conservation Commission and Roy Bird Cook.14

A major reason for the governor's uncooperative attitude was his concern about Crawford's radical past, no doubt inspired by allegations of radicalism in the Writers' Project made by the Dies Commission. In late August 1939, an article by Calvert L. Estill, a Republican writer for the Ogden Press and former director of the state Unemployment Relief Administration, appeared in several state newspapers of the Ogden chain. Estill claimed that the West Virginia Guide was ready for the printers but the copy submitted to the sponsor "contained matter so objectionable, so seditious and perhaps so libelous that large sections were deleted." According to Estill, Crawford refused to be directed by the sponsor's wishes, so the state refused to sponsor the Guide.15

Estill also charged that "the exposures made during the recent session of Congress that the whole WPA writers' project has been shot through with every tint and taint of radicalism" raised questions about Crawford and the West Virginia Guide. Suggesting that Crawford was selected because of his revolutionary ideas, Estill produced as evidence an editorial by Crawford that first appeared on May 16, 1931. Crawford, then editor and owner of Crawford's Weekly,had written: "If the workers are ever to better their condition, if our so-called society is ever to be a real society, the working people, including all who contribute to the quality of life, must get political control, or gain sufficient power to call a general strike and thereby set up a producers' dictatorship." Estill's account further noted that "copies of the editorial . . . have been sent to Washington to be handed over to the Dies Congressional Committee investigating unAmerican activities."16

In late September 1939, Holt carried his protest to higher authorities, sending letters to President Roosevelt and to F. C. Harrington, national administrator of the WPA. Holt informed the president that he did not recognize the superintendent of schools as a responsible person for the purpose of sponsoring the state Guide and wrote "to object most seriously to the publication of this work. I have reason to withhold my confidence from a work . . . prepared under the direction of Mr. Bruce Crawford, the present state director of the Federal Writers' Project." He explianed to F. C. Harrington that "parts of the manuscript are open to serious question and, without reason, are distinctly discreditable to the State of West Virginia and her people and . . . improper for incorporation in a book designated as a guide to West Virginia."17 On the same day that he sent letters to the president and to Harrington, Holt called Superintendent Trent into his office and warned him to "refrain from permitting any reproduction of the seal of the State or any other words or symbols indicating that this work has any official or semi-official character."18

In early October, Governor Holt rejected reassuring letters from President Roosevelt, Harrington and state WPA administrator Joseph N. Alderson. He said it was no solution to have galley proofs submitted to his office with the understanding that any objections which he might raise "will be given careful consideration." As he explained to the administration, "it is obvious that such 'careful consideration' as might be given to any suggestion made by me, or by any representative selected by me, would be 'careful consideration' and nothing else. Such 'careful consideration' would never result in any correction to this work."19

Crawford and his counterparts in the Federal Writers' Project and at Oxford University Press would have been content with Trent's sponsorship, but they could not afford to offend Governor Holt, whose cooperation was essential to many federal programs in the state. President Roosevelt reassured Holt that the WPA would address his concerns. Colonel Harrington sent the new national director of the WPA Writers' Project John Dimmock Newsom to Charleston to meet with the governor "and to work out a satisfactory solution."20

Meanwhile, Calvert Estill's newspaper campaign against the Guide grew more shrill. Claiming the Guide "blackens the character of West Virginia industrialists and attempts to smear the honor of the state itself," Estill praised Holt's efforts, but lamented that nothing had yet been done to stop publication. Estill reported Dr. Trent's willingness to sponsor the Guide, but said that Trent was "lured by the siren song sung by Van A. Bittner and the CIO." Estill asked: "Are the little schoolhouses of West Virginia being painted red? Not the red of the Red, White, and Blue, but the 'red' of Russia, the 'red' of the revolutionary?"21

