Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Signing

Calvin Dickinson often speaks to groups about his books and holds a book signing afterward.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A heritage tour of the Tennessee Upper Cumberland

Click the link to see a great tour of some of the UC's most historic places, hosted by Calvin Dickinson and eight others from historic Upper Cumberland sites.
Herald Citizen - 22 Questions with retired TTU historian Calvin Dickinson

Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee

Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee was co-edited by Dickinson with two other historians, Kent T. Dollar and Larry H. Whiteaker.

Socially and politically, the slave states of Tennessee and Kentucky had much in common during the antebellum period. Additionally, during the Deep South's rush to secession in late 1860, strong unionist majorities held sway in both states. Yet, with the firing on Fort Sumter, their fates diverged. Why Tennessee moved toward secession and Kentucky remained in the federal union is just one of the complexities explored in Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“The book is a collection of essays about when the Civil War erupted and Tennessee chose to secede while Kentucky remained part of the Union,” Dickinson explains. “Loyalties in each state were closely divided between the Union and the Confederacy, making wartime governance, and personal relationships, complex.”

The book is available on and at Barnes and Noble.

Soldiers, Spies and Spartans

A new book, Soldiers, Spies and Spartans, highlights the role of several children, youth and women in the Civil War.

Published in January by The Overmountain Press in Johnson City, the book was co-authored by Dr. Calvin Dickinson, a retired professor from the Tennessee Tech University history department and the author of more than 20 books, and Cookeville writer Jennie Ivey.

“The last Southern state to secede from the Union, Tennessee contributed 120,000 soldiers to the Confederate cause and 31,000 to the Union, more Union soldiers than all other confederate states combined,” Dickinson explained, adding that the book does not seek to tell the story of the entire war, just the stories of a few “surprisingly young participants.”

The authors traveled across Tennessee to learn more about their stories and visit the places associated with them, completing more than a year of research.

“Some wore blue uniforms, while others wore gray,” Dickinson observed. “Several were civilians, and others were slaves-turned-soldiers. Many were heroes, but all were victims.”

Among the stories included are those of Union Private Elisha Stockwell at the Battle of Shiloh, Confederate Spy Ginny Moon, Chickamauga drummer boy Johnny Clem, the McGavock and Carter children, who experienced the bloody Battle of Franklin, boy hero of the Confederacy Sam Davis, hanged as a spy in Pulaski, and young slave Hanson Caruthers, who witnessed the Battle of Nashville.

“Not all Civil War cavalry soldiers rode horses with two feet in the stirrups,” Ivey pointed out. “In Rhea County more than two dozen young women between age 15 and 21 galloped through the countryside delivering medical supplies to confederate troops, earning them the nickname ‘Rhea County Spartans.’”

The 87-page book is illustrated with original and archival photos and contains suggestions for further reading as well as explanatory sidebars for enhanced understanding of the time period and customs, giving context to the tales told.

“We wanted to make the book very readable for anyone from middle school students to senior citizens,” Dickinson said. “We also wanted it to be affordable so that these stories can be enjoyed by everyone.”

Dickinson and Ivey are available to speak about the book upon request and can arrange for purchase of individual or multiple copies to be delivered for $10 each plus postage and handling. He may be contacted at the History Department, Box 5064 TTU, Cookeville, TN 38505 or via email at or Ivey may be contacted at (931) 526-1824 or by e-mail at

Tennessee Tech University

A historical sketch by W. Calvin Dickinson from Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

In 1915, following an intense lobbying effort on the part of Putnam County's state representatives, the general assembly chartered Tennessee Polytechnic Institute (TPI), located on the grounds of Dixie College in Cookeville. Established in 1909 by the Church of Christ, Dixie College suffered from a lack of financial support and never achieved college status, serving instead as an academy of secondary education.

State Democratic politics made the creation of TPI a political football. The split in the Democratic Party over the question of prohibition had weakened the party and made party leaders anxious to guarantee an election victory. Governor Thomas C. Rye was given assurances that the location of a school in Cookeville would win support for him from Putnam and the surrounding counties, with the possible exception of White County. In another political move, the legislators created a technical school rather than a teachers college in order to still opposition from the three normal schools already in operation. Although high school administrators objected strenuously, TPI's funding came from the high school fund rather than the normal school fund.
For the full text visit

Dr. Dora Lee Wilder Smith of Monterey

W. Calvin Dickinson & Charlene McClain

Tennessee Tech University

Dora Lee was the first woman in Tennessee to pass the state medical exam. She was the first female doctor in Monterey, and may have been the first female physician in the Upper Cumberland region. She also made contributions to the profession by presenting and publishing papers concerning medical treatment.

Dora was born in 1875/6 in Buncombe County, North Carolina. Folklorist E.G Rogers reported that her father was a physician.

