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Ruth Ann Musick


Folklorist Ruth Ann Musick (September 17, 1897-July 2, 1974) was born in Kirksville, Missouri. She earned a B.S. in education from the Kirksville State Teacher’s College and an M.S. from the State University of Iowa. After teaching school, she earned a Ph.D. in English from the State University of Iowa in 1943. While there, folklorist Edwin Ford Piper first interested her in folklore.

Musick brought this interest to West Virginia. She came to teach mathematics and English at Fairmont State College (now Fairmont State University) in 1946 and remained until her retirement in 1967. She started a folk literature class at the college and in 1950 helped to revive the West Virginia Folklore Society, with Walter Barnes of Fairmont State and Patrick Gainer of West Virginia University. In 1951, she founded the West Virginia Folklore Journal and served as editor until 1967.

Musick became West Virginia’s folklore ambassador, promoting folklore through education, public speaking, radio, and television. She published four major folktale collections: Ballads, Folk Songs, and Folk Tales From West Virginia; The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales; Green Hills of Magic, West Virginia Folktales From Europe; and Coffin Hollow and Other Ghost Tales. She wrote two popular folklore columns for West Virginia newspapers, ‘‘The Old Folks Say’’ and ‘‘Sassafras Tea.’’ Musick died in Fairmont. She bequeathed to Fairmont State her unpublished folklore estate, now archived in the West Virginia Folklife Center at the university. In 1980, the university library was renamed the Ruth Ann Musick Library.

Written by Judy Prozzillo Byers