Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography
Series 13: Education
Series 19: Students


Boarding School Student, 1935-1937 
Member, PMSS Girl’s Glee Club, PMSS Octet, 1937

TAGS: Nan Milan, Nannie Milan, Pine Mountain Settlement School Octet, Pack Horse Librarian, Walkertown KY, Hazard KY, music, ballads, dance, Lucille Christian, Lela Christian, Ruth Christian, Fern Hayes, Georgia Ayers, Joan Ayers, Ruby Ayers, Glyn Morris, Black Mountain College, Blue Ridge Parkway, Felix M. Milan, Ruth Milan, Lawrence Milan, Clarence Milan, Stanhope family, Amy Ray Milan, Flora Jene MiIan, Clara Belle Milan, Arthur Dodd, Everett K. Wilson, Esther Wellerm Ashely Bowling

Nan Milan, Pine Mountain Settlement School, c. 1937. Photo by William Hayes. [IMAG0217-1.jpg]

Born Nan Louise Milan, on November 26, 1917, in Yerkes, Kentucky, the young student had a complicated early life according to her application to Pine Mountain. Sometimes referring to herself as “Nannie” in her Autobiography, part of the necessary set of forms required of all students in the Pine Mountain School application, she later is called simply, “Nan.”

NAN MILAN Student: Application

Nan made application to Pine Mountain on June 3, 1933. The forms and the written narratives such as “My Autobiography” written in 1934, follows a guideline developed by the Southern Woman’s Educational Alliance (SWEA) of Richmond, VA. Orie Latham Hatcher, the early face of SWEA, had a deep association with Pine Mountain and was a close friend of Glyn Morris, the Pine Mountain School director, during the time of Nan’s enrollment. The Autobiography form that Hatcher sent to the School was extensive and gathered information on students and their families and the living conditions in their homes which could also be purposed for Hatcher’s organization, the demographic SWEA files. The original record, kept at Pine Mountain also provides a rich source of demographic information on the region served by the School.

NAN MILAN Student: Pine Mountain Activities

The following information gleaned from the student newspaper, the Pine Cone, gives a brief snapshot of Nan Milan and her activities at Pine Mountain. But, like many students at the School, the story that brought her to the School and just what she did upon graduation is more difficult to untangle.

According to the Pine Cone of May 1937, Page 1, Nan graduated with the following students:

1937 Graduating Class” [Anna Anderson, Alta Collins, Lavinia Carroll, Celia Holmes, Nan Milan, Georgia Ayers, Corbett Hoskins, Marion Turner, Tom Madon, Clyde Blanton]

In the Pine Cone, December 1937, Page 5, we learn something about her activities at the School:

002_20 Nan Milan as horseback librarian for PMSS. [burkhard_peo_002-20.jpg]

“The Pack Horse Library”

Three days a week Nan Milan visits rural schools and homes with a collection of books and magazines. On Mondays, she goes in the bus to Green Hill, Incline, and Divide schools. Thursday, Sunny Jim, the horse, is loaded with volumes for Turkey Fork. On Friday, the library is taken in the bus to Little Laurel and Big Laurel.

Students are anxious for Nan’s visits. At Green Hill they prepare reports on books loaned the previous week. The supply of reading material for children, which can be secured on the campus is limited. Rev. Matthew Smith, of Loyall, has contributed some.

The remainder of the week Nan spends visiting homes. She has found magazines are preferred to novels.

NAN MILAN Student: Her Autobiography

These two snippets from the published records of the School, while informative from the student side, fail to capture the underlying story that often accompanies students at Pine Mountain. For those details, the record of the student and accompanying correspondence offer deeper clues. After carefully reading her application forms and the reports/letters that she was required to send home to parents or guardians, much more is learned about Nan. Yet, in Nan’s case, even careful reading leaves many questions about her and her early life.

In her Autobiography, we learn that her father was Felix M. Milan and that he was apparently deceased by the time she applied for admission to Pine Mountain. Nan gives no date for his death. Her mother’s maiden name was Stanhope and according to the record she was born in Appalachia, Virginia. Her first name is unknown. Nan notes that her mother was also deceased, having died at the age of 45. It appears that she had recently died and while the older children had left the home, Nan and her sister Ruth were underage and had no local support system. Apparently, the family was a large one. Nan indicates that she had two brothers and four sisters. She lists their names and their ages in her “Autobiography”:

Lawrence          31
Clarence           29
Flora Jene         27
Clara Bell          24
Amy Ray           21
Ruth                 15

Apparently, these children graduated from high school or were close to graduating (11th grade) when Nan arrived at Pine Mountain. One brother worked as a fireman on the railroad and the other as a manager for Fisher Body. One other sister, Ruth Milan, was 15 and in the 8th grade at the time of the application. Ruth apparently also attended Pine Mountain very briefly.

At the time of application Nan would have been 16 which places her next to the youngest child in her family. From the correspondence, it appears that Nan and her sister Ruth were assigned a guardianship following their parent’s deaths. The Guardian was Mr. Ashley Bowling of Walkertown Station, near Hazard, KY. Little is known of Mr. Bowling.

