Last week, I wrote about Livia Poffenbarger and her work in Point Pleasant. This week, in the last article for Women’s History Month, I want to once again focus on past historians. Though, this time, it’ll be historians from the Bend Area.
It seems that every forty or so years, Mason County welcomes a new generation of historians. Also, interestingly enough, the new historians tend to be students of the old. Our story begins around the turn of the 20th Century, with Virgil Lewis and Livia Poffenbarger. Mason County was lucky to have two historians of such esteem, both of whom worked until their deaths.
The next generation arose in the 1940s and was led by Anna Frederica Lederer. Mrs. Lederer was born in 1867 to Catholic German immigrants Jacob and Frederica Lederer. She grew up in Mason, but her family frequently went to Pomeroy as they had the only Catholic church in the Bend Area. She attended school in Mason City, where she studied under Virgil Lewis and graduated around 1885. Sometime within the next twenty years, she gained her teaching degree and began teaching in the local schools, mostly Mason and Hartford. It isn’t certain, though it is likely, that she attended Union College in Mason and again studied under Lewis. While teaching, she wrote “The 19th Century Coal and Salt Drama of the Pomeroy Bend,” a book that combined the histories of every town in the Bend. This book was the first of its kind, at least for our side of the Bend, and it has served as the foundation of nearly every history written since it was published. Lederer, as was generally required of teachers in the early 20th century, never married and passed away in 1959.
Keeping to the trend, the next set of historians began their work about forty years later, in the 1970s and ‘80s. This time, the leader was Mrs. Mildred Chapman-Gibbs. Mrs. Gibbs was born in 1915 to Louis and Helen Chapman of Hartford and attended Hartford School until it came time for her to attend high school in 1928. By that time, Wahama had been organized, and students from Waggener, Hartford, Mason, New Haven, and Graham were all attending high school together. Mildred graduated around 1932. At both schools, one of her teachers was Mrs. Lederer. Like Mrs. Lederer, Mildred also went on to get her teaching degree and taught in the local schools for many years. Fast-forwarding to the 1970s, Mildred picked up where Anna Lederer’s work had ended and wrote individual histories for Hartford, New Haven, and Mason. Though, she didn’t stop there. Mildred was also the president of the Mason County History Book Committee, which oversaw the writing and publication of our first county history book in 1987. She continued writing about Mason County’s history until her death in 2000.
Now it’s 2018, 31 years after the county history book was published and well over forty years since Mildred Gibbs and her follow historians began their work. J.D. Vance, Elizabeth Catte, and numerous others are arguing over how to tell Appalachia’s story, and Mason County is due for another wave of history. Perhaps in this next generation, we’ll see not one, but multiple historians from our county leave their mark on that story.
Information for this article from the writings of Anna Lederer and Mildred Gibbs.
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be in May, with a date and location to be announced soon.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.