Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the Mary Wheeler Ballad Collection
Accession Number: 76
The Mary Wheeler (1892-1979) Ballad Collection
Papers: 1917-82
Bulk: 1926-36
0.6 Linear Feet
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Overview & Series Description
Series I - Personal / Biographical
Series II - Correspondence
Series III - Printed Materials
Series IV - Photographs
Series V - Music Collecting

Overview of the Collection

These are correspondence, photographs, song texts / tune transcriptions, and newspaper clippings relating to the work of folk music collector, Mary Wheeler, mostly during a year in residence (1926-1927) at Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky.

Born in 1892 in Paducah, Kentucky, Wheeler was the daughter of a well-known attorney. It was part of a young society woman's education to be trained in music, but she took this training and made it her life's work. She is best known for two books she authored: Kentucky Mountain Folk Songs (1937) and Roustabout Songs: A Collection of Ohio River Valley Songs (1939).

At a time when a young woman's training was to prepare her for her "life's work" of marriage, the music educator became one of the first career women in her hometown. Wheeler studied in New York and Chicago and in 1925, began studies at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Her summers were devoted to her studies and the other months of the year, she was much in demand as a vocal performer. She obtained her B.A. in voice in 1933 and her M.A. in musicology in 1937.

Wheeler taught music at the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, Knott County, Kentucky beginning in the fall of 1926. It was during this time that she collected the tunes she eventually published in the late 1930's. She made many friends among area residents in the course of her ballad and song collecting. She was very concerned that she accomplish an authentic documentation of the tunes she had been entrusted with. Because children at the Settlement School were from different areas, there were often differing versions of the same ballad which Wheeler painstakingly transcribed by hand (see Wheeler's Mountain Notebook).

Upon leaving Hindman, Wheeler began to include in her repertoire songs she collected there, singing them with mountain dulcimer accompaniment - an instrument native to parts of eastern Kentucky.

In pursuing her master's degree, Wheeler turned to a subject she had been familiar with all of her life: the Ohio River. Raised within walking distance of the river, part of Wheeler's childhood included seeing the packet boats and hearing the music of the black laborers who loaded and unloaded cargo from these boats.

She noticed that paddle boats were disappearing and those most familiar with this way of life were aging. Wheeler was concerned that as African-American people as a whole progressed socially, there might not be much of an interest in preserving this genre of music - the lyrics of which are in dialect and which spoke of a time some may have preferred to forget.

None of Wheeler's notes from her roustabout songs are in this collection; however, there are one or two newspaper clippings on the subject of "Negro Music."

Wheeler spent many years as a faculty member of the music department of Paducah Community College (formerly known as Paducah Junior College).

Related Berea College Archives
J.A. Stucky Papers, SAA 23

Series Description
2 Manuscript Boxes

Series I
Personal / Biographical
Box 1

This series includes newspaper or journal biographical sketches. Besides personal information, these materials chronicle her extensive travels to perform Kentucky traditional music for various clubs and other organizations.

Series II
Box 1, cont.

This series includes job inquiries, letters about song collecting and publishing, an extensive unsigned description and defense of the condition of eastern Kentuckians dating from her year in the region, and letters offering folk song material.

Series III
Printed Materials
Box 1, cont.

This series includes magazines dealing with mountain life and health issues, settlement school publications, and music recital programs. The bulk of this series centers around Wheeler's year-long stay in eastern Kentucky and issues that came out of her concern for the people there.

Series IV
Box 1, cont.

This series includes a photo album / memory book, loose photos mostly relating to Wheeler's Hindman Settlement School period in eastern Kentucky.

Series V
Music Collecting
Box 2

This series includes a wide range of mostly hand written or typed material. Among these are Wheeler's Kentucky Mountain Folk Song notebook (the original book in which she kept the typed lyrics of the songs she collected at Hindman), hand-notated tune transcriptions, handwritten song texts written by Wheeler and others, a set of loose typewritten song ballads, and both typed and handwritten collection notes. There are also published folksong collections by musicians other than Wheeler and clippings related to eastern Kentucky music and African-American "shout" songs. (A list of song titles concludes the box list.)

Box List

Box 1
  1. Personal/Biographical: General
  2. Personal/Biographical: Clippings, 1928-82
  3. Correspondence, n.d.; 1927-28; 1968-69
  4. Printed material
  5. Photographs
  6. Photograph album
Box 2
  1. Folksong Books
  2. "Notebook of Kentucky Mountain Songs"
  3. Handwritten Ballad Lyrics
  4. Typed Ballad Lyrics with Tune Notations
  5. Clippings

Listing of Songs / Ballads in the Mary Wheeler Collection

A Cape Boy's Love Song (two copies) Sweet Jane
Blue Ridge Mountain Blues The Blind Child
Careless Love (two copies) The Drunkard's Lone Child
Dear Dianah The Dying Message
Down in the Valley The Ill-Fated Lovers
Gambling Boy The Merchant's Daughter
In the Pines The New River Train
I Wish I was Single Again The Pretty Mohea
Jealous Lover The Sailor Boy, two versions
John Lewis When the Roses Bloom Again
Kitty Wells Young Men and Maids
Little Frankie -- version one
Little Frankie -- version two Untitled (by first line)
Lady Margaret And so you have come again...
Lady Nancy and Lord Lovely As I walked out one bright and merry morning
Little Rosewood Casket As I was walking by the new river shore
London City (two copies) As Mary and William down on the seashore...
Oh, I'll Not Marry At All I have just written him a letter
On the Death of George M. Williamson In a cool and shady woodlane
On Top of Old Smoky (two copies) Little sweetheart we are parted
Over Broad Waters My native home is Georgia
Prisoners Song Once there was two cheeks as red...
Randall, My Song Up came the F.F.V., the fastest on the line...
Remember Me  

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