Folklore and Folklife Research Guide

Missouri has a rich tradition of gathering folk tradition, beginning with the organization of the Missouri Folklore Society in 1906. Folklorists studying the traditions and culture of Missourians have recorded many aspects of the state’s heritage in such forms as music, stories, home remedies and spells, and photographs.

Articles in the Missouri Historical Review

Catalog

Folklore and Folklife titles held within the State Historical Society's holdings are included in Merlin, the shared library catalog of the four University of Missouri campuses. Of particular note are works completed by the folklorist Vance Randolph, who spent his life documenting the culture of the Ozarks. Randolph’s four-volume work Ozark Folksongs (F586 R159) was published by the State Historical Society of Missouri between 1946 and 1950, and later republished by the University of Missouri Press. Other titles include:

  • Missouri Folklore Society Journal. Columbia, MO: Missouri Folklore Society, 1979- (F586.6 M691)

  • MFS Newsletter. The Missouri Folklore Society. Columbia, MO: The Society, 1986- (F586.6 M691n)

  • Overland Review: The Journal of the Mid-America Folklore Society. Fayetteville, AR: Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies, University of Arkansas, [2003]-2008. (398 M584s)

  • Mid-America Folklore. Batesville, AR: Ozark States Folklore Society and the Regional Culture Center, Arkansas College, 1979-2002. (398 M584s)

Historic Missourian Biographies

The State Historical Society’s Historic Missourians website offers folk legends in Missouri and includes several biographies. Each biography provides images, primary resources, and other references for further study. Notable folklorists and folklore writers are also listed below:

  • Mary Alicia Owen - Mary Alicia Owen lived her entire life—except for many travels throughout the country and abroad—in St. Joseph, Missouri. She became famous for writing about the Native Americans and African Americans who lived in and around her hometown. Many of the books, stories, and articles Owen wrote were works of folklore. At one time Owen was called the most famous woman folklorist in the world.

  • Vance Randolph - Vance Randolph was a folklorist and professional writer who lived most of his life in the Ozarks region of Missouri and Arkansas. Beginning in the 1920s, Randolph wrote numerous books and articles about Ozark life and culture. He traveled throughout the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks and observed all aspects of folk culture. Randolph personally recorded and collected ballads, songs, and stories that had been handed down orally from one generation to another in the isolated Ozark region.

  • Henry Rowe Schoolcraft - Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote the first published account of the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks. He introduced the region to the world, but his writing, published in 1821, helped establish enduring negative stereotypes of the Ozarks and its inhabitants. In 1823, he married Jane Johnston, an educated and accomplished woman of Ojibwa and Scots-Irish ancestry. Jane helped Schoolcraft gather and record Native American languages, history, folklore, and customs.

Manuscripts

The State Historical Society of Missouri's manuscript collections contain personal papers related to the development and study of folklore and folklife in Missouri.

View All Folklore and Folklife Manuscript Collections

Oral Histories

Photographs

Several collections in the holdings of The State Historical Society of Missouri document and illustrate Missouri folk traditions, music, and other unique forms of folklife. The following collections showcase this state culture in photographs:

Loman D. and Laura M. Collection C4018
The Loman and Laura Cansler Collection represents a lifetime of collecting Missouri’s folk song and folklore tradition. The Canslers recorded and collected folk songs, proverbs, jokes, and home remedies, primarily in Missouri, but also in Kansas and Illinois. In addition to this large body of folk song and folklore material, the collection includes information on Loman Cansler’s early life in Dallas County, Missouri, his World War II service, and his career as a high school counselor in Fayette and Kansas City. The collection also includes slides and prints of Laura Cansler’s abstract expressionist artwork.

Robert P Christeson Collection C3971
The Christeson Collection includes sheet music, song books, and other publications related to square dancing and folk dances, publications on the history of violins and fiddlers, catalogs of instruments and musical recordings, correspondence, photographs and family papers, fiddle organization newsletters, fiddling contest flyers, folk festival information, and the working papers of volumes I and II of The Old-Time Fiddler's Repertory. In addition, this collection contains Christeson's original wire recordings, audio tapes, and audio discs of fiddle tunes, jam sessions, fiddle contests, and other folk genres.

Outside Resources

These links will take you outside the Society's website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following sites:

  • The Missouri Folklore Society
    The Missouri Folklore Society was organized in 1906 to document all aspects of folk traditions in Missouri. They began producing a historical journal in 1979.

  • The Missouri Folk Arts Program
    The Missouri Folk Arts Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia was established in 1984 with the Missouri Humanities Council and documents folk arts and folk life around the state.

  • The American Folklife Society
    The American Folklife Society is an association of folklorists and was established in 1888.