Skip to main content

Louise McNeill, Poet, Papers

 Collection
Collection Number: A&M.3201

Scope and Contents

Papers of Louise McNeill (Pease), 1911-1993, of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, noted twentieth century Appalachian poet and author, poet laureate of West Virginia from 1979 to 1993, and professor of history and English. Though most well-known for her lyrical poetry about the history and spirit of West Virginia, McNeill also wrote articles, short stories, essays, and her memoirs. Includes biographical materials, letters, writings, poems, photographs, audio-visual materials, artifacts, and personal materials documenting Louise McNeill's career as a poet and author and her personal life, chiefly from the 1970s to her death in 1993. Biographical materials include awards and certificates, biographies of McNeill, clippings, curriculum vitae, and other genealogical materials. Letters are from literary figures, political figures, family and friends. Prominent correspondents include Maggie Anderson, Rene de Chocour, Marion Havighurst, Walter Havighurst, and John D. Rockefeller IV. Writings and related materials include manuscript and typescript drafts of McNeill's books, loose poems, and other writings as well as book reviews, press correspondence, and marketing materials. Audio-visual materials consist of photographs of Louise McNeill, her family, and friends, and tributes to and interviews with McNeill on audio and video cassette. Collection also contains publications, artifacts, and personal materials.

There are eight series in this collection:
Series 1. Biographical Materials, 1860s, 1930s-2004 and undated
Series 2. Incoming Letters, 1936, 1950s-1993 (bulk 1970-1993)
Series 3. Writings and Related Materials, 1931-1993 and undated
Series 4. Audio-Visual Materials, 1900-1990s and undated (bulk 1965-1993)
Series 5. Publications, 1939-1993 (bulk 1974-1993)
Series 6. Financial and Legal Materials, 1981-1992 and undated
Series 7. Artifacts
Series 8. Oversize, 1961-1990 and undated


Series 1. Biographical Materials, 1860s, 1930s-2004 and undated, include awards and certificates; biographies of McNeill; newspaper clippings; curriculum vitae; genealogical materials related to the McNeill and Pease families; tributes to McNeill; and other items that record the history of McNeill's personal and professional life.

Awards and certificates document McNeill's status in West Virginia and include honorary degrees and programs from ceremonies honoring McNeill.

Newspaper clippings contain articles about some of McNeill's speaking engagements and her literary achievements (1961, 1972-1973) as well as poems that appeared in various newspapers from 1960 to 1982. Folders containing the original newspapers are followed by photocopies of each clipping.

Curriculum vitae from the early 1970s to 1992 trace the evolution of McNeill's teaching career and lists the publication of her poems and other writings. Several versions include handwritten annotations and revisions and also include the career of her husband, Roger Pease.

Genealogical materials include newspaper clippings, photographs, obituaries, military information, and other records about various members of the McNeill and Pease families. The items have been arranged by specific family members, including G.D. McNeill, James McNeill, Marietta McNeill, Thomas McNeill, Roger Pease, and Douglas Pease. Genealogical charts and information relating to the history of the McNeill family is filed under the family name. While most of the materials date from the 1940s to the 1980s, this section also includes James McNeill's Civil War diary.

This series also includes biographies of McNeill written by two graduate students; a transcript of a 1985 West Virginia Public Radio interview with McNeill; and McNeill's address book, library card, and blank writing materials.

Series 2. Incoming Letters, 1936, 1950s-1993 (bulk 1970-1993), document Louise McNeill's personal relationships, career as a poet, and the importance of poetry and writing in her life. Letters are almost entirely those sent to McNeill; only a few letters penned by the poet are scattered throughout the series. Also includes greeting cards, sympathy cards, holiday cards, and birthday cards. This series contains only a few letters before 1970, including a photocopy of a 1936 letter from Louis Untermeyer about publishing Louise's poems in American Mercury and a letter from Jesse Stuart in 1967 also supporting her poetry.

Letters are chiefly from 1970 to 1993 and fall into two primary categories: letters relating to writing and Louise's poetry and those written from relatives and friends that largely contain news about family members, social activities, and health issues (although they also may comment on Louise's poetry). General incoming letters are arranged in chronological order. Letters sorted and grouped by Louise McNeill and undated letters from Louise's parents can be found at the end of the series.

Many letters from 1970 to 1993 comment on McNeill's poetry and on her published works, particularly Paradox Hill in 1979, Milkweed Ladies in 1988, and Hill Daughter in 1991. Louise's most frequent correspondents include her friend Rene de Chocour; Maggie Anderson, a friend and editor of Louise's books; and Marion and Walter Havighurst. Anderson writes often about Louise's work, their relationship, and her own poetry. Walter Havighurst was Louise's mentor and a lifelong friend. He typically writes about Louise's poems and career as well as about his own work and family. Letters from these people span these three decades.

