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Virginia Folklore Society records

Identifier: MSS 9936

Scope and Contents

Virginia Folklore Society records (1913-1967; 22.7 cubic feet) consist chiefly of songs collected by the society's fieldworkers in the 1930s under the direction of society archivist Arthur Kyle Davis. Sheet music, folklore, newsletters and photographs are also included, as are recordings of many of the songs.

Regarding boxes 6-10 and 21-24: These boxes contain the correspondence of C.A. Smith and Arthur K. Davis dealing primarily with folksong and ballad collecting. Some of this correspondence is with members of the Virginia Folklore Society and some to miscellaneous individuals who sent in material or had information and/or questions regarding folksongs.

The recordings in this collection include a large collection of the recordings made by A. K. Davis, with the assistance of Fred Knobloch and other Virginia Folklore Society members/collectors on Fairchild aluminum transcription disks. Davis divided the recordings into four groups: A (12 inch disks), B: (10 inch disks), C: (8 inch disks), D: 6 inch disks).

Please note, there are some song titles and lyrics that contain racially insensitive and/or culturally offensive language. In an effort to represent the resource as accurately as possible, library staff have transcribed the title exactly as it appears on the archival material or object.


  • Creation: 1905 - 2007

Conditions Governing Access

Boxes 27 and 28 do not circulate.

Historical Note

The broad outlines of change and growth in the study of folklore/folklife, however, is reflected on a small scale in the history of the Virginia Folklore Society and its three successive, but overlapping periods of development and achievement. These can be defined as: "The Quest for the Ballad," "The Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. Years," and "Folklore/Folklife: Professionalization of the Discipline."

The Quest for the Ballad: This era began with the founding of the Society by C. Alphonso Smith and is identified with his efforts and those of notable collectors, such as John Stone, Alfreda Peel, Martha Davis and Juliet Fauntleroy, as well as other teachers and members of the Virginia State Educational Association. In the first Bulletin of the Society in 1913, Smith made the pursuit of the ballad explicit and primary. Although he expressed interest in other types of folklore and acknowledged that "[t]he ballad is not the whole of folklore," still this and all subsequent volumes of the Bulletin were devoted almost entirely to considerations of the ballad and its collection in Virginia (pp. 1-5).

Under C. Alphonso Smith's guidance as its first President and later as Vice-President and Archivist, early members of the Society concentrated on collecting oral versions of the classic English and Scottish ballads as defined by Francis James Child in his five volumes of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, published between 1882 and 1898. In the Bulletin for the third annual meeting held November 26, 1915, Smith reported on progress toward the Society's goal of obtaining at least 50 Child ballads in the State and he thanked "all those who have co-operated with us in the effort made to restore our lyric past, and to make it a part of our lyric present."

By 1920, Stone's expansive program had suffered from membership and revenue loss in the wake of World War I. In the Secretary-Treasurer's report for the "Year Ending November 25, 1920," J. B. Ferneyhough noted that after paying $16.80 for paper and printing of the Bulletin, $.65 on envelopes for same, and $1.13 on postage to send them, the Society's balance in the Treasury was $.52. (Report for 1920, Bulletin, No. 8, p. 10). However, the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Virginia took an interest in the Society the following year and supported John Stone's "ballad tours" by donating $500 "for the recapture of these priceless relics of colonial literature scattered through the State." The typescript of instructions written by C. Alphonso Smith to John Stone regarding the field work to be carried out with that support, as well as excerpts from Stone's meticulous accounts of expenditures including his final $.25 charge for shoe polish are of some historic interest in the annals of supported folklore research. Needless to say, the Society's Bulletin for 1921 was gratefully dedicated to the Colonial Dames of America.

Two figures, who were important in the later periods of the Society's history, appeared on the scene for the first time at the 10th annual meeting on November 30, 1923, again held at the John Marshall High School in Richmond. One of these persons was Benjamin C. Moomaw, Jr. of Barber, Virginia, who was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Society.