Estill also applauded the appearance of the first issue of West Virginia History, a quarterly journal edited by Roy Bird Cook and published by the Holt-controlled Department of Archives and History. The new journal, he asserted, would help to immunize the public "against the spread of Communistic and alien propaganda such as is said to represent the general theme of the West Virginia Guide."22 Editor Ned Smith of the Democratic Fairmont Times perhaps reflected sober opinion when he suggested that the whole controversy was "rather foolish." Smith thought Holt "a bit over sensitive in defending his pet gods in the temple of Big Business," but believed some good might come of Holt's "crusade for downtrodden Industrialists" in the creation of West Virginia History under Roy Bird Cook's editorship.23

To Smith and others, the uproar over the Writers' Project Guide might have seemed foolish, but the conflict between the governor and a federal agency had the potential for much greater mischief. When they met in Charleston in late October 1939, Governor Holt warned John D. Newsom, the national director of the Writers' Project, that if Trent were allowed to continue as sponsor Holt would forbid all departments of state government to cooperate. Newsom, eager to resolve the impasse with the governor, agreed to return sponsorship to Holt's choice, Major Shawhan of the Conservation Commission. Alarmed by the virulence of the newspaper campaign against the Guide, Dr. Trent agreed to step aside as sponsor of the Guide if allowed to retain sponsorship of all other Writers' Project activities. Newsom and Holt also agreed that the national office of the Writers' Project would prepare and submit a complete copy of the manuscript to Major Shawhan, and any sections which failed to meet his approval would be corrected.24

Anticipating the possibility of further attacks on Crawford's radical past, Newsom suggested that Crawford address the issue in a letter to the state WPA administrator, explaining at length his current views on political, social and economic matters. In his statement, Crawford rejected the anti-democratic tone of his 1931 editorial. He noted that "in the dark days of Herbert Hoover," many people were saying desperate things. Things had changed since then and "as a result, faith has been restored . . . in the liberties, in our educational system, in the ability of labor unions to have contracts with anti-labor employers, in Liberalism, and in the ability of mankind to determine its fate." He also asserted that "heresy hunts are contrary to the spirit of democracy."25

After reaching agreement with the governor, Newsom reported that Holt's protests had arisen from the mistaken conviction that a conspiracy had been hatched by the WPA and Dr. Trent, "acting in conjunction with, if not under the direct control of, the CIO and other radical organizations." He noted that the governor's protests to Washington coincided with the bitter newspaper campaign against the WPA and Dr. Trent. Confident that the agreement worked out among the parties had convinced the governor that his suspicions were without foundation, Newsom believed that "in consequence a much healthier atmosphere prevails today in West Virginia."26 He was too optimistic.

On November 17, an account of the Newsom-Holt meeting appeared in the "Washington Merry-Go-Round" syndicated column by Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen. The article called the meeting a "stormy pow-wow" in which the governor "threatened to withhold cooperation with the WPA unless he got his way." An infuriated Holt fired off a round of letters to Newsom, Alderson and presidential aide Edwin Watson. He denied any threat of withholding cooperation and insisted that the meeting had been "harmonious and pleasant." "I have no idea of who prompted these gentlemen to prepare an article on this subject," he said in writing to Newsom, but he had his suspicions. "You probably will recall my mention in the conferences which you and I held with Mr. Alderson, of the introduction of certain outside influences in this work. To me the tenor of this article suggests such influences as a possible source. . . ." Presidential aide Watson recommended that Holt ignore such things in the press.27

On November 29, the New Republic, under the heading "The Nearly Perfect State," reported that the "threat of drastic censorship" hung over the West Virginia Guide. Like the "Merry-Go-Round" column, the New Republic article claimed that Holt won control of the unpublished manuscript by threatening that his administration would cease to cooperate with the WPA unless allowed to delete material "scurrilous, discreditable, and detrimental to our state." The article suggested that the governor meant to eliminate the labor history of the state. "Any book on West Virginia that failed to mention Mother Jones, the Logan Armed March, and the Weirton strikes would not be a guide, but a fairy story," the New Republic concluded.28

Where Drew Pearson and the New Republic obtained their information is unclear, just as it is uncertain who was providing Calvert Estill and the conservative press with material about the WPA, the Guide and Bruce Crawford. It appears that both sides in this battle were "leaking" to the press. In any case, the publicity undermined the tenuous compromise engineered by Newsom.