Letters from the 1970s also include one or two items from Jack Beard, John McCulloch, Archibald MacLeish, Wilbur Schramm, and Jimmy Carter (1976). In addition, letters and cards from 1977 and 1979 offer congratulations to Louise on being West Virginia Daughter of the Year in 1977 and on becoming Poet Laureate of West Virginia in 1979.

Materials from the 1980s also include letters from Stephen Vincent Benet, Devon McNamara, Arch A. Moore, Robert C. Byrd, and John D. Rockefeller IV, a long-time friend of McNeill's after both were honored by West Virginia in 1977.

Letters from 1990 to 1993 also provide additional documentation about Louise's career and role as poet laureate of West Virginia. They contain information about her participation in poetry anthologies, speaking engagements, and a radio production of Gauley Mountain as well as her payment as poet laureate and her reappointment in 1990. Items from this time include letters from Gaston Caperton, Larry Groce, Kirk Judd, and John D. Rockefeller IV.

Louise McNeill sorted some of her correspondence in manila folders. This original folder order has been maintained. Any information written on the envelopes has been photocopied and included at the front of each folder. Folder titles reflect the content but not necessarily the exact wording found on the envelopes.

The folder "Friends, Students, Faculty," contains letters from those groups of people and are almost entirely from the mid-1970s. Topics include Louise's poetry, Paradox Hill, G.D. McNeill, and personal news from family and friends. Of note are two letters from Robert Byrd in response to Louise's queries about impeaching Richard Nixon; notes and a letter written by Louise about Nixon; and a letter from Adlai Stevenson.

The folder "Precious Letters" contains a handful of letters about Louise's poems and her published books. Includes letters from Jesse Stuart, Archibald MacLeish, Rene de Chocour, and Marion Havighurst.

Series 3. Writings and Related Materials, 1931-1993 and undated, includes drafts of published collections of poetry and memoirs, an unpublished book, loose poems, and other writings. It chiefly contains drafts of three published books, Milkweed Ladies (1988), Hill Daughter (1991), Fermi Buffalo (1994), and the unpublished essays, "Three Shades of Blue." Drafts are both manuscripts and typescripts, some of which have handwritten annotations. This series also includes related materials such as book reviews, correspondence with the University of Pittsburgh Press, dust jackets, marketing materials, and notes for these books as well as a few such items for Mountain White (1931), Gauley Mountain (1939), and Elderberry Flood (1979). Drafts are organized in chronological order where possible.

Materials related to Milkweed Ladies date from the 1970s to 1987 and include early versions of the memoirs, when it was titled "Appalachian Heart." This subseries contains handwritten drafts, typescripts with annotations, a July 1987 typescript with comments on each chapter by Maggie Anderson, an August 1987 typescript, and related materials. Hill Daughter materials date from 1990 to 1992 and include both handwritten drafts of the included poems and McNeill's 1990 typescript copy of the publication. Materials related to Fermi Buffalo date from 1984 to 1993. This collection of poetry, which was published after McNeill's death in 1993, was initially called "Tumblebug." This subseries also includes science articles that may have influenced McNeill's work.

This series also contains drafts of an unpublished book of essays titled "Three Shades of Blue." While there is one draft of the introductory section, this subseries consists almost entirely of handwritten notes and typescript drafts of the two main sections, "Lorenzo Waugh" and "Lt. Glen Vaughan" and includes comments by McNeill about the work. Almost all of the material is undated, but seems to have been written in the early 1990s.

Also included are manuscript and typescript poems, composition books, and groups of poems organized and reviewed by McNeill. Loose poems are arranged in alphabetical order by title. Poems in folders 4-14 of box 9 were sorted into envelopes and labeled by Louise McNeill. Poems have been removed from the envelopes, but any information written on the envelopes has been photocopied and included at the front of each folder. Folder titles reflect the content but not necessarily the exact wording found on the envelopes. Within each folder poems are arranged alphabetically by title with untitled poems and scraps at the back of the folder. Almost all of the poems are undated. Since copies of the same poem may appear in multiple places, researchers are encouraged to review all folders that contain loose poems.

