From The Daily News Leader, in Staunton, Virginia, Special to The Daily News Leader Special
By Charles Culbertson
October 6, 2002
Area women publishing, making history
STAUNTON — Otto Von Bismarck, the great 19th century German leader, once remarked that the main thing in life is to make history, not to write about it.
But what if you can do both? Gibbons did with his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Likewise with Prescott and "The Conquest of Mexico."
And so have four area women whose collective efforts are marketed under the banner of a publishing company they call Lot's Wife.
The groundbreaking aspect of Lot's Wife lies in both its publishers and its focus. Each member of the firm - Katharine Brown, Nancy Sorrells, Sue Simmons and Dorothy Boyd-Rush — is an experienced researcher, historian and writer. The publishing house they operate deals exclusively with historical topics. It is the first, and only, operation of its kind in the area.
Making a living
The idea for a history-specific publishing company evolved over the years as Brown, Sorrells and Simmons encountered each other in one work setting after another. In 1994, after all three served overlapping stints at the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and the Museum of American Frontier Culture, they started talking about making a living at history outside the realms of museums or teaching.
"We kicked it around for about a year, and in 1995 decided to form a publishing company," said Sorrells, a resident of Greenville. "It all came together faster than we expected when a publishing job sort of fell into our laps."
Brown, who has been at the center of area historical research and preservation efforts for years, had a wealth of writing and publishing accomplishments behind her. Sorrells also brought to the team an extensive knowledge of layout techniques and computer graphic-design software. And Simmons, a resident of Frank's Mill, added to the mix her years of teaching, writing and publishing, and an expertise in the life of blacks in Augusta County.
Not a vanity press
However, Lot's Wife is not a vanity press.
"A vanity press will publish whatever you bring them, mistakes and all," Brown noted. "We won't do that. We reserve the right to edit and, in fact, if we think something isn't worth publishing, we won't do it. The bottom line isn't the bottom line for us."
So what is the bottom line for Lot's Wife? While profit is desirable, quality appears to be the goal.
The Rev. John Lane of Trinity Episcopal Church — the firm's first official customer — agrees that these objectives are being met.
"They were very thorough, went through a lot of records and put together 250 years' worth of history," Lane said. "Their work was seen and critiqued by a lot of people, all of which were impressed with the quality of the product."
"Also, the project came in on time and on budget. That's a pretty tough combination to beat."
Needless to say, business for Lot's Wife is good — very good.
"We've done no advertising and we have so much work that we've had to take a new `wife' — Dorothy Boyd-Rush, a JMU professor of history," Sorrells said. "Right now Dorothy is working on what will be a 600-page history of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Winchester."
"If we advertised," she added, "we'd be swamped, and we don't want to start turning people away."
The projects continue to accumulate. Within the next couple of years, area readers can expect to see a history of Port Republic as written in the early 20th century by amateur historian George May, the histories of Staunton's 1st and 2nd Presbyterian churches, a booklet on the land and landowners of Historic Christ Church Parish, and the history of cattle in Virginia. Since Lot's Wife does no marketing and keeps no inventory of books, most publications are available through the clients for whom the firm does the work.
So what about the name Lot's Wife?
"We kicked around the usual stuff, like Shenandoah Publishing, all of which was pretty mundane," Sorrells said. "Sue came up with the idea that Lot's wife — who stopped to look back — was history's first recorded female historian. The name stuck."
Looking back for this quartet of "wives" has resulted in anything but disaster. The joy of the historical chase, the power of putting words to paper, the unvarnished pride at seeing a job well done has brought the participants of Lot's Wife a measure of personal and professional satisfaction not found, they said, when "marching to someone else's drumbeat."
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