Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 19: Students

VIRGIL SMITH, Student, August 1924 – July 1927

TAGS: Virgil Smith ; infantile paralysis : Katherine Pettit ; Berea (KY) College ; Ethel de Long Zande ; job applications ; Senior Class loans ; accounting ;

Virgil Smith arrived at Pine Mountain on August 25, 1924, as an older and non-traditional student. He had contracted infantile paralysis when a child and was partially paralyzed. His eyesight was very poor and his monetary resources even poorer.

The following story appeared in the Pine Mountain Notes in November 1924, just three months after his arrival at the School.

He came shambling in late on the afternoon of the first day of school, a deformed or crippled boy, and none too bright, it appeared to the children. Nineteen years old, all bent over so that his great height made him the more awkward, they thought of him, ‘He’ll never stay. He doesn’t know anything. A good-looking old boy called out patronizingly, ‘Hey, buddy. what grade you aim to take?’ Slowly the poor fellow answered and a grown-up coming by just then saw something very promising in the fine sensitive face and luminous brown eyes. ‘I aim to take the first year of High.’ Sure enough, he was ready for it, not because of any superior chance — he had come from way back in the mountains — but because of his eager mind that devoured books and searched out knowledge. Then the doctor looked him over. To everyone’s vast astonishment nothing really was wrong with him except his eyes, so near-sighted that he hardly saw the road he travelled. The oculist coming soon from Louisville for a school clinic could remake him and the impression he created with a pair of glasses. Virgil, with a mind not unworthy of his distinguished name, guessed at the glory of the change that would release his real self and take away his enormous handicap — ‘I reckon I’ll live in a new world when I get my glasses.’ Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School, November 1924, Page 1.

By May 18, 1924, Virgil’s new glasses had arrived. He wrote the following to Katherine Pettit:

Crockett, Ky.
May 18, 1925

Miss Katherine Pettit
Dear Miss Pettit,
I am at my Grandfathers. Will stay here and help him some on the farm. You can tell Miss [Evelyn] Wells to send my glasses to me at Crockett.
Yours truly,
V. Smith

With his new glasses on and a year at Pine Mountain, Virgil writes the following letter to Katherine Pettit:

Mambar, W. Va.
July 13, 1925

Miss Katherine Pettit
Dear Miss Pettit,

I just received your letter the 10th.

As I am so far away from Lexington I thought it might be well for me to come by Lexington and have that work done when I start back up to P,M. so if you thought it best you could get me a pass from Lexington to Putney and I would pay my way to Lexington. You can write and tell me when School starts and when to come to Lexington. 

I am reading one of H.G. Wells’ book on History and like it fine. 

Well I am interested to know who is to take Mr. Dechamps [Leon Deschamps] place . 

How is Mr. Browning getting along in law?
V. Smith

After three years at Pine Mountain, Virgil began to pursue a college education and stopped by Berea to see if he could qualify. With the assistance of Katherine Pettit, he applied to Berea College. The following letter exchanges take place between Virgil and Katherine Pettit regarding his college experience.

He writes to Pettit:

…I was at P.M, till May 24. I came home by Berea ta that time. I expected to go to Berea and finish [Berea Foundation High School] but I could not get a job till in July. 

I hope to hear from you before I start [P.M.] if possible.

Your student,

Pettit responds with this letter to Berea:

January 10, 1927

Dear Mr. Taylor:
Thank you so much for your letter in regard to the looms. We think now we may be able to get them made in our shop here. The girls here are in such a hurry for them. 

Now may I tell you about a boy of ours here at Pine Mountain that I am so anxious to have him go to Berea? Vergil (sic) Smith has been with us for three years and is to graduate from our high school this May. After he finishes working out his debt here, which will probably be about the middle of June. I wish he could go right to Berea and find work there and stay there until school begins. He has absolutely no money and has had to work extra tIme and in the summer to earn his way here. Now I am wondering if you could help get a scholarship for him and arrange for him to work there next summer? Some of our teachers have been greatly interested in him and say he has been a real student. Ray Holcomb has offered to do what he could to help our boys and girls, and I have asked him if he will help Virgil too. Virgil is very anxious to get his plans settled for next year, naturally. He is somewhat handicapped as a result of having infantile paralysis years ago, but since he has had glasses he says a new world has been opened up to him. All his work here has been outdoors on our farm, but he would like to get some kind of clerical work or store work in Berea if possible. He says he is going to study law and has been reading along that line ever since he came to us. I shall be so interested to hear from you about this. 

