Early Queer History of the Greenbrier Valley
By Sarah Shepherd - Archive Associate
“Of course, sex has been all things in all periods…But on the whole, the farm enjoyed sex more, respected it more, and discussed it less…Sex was like groceries…most of the people stored their supplies at home. And county eating is lush and good. I have never understood this much-bruited Puritanism. We were Presbyterians of the deepest dye, running to clergymen and elders and tenders of out-post Sunday Schools. But I do not recall any adults who worried about their immortal souls (the Lord would tend to that) nor about their sexuality; the Lord had already tended to that.”
The focus on sodomy meant that women were not arrested as much as men. However, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a political radical who was sentenced to two years in the Alderson Federal Women’s Prison in 1951, described lesbianism in the prison in her memoir. She described how “the women walked two-by-two, as directed by the officer. But they chose their own partners and woe betide anyone who tried to cut in on an unmistakable lesbian pair…
In the dark of the movies these pairs held hands and kissed passionately, and walking home hung behind the lines, behaving in a lover-like fashion.” While some of these relationships were temporary, other women exchanged rings and called each other husband and wife. Flynn described one woman who grew up in Alderson and both her and her sister were lesbians. She was in a relationship with another woman. Her lover broke it off when she fell in love with a man, but he deserted her when she became pregnant. The two women resumed their relationship and raised the child together. The mother eventually married someone else when their son was five, but the boy kept in touch with his other mother.
In Greenbrier County, there were five known convictions of sodomy. Five men were convicted from 1950 to 1963 with their names and crime posted in the public newspaper, the Greenbrier Independent. At this time, the Greenbrier Independent’s motto was “Nothing Shall be Indifferent to Us Which Advances the Cause of Truth and Morality or Which Concerns the Welfare of the Community in Which We Live.” These men were forcibly outed to their community as all indictments were listed on the front page. West Virginia did not repeal its sodomy law until 1976.
Other Literature on Appalachian and West Virginian Queer History
Rebecca Baird, Kathryn Staley, and Jeff Mann, “Mountaineer Queer: An Interview with Jeff Mann,” Appalachian Journal, Vol 35. No 1/2 Fall 2007/Winter 2008
Kate Black and Marc A. Rhorer, “Out in the Mountains: Exploring Lesbian and Gay Lives,” Journal of Appalachian Studies Association Vol 7. 1995
Jeff Mann “Stonewall and Matewan: Some Thoughts on Gay Life in Appalachia” in Journal of Appalachian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 1999
Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear, Harrington Park Press, 2003
Loving Mountains, Loving Men, Ohio University Press, 2005
“The Mountaineer Queer Ponders His Risk-list,” Appalachian Journal, Vol. 34, No. 3/4 Springs/Summer 2007
Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South, Bear Bones Books, 2010
“Risk, Religion, and Invisibility,” Journal of Appalachian Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, Fall 2014
Silas House, “Our Secret Places in the Waiting World: or, A Conscious Heart, Continued,” Journal of Appalachian Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, Fall 2014
Carrie Nobel Kline, Revelations, Huntington, West Virginia, 2001.
This was a theatrical presentation about Appalachian resiliency in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people written and produced by folklorist Carrie Nobel Kline. Read more about the project: https://www.folktalk.org/spoken-histories/glbt-stories/ Her collection of interviews of queer West Virginians are at Marshall University.
Bradley Milam, Gay West Virginia: Community Formation and the Forging of a Gay Appalachian Identity, 1963-1979, Dissertation at Yale University, April 2010.
 Doug Hylton, “Ronceverte’s story connected with transgendered citizen,” Mountain Messenger, January 23, 2016.
 New York, New York, U.S., Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937, Maynard Best to Bryna Stacking Hunthall, June 30, 1906, http://ancestry.com.
 1910 U.S. Census, Los Angeles, California, population schedule, p.1, dwelling 18, family 19, Maynard H. Best, digital image, http://ancestry.com.
 California, U.S., Death Index, 1905-1939, Dollie Best, death January 1, 1935, http://ancestry.com.
 “Fire at Cass,” Pocahontas Times, February 25, 1915.
 “Circuit Court,” Pocahontas Times, April 15, 1915.
 “The Strange Case of Max Curry,” Pocahontas Times, April 22, 1915.
 Marriage of Lillian L. Nethercutt and M. M. Curry, 1909, Vital Research Records-Marriage, West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History, http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_mcdetail.aspx?Id=11100236.
 “The Strange Case of Max Curry,” Pocahontas Times, April 22, 1915.
 Pocahontas Times, June 24, 1915.
 Pocahontas Times, August 5, 1915.
 West Virginia, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1724-1985, Max Curry, probate date October 11, 1919.
 1920 U.S. Census, Huntington, West Virginia, population schedule, p.14, dwelling 265, family 287, Lillian Curry, digital image, http://ancestry.com.
 Interview with Richard Weikel, conducted by Roland Layton, October 30, 2002, transcript pg. 7-8.
 Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner, (New York: International Publishers, 1963), 159.
 Ibid., 160.
 Ibid., 160-161.
