Thursday, May 24, 2018

What is Memorial Day? (Hint: it's not just a day for barbecuing)

On the fourth Monday in May we observe Memorial Day, a commemoration that originated in the years immediately following the Civil War. It was known in early years as Decoration Day because it provided an opportunity to visit and adorn the graves of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. Gen. John A. Logan, leader of the Union veterans group Grand Army of the Republic, called for the first national day of recognition to be held on May 30th, 1868. “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance,” Logan instructed, “Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

What began as a day devoted to the fallen servicemen of the Union and Confederate Armies became something more in the wake of World War I. America lost more than 100,000 military personnel during our two-year involvement, and by 1920 those fallen men and women were also being honored in Memorial Day ceremonies. The Great War left another mark on Memorial Day as well. The red poppy – warn on a lapel or handed out on the corner – is a symbol that can be traced back to the atrocities witnessed on the battlefields of WWI.

Many will be familiar with a 1915 poem penned by Canadian physician John McCrea, “In Flander’s Field,” which opens with the lines “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row.” Less well known is the poem written in 1918 by a YMCA staffer named Moina Michael, titled “We Shall Keep the Faith,” in which the author promises to wear a poppy in honor of the dead. Michael is credited with creating the now-ubiquitous tradition of wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day. By 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars had adopted the sale of poppies a major fundraiser for disabled service men and women.

The American flag plays an important role in most Memorial Day commemorations. The traditional flag raising practice on the last Monday in May is unique. After being briskly hoisted to the top, the flag is solemnly returned to half-staff in memory of all those who have perished in service. At noon the flag is returned to the top of its staff, symbolizing that “their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all,” according to the VFW Auxiliary.

Please take a moment on Monday to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day, participate in a local program, or simply observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00pm. If you’d like to learn more about how World War I impacted Latah County, please visit our exhibit in the McConnell Mansion. Museum hours and additional information can be found at

LCHS Photo 15-02-006. A parade through Troy to celebrate Armistice Day, November 1918. The procession of local enlisted men was led by members of the Grand Army of the Republic and veterans of the Civil War.

LCHS Photo Loomis.D.01. Dudley Loomis as a high school student in Moscow, before enrolling at Idaho State University. Loomis joined the Army in 1917 at the onset of American involvement in WWI. He was killed in a training accident and was the first local casualty of the war. The American Legion Post #6 is named in his honor.

LCHS Photo 01-08-056. Local residents participate in a Memorial Day ceremony at Ghormley Park in the 1960s, which included decorating the Ghormley memorial stone. Adorning monuments with flowers and flags is a tradition that goes back to the earliest commemorations of Decoration Day.   

Friday, March 23, 2018

#5WomenArtists: Latah County Edition

For the last three years, National Museum of Women in the Arts has been the driving force behind the #5WomenArtists campaign. The museum's mission is to "address gender imbalance in the art world" all year long. Did you know that among major permanent collections in U.S. galleries and museums, only 3-5% are works by women artists? Women's History Month creates a unique opportunity to capture the attention of a wide audience.

The DC-based museum is home to a truly amazing collection of artwork from women across the country and the world. It also encourages the celebration of women artists in every community in America. We've decided to take the #5WomenArtists Challenge and profile (in no particular order) just a handful of the amazing women who created stellar works of visual art in their lifetimes.

1. Mary Kirkwood - Painter

Mary Kirkwood came to the University of Idaho in 1930 as a professor of painting, composition, and history of painting. For four decades she inspired students to pursue excellence. Kirkwood's views on artistic style ring true today, years after her death in 1994. "Painting the human figure is to me more than satisfying. After some confusion in earlier years about keeping up with the changing movements, I came to realize that painting was more than a body of knowledge or even a way of thinking; it was a way of feeling, and feeling could not be altered casually by events outside of one's own nature or the final experience that had roots in one's youth." (Idaho's Women of Influence)

Mary Kirkwood
Image source: Idaho's Women of Influence, a peer-reviewed journal of Idaho women's history

2. Kay Montgomery - Painter

A native of southwestern Idaho, watercolorist Kay Montgomery made her home on a small farm just outside of Moscow for many years. Montgomery enjoyed experimenting with materials and often augmented her watercolor work with other mediums. She was a charter member of the Palouse Watercolor Socius. In her self-authored profile she wrote, "She usually has an idea about the direction a work is to go and uses whatever means are necessary to achieve that end, including happy accidents and mistakes." (Palouse Watercolor Socius)

Fire Storm by Kay Montgomery
Image source: Palouse Watercolor Socius

3. Mary Norie Banks - Photographer

Mary Norie Banks had a lifelong interest in photography, but did not begin her work as an artist behind the lens until she was in her 60s. Prior to that, she spent many years teaching English and composition at Washington State University and sharing her love for the piano with countless children in Moscow. In her later years she exhibited photos around the Northwest of subjects including the Palouse, Nez Perce, and European peoples. (The Lewiston Tribune)

Mary Banks with a collection of her work
Image source: LCHS Photo Collection, Banks.M.01

4. Genevra Sloan - Painter

For half a century painter and print-maker Genevra Sloan worked to strengthen the art community in Moscow. Sloan received her degree in fine art from the University of Idaho, where Mary Kirkwood served as one of her instructors. She discovered abstract expressionism while living outside of New York City for a time. After returning to Moscow she rented a studio downtown and painted almost daily. (The Lewiston Tribune)

1966 photograph of Art and Architecture Arnold SWesterlund and Genevra Sloan examining art.
Image source: 
University of Idaho Campus Photograph Collection

5. Irene Furniss - Quilter

Quilting is an often overlooked art form, however there are countless examples of beautiful works that please the eye and inspire the mind. Irene Furniss took up quilting after attending a folk life festival during the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane. She soon found a group of kindred spirits and helped to organize the Palouse Patchers. Separately and together the Palouse Patchers have contributed many amazing works to the community. (Latah Legacy)

Irene Furniss pictured with "Baltimore Beauties," her favorite piece
Image source: "Quilting Blossoms on the Palouse: Founding of the Palouse Patchers, 1976," Latah Legacy 42, no. 1 (2015). 