NAN MILAN Student: Her Academic Challenges

Nan would have been 16 when she arrived and turned 17 during her first year at Pine Mountain Settlement School. During that first year, she apparently struggled to meet the academic challenges of the institution and to fulfill her work duties. She repeated the 9th grade. Nevertheless, the director wrote to her guardian, Mr. Ashley Bowling, and invited her to return to the School.

The first year at the School could not have been easy. With the death of two parents and the pressure of growing up quickly, she floundered. Nevertheless, Glyn Morris, the director wrote to her guardian, Mr. Bowling

“I’m glad to report that Nannie’s work is very good as a whole. She is doing particularly good work in English.”

In 1934 Pine Mountain ceased preparing report cards and opted for a self-reporting system as well as full reports from the instructors at the School. It was a novel system and one that left a rich and detailed trail for each student who attended after 1934. Mr. Morris, the director, notified Mr. Bowling of the changes in reporting and gave this accounting

“Nan’s school work is fair and her industrial work is fair also. She has a good attitude and we are glad that she is here. She takes part in all the activities and we feel that she is getting a lot out of Pine Mountain.”

The communication then seems to break down and Mrs. Bowling writes to the School that Nan

“…never did let us know about what she gained in school last year. Sending children to school and not knowing what good it does is not very interesting. The reason why I would ask this of Nan she done very poor in school here and kept it hid from us. You all know how children are. …”

In November of 1934, Glyn Morris writes to Nan’s guardians and asks permission for her to join the Pine Mountain Girls Glee Club, the precursor of the Pine Mountain Girls’ Octet, on a trip to Tusculum College in Greenville, TN. The work in the Glee Club seems to have turned Nan’s life in a new direction. In May of 1936, Arthur Dodd, the Principal of PMSS, wrote a report of Nan’s progress in the 11th grade at the School and noted

“Nan has taken an active part in such things as Glee Club, Choir, and Dramatics, and we feel that she makes a contribution to the school in this respect. 

Her industrial work has been good and we are glad that she has the opportunity of working off her debt by staying here this summer. We hope to have her back with us next fall.”

In December of 1935, Glyn Morris wrote to Nan’s guardian

“I am glad to tell you that Nan is a good industrial worker. Her attitude toward Pine Mountain is very fine and we are glad that she is here. Her school work is not as good as it might be, and I am sorry to tell you that she failed in Chemistry and was compelled to drop it. But I think she did the wise thing in this respect. 

I think Nan has done remarkably well and should be advised to continue in school until she finds the field in which she belongs. 

I would like to add that I hope you will give her all of the encouragement which she deserves.”

By July of 1936, the School was fully invested in Nan’s success and wrote the following to her guardian

“…On the whole, we are glad to be able to send you a very good report about Nan this spring. Because she has been here as long as she has, and because we are somewhat fond of her, I am going to take the liberty of being more than usually critical. Nan has marked ability as an industrial worker. She has ability too, in her academic work, but I do not believe that as yet she is utilizing all her resources. 

Nan has probably told you of all her work in the choir and the glee club, and the various confidences we have expressed in her from time to time. We are looking forward to seeing her develop this coming year — particularly to seeing more marked persistence.

Again I want to tell you that we are glad that Nan is at Pine Mountain, and we believe that we shall be quite proud of her eventually. She has, of course, made the usual progress to be expected in the year, and will be given more difficult work next year.”

Pine Mountain Settlement School Girl’s Octet, 1937. Georgia Ayers, Lucille McKinney, Nan Milan, Ruth Christian, Lela Christian, Ruby Ayers (seated: Fern Hall, Joan Ayers) [pmss_octet0001_mod.jpg]

In December of 1936, Everett K. Wilson, counselor and instructor in Civics, at the school writes

“…’Nan’s greatest contribution is in discussions when she seems to have a rare faculty for relating what she has heard or read or seen to the problem at hand. More than average work, but not very deep.

It can be seen from these evaluations that Nan’s work is fairly satisfactory but that she is not working to capacity. We would strongly urge that you encourage her to develop a capacity for perseverance in the face of difficulties and to spend a little more time and serious thought in her academic work. …made a good social adjustment and participates in many of the activities of the school. Here again, it would help her if she could learn to see things through to the end.”

By June of 1937, Nan’s report begins to reflect the struggle she was having in setting a course for herself. Arthur Dodd, the School Principal, shared some of her instructor’s observations with the Bowling guardians

“… Nan’s own statement that she was happier while doing community work than at any other period of her life indicates that she did good work. In the light of her diary tabulated every day after coming from her visits down the creek [home visits and pack horse librarian] this is particularly verified. I believe that she came nearer ministering to needs of her various homes than did any of the other girls. Her personality endeared her to all of the children as shown by the way they flocked to her when they came up to the movies [at the School] ….

