KATHERINE PETTIT Social Settlement in Kentucky Mountains Sassafras Album 1901

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Directors
Katherine Pettit
Social Settlement in Kentucky Mountains
Sassafras Album 1901

KATHERINE PETTIT Social Settlement in Kentucky Mountains Sassafras Album 1901

TAGS: Katherine Pettit, Social Settlement in Kentucky Mountains, Sassafras Album 1901, Sassafras KY, Hazard KY, Hindman KY, Knott County, Perry County, Harlan County, weaving, coverlets, Enoch Combs, Mary E. McCartney, May Stone, Rae M. McNab, W.C.T.U. Settlement, Hindman Settlement School, settlement schools

KATHERINE PETTIT Social Settlement in Kentucky Mountains Sassafras Album 1901

Before Katherine Pettit came to Pine Mountain Settlement School she was involved in the establishment of Hindman Settlement School at Hindman, Kentucky, in Knott County. Her work at Hindman began just after the turn of the century and involved summer work with literacy camps and temporary shelters for the workers. One of these temporary summer shelters, established in the summer of 1901 at Sassafras, was located approximately ten miles south-southwest of Hindman, a larger town also in Knott County. Scenes from the Sassafras camp may be seen in photographs 002 through 004, shown below under “The Summer Camps.”

 The Sassafras Album

Cover. Katherine Pettit’s Sassafras Album, 1901. [sas_cover_tif.jpg]

The faint title on the album cover reads:

The Social Settlement
in the Ky Mountains
Sassafras   Knott Co.
May Stone, Louisville, Ky
Rae M. McNab, Louisville, Ky
Mary E. McCartney, Louisville, Ky
Katherine Pettit, Lexington, Ky

The so-called “Sassafras Album” is one of two albums that detail the early efforts to bring literacy camps to the remote regions of southeastern Kentucky. The Sassafras camp experience photographer is not known but the annotation of the photographs in the Album appears to be in Katherine Pettit’s hand. A second “Sassafras” album is held by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and duplicates in part the holding at Pine Mountain Settlement School.

The early work in the very rugged hills near Hindman brought Pettit into contact with many of the mountain families in Knott and Perry counties, and eventually, Harlan County. Pettit became fascinated with the “kivers” or coverlets that many of the women in the region wove and treasured. The patterns are some of the oldest known pioneer patterns passed along through weaving families who settled in the Southern Appalachians.

The Sassafras Album, donated to Pine Mountain by Katherine Pettit, is a rare glimpse into the distant past of the complex art and craft of weaving. The small album captures the unique processes used by Appalachian mountain families who sheared their sheep, washed and carded their wool, spun the wool and then wove it into complex patterns. These processes were often passed along through their families for generations and many skills may often be traced to their European origins. (See “The Combs Family” below.)

The Summer Camps

Katherine Pettit came from the Bluegrass of Lexington, Kentucky, May Stone, Mary E. McCartney and Rae M. McNab, came from Louisville. They all traveled into what had become somewhat familiar territory to some in the group but carried great adventure for all as they negotiated the communities in the rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky. Their summer school at Sassafras in 1901 was not the first of the summer camps the women had participated in but it was the last before the move to the site at Hindman where a permanent settlement was established in 1902.

The series of summer camps were planned to serve as reading camps to address the literacy-poor hollows in Knott County. The success of the earlier summer camps had proven that the need was great for continuing educational programming in the region. The enthusiasm of Pettit and Stone and their rich and numerous contacts led to their support from the Committee on Social Settlement, a committee of the Kentucky Women’s Club. With the strong support of the nationally recognized women members of that Club, and additional money from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, they founded the permanent school at Hindman in 1902 in record time.

Sassafras Album: The Combs Family

The Album is focused on the family of Enoch Combs and his wife Mary, who were a childless couple living in Sassafras, near Hindman (Knott County), Kentucky, Pettit’s first school location. Enoch Combs was the descendant of a long line of Combs in Eastern Kentucky.

The Combs couple were the hosts for a group of young women who came to the third and final summer camp in Southeast Kentucky, which was held at Sassafras in Knott County prior to the establishment of Hindman Settlement by Katherine Pettit and May Stone.

The life of the Combs family and their skills at weaving are captured in this small album of photographs belonging to Katherine Pettit which she titled “The Social Settlement in the Ky [Kentucky] Mountains 1901. Sassafras, Knott Co[unty].” The small and fragile album of 27 pages, held in the Pine Mountain archive, shows members of the Combs family and a young lady who was living with the Combs, shearing their sheep, washing the wool, drying the wool, picking and carding, dying the “hanks,” and finally spinning the wool to be placed on spindles. The images freeze this valuable pioneer processes in time and allow the viewer to understand the many complex tasks associated with the manufacture of textiles in the Southern Appalachians.


Copies from this album are now on exhibit at Hill House, one of the guest residences at Pine Mountain Settlement School. Come spend a weekend, enjoy the luxury of clean air, hikes in the surrounding forest, and freedom to explore the campus. Pine Mountain Settlement is on the National Historic Register and many of the buildings are the work of one of the nation’s first woman architect, Mary Rockwell Hook.

GALLERY: KATHERINE PETTIT Social Settlement in Kentucky Mountains Sassafras Album 1901

See Also:

COMBS Family


KATHERINE PETTIT Correspondence Guide 1911-1936

KATHERINE PETTIT Director Biography 

KATHERINE PETTIT Dye Book by Helen Wilmer Stone Viner


KATHERINE PETTIT Weaving at PMSS Beginnings
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Weaving at PMSS 1930s-1940s Blog

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