Born in Missouri in 1897, Ruth Ann Musick had a lifelong love of storytelling. She valued education, earning two bachelor’s degrees and teaching high school in the Midwest for 17 years before ultimately earning her PhD in English at the age of 46.
With a passion for folklore, she was drawn to West Virginia after deeming it a region rich with stories waiting to be preserved. “Ruth Ann Musick had a sense from her folklore studies that this was an untouched area as far as collecting the stories,” said Dr. Judy Byers, a longtime friend of Musick and former director of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center.
Dr. Musick began teaching at Fairmont State in 1946 and offered a folklore course which quickly became popular. “I will never forget what she told us,” former student Arnold Kittle recalled. “It was the first day of class and she said she wanted ghost stories, real ghost stories. And she could tell the difference.”
Within three years of her arrival in Fairmont, Dr. Musick helped revive the West Virginia Folklore Society. In 1951, she founded the West Virginia Folklore Journal – a publication which lives on today under the name Traditions: A Journal of West Virginia Folk Culture and Educational Awareness.
A passionate collector, Dr. Musick spent countless hours visiting West Virginia families and preserving their stories. In fact, that’s how she and Dr. Judy Byers first met. Byers remembers her as a kind woman with “twinkling eyes,” who visited the family each week and eagerly listened to their tales – eventually inspiring Byer’s own lifelong study of folklore.
Best known for her collections entitled The Telltale Lilac Bush, Green Hills of Magic, and Coffin Hollow, Dr. Musick taught at Fairmont State for 21 years before retiring in 1967. She spent much of her life working to preserve West Virginia’s cultural heritage. Upon her death in 1974, her unpublished folklore estate was bequeathed to FSU.
Today, her works are archived in the Frank & Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center. The center was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 – not only because of its architecture, but because of its association with Dr. Musick as well.
To recognize her career and her lasting impact on Fairmont State, the library was renamed in her honor in 1980.