As part of the compromise, Holt had reluctantly agreed that Dr. Trent would continue to be a sponsor of other state writers' projects. However, he ordered authorities at the State Department of Archives and History and West Virginia University to refuse to co-sponsor projects conducted by the Historical Records Survey unit of the WPA if Dr. Trent were involved on the grounds that the superintendent of free schools had no authority over these departments.29

As 1939 came to a close, the issue remained unresolved. Shawhan received the manuscript in December, and at Governor Holt's invitation Bruce Crawford visited his office to discuss a foreword for the Guide which the governor had agreed to write. Newsom, who had been on a western trip, wrote to Holt agreeing that the accounts of their meeting were inaccurate, remembering "you received me with the utmost kindness and courtesy." That the sponsor should approve the manuscript before publication was not censorship, said Newsom, it was just "plain commonsense." Noting that the manuscript was now in Shawhan's hands, Newsom urged early approval: "Its publication, I am sure, will put an end to all the backstairs gossip."30

Still Holt refused to approve publication. In January 1940, Holt urged Newsom to return to Charleston to go over the manuscript with him. The governor said he was certain that Newsom was "not aware of the nature of the material that had been used." By this time, the national staff had carefully gone over the manuscript to ensure its accuracy and freedom from bias. Newsom requested written comments listing criticisms, but Holt refused to commit himself and insisted that Newsom come to Charleston, which he agreed to do, arriving January 31, 1940.31

When Newsom arrived in Charleston, he conferred with Bruce Crawford and Paul B. Shanks, who represented state WPA administrator Alderson. Crawford was extremely pessimistic about working out the impasse with the governor. He felt that every line of controversial matter had been excised from the text and any further deletions would rob the Guide of all significance. Shanks suggested that for the sake of peace it would be best to comply with whatever the governor wanted. A bad book would be better than losing the governor's support of many worthwhile WPA projects.32

After meeting with Crawford and Shanks, Newsom met privately with Holt to review the governor's criticisms. They first went over the photographs that had been selected for the book. A Farm Security Administration picture of a coal miner on his knees before a tin tub washing his hair "filled the Governor with indignation," for he believed it would suggest that West Virginians were without the benefits of modern plumbing. He protested a picture of robust children riding to school in an open truck - it would suggest that children in West Virginia "were herded to school like livestock going to market." He believed it misleading to show a picture of a Mexican miner, because there were few Mexicans in West Virginia, "a state proud of its Anglo-Saxon heritage."33

After his criticism of the photographs, the governor turned to the text itself. "The Governor read whole chapters to me," Newsom reported, "and I confess that, even though he was irritated by what he read, I was driven to conclude that he was either blinded by prejudice, or going out of his way to build up a case where no case existed." Holt considered the folklore essay in bad taste because it listed the herbs and barks used as remedies by mountain folk; he objected to a story about a farmer who stood on one hillside and used a shotgun to plant corn on the opposite side of the valley.34

In the history essay, Holt thought it an attempt to debunk local pride when the manuscript merely "alleged" that colonial heroine Anne Bailey had undertaken a perilous journey to obtain support for a besieged garrison. The treatment of Morgantown was unfair and untrue in suggesting that its beginnings saw more whiskey drinkers than churchgoers and that, in 1815, a minister and his congregation had left their church to watch the first steamer on the Monongahela River. In the treatment of Charleston, Holt believed it demeaning to mention panhandlers, flower sellers and tobacco chewers.35 Holt considered it "making heroes of scalawags" to name editors of labor newspapers "who had done little more for West Virginia than inflame the minds of otherwise peaceful men." Moreover, he believed it was unfair to all honest working men to mention that some fifty years past, a group of Italian immigrants had organized a Black Hand society and committed a number of crimes.36

The governor regarded as extremely unfortunate a reference to the role of outside capital in developing the state. Equally distasteful to him was a mention of coal operators' profits contrasted to miners' wages. He insisted that the reports of the Congressional committee that investigated the Hawks Nest Tunnel silicosis matter were unreliable, and Roy Bird Cook (who joined the conference in the afternoon) expressed the opinion that "many of the cases diagnosed as silicosis were probably not silicosis at all but tuberculosis."37