Series 4. Audio-Visual Materials, 1900-1993 (bulk 1930s-1993), consist of photographs, audio cassettes, and video cassettes. Photographs date from the early twentieth century to the 1990s and are arranged by subject and then by date when possible. Photographs include black-and-white and color photos; snapshots and portraits; and many unidentified people and places. They have been loosely arranged in the following categories: Louise McNeill (1930s-1990s), McNeill with family members (1942-1981); the Pease family (1965-1979); the McNeill family (1900, 1918, 1940s and 1981); identified and unidentified friends and family members, including Walter Havighurst, Robert Frost, and Louis Untermeyer (chiefly 1970s-1990s); homes and landscapes; and Navy battleships (1907).

Audio and video cassettes, 1975-1992 and undated, are related to McNeill's writing career and include both tributes to and interviews with McNeill. Topics discussed during the various interviews include McNeill's poetry and rural imagery, her life and family, and her teaching. The undated interview with Topper Sherwood focuses on McNeill's PhD from West Virginia University. McNeill speaks about her classes, her professors, teaching, and her poetry. This series also contains a video of the 1989 WVU Academy of Distinguished Alumni induction ceremony, which includes an introduction of Louise McNeill and McNeill's remarks.

Series 5. Publications are chiefly books related to West Virginia and poetry, and include several of McNeill's own works. Each book is listed individually in the full inventory. Works written by McNeill are Gauley Mountain, Hill Daughter, and Milkweed Ladies.

Series 6. Financial and Legal Materials, 1981-1992 and undated, contains materials related to McNeill's expenses as an author. Documents include royalty and honorarium invoices, receipts, phone bills, and other records of her costs. Materials were gathered in preparation of income tax returns, but do not include official tax documents. Legal materials include deeds and information related to McNeill's will. Access to this entire series is restricted without curatorial permission.

Series 7. Artifacts consist of several items belonging to Louise McNeill: binoculars, a name stamp, a Golden Horseshoe winner ribbon, and two handkerchiefs embroidered with her name. Artifacts have been stored separately in an oversize box.

Series 8. Oversize Materials include two honorary degrees, a copy of the West Virginia Hillbilly that featured McNeill's poems, a McNeill family genealogical chart, and a framed photograph of a cabin.

Louise McNeill sorted and organized many papers in manila folders. The original folder order has largely been maintained. Any information written on the envelopes has been photocopied and included at the front of each folder. Folder titles reflect the content but not necessarily the exact wording found on the envelopes.

Dates

  • circa 1861-1865, 1930-1993
  • Majority of material found in 1970-1993

Creator

Language of Materials

English

Conditions Governing Access

Requires signed form, since special access restriction applies.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. For more information, please contact the West Virginia and Regional History Center.

Biographical / Historical

Louise McNeill was born on 9 January 1911 on the family farm in Buckeye, in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, the daughter of Marietta Grace McNeill (1879-1961) and G.D. (George Douglas) McNeill, both also of Buckeye. Marietta McNeill was a teacher. G.D. McNeill, an author, historian, and teacher, was born on the family farm on 23 May 1877, the son of Confederate captain James M. McNeill and Fanny Perkins McNeill. He joined the U.S. Navy in the early nineteenth century, and served with the Great White Fleet in 1907 on the SS Glacier. G.D. McNeill received an undergraduate degree from Concord College and earned a master's degree from Miami University in Ohio. During his career in education he served as a high school principal; superintendant of Pocahontas County schools; and professor at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. G.D. and Marietta McNeill were married on 29 February 1903 and had four children: Ward K. McNeill, James W. McNeill, Louise McNeill Pease, and Elizabeth McNeill Dorsey.

Louise McNeill grew up on the farm that had been in her family since 1769 and attended the rural school house nearby. She graduated from Marlinton High School in 1927 and taught in the Pocahontas County schools during the 1930s. McNeill began to write poetry as a child, and as a young adult began publishing her work in national journals such as American Mercury, Atlantic Monthly, Christian Science Monitor, Farm Journal, Good Housekeeping, Harper's, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, and Saturday Review of Literature. Her first book of poetry, Mountain White, was published in 1931 in a limited edition of two hundred copies as a prize awarded by poetry magazine Stardust.

McNeill continued to write poetry and to further her education. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Concord College in Athens, West Virginia, in 1936 and then earned a master's degree in creative writing from Miami University in Ohio in 1938. Gauley Mountain (1939) served as her thesis. McNeill worked with Walter Havighurst at Miami and formed a lifelong friendship with both Walter and his wife, Marion. That same year, McNeill won an Atlantic Monthly poetry prize scholarship to the Bread Loaf School of English in Middlebury, Vermont, and she attended the school during the summer of 1938. Her third book of poems, Time Is Our House, was published in 1942 as part of the Bread Loaf Poets Series.

