Book Review: St. John Voices

By Chuck Pishko
St. John Tradewinds

“St. John Voices,” Ruth Low’s new book has finally been published. I say finally for two reasons — it’s her final book since she passed on February 13, 2006.
The book was published posthumously by her daughters, Damaris Low Botwick and Jenni Low Oliver. Her first book “St. John Backtime,” co-authored with Rafael “Lito” Valls was published in 1986. It contains some 90 accounts gleaned from the original historical records of St. John from many diverse sources.

“Voices” contains some 500 shorter selections and is in her own words “a collage of tangible details of daily life” on St. John. The book is thoroughly indexed and arranged topically — the island, the sea, weather, work, households, community, government, and change and is profusely illustrated by some 150 images that tell hundreds and hundreds of stories by themselves.



Low also incorporated translations of oral narratives recorded by Matilda Marsh Harvey which stand alone as an invaluable record of St. Johnians recently passed who had lived for donkey years here. Very powerful stuff.

Low did extensive research at the National Archives and was able to obtain additional text and pictures through the Library of Congress, the Danish National Archives and Royal Library, the Moravian Archives in both Pennsylvania and Germany, the von Scholten Collection at the Enid M. Baa Library and the St. Croix Landmarks Society.

I know the extent of her research because I was honored to review the manuscript of “Voices.” Jane Bowry, a former president and a founder of the St. John Historical Society, noted in the April, 2006 SJHS newsletter that Ruth (Low) was a “scholar in the truest sense of the word” who “pursued her love of history by becoming engrossed in St. John’s fascinating past.”

“Because of her efforts, we and future generations will be able to have a glimpse into St. John’s past and hear its’ (sic) many voices.”

We earnestly hope that the historical society will soon add Ruth Low’s new book to their website store.

The late G. Rolf Schaub was the distributor for Low’s “St. John Backtime.” Ruth and her daughters are fortunate to have Rolf’s widow, Kazumi distributing “St. John Voices.” Her enthusiasm for the task far outweighs her lack of prior experience in the field.

“St. John Voices,” is available at the following locations on St. John: Sugarbird; Pink Papaya and the Papaya Café; Banana Jack; Caneel Bay Resort; St. John Spice; Starfish Market; Mumbo Jumbo; Friends of theVirgin Islands National Park Store; and on St. Thomas at Dockside Bookshop.