BONUS! One of our blog readers took us up on the challenge and submitted another artist for our list.

6. Sara Joyce - Painter, Fiber Artist, and more

Sara Joyce was a woman of many talents who adopted Idaho as her home and spent parts of the 1980s and '90s in Genesee. She worked in several mediums and you can view a number of wonderful pieces in her online portfolio. Joyce was quite humble about her work and it was not until later in her life that she exhibited in large venues, having been encouraged to do so by her family, friends, and fellow artists. (

Sara Joyce pictured with one of her paintings. 
Image Source: SARA. The Art of Sara Joyce, 

We want to hear from you! Who would you include on your #5WomenArtists: Latah County Edition?

Learn more about the #5WomenArtists Challenge HERE

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Farming Across Generations

In late January I had the opportunity to attend the Palouse-Clearwater Food Coalition's Food Summit and give a short presentation entitled “Farming Across Generations.” I was invited to speak by summit organizers and for at time I wondered what I could possibly share with a group of folks who are far more knowledgeable about our local food systems than I am. A simple retelling of agricultural advances didn’t seem an engaging option. In hopes of finding my way, I began searching the Latah County Oral History Collection. As has been the case so many times before, I was both inspired and humbled by the stories captured in the interviews. Three themes stood out to me in particular, which I shared with the summit attendees.

LCHS Photo: 25-02-043
First, our agricultural heritage demonstrates to us the importance of teamwork, camaraderie, and collaboration. In the early days of farming on the Palouse, it took massive amounts of human power to harvest grains and cut hay. No farmer could possibly manage his field without help, hired or otherwise. Several oral history interviewees suggested that labor was traded to keep costs down between neighbors. Edward Ramsdale recalled “back then, we used to trade work too you know, quite a bit in them days. Like during thrashing, one guy helped the other one. They exchanged work back and forth to hold down the overhead of hiring out to have some that done…I helped my neighbor Nick too up here, I worked a forty for him and then he let me use some of his horses once in a while.” Other times, help was offered when a neighbor was in need. “You didn’t call on your neighbors for help,” Glen Gilder told the interviewer. “The neighbors knew you needed help and they volunteered it. One or two cases where in harvest if somebody would be hurt or sick, we’d just all get together, go and take care of a farm, get it out of the way so he would have his money to pay bills, if there were any.”

LCHS Photo: 25-02-481
Next, I was reminded that the Palouse is a tremendous incubator of innovation. Our unique topography and climate have required farmers, engineers, and scientists to think creatively. One such example of ingenuity was the development of the Idaho National Harvester combine, often called the Little Idaho, which was lighter and more agile than horse-pulled combines produced in other regions of the country. Traditional combines had to be pulled by as many as forty horses, which meant a sizable amount of grain was lost simply to being trampled. The Little Idaho, by comparison, could be pushed through the field by as few as two horses. With a weight of just over one ton, it could also be righted more easily if it tipped over on a steep hillside. Although the combine was only produced for about ten years, it was an important piece of transitional technology. The introduction of seed peas to the Palouse by Willes Crites in the 1930s was another example of innovative thinking that has significantly altered the landscape of the region. Before Crites convinced a handful of forward-thinking farmers to plant a test plot of peas, the Palouse was known only for its grains.

LCHS Photo: 25-02-078
Lastly, a survey of our farming history illuminates that change is inevitable. If we can take the time to consider past experiences, we may be able to build resiliency into our communities. The people of our region have fallen on hard times before, so how did they make it through to the other side? One wisdom that rose to the top of many oral history interviews was that the Great Depression was a time of monetary scarcity, but those closest to food production rarely went hungry and in fact were among the most generous members of our community. Lola Clyde, for example, recounted how she and her husband provided for a number of seasonal workers well after harvest had wrapped up. “In those days, really the hired men, you just had ‘em in the summer and after harvest they went to the woods or they went someplace else to work…But goodness with winter coming on and these young boys no place to go, we couldn’t do it. And I said, ‘Well, we have a cellar full of food, we have pigs we can butcher, and these men helped us get it. They can stay and eat with us.’ They did. And one of them stayed with us twent years afterward and worked for us all those years and he’s like our own boy. But that was how bad times were.” Economic challenges are not the only changes that farmers on the Palouse have faced. Revolutionary advances in technology certainly changed the face of employment as fewer men were needed to operate machinery, implement production was outsourced to faraway factories, and professions like harness makers became nearly obsolete. Changes to our environment were also of concern. Indeed in the middle of the 20th century, Latah County was identified as the second worst site of erosion in the entire United States. Farming practices had to adapt to new best practices. What can we glean from these experiences as our community collectively faces new realities, like a changing climate and decline aquifer?

LCHS Photo: 25-02-053
The most valuable application of history is not found in memorizing dates, but in studying the experiences of those that came before us. History is essential to creating vital places to live and work because it brings us together and allows us to share stories that are relevant to our contemporary lives. 

LCHS Photo: 25-02-168