The second individual was Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. who was, at that time, an Instructor of English at the University of Virginia, where he remained throughout his lifetime. C. Alphonso Smith introduced Davis as the person who will "publish our findings" and wrote in the Bulletin that "I shall turn over all of our ballads to him and he will select, reject, and edit as he thinks best." Davis was elected Archivist of the Society at that meeting. (Report for 1923, No. II). In June of 1924, Dr. C. Alphonso Smith died in Annapolis, Maryland. With his passing, the Virginia Folklore Society entered the second and longest phase of its history.

The Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. Years: Meetings of the Society were held intermittently between 1924 and 1967, with both the purpose and organization of the Society becoming less clearly defined and apparent. There were periods of intensive collecting, recording and publishing, alternating with intervals of relative inactivity with regard to folklore.

In 1929, Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. completed his initial work as editor and published 51 ballads collected under the auspices of the Society in Traditional Ballads in Virginia. Later, Davis wrote a series of articles for The University of Virginia News Letter (April 1, 1931; February 1, 1932; November 15, 1934; and March 1, 1935) describing the ongoing efforts of the Society and urging the further collection of ballads and folksongs. And many Society members did continue through time to actively collect folksongs or other folklore materials and to deposit the results in the Society's archive.

Beginning in 1932, Davis recorded 325 aluminum disks of folksongs and ballads, many of which, had been previously collected from informants identified earlier in the Society's history. These recordings, which were made possible by a $1,000 grant to Davis and the Society from the American Council of Learned Societies, are among the earliest field recordings of Anglo-American folksong extant in this country.

In March of 1934 Davis was able to obtain some funding from the Civil Works Administration, one of the Depression-generated New Deal programs. With that assistance he hired John Stone to collect folksongs and Winston Wilkinson to transcribe music. The project only lasted three weeks, but in that short time Stone managed to add another 89 songs to the Society's archive. Davis also was able to employ University of Virginia student and Crozet native, Fred F. Knobloch, in the spring of 1935 through the student-aid provision of another New Deal agency, the Federal Emergency Relief program.

In addition, Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. served at least one term as President of the Southeastern Folklore Society. Its annual program held at the University of Virginia in April, 1941 included Virginia ballads and folksongs sung by one of Alfreda Peel's informants, Mrs. Texas Gladden of Roanoke County.

In 1949, Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. edited and published Folk-Songs of Virginia: A Descriptive Index and Classification. Otherwise, Society activities appear to have been at their lowest ebb during World War II and for a number of years following. By the mid-1950s, however, Davis, with the help of students George Walton Williams, Matthew Joseph Bruccoli and Paul Clayton Worthington, pursued further collecting possibilities and began efforts to make taped copies of the earlier aluminum disk recordings.

With the assistance of the aforementioned students, Davis also published More Traditional Ballads of Virginia in 1960. In dedicating the book "To the Memory of C. Alphonso Smith, Martha M. Davis, Juliet Fauntleroy, Alfreda M. Peel, and John Stone", Davis gave symbolic recognition--even though belated in some cases--to the passage of an age and a generation in the history of both the Society and of ballad collecting in the old style and tradition.

On March 15, 1963, Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. wrote another article for The University of Virginia News Letter titled, "Folklore in Virginia: Its Collection and Study." Perhaps stimulated by the urban folksong revival that was underway nationwide, he stated, "the time seems ripe to revive the Society and to set its course toward the assembling of the State's miscellaneous folklore." This article prompted a considerable response and receipt of folklore collectanea. With that renewed interest, the Society began again to have regular annual meetings in 1967 and folklore materials began coming into the Society's archive in greater volume. Davis had plans to expand Society activities, including the publication of a journal, and he had made preliminary steps in those directions. Those projects were left unrealized when Professor Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. died in September, 1972.

