Arthur Wallace Peach image

A Few Words About The Peach Award

by Carol Milkuhn

Again, the days I spend doing research in Barre can have surprising results. Last summer I came across an article on the life of Arthur Wallace Peach, the first President of the PSOV. Written by Charles Morrissey for the Vermont Sunday Rutland Herald-Times Argus in 1986, the article focused on Peach’s legacy—a legacy we commemorate with the Arthur Wallace Peach award. 

The Arthur Wallace Peach award is our oldest, established in 1949 by another PSOV Charter member, Helen Hartness Flanders. Originally given to elementary school children in rural areas, the award has evolved, reflecting changes in the PSOV—specifically the founding of The Troubadour as poetry magazine in 1956. Now the Peach award is one of two Troubadour awards, awards given each year for poems published in the previous issue of The Troubadour.

Born in 1886, Peach was a multi-faceted person. A graduate of Brattleboro High School and Middlebury College, he was an English professor at Norwich University between 1913 and 1950, served as a literary critic of Vermont Life, and completed two stints as editor of Vermont History. He also wrote many articles and poems, some for then national publications like Reader’s Digest. It’s no surprise that Middlebury College bestowed an honorary degree on him in 1933. 

Peach described himself as a “hopelessly provincial Vermonter.” Certainly he was committed to fostering Vermont culture and heritage. A hunter who was comfortable in the woods of Vermont, a fisherman who explored its ponds and streams, he also helped organize the 251 Club, encouraging members to visit the 251 towns in Vermont. As President of the Better Library Movement in Vermont, he was influential in creating the regional library system still in operation today.

Stories enrich Peach’s legacy; one in particular deserves sharing. In addition to teaching, he coached the Norwich debate team where he was affectionately known as “Pop Peach.” Once, when the team was mired in debt, he invited the author Sinclair Lewis (who was then living in Barnard) to give a speech at Norwich. Sinclair graciously declined the speaker’s fee; Peach deposited Sinclair’s honorarium in the team’s bank account. As a result, the team was lifted out of insolvency—to the great relief of the debating team and Norwich University. 

Peach retired from the Norwich faculty in 1950; he immediately assumed the directorship of the Vermont Historical Society, moving from Northfield to the Capital Apartments in Montpelier. He remained at the helm until his death in 1956. 

He of course could not imagine that the PSOV, the poetry society he had nurtured in its infancy, would endure for another 77 years. And certainly—and most ironically—he could never have imagined that the Vermont Historical Society would request the archives of the PSOV in 2005. Not only do our records preserve the legacy of the society he helped to build; they also preserve Peach’s personal history, a history traceable through news clippings in our scrapbooks—just like the clipping I turned to when writing this article. 

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