Ruth Ann Musick

Click here for Judy Prozzillo Byers' MFSJ essay on folklorist Ruth Ann Musick

Click here for the Slate Journal article on Prof. Musick

Click here for a synopsis of Dr. Musick's 1943 dissertation, Hell's Holler: A Novel Based on the Folklore of [Adair County, Missouri's] Chariton Hill Country

A posthumous collection appeared in 2013: Mountain Mother Goose: Child Lore of West Virginia

It was edited by her niece, Pat Musick, with Judy Prozillo Byers, and published by Fairmont State.  It's available from the WV Folklife Center: 304-367--4403.



Ruth Ann Musick, born September 17, 1897 in Kirksville, Missouri; was listed thus in the 1916 Tigris (yearbook of the Kirksville High School): "Nature hath formed strange things in her time. A cynic." Girls' athletic club; basketball; class basketball; German club; dramatic club. The cynic became a well-known folklorist with many books to her credit; her brother Archie was a well-known artist . Her career is profiled in MFSJ Volume 8-9, 1986-1987, "Special Double Issue, Dedicated to Missouri Collectors" ("Ruth Ann Musick: The Show-Me Mountaineer: A Missourian Adopts West Virginia" by Judy Prozzillo Byers).

Ruth Ann Musick, 1916; that's a basketball uniform she's wearing

She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from  Kirksville State Teacher's College (now Truman State University) and then continued her education at the State University of Iowa. She graduated with a Master of Science in mathematics in 1928 and a Doctor of Philosophy in English in 1943. During those years, Musick taught both English and mathematics at the high school and college level. She began her college teaching career at Iowa's William Penn College in 1942; two years later she became a member of the faculty of Iowa Wesleyan College. In 1946 she moved to West Virginia to accept a teaching position at Fairmont State College where she continued to teach until her retirement in May 1967. 

She quickly adapted to West Virginia after moving there from Missouri. She collected and published folktales of West Virginia during her tenure at Fairmont State College (1946-1974). The Telltale Lilac Bush, Green Hills of Magic and Coffin Hollow are three still-popular volumes. She was also a poet, short story writer and playwright. Her manuscripts are preserved at the Fairmont State College  library which bears her name.

Click here for a profile of Musick from the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library at West Virginia Wesleyan College

Professor Musick was particularly noted for her first book, The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales, published in 1965. In the introduction, she noted, "A selection of one hundred ghost stories could hardly give a complete picture of West Virginia's people. However, I think these tales do suggest something of their lives, oral culture, and beliefs." Also noted were the various cultures existing in the state due to the influx of workers for the mines and the varieties of stories brought into the area. Professor Musick credited her students at Fairmont State College as providing many of the stories she was able to compile, along with a weekly column she wrote, and a magazine, West Virginia Folklore , which she edited.  Coffin Hollow, published posthumously in 1977, contained a special Preface written by Professor Musick in 1973. At that time, her concerns were focused on indiscriminate strip mining, the clear cutting of timber, and the slaughter (in her words) of the wildlife. And as she watched, she continued in the only way she could to preserve an important part of the orality of the region--in the many stories she gathered. William Hugh Jansen of the University of Kentucky, provided a Foreward to Coffin Hollow in memory of Professor Musick:

During her many years in the English Department of Fairmont State College, she was practically a public relations agent for folklore within West Virginia. She made radio broadcasts; she wrote newspaper columns; she founded, edited, and wrote for the West Virginia Folklore Journal. A fine dramatic narrator herself, she was ready at any time to tell a West Virginia tale.

Before her death, she expressed concern that the final compilation of her works--gathered primarily by her students at Fairmont State College-- would go unpublished and, according to Dr. Jansen, she "finally charged two dedicated literary executrixes with the responsibility of administering her unpublished folklore materials." Those individuals were Catherine Faris and Judy Prozzillo Byers. Dr. Byers, a faculty member at Fairmont State College and also one of the Hill Lorists, was one of the storytellers featured during the three-day festival. Following a formal dedication of a lilac bush to be planted at Jackson's Mill in memory of Dr. Musick, Dr. Byers presented her rendition of the short story, "The Telltale Lilac Bush." Dr. Musick died in 1974.

Click here for a collection of articles by Dr. Muisk available from the Journal of American Folklore, including
the following .pdf files:
- Ballads and Folksongs from West Virginia. 2. Songs 8.-26 (1957)
- Ballads and Folksongs from West Virginia
- Indiana Witch Tales
- Children's Rhymes from Missouri
    (with Vance Randolph)
- The Old Album of William A. Larkin
- A Missouri Dance Call (in Notes)

Critical Responses
Ruth Ann Musick was known for her dedication to preserving the traditions and folklore of the Mountain State and bringing to wider recognition the beauty of that heritage. Commenting on The Tell-tale Lilac Bush, a critic for the University of Kentucky Press wrote that: "With its variety and extensiveness, this collection forms a significant addition to the growing study of the ghost tale as a type of folk literature." Referring next to The Green Hills of Magic, the critic stated "the entertaining stories are excellent examples of the diverse folk beliefs and cultural patterns of the immigrant groups that have made their home in West Virginia.

Works Published
Ballads, Folk Songs, and Folk Tales from West Virginia
The Tell-tale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales
Green Hills of Magic, West Virginia Folktales from Europe
Coffin Hollow, and Other Ghost Tales




Selected Bibliography
Byers, Judy Prozillo. Ruth Ann Musick -- The Show-Me Mountaineer: A Missourian Adopted by West Virginia. Missouri Folklore Society Journal, 1986-87. 8-9, 89-114.

Musick, Ruth Ann. Witchcraft and the Devil in West Virginia. Appalachian Journal: A Regional Studies Review, 1974. 1, 271-76.

Prozzillo, Judy. Ruth Ann Musick. West Virginia Encyclopedia Supplemental Vol.25. pp.230-232.

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