“… Nan needs to learn how to accept criticisms gracefully. She says herself that she finds a position of being under someone’s authority intolerable. …”

“…Nan has made a great deal of progress, and we hope that she can continue along lines which will be equal to her abilities and will make her happy…”

Nan, still lacking personal direction, then went through a crisis of confidence, not uncommon to students about to graduate. As she struggled with her obstacle of close supervision she wrote a long letter to Director Glyn Morris, full of apology and anxiety. She reflected on her future and her past transgressions. She had told him earlier that she wanted to leave the School and attend Black Mountain College where she believed she would have more freedom of choice and less supervision and could lead a more expressive life. She had been harboring this idea since 1936 when Everett K. Wilson tried to work with her to sort out her ideas about plans for the next year. Wilson wrote to her brother Lawrence Milan on October 23, 1936, to see if the brother could finance Nan’s desire to go to college

“… Nan, of course, wants to go on to college somewhere. She thinks that she would like to go to Black Mountain College (in N. Carolina, I believe). I hardly think, personally, that this would be the best place for her. What would be, I am not sure. Of this much, I feel certain and I think that you will agree with me: (1) that she should, if at all possible, continue her school work provided she has some definite goal; (2) that the school to which she goes should be one which has proven its merit over a number of years and to which it will not be a waste of money to go; (3) that it will be an inexpensive college and one so situated that extra money, board and room etc., can be earned; and (4) that it should offer courses which will utilize and develop the particular capacities which Nan seems to have for dealing with and handling people….”

In her letter of August 9, 1937, to Glyn Morris, Nan continues to struggle with what she should do in her future life. She had just returned from North Carolina (Asheville) where she had stayed with a relative who was ill and laments

“I want so badly to feel grown up. Could it be Mr. Morris, that I have been so protected in Pine Mountain that it makes me feel as yet a child?”

She then suggests that

“… staying away from Pine Mountain would be the best for me and I hope you can help me come to a definite conclusion soon. Whatever you decide, I shall try to see it the way you do…”

Nan MIlan, on horseback, c. 1937. Photo by William Hayes.[IMAG0163b.jpg]

Nan did move on with her studies and in May of 1937, she graduated third in a class of ten from Pine Mountain Settlement School. She was then invited to stay on at the School for additional months where she joined other students in a postgraduate program of Community Workers that was established by Morris to give students time to try their wings in a supportive environment. Nan continued in her familiar and successful work as a home visitor and a pack horse librarian for additional months.

In July of 1938, she applied for the Washington Boulevard Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago, Ill. Esther Weller, the School Guidance Counselor at the time, wrote the following recommendation

I believe that Miss Nan Milan will prove to be a good student if given the opportunity. Since graduation, she has shown perseverance in her work as Pack Horse Librarian in this region. Her personality inspires confidence, health, and cheerfulness. Then, too, she knows what nursing is, has no illusions or romantic notions about it, since as a senior she was a member of the community class. The median was nursing work, but the aim was more of social work. She is strong in mind and in body. 

She eventually returned to Asheville, NC, near her relatives and where she enrolled in the Asheville Normal School. It was in Asheville that she married Albert Burns, an engineer on the Blue Ridge Parkway that was being constructed near Asheville. She continued her commitment to the idea of community, raised a family, and eventually became a librarian.

When Nan died July 12, 2007 at the age of 89, the Virginian-Pilot, Virginia’s most widely circulated newspaper, celebrated her accomplishments. Fred Kirsch, writing for the newspaper on July 21, 2007,  “Kentucky Girl Sang for President, Danced with Ford,” described her years at Pine Mountain Settlement as often understated by Nan. Kirsch said the family described her reflections as “modestly proud.” Yet, Nan’s years at Pine Mountain and her experiences as a member of the Octet and as a librarian on horseback, were formative years as seen in the newspaper clippings found “tucked away, that chronicled the [Octet] tour.”

GALLERY: Nan Milan

See Also:



ALICE COBB STORIES Farewell Trip to Line Fork, June 13, 1937










Nan Milan

Alt. Title

Nannie Milan ; Nannie Louise Milan ;



Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Nan Milan ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Nan Milan; Pine Mountain Settlement School Girl’s Octet 1936-1937; Nan Milan; Nannie Milan; Pack Horse Librarian; Walkertown, KY; Hazard, KY; music; ballads; dance; Lucille Christian; Lela Christian; Ruth Christian; Fern Hayes; Georgia Ayers; Joan Ayers; Ruby Ayers; Glyn Morris; Black Mountain College; Blue Ridge Parkway; Felix M. Milan; Ruth Milan; Lawrence Milan; Clarence Milan; Stanhope family; Amy Ray Milan; Flora Jene MIlan; Clara Belle Milan; Arthur Dodd; Everrett K. Wilson; Esther Weller; Ashely Bowling

Subject LCSH

Milan (       ), Nan ,— 1917 – 2011.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Perry County (Ky.) — History.
Asheville Normal School — 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 13: Education & Educational Programs ; Series 09: Biography ; Series 19: Students ;




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 13: Education & Educational Programs ; Series 09: Biography ; Series 19: Students ;

Coverage Temporal

1935-1937, 1938

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; 1934-1937


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 Nan Milan ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Nan Milan ;




“[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

2017-10-10 hhw ; 2018-02-22 hhw; 2018-02-23 aae; 2020-02-11 aae ; 2021-11-12 aae ; 2022-01-20 hhw ;



Boarding School Students 1929-1949. Series 19: Students, Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

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