Folklore/Folklife: Professionalization of the Discipline: The third phase of the Virginia Folklore Society's history actually began prior to Davis's death, when the media influence from the urban folksong revival and the development of scholarly programs in Folklore at several universities combined both to attract and create a demand for persons trained in such a discipline. In part in response to those particular circumstances and in part due simply to serendipity, several such newly trained Folklore specialists came to work in Virginia and not unexpectedly, soon became involved with the Virginia Folklore Society. With a Ph.D. from the Folklore Progam at the University of Pennsylvania, Charles L. Perdue, Jr. came to teach Folklore courses in the University of Virginia's English Department in 1971 and later became jointly affiliated with both the English & Anthropology Departments there. Shortly thereafter J. Roderick Moore, with an M.A. in Folklore Studies from the Cooperstown Program in New York State, began working and teaching first at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, then at the Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia.

The contact between Perdue, specifically, and Davis at the University with regard to the Society was obviously shortlived. Nevertheless, a collaborative effort to revitalize the Society shortly after Davis's death involved long-time members, Ben C. Moomaw, Jr., President; C. Alphonso Smith, Jr. and Virginia F. Jordan, Vice-Presidents; and Fred F. Knobloch, Secretary-Treasurer; along with Perdue and Moore, their wives Nancy J. Martin-Perdue and Elizabeth Moore, Thomas E. Barden, a former student of Davis's, and many others.

The decision was made to separate the Society from its former association with the Virginia Educational Association and to hold regular, annual meetings, independently, each Fall in Charlottesville, Virginia. These were begun in November, 1974, with occasional Spring meetings held in various regions of the State. In 1979 the Society began publication of an occasional journal, with this being the fourth volume in the series of Folklore and Folklife in Virginia.

In spite of its new face, the reorganized Society retained the stamp of an earlier era, which was manifested to a large degree through the personalities and interests of Ben C. Moomaw, Jr., who continued as president of the Society until his death in 1978, and Fred F. Knobloch, who retired as the Society's secretary-treasurer shortly before his death in 1981.

The changes that have taken place in the Virginia Folklore Society reflect changes that have occurred in the field of Folklore generally, and also in other similar disciplines nationally, since 1913. The expansion of definitions of folklore to include material culture; the establishment of graduate programs in Folklore at Indiana University, the Universities of Pennsylvania, Texas, and California at Los Angeles, and elsewhere; and the movement of folklorists, who were trained in those settings and who thus have a broader view of the discipline, into a wide range of public sector positions have led to a gradual professionalization of the field.

Consistent with those directions, the Society was in recent years directly involved in the creation of the position of Virginia Folklife Coordinator. A proposal to create such a position was submitted by VFS Executive Board members to the National Endowment for the Arts, Folks Arts Program, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts (VCA) in 1988. This venture, which was subsequently funded, was a cooperative one between NEA, VCA, and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFHPP). The Folklife Coordinator, Garry W. Barrow, hired in 1989 to develop and administer a statewide Virginia Folklife Program, working under the heading of the VFHPP in Charlottesville. Initially, the Virginia Folklore Society Executive Board acted in an advisory capacity to that program, along with representatives from VCA and VFHPP. The fact that the position was called the Virginia Folklife Coordinator was, in itself, a reflection of the changes, already suggested, that had been occurring in the field of folklore/folklore in the late 1960s to 1970s.

Excerpted from


22.7 Cubic Feet (26 document boxes, 10 cubic foot boxes)

Language of Materials



Arranged into three series: Series 1: Folk Songs; Series 2: Folk Song recordings; Series 3: Accession 2019-0235

Custodial History

Material transferred from the papers bequeathed to the Library by Arthur Kyle Davis. By agreement with Charles Perdue, archivist of the Virginia Folklore Society, the material, which was originally collected for the society, is now to become the archives of the Society. It is not to be withdrawn from the library by the Society.


Archival transfer from MSS 9829, the papers of Arthur Kyle Davis, 19 February 1974 comprise series one and two. Series three, accession number Accession 2019-0235, donated by Marc Charles Perdue and Martin Clay Perdue.

Virginia Folklore Society records
Under Revision
Small Staff; Elizabeth Wilkinson; Sophie M. Abramowitz
October 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States