By 1900 she had acquired enough education to be listed in the census as a nurse, still living in her father’s house. Dora had moved to Knoxville by 1904 and was working as a nurse, hoping to become a medical doctor. She met General John Wilder in a Knoxville hospital. Wilder was a Civil War hero who had led the U.S. Army’s Lightening Brigade through Tennessee during the conflict. Seventy-four-year-old Wilder was admitted to the hospital for treatment, and Dora was assigned as his private nurse. Gen. Wilder’s first wife, Martha, had died in 1892, and the general and his nurse immediately liked each other.

Wilder may have been attracted to the young woman as a nurse, and Dora may have been attracted to the general because of his wealth. In 1904 Wilder was U.S. Pension Agent in Knoxville, and he was a millionaire after developing the iron smelting business in Rockwood and in Chattanooga. Dora wanted to attend medical school in Knoxville, and she was saving money from her work to enroll.

The couple married at Lake Taxiway in 1904, a newly developed resort inn in western North Carolina. Built in the mountains o­n Taxiway Lake, the resort attracted wealthy persons. Some famous guests were Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison. No record of the Wilder-Lee wedding could be found, but, considering the general’s wealth, it was probably a lavish affair.

Returning to Knoxville, Dora and her husband lived o­n a small farm named Cherry Hill. Dora entered medical school at the University of Tennessee and General Wilder continued to act as pension agent for a short time. By 1910 she had completed her degree in medicine and the general had resigned his position.

The couple moved to Monterey in 1913.Monterey had always been a residence of Wilder, but he had other houses around Tennessee. Since his first iron smelting operation was in Rockwood, he maintained a home there. Later he moved his industry to Chattanooga, and he was mayor, so he built a house in that city. He also built and owned the Cloudland Hotel o­n Roan Mountain near Johnson City; he constructed a house for himself in the village of Roan Mountain. After he left Knoxville, the house he built in Monterey was his main residence, although he enjoyed leisure time in Florida every year.

The Monterey home, o­n Holly Street, is presently owned by Ruth Ann Woolbright. The general left the house to Dora, and she occupied it with her second husband. The Pugh family owned the house after Dora died.

In addition to building the Cloudland Hotel in 1885, General Wilder built the Imperial Hotel in Monterey. Although the Cloudland was a resort hotel, and although Monterey was a resort town, boasting six resort hotels, the Imperial was not considered a resort hotel. It was a railroad hotel, located close to the tracks and the depot. Opened in 1909, the Imperial had thirty rooms within its three-story frame. It boasted running water, inside plumbing, and steam heat. The dining room and the chef were locally famous. One newspaper editor lauded it as o­ne of the best hotels between Nashville and Knoxville. General Wilder enjoyed the hotel food frequently, and after he died Dora acted as a hostess in the dining room.

The o­nly evidence the authors could find, either in print or in interview, that Dora Wilder practiced medicine in Monterey, were some incidents mentioned in a newspaper column by E. G. Rogers. He mentioned the case of a Tennessee Central Railroad employee with a “severe arm injury.” Dr. Wilder repaired it. He also repeated a story of W. T. Ray that Dr. Wilder amputated the “mangled arm” of a man in Monterey. And she delivered babies, said Rogers. General Wilder “persuaded” her “to discontinue medical practice” after some time. She did attend meetings of the Upper Cumberland Medical Society, and she wrote and delivered papers o­n medical subjects. In 1911 Dora was first vice president of the medical society, and her name was listed at meetings in 1912, 1914, 1915, 1916, and 1917.

In 1911 Dr. Wilder gave a lecture o­n “Preventable Blindness” at the meeting, and the next year she suggested that a public health department be established. Dr. W.C. Officer of Monterey appointed her chair of a committee to investigate the possibility and feasibility of such an office. In 1915 she read a paper o­n “Twilight Sleep in Labor,” and she invited the society to meet in Monterey in 1916. Accepting the invitation, and the society met in the assembly room of the Imperial Hotel.Dr. Wilder presented a paper entitled” Should a Tubercular Mother Nurse her Child. “The next year the society met in Cookeville; Dr. Wilder gave a paper o­n “Infantile Paralysis.”

The 1910 issue of the Southern Medical Journal published a four-page paper entitled “The Cure of Tuberculosis by the General Fractioned [sic].” In the essay Dr. Wilder referred to “those of us who are especially interested in the treatment of the disease,” and she noted that “it is now admitted everywhere by the ordinarily intelligent that tuberculosis is a curable, preventable disease.” She prescribed the “cardinal remedies” of “air, food, rest and mind.” All patients should be required to sleep outdoors.”“Make it possible for your patient to stay in bed all the time.” The chief articles of diet are milk, eggs, fresh meat and pure olive oil.” If you encourage your patient in the belief that he is improving, soon the mental state is showing in actual weight.” These were the same treatments that Dr. May Wharton, the first female physician in Cumberland County, used in her early tuberculosis clinic.

