The labors and achievements of a West Virginian whose name. is familiar to the school children of the state will receive world-wide recognition when the life and works of the late Virgil A. Lewis, former state historian and archivist, are included in a volume of the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, to be published in the near future.
Armistead C. Gordon, of the English department at the University of Virginia, is writing a sketch of the life of this historian and educator for the coming volume.
Data for this work has been furnished by Clifford P. Myers, present state historian and archivist, who was a student of Mr. Lewis and is a great admirer of his predecessor in office.
Mr. Lewis died December 5, 1912, at his home in Mason City. He was buried in Point Pleasant, W. Va. After his death his family moved to Huntington. Mrs. Lewis and her daughters, Miss Virginia Lewis and Miss Lucy Lewis are living at 701 Twelfth Avenue at the present time. A son, Virgil Alfred died in 1918. The eldest, daughter, Mrs. Anne Fitch, lives in Charleston as does his adopted daughter, Miss Maude Lewis, who is secretary to George M. Ford, state superintendent of schools.
Virgil Anson Lewis, was born in Waggener district, Mason county, July 6, 1848. He was of hardy pioneer stock and is of the sort of self-educated man typified by Abraham Lincoln. His ancestors were settlers of Mason county. Mr. Lewis was the eldest of five children of George W. and Lucy Edwards Lewis.
George W. Lewis died when Mr. Lewis was but 10 years of age and he worked energetically on the little farm in aid of the support of the widowed mother and orphaned brothers and sisters. In winter he attended the "old field schools" of antebellum times. Upon the introduction of the public school system in West Virginia, he resolved to prepare himself for teaching and prosecuted his studies with that object in view.
He worked in a printing office during vacation and at one time owned a half interest in the West Virginia Monitor, then published at West Columbia, in his native county. Later, he was employed at the Clifton Iron & Steel works.
Having made the necessary preparation of his county, engaged in teaching in the district schools; then became a principal in the graded and high schools of Buffalo and Winfield, in Putnam county, and in those of Leon, Hartford, Valley City and Mason City, in his native county. For several years he was a member of the board of examiners in the latter county. During vacation, he entered in the study of pharmacy and was for a time employed as a druggist. In the year 1878 and 1879, while teaching at Winfield, he studied law in the office of the late James H. Hoge, and was admitted to the bar. Later, he was granted permission to practice before the state supreme court of appeals and the United States district court.
In 1891, Mr. Lewis was mayor of Mason City, his home town, serving one term and declining a second election. In the same year, Governor Fleming appointed him delegate to the Southern Industrial congress, which that year assembled at Asheville, North Carolina. The next year he established the Southern Historical Magazine at Charleston, W. Va.
His main energies have been given to educational and literary work, and in 1892, he was elected on the democratic state ticket to the office of state superintendent of free schools, a position he filled for four years with credit to himself and the state. He was renominated in 1896, but was defeated with his party ticket at the ensuing election. In 1893, West Virginia University conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts. In the same year, because of his activity in aiding the state educational exhibit, he received a diploma of honorable mention from the board of lady managers of the World's Columbian exposition.
During the next year, he published a Manual and Graded Course of Study for Country and Village Schools, which has been widely adopted and has received many complimentary notices from leading educators.
While state superintendent of free schools, Mr. Lewis served four years as a member of the board of public works, four years as president of the state board of examiners, four years as president of the state educational association, four years as president of the board of regents of the state normal schools and was, at the same time, a member of the board of the irreducible school fund and a commissioner of state printing. For more than 10 years, he has been connected with the boards of one or more of the state institutions. From 1893 to 1897, he was editor and proprietor of the West Virginia school journal. In 1896 and 1897, he was president of the Ohio Valley college, at Ravenswood, W.Va. He is a member of the National Educational association and of the Southern Educational association.
In 1899, he was mentioned as a candidate for the office of governor, and, in fact, the delegates from Mason, his native county, went to the state convention instructed to vote for him. But he made no canvass and the nomination went to another.
Mr. Lewis was indefatigable in historical research and published many volumes dealing with the history of this portion of the country. In 1880, he was elected a member of the Virginia Historical society, and in 1891, to membership in the Western Reserve Historical society. The same year, he founded the West Virginia...and was for seven years its secretary. He was an active member of the Trans-Alleghany Historical society and of the American Historical association and secretary of the Point Pleasant Battle Monument commission.
His historical and education work made him the logical person for state historian and archivist when that state department was opened in 1905. His work in building up this new department has been widely commented upon. He held the position until his death in 1912.
Sources on Virgil Lewis