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John Harrington Cox


John Harrington Cox (May 27, 1863-November 21, 1945) was one of the pioneers in the field of American folk song scholarship. Cox was born in Madison County, Illinois. Educated at Brown and Harvard (Ph.D. 1923) universities, he received an appointment on the English Department faculty at West Virginia University in 1903. His early efforts at the university were devoted to the study of Old and Middle English, and Medieval literature, in which fields he achieved distinction as an educator, author, and editor.

Cox collected his first folk song in 1913. Two years later, on July 15, 1915, he presided over the founding of the West Virginia Folklore Society, serving as its first president, archivist, and editor. Though the society met formally only twice, it established a network of field collectors across the state that continued to function loosely under Cox’s direction for many years.

During the early 1920s, Cox organized and edited an extensive body of the folk songs collected under the Society’s auspices as the basis of his Ph.D. dissertation. Produced under the direction of the noted Harvard scholar, George Lyman Kittredge, the dissertation was published as Folk-Songs of the South by the Harvard University Press in 1925. The first major collection of American folk songs by an American editor to appear in print, the volume became a model in both its scholarship and format for many subsequent American folk song publications. Despite the title it consisted almost entirely of West Virginia songs.

In the years that followed, Cox prepared an extensive body of additional folk songs for publication. These materials remained in manuscript until they were published in 1939 by the National Service Bureau in two mimeographed volumes: Traditional Ballads Mainly From West Virginia, and Folk-Songs Mainly From West Virginia. Cox died in Morgantown.

Written by John A. Cuthbert


  1. Cox, John Harrington. Folk-Songs Mainly from West Virginia. New York: National Service Bureau, 1939.

  2. Cox, John Harrington. Folk-Songs of the South. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925.

  3. Cox, John Harrington. Traditional Ballads Mainly from West Virginia. New York: National Service Bureau, 1939.