Accounts of the famous Miners' March, the role of Mother Jones in organizing miners and the Weirton steel strike also angered Holt. "In other words, the governor informed me, the manuscript was 'propaganda' from start to finish. . . . The whole tone of the book was objectionable. It lacked style, it lacked quality, it dealt with the sordid side of life instead of doing justice to the progressive spirit of the people of West Virginia."38

Holt and Cook told Newsom that Bruce Crawford was responsible for all the "subversive material" in the manuscript. The governor asked Newsom not to reveal to Crawford the content of their discussion because he was convinced Crawford was responsible for the negative publicity after their earlier conference. Holt and Cook felt the publicity had been harmful; they wanted the matter settled quietly and discreetly. Because they considered the manuscript of such poor quality, they thought it difficult to correct. However, if Crawford were replaced by a more trustworthy person, an arrangement might be made. In other words, the price for the governor's approval was the firing of Bruce Crawford.39

Unwilling to abandon Crawford, Newsom urged instead that the governor's consultant Cook confer with Crawford about objectionable material in the manuscript. With Holt's approval, Cook reluctantly agreed to take the matter up with Crawford, although he disliked even speaking to him and believed Crawford would ignore his suggestions. After leaving the governor, Newsom met again with Crawford and asked him to make whatever changes Cook recommended. Crawford agreed to do so, but continued to doubt the governor could ever be satisfied. In reporting the meeting to his superiors in Washington, Newsom also expressed pessimism. He was willing to accede to all of Holt's wishes but doubted whether Oxford University Press would publish a book which made no mention of the Miners' March or the Hawks Nest silicosis tragedy. Newsom was convinced "Governor Holt is making an issue out of the Guide Book solely for political reasons. He refuses to believe that Mr. Crawford is not a Red and will go to great lengths to damage his reputation. And beyond Crawford lies the question of all federal relief funds in West Virginia. . . ."40

After conferring with Cook and revising the manuscript, Crawford reported the changes to the governor. The photograph of the coal miner bathing over a tub was removed, Crawford told the governor, "since you think it might create the impression that none of our coal miners are acquainted with modern bath facilities." In its place was to be a coal tipple. Other "pictures of miners' children not considered typical" were removed in favor of some model mining scenes furnished by the West Virginia Coal Association.41

Crawford asked the governor to reconsider his objections to paintings by William C. Estler depicting scenes of an old-time church dinner and a rural baptizing, noting that both paintings had been awarded prizes at New York exhibits. As to the folklore essay, Crawford reported that objectionable legendary yarns would be deleted as the governor wished although "we did not think any reference to tobacco-spitting, gun-toting, feuding characters of another day would be construed as being even a mole on the preponderantly fine face of our state today." Such references were being deleted, however, "lest readers too provincial might take offense."42

The story of the Hatfield-McCoy feud was shortened as Cook believed it was based too much on hearsay. Also eliminated was reference to Holt's hometown of Lewisburg as a place with a tempo so slow that "bills are paid only once a year." All references to tobacco chewing were removed "because, as Dr. Cook pointed out, it looked like R. J. Reynolds was sponsoring the Guide!" Also deleted were references to "black singers with banjo and guitar yodelling mountain ballads on the streets of Charleston; young zealots of the legislature, fighting for their constituents finally capitulating to powerful lobbyists; Negro citizens of Charleston being subject to the wiles of the ward-heelers; and the paragraph on Weirton's 'monotonously dun and drab houses'."43

Holt's most serious objection remained the treatment of labor history, and Crawford reported that the account of these matters had been much compressed. Eliminated were quotations from the Congressional committee investigating the silicosis tragedy to the effect that "'the company used an antiquated circulating system, no respirators at all, no safeguards against dust concentration, dry drills instead of safer wet drills to save time and labor costs . . . etc.' You say the committee had no standing, and Dr. Cook compares the tragedy to disasters like 'cholera epidemics' or 'acts of God'."44

