Miriam M. Sizer
by Reed Engle, Cultural Resource Specialist
NOTE: In the park archives are copies of letters and reports written from 1928-1932 by Miriam M. Sizer, an educator hired to study the mountain residents in Nicholson, Weakley (Old Rag), Corbin, and Richards Hollows, and to make recommendations as to solutions to the problems inherent in relocation. Sizer's bias becomes more obvious with the passage of time and with more professional studies such as the archeological survey now being undertaken by Audrey Hornung in three of the same areas. But Sizer's beliefs, supported by such backers as George Freeman Pollock and William E. Carson, have influenced popular thought for three generations.
The following "draft letter" was written by Sizer after two months of teaching vacation school at a school supported by Pollock in Weakley Hollow, hardly an adequate period of time to make the sweeping generalizations that occur therein. There can be little doubt that Skyland's proprietor had a great deal of influence on the teacher during her summer stay at Skyland and in her attitudes concerning his mountain neighbors.
One cannot help but compare the attitudes and conclusions of Miss Sizer with those of Christine Vest, the Hoover's hand-picked teacher at Hoover School. Serving essentially a similar population, Miss Vest reached very different conclusions about the hollow families. Perhaps her approach lacked the judgmental pomposity of Miss Sizer's.]
On September 21, 1928, a short letter was sent to William E. Carson, the Chairman of the Virginia State Conservation and Development Commission, the agency charged with the survey and purchase of land for the proposed Shenandoah National Park:
Dear Mr. Carson:
The proposed draft letter was written on the letterhead of the "Skyland Inn and Bungalows, G. Freeman Pollock, Proprietor", at "Mr. Pollock's suggestion" by Miriam M. Sizer who introduced herself therein:
For two months this summer I taught a vacation school at Oldrag [sic], Virginia, near Skyland. Here I studied both educational and sociological conditions.
Miss Sizer's credentials certainly were admirable for a educator at a time when many rural teachers had little or no college education. But the modern reader of her thoughts cannot but be amazed that she had entre to and influence on the thoughts and policies generated by the Secretary of the Interior, Director of the National Park Service, and the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In point of fact, Miriam Sizer's shallow analyses of the "sociological conditions" of the mountain residents, often influenced by her not unnoticed ability for ' "thinking up" positions for herself' 2 remain with us, filtered through almost seven decades of paraphrase.
Sizer's original draft to the Times noted:
This one-room school [Old Rag] was in session three months last winter [1927-8] and two months this summer, making a total of five months. With approximately seventy children of school age, thirty seven were enrolled in the vacation school with an average daily attendance of nineteen.
For three years Miriam Sizer was employed by the Commonwealth to "study" the mountain families and, not unexpectedly, she wrote again to Cammerer in 1932 to transmit her "data" concerning "some details of the park population problems".
Perhaps knowing that she had reached the end of her employment opportunities in the future park, she stated:
You may be interested further in knowing that I have a fair assurance of a school in Rappahannock County, down the Blue Ridge about 4 or 5 miles from Skyland. There are about 20 pupils and no school has been conducted for some years due to non-attendance of pupils.
Nothing further is recorded about Miriam Sizer in the Shenandoah National Park archives, but her sociological analyses continue to float to the surface, tainted with parochial and nativistic claptrap.
Did You Know?
Shenandoah National Park has over 500 miles of trails. Over 30% of the trails are in designated wilderness. 101 miles are part of the Appalachian Trail.