With warm greetings to you.
Faithfull yours, 
Katherine Pettit

By 1927 Virgil has been accepted into Berea College but he continued his correspondence with Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long Zande:

September 28. 1927
Dear Vergil [sic]
I hear you have been having troubles. Did you finally get any statement of your credits from Wallins? That is the trouble we have all the time, when we try to get a record of what students have done before they come to us. It shows how much room there is for improvement in the Kentucky schools. However if vital statistics were only required after 1910, perhaps it is too soon to expect more of the schools. 

I wonder what you are reading these days, and what subjects you are taking. I hope you will find it a [?] year, and that you will enjoy the competition of larger classes. Write me some time.

Has anybody told you about Browning’s 9000 cabbages and 7000 heads of celery and the 700-pIus half-gallon jars of beans Miss [Ruth] Gaines has canned from his garden? in spite of its being a bad season I think the garden has done remarkably well, don’t you? Now we are wanting rain badly. Only sponge baths are allowed and we have had to let the swimming pool empty.

I hope for a chance to get in to visit you all sometime during the year. The best of success to you.

Sincerely yours,
[Ethel de Long Zande]

As the co-directors kept Virgil updated on the PMSS’s activities, Virgil in return wrote of his Berea experiences. He particularly enjoyed participating in intersociety debate competitions and attending various chapel talks.

At one point, Virgil collected cash donations from Berea students and sent them to the School. Miss Pettit thanked him in a subsequent letter dated December 28, 1927. She informed him that the donations would be used to get an inscribed bell for the Laurel House dining room for announcements.

In another letter to Miss Pettit, Dated May 22, 1928, Virgil wrote that he and other former PMSS students were considering an alumni association of Pine Mountain students. Although there is no evidence of immediate followup to Virgil’s idea, it does indicate Virgil’s continued interest in the School.

In September 1934 Miss Pettit forwarded Virgil’s letter inquiring about a PMSS position to Glyn Morris, by then the director of the School. Although Virgil, at Morris’s request, submitted an application to teach social sciences or library, evidently there were no openings.

As Virgil continued his search for employment, he received a welcomed letter in February 1935, stating:

The senior class of Pine Mountain Settlement School, which is the guardian of a small trust fund, given the students of Pine Mountain by Mr. J.S. Crutchfield, of Pittsburgh, decided, in a meeting held last Friday night, to loan you its total balance of $60.00, without interest.

He used the loan to aid him in his job search and paid it back a year later while then living, and possibly working, in Cleveland, Ohio.

As late as August 1960, Virgil again wrote to PMSS, this time for information that he needed in order to register with the Ohio Board of Accountancy. This request was written on stationary with the letterhead indicating his name and DREXEL ACCOUNTING SERVICE in Dayton, Ohio, which apparently was his current place of employment. Although as a young man, Virgil had an avid interest in studying law, it appears that accounting was his final career choice.

Virgil Smith, born on February 16, 1906, was living with his family at North Fork in Morgan County, Kentucky, by the time of the 1910 U.S. Census. His parents were Mart Smith, a coal miner born c. 1886, and Nola Smith, born c. 1887. He had a younger sister, Vertrul Smith, born 1908.




Virgil Smith




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Virgil Smith ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Virgil Smith ; non-traditional students ; infantile paralysis ; Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Katherine Pettit ; Berea (KY) College ; Ethel de Long Zande ; job applications ; Senior Class loans ; accounting ; Mart Smith ; Nola Smith ; Vertrul Smith ; North Fork, KY ; Gallia, OH ; Daisy, KY ; Cleveland, OH ; Dayton, OH ; Berea, KY ; Crockett, KY ; Mambar, WVA ;

Subject LCSH

Smith, Virgil, — born February 16, 1906.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 19: Students




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 19: Students.

Coverage Temporal


Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; North Fork, KY ; Gallia, OH ; Daisy, KY ; Cleveland, OH ; Dayton, OH ; Berea, KY ; Crockett, KY ; Mambar, WVA ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Virgil Smith ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Virgil Smith;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2016-06-16 hhw ; 2016-06-22 aae ;



Smith, Virgil.” Virgil Smith Correspondence. Series 19: Students. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 29 October 2015), Virgil Smith in household of Mart Smith, North Fork, Morgan, Kentucky, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 153, sheet 12A, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,374,505. Internet resource.

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