Crawford defended the labor essay, saying, "the best way to show the great progress achieved in this state was to contrast what was with what is. We tried to show that the pistol had been supplanted by the conference table as a means of settling disputes between employers and employees."45

Crawford, in addressing the basic disagreement as to the nature of the book,

felt . . . and most of the Guides have demonstrated, that this kind of book is not merely a guide to what may be encountered when you turn left at Cox's Corner on Route 60, but largely a guide to the state's historical, economic, social, and spiritual whereabouts. To present such information, it has been necessary to give a lot of pertinent detail. However, we have deleted parts which you say might needlessly offend some people.46

He added that "we sincerely feel that the revised draft will meet with your approval" and expressed a willingness to personally discuss "any further changes which you may deem necessary."47

Crawford's letter infuriated Holt. He told Newsom that it confirmed his suspicion that "one of the principal desires of some of those connected with this work . . . is to endeavor to build up some material for propaganda relating to the criticism of the manuscript by the sponsor, the sponsor's reviewer, and myself." Furthermore, the governor added, "this letter . . . follows rather closely the lines of thought reflected in the Pearson and Allen column, 'Daily Washington Merry-Go-Round,' relating to our previous conversation about this subject matter and the items appearing in the 'Nation' and 'The New Republic,' the tendencies of which of course are well-known to you." Unless there was a change of attitude on Crawford's part, Holt wished no further contacts with him.48

Newsom, whose patience and diplomacy were beginning to wear thin, replied to Governor Holt that he found it difficult to read into Crawford's comments "the motives you attribute to him." Newsom reminded the governor that the changes mentioned by Crawford were recommended by the governor in their last conference. Newsom at that time had "failed to grasp the derogatory implications in the excerpts you read." Moreover, Newsom said, "in all fairness to Mr. Crawford, I hesitate to construe as possible propaganda differences of opinion as to the relative significance of certain phases of our national life."49

Governor Holt and his consultant continued to insist upon purging offensive aspects of the state's labor history, and finally Crawford surrendered completely and "removed the historical passage on the Armed March, Mother Jones, the silicosis case, and the Weirton controversy. . . . Now that we have removed references that were deemed unflattering to the state, we trust that the picture is acceptable." On February 16, 1940, Crawford sent the purged manuscript to Major Shawhan, the official sponsor of the project.50

Holt, however, remained unmollified and increasingly suspicious. He wrote President Roosevelt's secretary Edwin M. Watson that there were "some matters relating to this work about which I believe you should know." These were matters "of more importance to your office than at this stage they are to the state of West Virginia." Holt asked Watson to secure from the WPA any report of the meeting between Newsom and Holt, suggesting any such report "would be of appreciable interest to you as well as to me," and he proposed to go to Washington when Watson might have secured the document. Holt did not spell out what would be of such interest to the White House, but the implication is certainly that he expected damaging revelations of radical conspiracy in the Newsom report.51

Meanwhile, the fate of the much-revised manuscript remained uncertain, and there is evidence that, with the prospect of a more favorable political climate looming in West Virginia, the national office simply marked time for awhile. In June 1940, the publisher suggested the manuscript was too long, but despaired of having to submit another revision to Major Shawhan. Newsom agreed and added "since we have had so much difficulty in connection with its sponsorship, we suggest that the manuscript be held in cold storage for a time. . . . It may be that time and the press of world events will play their part in modifying the West Virginia situation."52

By then it was clear that federal-faction leader Senator Matthew M. Neely would likely be the next governor of West Virginia. In the May 1940 primary, Neely, in a bitter campaign in which he denounced the "dictatorial" Holt administration, defeated statehouse-faction candidate R. Carl Andrews, and went on in November to vanquish easily Republican D. Boone Dawson in the general election.53

While these events transformed the political landscape in West Virginia, the expurgated version of the Guide manuscript slowly made its way toward publication. In February 1941, shortly after Neely's inauguration as governor, a member of Oxford's editorial department wryly noted that "the manuscript reads very well -- if one has an unquestioning nature. Perhaps, after all, it fulfills its purpose as a reflection of West Virginia idealism better this way than if it were the more realistic picture." Members of WPA Writers' Project national staff were weary of the delays and eager to get the book out.54

