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 7 Action at the Kentucky Historical Society, 1959–1973 Colonel George M. Chinn wore many hats during the 1960s and early 1970s. He was a caveman, hoping to find uncharted caverns out on Highway 68; head of a significant branch of state government, the Kentucky Historical Society; a governmental consultant on military ordnance, especially from a base in Louisville, where he had a direct telephone line; and a much-indemand public speaker. Taking charge of the KHS in 1959, over time he identified several matters that, in his opinion, needed priority status. One of these major tasks was to enlarge KHS membership throughout the state, and then increase patronage of the society ’s learned journal, the Register. Most estimates put membership when Chinn arrived at two thousand; that figure climbed almost to ten thousand by the time the colonel resigned his directorship.1 He wanted to eliminate the “blue-blood” image of KHS. Membership came primarily from Frankfort itself; far western and far eastern Kentucky in the past had routinely been left out in reference to the KHS. One of the staff suggested that KHS directors appoint a person to travel to far-flung Commonwealth communities and actually knock on doors to see if the inhabitants were members of KHS, or if they received the Regis- Kentucky Maverick 108 ter every quarter. The directors considered this proposal reasonable , but were prevented from hiring anyone when the general assembly gave the excuse that seems almost always to be offered: no money.2 With little or no help from the state, the KHS recruiters emphasized the “bargain” of being a member: $5 a year or $50 for life membership. This attractive price spiked membership, at least for a while. By October 1970, the society had 9,708 members. A damper was cast on this statistic when someone announced that of that number, 602 were in arrears on their membership fees.3 One costly error caused severe damage to the KHS budget. Many times when a patron moved to a new residence, he or she listed only the new address for forwarding, without giving the old address. Thus, the individual remained on the books at both addresses. Once the error was discovered, about fifteen hundred names were purged.4 The creation of a genealogical magazine, Kentucky Ancestors, which was supported by Colonel Chinn early in his tenure, brought in additional members, but it was one of the bones of contention between Chinn and Dr. Clark. Clark feared Chinn would turn the whole organization into a DAR-style quest for eminent relatives. He did not. Among the incentives for joining KHS was delivery of the Register each quarter and the chance to obtain a numbered print by renowned Kentucky painter Paul Sawyier. Only members, including newly admitted members, of KHS could purchase these highly prized works of art. They sold for $20 each, considered by most a great bargain. Of course, the problem here was transparent: once someone had his or her prized Paul Sawyier print, there was no need to renew the annual subscription , accounting for numerous losses to the membership. On the other hand, many who did take the opportunity to buy Sawyier prints did stay in the organization as a result—and the society grew, even flourished.5 Action at the Kentucky Historical Society 109 The colonel definitely believed that young people should be brought into the membership, a belief shared by Dr. Clark and many other Kentucky historians. Although Chinn, from time to time, chided his juniors for spending too much time on TV and basketball, he loved and respected youngsters. “I have noticed in the past few years,” he told a reporter, “so many young people are becoming interested in history.” Knowledge of history was especially important for the young; more so than their elders, they were not sure where they were going in life, and before one knows where one’s going, according to the colonel, one has to know where one’s been.6 Adults, on far too many occasions, approached ideas and controversies with closed minds. The pursuit of history, both in the classroom and in research activities, needed young minds to establish fresh approaches, to show how the past, present, and future were intertwined. John B. Breckinridge , previous president of KHS, started the Young Historians (YH) program in 1961.7 Chinn strongly supported the Kentucky Junior Historical Society (KJHS), and worked steadily to increase it membership. By 1970 the KJHS claimed some six thousand members...


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