McNeill met her future husband, Roger W. Pease, while in Vermont. They were married in 1939 and had one son, Douglas M. Pease, in 1940. Roger W. Pease (1898-1990) was born in Ashfield, Massachusetts, on 2 August 1898, the son of Reverend C.B.F. Pease and Jessica Cole Pease. He attended the Loomis Preparatory School (now The Loomis Chaffee School) in Connecticut and then began studies at Yale University. He left the school to serve in World War I and returned to finish a degree in agriculture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in 1922.

Louise McNeill Pease and Roger Pease both attended the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop in the late 1930s and then the couple moved to Aiken, South Carolina, where he served as assistant headmaster and she taught at the Aiken Preparatory School from 1941 to 1946. Louise McNeill and Roger Pease returned to West Virginia after World War II and McNeill began her more than twenty-five year career as a professor of English and history. She also earned a Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 1959. McNeill taught at Fairmont College (1947-1948); West Virginia University (1948-1953); Potomac State College (1959-1962); Concord College (1962-1967); and Fairmont State College (1969-1973). She retired in 1973.

McNeill's poems regularly appeared in local and national publications throughout her adult life, but it was not until the early 1970s that she began publishing new collections of poetry. From a Dark Mountain was published in 1972 and was followed by Paradox Hill: From Appalachia to Lunar Shore (1972), Elderberry Flood (1979), and Hill Daughter: New and Selected Poems (1991). McNeill's memoirs, Milkweed Ladies, was published in 1988.

McNeill received numerous awards and prizes during her lengthy literary career. These include an Atlantic Monthly poetry scholarship, 1938; the Bread Loaf Publication Award for Time Is Our House; the West Virginia Library Association Annual Book Award for Paradox Hill; the Appalachian Gold Medallion award in 1988; and honorary degrees from Fairmont State College and West Virginia University, 1989. McNeill was also inducted into the WVU Academy of Distinguished Alumni in 1989.

Louise McNeill was also honored by her home state of West Virginia. In 1977 she was named West Virginia Daughter of the Year with Governor John D. Rockefeller IV as Son of the Year. This was the beginning of a lasting friendship between the West Virginians. In 1979, Rockefeller wrote the introduction to Elderberry Flood and named McNeill the second poet laureate of the state. McNeill also earned the honor of West Virginian of the Year in 1985.

Louise and Roger moved to Connecticut in 1985 to live with their son, Douglas, and his family. Roger Pease died after a long illness on 24 September 1990. Louise returned to West Virginia. She completed a new book, Fermi Buffalo (1994), and was working on a book of essays on American history that she called "Three Shades of Blue" when she passed away. Louise McNeill Pease died in Malden, West Virginia, in June 1993.

Extent

6.2 Linear Feet (Summary: 6 ft. 1 1/2 in. (13 document cases, 5 in. each); (1 document case, 2 1/2 in.); (2 large flat storage boxes, 3 in. each))

Overview

Papers of Louise McNeill (Pease), 1911-1993, of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, noted twentieth century Appalachian poet and author, poet laureate of West Virginia from 1979 to 1993, and professor of history and English. Though most well-known for her lyrical poetry about the history and spirit of West Virginia, McNeill also wrote articles, short stories, essays, and her memoirs. Includes biographical materials, letters, writings, poems, photographs, audio-visual materials, artifacts, and personal materials documenting Louise McNeill's career as a poet and author and her personal life, chiefly from the 1970s to her death in 1993. Biographical materials include awards and certificates, biographies of McNeill, clippings, curriculum vitae, and other genealogical materials. Letters are from literary figures, political figures, family and friends. Prominent correspondents include Maggie Anderson, Rene de Chocour, Marion Havighurst, Walter Havighurst, and John D. Rockefeller IV. Writings and related materials include manuscript and typescript drafts of McNeill's books, loose poems, and other writings as well as book reviews, press correspondence, and marketing materials. Audio-visual materials consist of photographs of Louise McNeill, her family, and friends, and tributes to and interviews with McNeill on audio and video cassette. Collection also contains publications, artifacts, and personal materials.

Physical Location

West Virginia and Regional History Center / West Virginia University / 1549 University Avenue / P.O. Box 6069 / Morgantown, WV 26506-6069 / Phone: 304-293-3536 / Fax: 304-293-3981 / URL: https://wvrhc.lib.wvu.edu/

Related A&M Collections

2215, 3201
Title
Louise McNeill, Poet, Papers, circa 1861-1865, 1930-1993
Author
Staff of the West Virginia & Regional History Center
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
English

Repository Details

Part of the West Virginia and Regional History Center Repository

Contact:
1549 University Ave.
P.O. Box 6069
Morgantown WV 26506-6069 US
304-293-3536