In mid-March 1941, Irene Gillooly, West Virginia director of the Professional and Service Division of the WPA, and Paul Becker, assistant supervisor of the West Virginia Writers' Project, sent urgent warnings to Oxford University Press that "certain important influences in this state desire major changes in the essay on Industry and Labor." They pointed out that "our state government, including our sponsors, has undergone a decided change in social philosophy since November 5, 1940."55

One result of the change in state government was that Bruce Crawford, erstwhile director of the West Virginia Writers' Project, joined the Neely administration as secretary of the West Virginia Publicity Commission. In his new role, Crawford became the new governor's agent in negotiations with the Writers' Project. On March 24, Crawford informed Oxford University Press that Governor Neely wished to see the galleys, and on April 11, he submitted, with Neely's approval, a slightly revised version of the original essay on labor which had been the main target of Governor Holt's ire. The "sanitized" version of the Guide had reduced the separate seventeen-page labor essay to but five paragraphs added at the end of the "Industry" essay. Now "Labor" was restored as a separate essay in essentially its original form.56

John D. Newsom was pleased at the turn of events in Charleston. He wrote Crawford to thank him for the labor essay and noted in ironic imitation of Holt's words of protest that after "careful consideration" he had added a few paragraphs. Crawford's response reflected his satisfaction: "I am sure that you will sigh with profound relief when this job is off the press. The chapter on labor has been a troublous one, indeed, but after all the book should be a better one now, whatever the former purgers may say. There is a little irony in the outcome, don't you think?57

There was more than a little irony in the outcome. One of Holt's chief initiatives as governor was to establish the State Publicity Commission, a body charged with countering negative publicity and promoting a positive image of the state. Now Crawford, whom Holt professed to believe undermined the state with subversive propaganda, headed the Publicity Commission and with Governor Neely's cooperation was able to restore many of the purged parts of the Guide.

Not all of the purged material was restored. Some of the more colorful descriptions, as well as some matters of substance cut at Governor Holt's insistence, remained out, including accounts of labor newspaper editors and the Black Hand Society crimes. For the most part, however, the final product was substantially what Crawford and the staff of the Writers' Project wanted. They anticipated having to answer "such wails as might arise from those who are wounded unto death by the effects of a little straight prose."58

Crawford's subsequent career belied Holt's concerns about him. After serving as director of the Publicity Commission, he moved on to work for the State Police as director of the Highway Safety Bureau. Later he founded the West Virginia Advertising Company, and until retirement in 1961, handled the political campaigns of Democratic candidates.59

Holt never returned to politics after his term as governor. A member of the Charleston law firm of Brown, Knight, and Jackson from 1941 to 1946, he then moved to New York where from 1947 to l953 he served as general counsel for Union Carbide, a firm for which he had demonstrated considerable solicitude in questioning the original account of the Hawks Nest disaster in the Guide manuscript.60

The enduring influence of the West Virginia Guide is not only that it gave the people of the state a useful and readable addition to their literature, but that, in the "troublous chapter on labor" it legitimized and authenticated the history of workers and unions, just as the New Deal was legitimizing collective bargaining and the unions themselves. Henceforth, histories of West Virginia had to include not only the frontier pioneers, Civil War heroes, statemakers and business leaders but also workers, their unions and accounts of those days when, as Bruce Crawford said, the pistol rather than the conference table prevailed in settling disputes among employers and employees.


1. The Works Progress Administation, established in l935 as the primary work relief agency of the New Deal, became the Works Projects Administation in a reorganization in the spring of l939. Jerre Mangione, The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers' Project, l935-l943 (New York: Avon Books, l972), 329. See also Marty Penkower, The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in Government Patronage of the Arts (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, l988).

2. Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in West Virginia, West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, l941). Reprinted in West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia, ed. by Jim Comstock,Supplemental Series, vols. 10 and 11 (Richwood, WV: by the editor, l974).

