A Blessing for the children of Dogtown

The Webb-Blessing House in Charles Town, West Virginia

Note: The Charles Town Library has existed for nearly 100 years. Like the people it has served for generations, its history has highs and lows, positive and negative events. We are documenting this history and recording, when we can, the voices of those who experienced it firsthand.

Miss Ollie (circa 1950)

First, is the story of “Miss Ollie” Blessing, who brought the gift of reading in the early to mid-1900s to the children of Charles Town – all children – white and black, at a time when a color line was held tight in the county, keeping people of color separated in restaurants, stores and schools.

Video: Miss Ollie and the children of Dogtown

Ollie Blessing walked across the lines of a black and white world.

“Miss Ollie,” as she was called for much of her life, lived in a small house packed with family and American history. She was a teacher in Ranson during the early 1900s and then started a kindergarten in her home on E. North Street, in Charles Town. Both the elementary school in Ranson and her private classes were for white children only. But Miss Ollie reached out to the black residents in her neighborhood in many ways during her daily walks.

Jim Taylor and George Rutherford, who appear in this video, lived, in a part of Charles Town that was called Dogtown. North Street, which runs parallel to the railroad tracks through downtown, was considered the unofficial southern border of Dogtown.

As children in the 1930s and 1940s, they both knew Miss Ollie well and learned many lessons from her. Miss Ollie would often walk the few blocks from her home to visit with the families of Dogtown, then an African-American area of town. When several residents told her of the need for books, she quickly provided them for the children. But that was not as easy as it would become only a few years later.

Some Charles Town children who grew up without access to a public library

When the Charles Town Library was founded in 1927, and for decades later, it was a membership library. Because there was a fee for membership, many people, no matter their color, were excluded from entering the library. But for black residents especially, the color line was still strong in a town slow to change, blocking them not only from being members of the library but from sitting at particular lunch counters on Washington Street or attending school with their white friends and neighbors.

In the video, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Rutherford tell of their experiences during this time and how Miss Ollie reached out to them, bringing books to those who otherwise would have gone without.

Miss Blessing died in 1983 at the age of 93, entering into an important part of the history of Jefferson County.More videos and audio conversations are in the works for the history of the Charles Town Library. They will be posted on our website and on Facebook.

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