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[Audio, Slideshow] Fulton's Ouida Jewell Preserved History, Traveled the World & Dreamed of Flying

Far too often, the everyday stories of our communities get lost in history: stories of an old opera house, recollections of childhood memories from the Civil War. Anyone interested in the heritage and history of our region would find a remarkable treasure in the collection of Fulton journalist Ouida Jewell at Murray State's Pogue Library. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Sarah Hopley, Special Collections & Exhibits Librarian about this 'success story' from western Kentucky.

Ouida Jewell not only had a remarkable career as a journalist in the 1940s through 60s, she meticulously kept every scrap of her career and globe-trotting adventures in scrapbooks now archived at Pogue Library. 

Ouida was born in Fulton in 1923 and lived there her entire life. She graduated from Fulton High School in 1941. After graduating, she started a career in broadcasting, beginning at local radio stations. Eventually, her career spanned from Louisville Courier Journal, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Paducah Sun-Democrat, Fulton Daily Leader and Fulton County News.

She became well-known in her time for her column "Backward Glance," which had a focus on prominent Fulton residents and things local people might know about and reminisce about. Among the clippings are stories about the death of a prominent doctor (R.L. Bushart), an abandoned opera house downtown, the time Charles Lindbergh placed flowers on the grave of a local child, notable singer/songwriter Jack Foy, a singer from Benny Goodman's band and an old woman celebrating 105 years (who shares a story about growing up in Nashville during the Civil War). 

Ouida was also one of the top insurance sales representatives in Kentucky. She sold insurance for Harry Lee Waterfield's company. In an ad, she's mentioned under the headline "success story," which expounds on the business setting a state record for first year production of domestic life insurance companies ($25 million dollars). 

She also dreamed of flying. During World War II, Ouida tried to join the W.A.S.P. (Womens Airforce Service Pilots).  In the collection are letters to Washington D.C., Nashville, Louisville and the Mayfield-Graves County Airport trying to find someone to teach her how to fly. One can guess she was unsuccessful, since there are more letters of her trying again in the 1950s. 

Through her sister's husband's connection in Hollywood, Ouida collected letters from celebrities like Lawrence Welk and a surprise in the collection: a Christmas card with a hand signature by Elvis Presley and the Colonel (awaiting appraisal). 

Though she was never a professional pilot, Ouida did indulge in a love of traveling. She went to Europe (Ireland and Italy), Mexico and Cuba. Often, she wrote about her trip and sent back stories of her experiences for publication. She also saved every scrap of paper from these trips, including hotel receipts and postcards. 

Also among the collection are seemingly "flirty letters" with Harry Harrison Kroll, a professor and prominent local author from UT Martin (often compared to Jesse Stuart, Hopley says). 

Hopley likens Ouida to Nellie Bly. "She didn't go around the world in 80 days, but in her own way, she definitely made a big impact on the area," she says.

More about Ouida Jewell's collection at Pogue Library

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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