The hospital in Monterey was Officer Sanatorium, owned and operated by Dr. William Carson Officer. It specialized in the treatment of tuberculosis. Officer built and operated the hospital from 1925 to his death in 1935. A newspaper article indicated “Dr. Officer has made a life study of tuberculosis, . . . and has surrounded himself and his offices with the very best in modern equipment. The patients’ rooms are large and each o­ne so situated as to get a maximum of fresh air and sunshine . . .. His Sanatorium is practically filled with patients and many more come and go at intervals for diagnosis and treatment.”

Although Dr. Wilder expressed an interest in tuberculosis there is no evidence that she was associated with Dr. Officer and his hospital.

In the autumn of 1917 General Wilder and Dora left Monterey to make their annual trip to Florida. Stopping in Chattanooga, they journeyed o­n to Jacksonville. On October 20 General Wilder died suddenly there, with Dora and two of his daughters at his bedside. His body was transported back to Tennessee, and he was buried with his first wife, his parents, and two of his daughters in Chattanooga’s Forrest Hills Cemetery.

Some time after Wilder died, Dora married Percy Berkley [P.B.] Smith, an official with the Tennessee Central Railroad. [E. G. Rogers said it was 1924.] Smith had often stayed at the Imperial Hotel, and he became a close friend of the Wilders, serving as a pallbearer at the general’s funeral.

Dora received title to the hotel when Wilder died, and she and Smith continued to operate the establishment. They also continued spending the winter in Florida. Smith died in Monterey in 1959, and Dora died there four years later o­n July 29, 1963. She was 87. Her death certificate listed her occupation as “housewife.” Evidently her medical degree and career were long behind her and forgotten.

The Smiths were buried in Alexander, North Carolina, Dora’s family home.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tennessee Tales that Textbooks Don't Tell

By Jennie Ivey, Calvin Dickinson, and Lisa Rand

"Tennessee Tales" is a collection of stories from the state's past.
From the Great Smoky Mountains to the Mighty Mississippi River, from Rachel Donelson to Elvis Presley, from bottled Coco-Cola to Goo Goo Clusters, "Tennessee Tales" captures the essence of the Volunteer State from the 1700s to the present. says, "
Tennessee Tales the Textbooks Don’t Tell is a collection of memorable stories from Tennessee’s past. Beginning with the legend of how a young Cherokee boy earned the name Dragging Canoe and weaving its way through three centuries, Tennessee Tales treats history not as a collection of names and dates, but as real-life drama filled with strong characters and vivid emotions. Though some of the people, places, and events portrayed here are mentioned in textbooks, never have they been presented as they are in this collection. Written in simple style and richly illustrated, these eighteen true stories are sure to enlighten and delight readers of all ages."

"The Walton Road: A Nineteenth Century Wilderness Highway in Tennessee"

By W. Calvin Dickinson

The Walton Road and the Avery Trail were the main highways between Knoxville and Nashville in the 19th century. This book is a collection of travelogues along these pioneer trails in the 1800s. These travelers had to contend with nasty weather, wild animals, friendly Indians and devious innkeepers.

Just published and newly available on!

"Upper Cumberland Historic Architecture"

By W. Calvin Dickinson, Michael Birdwell, Homer Kemp

A survey of architectural history of the rural Upper Cumberland region of middle/eastern Tennessee, including the counties of Putnam, White, Jackson, Fentress, Overton, DeKalb and Cumberland. The book details transportation--roads and rivers--in the region, and it discusses some of the important personages--Alvin York, Mark Twain, Aunt Polly Williams, and Henry Clay Snodgrass. Order from author at

Thursday, May 17, 2007

E Is for Elvis

A unique, funny and tragically hip look at the life of the King of Rock and Roll, E Is for Elvis will make you laugh at the absurdities of his life and, at the same time, smile at the magic he brought to this world. From "J is for Jeweled Jumpsuits" to "O is for Overweight," from "G is for Graceland" to "V is for Vegas," this beautiful book captures the life of Elvis Presley like no other book ever has.
Authors: Jennie Ivey , W. Calvin Dickinson & Lisa W. Rand Illustrator: Ron Wireman Jr.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, Color: Hardcover, Full-Color Illustrated

Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland

The Upper Cumberland region of Kentucky and Tennessee, often regarded as isolated and out of step with the rest of the country, has a far richer history and culture than has been documented. The contributors to Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland discuss an extensive array of subjects, including popular music, movies, architecture, folklore, religion, and literature. Seventeen original essays by prominent scholars such as Lynwood Montell, Charles Wolfe, Allison Ensor, and Jeannette Keith uncover fascinating stories and personalities as they explore topics including wartime hero Alvin C. York, Socialist Party Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Kate Brockfrod Stockton and even a thriving nudist colony, the Timberline Lodge.
By Michael E. Birdwell and W. Calvin Dickinson
Published 2004 University Press of Kentucky 368 pages ISBN 0813123097