3. See Arthur C. Prichard, "'In West Virginia I Had More Freedom': Bruce Crawford's Story," Goldenseal 10(Spring l984): 34-37; John Alexander Williams, West Virginia: A Bicentennial History (New York: W. W. Norton, l976), 162-63.

4. Mangione, Dream and the Deal, 341, n.

5. William E. Hughes, comp., State Papers and Public Addresses, Homer Adams Holt, Twentieth Governor of West Virginia, January 18, l937 to January 13, 1941 (Charleston: Jarrett Printing, l941), v-vi.

6. Williams, West Virginia History, 163-66. Otis K. Rice, West Virginia: A History (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1985), 270-72. There are surprisingly few published accounts of 1930s politics in West Virginia. Starting places for the governors are published papers: Hughes, State Papers, Homer Holt; James W. Harris, comp., State Papers and Public Addresses of H. G. Kump, Nineteenth Governor of West Virginia, March 4, 1933- January 18, 1937 (Charleston: Jarrett Printing, l937). Two useful dissertations are Albert Steven Gatrell, "Herman Guy Kump: A Political Profile" (Ph.D diss., West Virginia University, l980) and William Ellis Coffey, "Rush Dew Holt: The Boy Senator, l905-l942" (Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, l970). There is no biography of the dominant political figure of the period, Matthew Mansfield Neely. The Franklin D. Roosvelt Papers at Hyde Park contain useful insights into West Virginia politics of the decade. See especially the frank political reports from West Virginia in OF 300, "Farley's Correspondence: West Virginia. . . ." Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.

7. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, l932-l940 (New York: Harper and Row, l963), 280-81; Mangione, Dream and the Deal, 297.

8. Hughes, State Papers, Homer Holt, 449.

9. Office memo, Harold Stein to "Miss Cronin," 12 January 1936, Bruce Crawford, "Report by Federal Writers Project of West Virginia as of May 31, l939," RG 69, Works Progress Administration, West Virginia, Box 2778, National Archives, hereafter referred to as RG 69, WPA.

10. Pritchard, "Bruce Crawford's Story," 36; See Theodore Dreiser's account of Crawford's shooting, Crawford's "Harlan County and the Press" and his testimony to the Dreiser Committee in Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields, Members of the National Committee for Defense of Political Prisoners (1932; reprint, New York: DaCapo Press, 1970) 5-7, 75-82, 121-29.

11. Crawford, "Report," RG 69, WPA, Box 2778.

12. Memo, H. W. Shawhan to Homer A. Holt, 21 September l939, Homer Adams Holt Papers, Box 1, West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University, hereafter referred to as Holt Papers.

13. Bruce Crawford to Florence Wilkinson, 7 September l939, RG 69, WPA, Box 2779.

14. Holt to Joseph W. Alderson, 12 October l939, ibid.

15. Clipping from Welch News, 28 August 1939, Holt Papers, Box 1.

16. Ibid.

17. Holt to Franklin D. Roosevelt, 21 September l939; to F. C. Harrington, 21 September l939, RG 69, WPA, Box 2779.

18. Holt to William Trent, 21 September l939, West Virginia Writers' Project Papers, Box 123, West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University, hereafter referred to as WV Writers' Project Papers.

19. Holt to Harrington, 3 October l939; to Roosevelt, 4 October 1939, RG 69, WPA, Box 2779.

20. Roosevelt to Holt, 18 October l939, Holt Papers, Box 1.

21. Clippings, unidentified newspapers, 19 October l939, ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Clipping, Fairmont Times, 20 October l939, ibid.

24. Memorandum, J. D. Newsom to Florence Kerr, 27 October l939, RG 69, WPA, Box 2778.

25. Crawford to Alderson, 26 October 1939, ibid.

26. Memorandum, Newsom to Kerr, 27 October l939, ibid.

27. Holt to Newsom, 17 November l939, to Edwin Watson, 17 November l939, to Alderson, 17 November l939, RG 69, WPA, Box 2779. Watson to Holt, 20 November l939, Holt Papers, Box 1.

