Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

As part of our mission “to introduce readers to Pennsylvania’s rich culture and historic legacy,” we at Pennsylvania Heritage seek to connect the commonwealth’s past with what Pennsylvania is today or what it is anticipated to become in the future. In this effort, we strive to publish stories on a variety of subjects, some of which have been overlooked or underrepresented in history, that relate to the ethos and circumstances of our times. Here’s an overview of the features in this edition, which we hope you’ll find fulfills this goal.

Shortly after William Penn received his 1681 Charter, he solicited settlers for his colony, attracting many German-speaking Europeans whose ancestors would become known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. In Penn’s haven of religious tolerance, these settlers could live, work and practice the tenets of their various faiths without fear of persecution. More than 80,000 of these immigrants had arrived in Pennsylvania by the 1770s, and many of the customs they brought with them evolved and spread. In his article “The Easter Egg,” chronicling the holiday icon, regular contributor on Pennsylvania folklife Patrick J. Donmoyer describes the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition — their methods of decoration and the associated folk customs, from blessing and eating the eggs to the mythology of the legendary egg-bringing Easter Rabbit — and then explores the egg-decorating practices flowing from Pennsylvania’s 19th-century Eastern European immigrants — pysanky among Slavic groups and margučiai among Lithuanians.

As a young woman in the late 1920s, Helen Richey was determined to fly. She earned a pilot’s license, amazed crowds as a barnstormer, and broke a number of women’s aviation records. She became the first female commercial airline pilot in the U.S. in 1935 and the first woman to be certified as a flight instructor by the Civil Aeronautics Authority in 1940. During World War II, she served with the British Air Transport Auxiliary and then in the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. As part of our ongoing commemoration of women’s achievements in Pennsylvania marking the centennial of the 19th Amendment, journalist Don Sarvey recounts the tragically short life of this pioneering aviator in “Ahead of Her Time,” focusing on the challenges Richey faced as a woman in her field during the era and how she broke barriers through her many aerial accomplishments.

In its vast collection of agricultural implements that span Pennsylvania history, Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum has a mechanism called a baler feeder. This ingenious device that allowed farmers to convey straw from a thresher to a bale press, loosening clumps along the way, was not only efficient but also much safer than previous methods used by farmers. The inventor of the baler feeder (patented in 1925) was an African American blacksmith named William Chester Ruth who lived in Ercildoun, operated a shop in Gap, and prospered to such a level by 1950 that the African American–interest magazine Ebony showcased him as a self-made, successful businessman. Here, Bruce D. Bomberger, the PHMC curator who acquired a large working model of the baler feeder for Landis Valley, tells about Ruth’s fascinating life in “The Inventor from Ercildoun,” beginning with the inspiration of his formerly enslaved father’s past to his drive to put his mechanical aptitude to practice by inventing a number of devices to improve work on American farms.

Epidemics have plagued the world throughout history, and Pennsylvania has been no exception. Toward the end of the 19th century, disease was rampant in the commonwealth, spread by poor sanitation, low vaccine rates, and natural disasters. In “The Not So Good Old Days,” archivist Tyler Stump of the Pennsylvania State Archives tells about the events that led to the development of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, namely a wave of typhoid outbreaks — from Plymouth in 1885 to Butler in 1903 — and the efforts of DOH’s powerful first commissioner, Samuel Dixon, who despite backlash from several quarters managed to reform public health in Pennsylvania, leading to a substantial drop in the mortality rate through subsequent years.

Kyle R. Weaver