A key figure in applying modern approaches to the study and writing of West Virginia history, Charles Henry Ambler (August 12, 1876-August 31, 1957) was born in New Matamoras, Ohio. He grew up in St. Marys, West Virginia, and from 1894 to 1900 he taught school in Pleasants County. He coupled that experience with study at West Liberty Normal School (now West Liberty University). He served as sheriff of Pleasants County in 1900 and 1901. In 1901 he entered West Virginia University, which awarded him an A.B. in social sciences in 1904 and an M.A. in 1905. Ambler then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, where one of his mentors was Frederick Jackson Turner, famous for his frontier thesis of American history.
After completing his doctorate in 1908, Ambler taught history and political science at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia until 1917. For the next 30 years he was a member of the WVU history department, and from 1929 to 1946 he served as chairman. Among his enduring legacies was the creation of the West Virginia and Regional History Collection in the university library.
In his prodigious research and prolific writings, Ambler explored numerous topics that had received but scant attention from professional or amateur historians. Prominent among his works relating to the era before West Virginia became a state were Sectionalism in Virginia from 1776 to 1861; George Washington and the West; A History of Transportation in the Ohio Valley; and others dealing with Thomas Ritchie, John Floyd, and Robert M. T. Hunter, who were influential in Virginia political affairs. Other books, including Francis H. Pierpont: Union War Governor of Virginia and Father of West Virginia and Waitman Thomas Willey: Orator, Churchman, Humanitarian, reflected Ambler’s interest in the Civil War and West Virginia statehood, as did such edited volumes as Anna Pierpoint Siviter’s Recollections of War and Peace and Debates and Proceedings of the First Constitutional Convention of West Virginia.
Ambler was honored with the presidency of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association in 1942–43 and numerous other recognitions. From 1951 to 1955 he represented Monongalia County in the state legislature.
Written by Otis K. Rice