 Trey Kay, “Us & Them: Locked up for Sodomy,” West Virginia Public Broadcasting, October 15, 2015, https://www.wvpublic.org/podcast/us-them/2015-10-15/us-them-locked-up-for-sodomy.
 “What it was like to be Gay during WWII,” Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/history/what-it-was-like-to-be-gay-during-wwii/.
 “Circuit Court,” Greenbrier Independent, April 27, 1950; “Indictments Made,” Greenbrier Independent, April 28, 1955; “Grand Jury Indictments,” Greenbrier Independent, April 30, 1959; “Sentences Given,” Greenbrier Independent, May 15, 1958; “Circuit Court Indictments,” Greenbrier Independent, November 14, 1963; “Circuit Court Notes,” Greenbrier Independent, November 21, 1957.
 Greenbrier Independent, November 14, 1963.
 George Painter, “The Sensibilities of Our Forefathers: The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States,” Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest, https://www.glapn.org/sodomylaws/sensibilities/west_virginia.htm#fn9.
Lyda's Story featuring the Art of Greenbrier County's Lyda Reilly
Lyda Became a Registered Nurse (RN) and set about helping those in need. However, she never lost her love of farm life and her community which her paintings reflect. As soon as she had the opportunity she captured her family home on canvas. The painting now hangs on her bedroom wall in a location that ensures that it is the first thing she sees in the morning and the last at night.
Lyda expanded her life’s experiences with marriage and travel. The arrival of her daughter Kerry was magical and their bond has grown as they both excelled in the professions of helping others. Her daughter is now; Dr. Kerry Reilly, Ph.D.
Enjoy some of Lyda's art below:
Happy Earth Day: Sustainability at the North House Museum
The first place that I looked for sustainable practices were in our archives and collections. Archives and collections are energy heavy organizations. Documents and artifacts are best protected in light and climate-controlled environments, but the maintenance of a climate-controlled environment takes a lot of energy. Often solutions to this problem include utilizing renewable energy sources like solar panels, or renovations that result in more energy efficient structures. While these are good goals, many of these solutions are most attainable by larger institutions. Smaller organizations typically have limited funds for energy efficient buildings and upgrades, particularly for those organizations that utilize historic buildings to store their collections.
The field of museums has been slow to develop sustainable practices. However, as more institutions begin to consider these issues, more museums are beginning to implement sustainability standards. The issues of environmental sustainability can seem overwhelming, particularly for small organizations. It may even make us question our understanding of how museums should operate. However, small, concrete actions will help shift museum and public practices and values to ones that help future community enrichment.
There is no time limit on these programs and visiting State Parks is an amazing way to explore West Virginia. It is also amazing how much history you can discover along the way at some of the state parks. Here are a few West Virginia State Parks that had some great history to explore:
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
Watters Smith Memorial State Park
Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park
Berkeley Springs State Park
Carnifex Ferry State Park
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
Behind The Scenes With
Conflict & Consequences:
Military History of the Greenbrier Valley
The newly crafted exhibit, Conflict and Consequences, will start by discussing the complex period of white settlement of Native lands in the Greenbrier Valley before moving on to the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. We will view these national and international events on a local scale and explore their impacts on our diverse communities, the economy, and the land.
The updated exhibit takes a deeper, more inclusive, look at the contributions of Black Americans, Native Americans, and the women of our area. Black Americans are honored in this exhibit for their roles as protectors of our community and of our nation during conflicts, wars, and other military engagements. These Black men and women fought discrimination, exploitation, and racism in every facet of our history, with times of war being no different and with their services and sacrifices often being overlooked.
Native and Indigenous Peoples are acknowledged in this exhibit for their claim to this land far before European colonization. As Natives retaliated for land lost, frontier forts began popping up throughout the Greenbrier Valley. The conflicts and battles that took place regionally in the name of colonization are complex and must be looked at from both the perspective of the Native Peoples and the European settlers.
Women of the Greenbrier Valley are recognized here for their contributions on the home front, for their role as nurses who cared for wounded soldiers, and for their direct involvement in the fighting and as spies determined to make a difference in the outcome of the war. Women are often overlooked in military history, but their involvement plays a huge supporting role in these conflicts. Visitors will see war as more than just battle maps and weaponry; they will learn about the human experience of war.
While we are excited to announce that Conflicts & Consequences will be a permanent exhibit at the North House, we are always willing to adapt and update the exhibit to recognize more regional characters. Please feel free to email in stories and images of veterans with ties to the Greenbrier Valley to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Blank Slate...
Here Comes the COLOR!
Pictured below: 7th grade volunteer, Rowan Woody, painting object display stands
Stay tuned for the AFTER!
Conflict & Consequences will open at the North House Museum later this March. Find updates on our social media pages.
Who We Are
At the Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS), we pride ourselves on telling an inclusive and diverse narrative of our beloved Greenbrier Valley. Founded in 1963, GHS has spent the last 57 years serving the West Virginia counties of Greenbrier, Monroe, Summers, and Pocahontas. The Greenbrier Historical Society owns and manages three regional properties; the North House, used as our headquarters and offices, the Barracks, used to house our First Settler Escape Room experience, and the Blue Sulphur Springs Pavilion which is currently undergoing structural renovations.