28. Clipping from New Republic 101(November 29, l939): 153, Holt Papers, Box 1.

29. Alderson to Holt, 14 December l939, Holt to Alderson, 15 December 15 l939, ibid.

30. Newsom to Holt, 27 December l939, RG 69, WPA, Box 2779.

31. Memorandum, "Conference with Governor Homer A. Holt of West Virginia re manuscript of West Virginia Guide," 2, in Newsom to C. D. Triggs, 6 February l940, RG 69, WPA, Box 2778.

32. Ibid., 3.

33. Ibid. The photograph of the "Miner's Bath" appears following page 340 in the Guide. "The School Truck," appears following page 402. The Mexican miner does not appear in the final version.

34. "Conference with Governor Holt," 4, RG 69, WPA, Box 2778. The discussion of mountain remedies was retained in the final version, and although the story of the farmer does not appear, equally fanciful yarns do. See Guide, 136-41.

35. "Conference with Governor Holt," 4, RG 69, WPA, Box 2778. Although the Guide says nothing of "whiskey drinkers," the account of the first steamboat in Morgantown reports the date as 1826, and "church congregations unanimously arose, left ministers in the middle of their sermons. . . ." The account of Charleston mentions flower sellers but not panhandlers or tobacco chewers. Guide, 179, 251.

36. "Conference with Governor Holt," 4, RG 69, WPA, Box 2778. Neither "editors of labor newspapers" nor "black hand society" appear in the final version.

37. ibid, 4-5. The "Industry" essay says West Virginia industry "has been financed almost wholly by outside capital" and mentions the "disparity between profits and wages." Guide, 76, 81. The Hawks Nest tunnel was an engineering marvel and a major human disaster. Three miles long and up to forty-two feet in diameter, it was drilled through solid rock in the years l930-31 to supply water power to a Union Carbide and Chemical Corporation metallurgical complex. A recent careful account estimates that "over 700 men may have died in all -- 183 whites and 581 blacks." Martin Cherniak, The Hawk's Nest Incident: America's Worst Industrial Disaster (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, l986), 168-69. In l941, the tunnel's construction companies succeeded in forcing the publisher to remove from sale a fictional account of the disaster by the novelist Hubert Skidmore. Otis K. Rice, West Virginia, 259.

38. "Conference with Governor Holt," 5, RG 69, WPA, Box 2778. See Guide, 91-93.

39. "Conference with Governor Holt," RG 69, WPA, Box 2778, 6-7.

40. Ibid.

41. Crawford to Holt, 9 February l940, Holt Papers, Box 1.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid.

48. Holt to Newsom, 10 February 1940, RG 69, WPA, Box 2778.

49. Newsom to Holt, 29 February l940, Holt Papers, Box 1.

50. Crawford to Holt, 15 February l940, ibid.; Crawford to Shawhan, 16 February l940, WV Writers' Project Papers, Box 123.

51. Holt to Watson, 4 March l940, Holt Papers, Box 1.

52. Note, C. E. "by J. D. Newsom" to Philip Vaudrin, Editor, Oxford University Press, 5 June l940, RG 69, WPA, Box 2778.

53. Rice, West Virginia, 271-72.

54. Margaret Nicholson to Newsom (with initialed responses in margin), 7 February l941, RG 69, WPA, Box 2779.

55. Irene Gillooly and Paul Becker to Kerr, 15 March l941; Becker to Margaret Nicholson, 15 March l941, ibid.

56. Crawford to Oxford University Press, 24 March l941; Gillooly, Roy Lee Harmon and Paul Becker to Florence Kerr, 11 April l941, ibid.

57. Newsom to Crawford, 19 April 1941; Crawford to Newsom, 23 April 1941, ibid.

58. Unsigned "Editorial Note to West Virginia Guide Preface," ibid.

59. Pritchard, "Bruce Crawford's Story," 37.

60. Williams, West Virginia, 163; "Holt, Homer Adams," in Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, ed. by Robert Sobel and John Raine (Westport, CT: Meckler Books, l978), 1706-07.

Volume 52Volume 52

West Virginia History Journal

West Virginia History Center

West Virginia Archives and History