Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff
Leonard Ward Roberts, Teacher, 1950-1953
and Folklore Scholar
Leonard Ward Roberts (1912-1983)


Students in class, 1950. (5 & 6, 1950) [53_life_work_children_classes_1733.jpg]

TAGS: Leonard Ward Roberts, Berea College, Folklore studies, dissertations, folk narratives, sound recordings, folk tales, folk songs, Couch family, Hutchins Library, magic tales, folk collections, audio-recorded tales, literary journals, Twigs (Cumberland), Pike County Historical Society, Edith Reynolds Roberts


English Teacher (7th & 8th grades), 1950-1953

Dr. Leonard Ward Roberts was born in Floyd County, Kentucky, in 1912. His education began in a one-room schoolhouse, followed by grades 7 through 12 at Pikeville High School. His high school years were interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army before he returned to graduate.

After receiving a BA in English and Music in 1939 at Berea (Kentucky) College, he taught in several Kentucky and North Carolina schools. He went on to study creative writing at the University of Iowa, earning a Master’s degree in 1943, and then taught in the Army V-12 program at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. There he also pursued a doctoral degree in Folklore Studies, which he later continued at Indiana University, then at University of Kentucky.

His dissertation, completed in 1953, focused on his collection of folk narratives, mostly sound recordings from Leslie and Perry Counties. It was published in 1953 by the University of Kentucky Press as South from Hell-fer-Sartin: Kentucky Mountain Folktales and highly regarded by his professional peers.

In 1945 Dr. Roberts returned to Berea College, teaching English in the Foundation School (Berea College’s elementary and secondary school, discontinued in 1968) and later at Pine Mountain Settlement School (1950-1953). During this time, he encouraged his students to collect folktales and songs from their families, particularly the Couch family. As noted in the history written for the “Guide to the Leonard Ward Roberts Collection” at Berea College’s Hutchins Library website,

Roberts’ folklore scholarship was distinctive in at least three respects. Although he included instrumental music and songs in his collecting, as did most of his fellows, his primary focus was on magic tales and other stories. For a considerable time, he was one of only a few scholars collecting and publishing such material. He is also notable for having included a large number of children among his informants and having made extensive use of electrical sound recording. Of particular significance are his recordings from the late 1940s through the 1950s, a time for which such documentation of southeastern Kentucky’s folklore is otherwise quite rare. The hundreds of items he recorded constitute perhaps the nation’s largest collection of such audio-recorded tales. Much of this material has neither been published nor transcribed. Some of these tales are available as audio files in the Digital Library of Appalachia.

After Pine Mountain, Dr. Roberts taught at various colleges, finally accepting a teaching position and becoming Chairman of Humanities in 1968 at Pikeville College. He continued his involvement with research and publication of eastern Kentucky folklore and history, founding Pikeville College Press and Appalachian Studies Center, as well as a literary journal, “Twigs” (later known as “Cumberland”). He also wrote for and edited the Pike County Historical Society’s annual journal, focusing mainly on local genealogy.


Dr. Roberts was married to Edith Reynolds Roberts (1915-2010)a teacher of second and third-grade students at Pine Mountain Settlement School from September 1950 until May 1953. Dr. and Mrs. Roberts had four daughters: Sue Carolyn, Margaret Ann, Rita Helen, and Lynneda Jane.

Dr. Leonard Ward Roberts died April 29, 1983, as a result of injuries he received in a car-coal truck collision.

See Also:


Leonard Ward Roberts

Alt. Title

Dr. Roberts, Dr. Leonard Roberts ;




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt, Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Dr. Leonard Ward Roberts ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; one-room schools ; Pikeville High School ; U.S. Army ; Berea College ; University of Iowa ; Army V-12 program ; University of North Carolina ; Folklore studies ; Indiana University ; University of Kentucky ; dissertations ; folk narratives ; sound recordings ; University of Kentucky Press ; Foundation School ; elementary schools ; secondary schools ; folktales ; folk songs ; folklore ; Couch family ; Hutchins Library ; magic tales ; folk collections ; audio-recorded tales ; Digital Library of Appalachia ; Chairman of Humanities ; Pikeville College ; Pikeville College Press ; Appalachian Studies Center ; literary journals ; Twigs (Cumberland) ; Pike County Historical Society ; genealogy ; Edith Reynolds Roberts ;

