cover of book

Mountaineers Are Always Free: Heritage, Dissent, and a West Virginia Icon
by Rosemary V. Hathaway
West Virginia University Press, 2020
Paper: 978-1-949199-31-4 | eISBN: 978-1-949199-32-1 | Cloth: 978-1-949199-30-7
Library of Congress Classification GV958.W4H37 2020
Dewey Decimal Classification 796.332630975452


The West Virginia University Mountaineer is not just a mascot: it is a symbol of West Virginia history and identity embraced throughout the state. In this deeply informed but accessible study, folklorist Rosemary Hathaway explores the figure’s early history as a backwoods trickster, its deployment in emerging mass media, and finally its long and sometimes conflicted career—beginning officially in 1937—as the symbol of West Virginia University.

Alternately a rabble-rouser and a romantic embodiment of the state’s history, the Mountaineer has been subject to ongoing reinterpretation while consistently conveying the value of independence. Hathaway’s account draws on multiple sources, including archival research, personal history, and interviews with former students who have portrayed the mascot, to explore the complex forces and tensions animating the Mountaineer figure. Often serving as a focus for white, masculinist, and Appalachian identities in particular, the Mountaineer that emerges from this study is something distinct from the hillbilly. Frontiersman and rebel both, the Mountaineer figure traditionally and energetically resists attempts (even those by the university) to tame or contain it.

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