Posted on March 21 2021
When Cassie and Vanessa asked me to write for The Wheeling Feeling, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Even though I had no idea what I was getting into, it is hard for me to resist what they had to offer: Wheeling history and woman-powered enterprise.
On paper (and in practice) I am a writing scholar. I study it, I teach it, and I do it. I have been an English professor for over twenty years, the last 12 of which at California University of Pennsylvania. (Yes, that is a long commute from and to Wheeling.)
To that end, I have written more than thirty books, including two memoirs, Two-Week Wait: Motherhood Lost and Found (2015) and The Optimistic Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder (2016). My most recent book, Digital Storytelling as Public History (2020), was co-authored with my colleague, Robert Stakeley, from the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. It focuses on our eight-year (and still going) partnership that has facilitated the creation of more than 300 digital stories (mini movies) by my honors students.
We have worked in the archives of regional and local historical societies throughout northern Appalachia (parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and New York), including collections right here in Wheeling. My students have created historical digital stories about Linsly, Wheeling Country Day School, the Ohio County Public Library, the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, West Liberty University, and so much more, including Mt. DeChantal. (Did you know the school almost closed during the Civil War?)
Needless to say, I absolutely love Wheeling history and have contributed articles to Weelunk, InWheeling magazine, Archiving Wheeling, The Intelligencer, and other local publications. My favorite Wheeling stories are ones that begin here and then travel the state, the country, and even the globe. I can’t resist the urge to pull the thread on a tiny fact and watch it unspool into a 2,000 word story, like this one I wrote about Mark Twain a few years ago.
My fascination with local history began with my grandmother, Jean Gould Burgy, who made Moundsville history sound so incredible that I committed at age 11 to write a comprehensive history of the town and its people. Although I haven’t even come close to putting a dent in such a vast project, I have written about the mysteries of the Grave Creek Stone and so much more.
In addition to new stories for The Wheeling Feeling, my latest work in progress is a novel about my grandmother Jean. Glasshouse Girls takes place during the mid-forties and early-1950s and explores the roles women held in the glass industry, their attitudes about unionizing, marriage, and childrearing, and the struggles they faced in the post-war era when Johnny came marching home. Grandma Jean gave me this storytelling gift, and in many ways this book is a tribute to her and that legacy.
When not writing or teaching writing, I am out in the world promoting other writers as the president of the Writers Association of Northern Appalachia (WANA) and the co-host of WANA LIVE! our weekly reading series, which features writers from throughout the northern Appalachian region. We will be hosting our third annual writers conference this September at Oglebay.
As you read my upcoming stories about Mount DeChantal, I hope that you find in my words what I found in the archives: fervent, hard-working, progressive women who used their educations and passions to carve out paths for their lives that often defied expectations. You will find that the women of MdeC did not sit on their laurels with their hands folded in their laps. They struck out to make a difference, which is exactly what they have done.