Subject LCSH

Roberts, Dr. Leonard Ward, — 1912 – 1983.
The Couch Family.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Folk songs, English — Kentucky.
Ballads — Kentucky.
Tales — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Rural 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 09: Staff/Personnel




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Staff/Personnel

Coverage Temporal

1912 – 2010

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Harlan, KY ; Pikeville, KY ; Pike Country, KY ; Phyllis, KY ; Jeffersonville, IN ; Harold, KY ; Sanford, NC ; Dayton, OH ; Feds Creek, KY ; Floyd County, KY ; Berea, KY ; North Carolina ; Iowa City, IA ; Chapel Hill, NC ; Bloomington, IN ; Lexington, KY ; Leslie County, KY ; Perry County, KY ;


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 Dr. Leonard Ward Roberts ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Dr. Leonard Ward Roberts ;




“[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

2014-02-01 aae ; 2016-03-18 aae ; 2024-02-25 aae ;



Staff Directory, 1913-present.” Series 9: Staff/Personnel. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“Guide to the Leonard Ward Roberts Collection – History.” Hutchins Library Special Collections & Archives, Berea College, KY. http://community.berea.edu/hutchinslibrary/specialcollections/saa57history.asp (accessed 2014-02-01). Internet resource.

Selected List of Publications by the Roberts

Folk tale narratives. Digital Library of Appalachia, 1949-1961. http://dla.acaweb.org/cdm/search/searchterm/leonard%20roberts/mode/all/order/nosort/page/1 (accessed 2014-02-01). Internet resource.

Hatfield, G E, Leonard Roberts, and Henry P. Scalf. The Hatfields. Stanville, Ky: Big Sandy Valley Historical Society, 1974. Print.

McCoy, Sam, Hobert McCoy, Orville McCoy, and Leonard Roberts. Squirrel Huntin’ Sam McCoy: His Memoir and Family Tree. Pikeville, Ky: Pikeville College Press, 1979. Print.

McCoy, Truda W, and Leonard Roberts. The McCoys: Their Story As Told to the Author by Eye Witnesses and Descendants. Pikeville, Ky: Preservation Council Press of the Preservation Council of Pike County, 1976. Print.

Roberts, Edith, and Leonard Roberts. Games to Play. Bowling Green, Ky: s.n, 1963. Print.

Roberts, Leonard W, C B. Agey, and Jan P. Schinan. In the Pine: Selected Kentucky Folksongs. Pikeville, Ky: Pikeville College Press, 1978. Musical score and Print.

Roberts, Leonard, and C B. Agey. Sang Branch Settlers: Folksongs and Tales of a Kentucky Mountain Family. Austin: Published for the American Folklore Society by the University of Texas Press, 1974. Print.

Roberts, Leonard. Leonard Roberts Papers. Hutchins Library Special Collections & Archives, Berea College, KY: 1950. Print.

Roberts, Leonard. Nippy and the Yankee Doodle, and More Folk Tales from the Southern Mountains. Berea, Ky: Council of the Southern Mountains, 1958. Print.

Roberts, Leonard. Old Greasybeard: Tales from the Cumberland Gap. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Print.

Roberts, Leonard. Pike County Kentucky, 1822-1977. Pikeville, Ky: The Society, 1978. Print.

Roberts, Leonard. Raglif, Jaglif, Tetartlif, Pole: [and Other Tales from Appalachian Tradition]. Berea, Ky: Appalachian Center, Berea College, 1993. Sound recording.

Roberts, Leonard W, C Buell Agey, and Jan P. Schinan. In the Pine: Selected Kentucky Folksongs. Pikeville, Ky: Pikeville College Press, 1978. Musical score.

Roberts, Leonard W. I Bought Me a Dog: And Other Folktales from the Southern Mountains. Berea, Ky: Council of the Southern Mountain Workers, 1954. Print.

Roberts, Leonard W. Sang Branch Settlers ; Folksongs and Tales of an Eastern Kentucky Family. Pikeville, Ky: Pikeville College Press of the Appalachian Studies Center, 1980. Print.

Roberts, Leonard W. South from Hell-Fer-Sartin: Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1955. Print.

Publication title of Roberts’ dissertation, which was based on a large number of folk narratives he had collected, mostly via sound recordings in Leslie and Perry counties.

Roberts, Leonard W. The Tales and Songs of the Couch Family. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1959. Print.

Roberts, Leonard W. Up Cutshin and Down Greasy: Folkways of a Kentucky Family. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1959. Print.