Wheeling and the greater Ohio County area has centuries of history…and therefore thousands of historical documents and other ephemera. So where does it all go? Short answer: the library.
In addition to its duties as a standard lending library where county residents can check out the newest novel, browse the internet, listen to storytime, and numerous other services, the Ohio County Public Library (OCPL) contains a historical archive—in the basement.
However, due to time and budget constraints, there are still several collections in the library archive that need to be properly processed. All of the archival material is safe and preserved, but formally processing makes each collection more accessible and gives the community a better understanding of its historical resources. As a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with Wheeling Heritage, I had to complete a civic service project to help the greater community. I decided to partner with the library and worked with Laura Carroll, the archivist, to figure out what project was most in need—we landed on the YWCA Blue Triangle Collection.
YWCA Blue Triangle
In 2015, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Wheeling received a $1000 Partnership Grant to clean, organize, and archive its collection of documents, ephemera, and artifacts that spanned over a century.1 The YWCA collection was then donated to the OCPL Archive, where the public, community, and researchers could more easily access the documents.
The YWCA was segregated in Wheeling from 1921 to 1956. The YWCA Blue Triangle Branch was formed in 1921 to support and protect Black women and girls and became an integral part of the Black Wheeling community. The Blue Triangle was dissolved when it reintegrated with the central Wheeling YWCA in 1956. To learn more about the history of the YWCA Blue Triangle Branch, check out this Weelunk article.
Despite Jim Crow segregation and discrimination, the Black community in Wheeling thrived and continues to be vibrant today. However, during this time, “keeping records and histories of the Black community was not a priority for white Wheeling,” and grievously, many memories and historical records were lost.2 Today, the library is committed to reviving as much Wheeling African American history as possible. To this mission, archivist Laura Carroll explains that “one of the main goals of the Ohio County Public Library Archives is to make our collections available and easy to use. We are also working to better document people of color and marginalized communities in Wheeling. Emma’s work organizing and creating a detailed guide for the Blue Triangle Branch of the Wheeling YWCA has made significant progress towards both of these worthy goals.” The YWCA Blue Triangle collection is one of the most robust records of Black life in Wheeling and it was crucial to make it more searchable and accessible for the community.
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Adventures in the Archives
The YWCA Blue Triangle collection fits into one archival box (14.4in x 12in x 10in)…yet processing took approximately 24 hours over the course of a month. COVID restrictions made it difficult to work with other volunteers, but I was occasionally joined by another Preserve WV AmeriCorps member, Evan Wenner, who serves down at the Cockayne Farmstead in Glen Dale.
YWCA Blue Triangle files BEFORE processing
YWCA Blue Triangle files AFTER processing
Processing an archival collection is so much more than organizing. It requires familiarizing with the collection, developing an exhaustive plan, organizing and ordering the documents, and labeling and numbering the folders. At the end, a “finding aid” is written so that future community members and researchers can find exactly what they need. A finding aid contains a brief history and scope of what the records of a collection cover, in addition to a list of folders and materials. All of the finding aids for OCPL Archive collections are available online so that visitors can be prepared before they even step foot in the library!
Of utmost importance is respect and care for the collection. The vast majority of these documents are unique and cannot be replaced—almost all of the people who created these records have since died. Due to normal paper deterioration, some pages had to be carefully placed within plastic slips to avoid crumbling. Each photo was also given its own plastic slip so that they would not stick together and to avoid future fingerprints.
Since processing requires an examination of every single document, some important records and histories rise to the surface. Due to time constraints, when the collection was first donated in 2015, the records were loosely organized by time period, but not by subject, and no one had looked very closely at all the papers. For example, the prominent “Wheeling’s 20th Man” speech was unknown until this collection was given more attention. Most of the YWCA Blue Triangle collection is made up of committee papers, reports, finances, and random photographs…but you never know what kind of gems you are going to find in the archives!
To search the YWCA Blue Triangle collection records in the OCPL Archive, see the new finding aid, here. Want to view any materials? Contact the OCPL Archive to set up an appointment!
• Emma Wiley, originally from Falls Church, Virginia, was a former AmeriCorps member with Wheeling Heritage. Emma has a B.A. in history from Vassar College and is passionate about connecting communities, history, and social justice.