The Viola Factor

THE BOOK: The Viola Factor

PUBLISHED IN: July 2022.

THE AUTHOR: Sheridan Brown.

THE EDITOR: Sheridan Brown.


SUMMARY: “The Viola Factor” takes place at a time when the country faced division and growth after the American Civil War. Viola Knapp Ruffner struggled with what was just and fair, becoming a little-known confidant for a young black scholar from Virginia. But Viola was much more than a teacher; she was a mother, wife, game changer, and friend. With her mother’s dying wish, a young woman alone, she left her New England roots. This is a story of trauma and love in the South while battling for justice and the rightful education of the enslaved and once enslaved. African American leader Booker T. Washington called her his friend and model for life.

The journey of life is done in baby steps, tentatively stumbling, until a galloping stride is achieved. Viola Knapp wears different shoes on different days. Heavy, mud-trekking boots to allow for aggressive steps, and daintier shoes for more rhythmic and assertive ones. She was a diligent daughter, an outspoken protector, and a progressive teacher. Like many women in her situation, alone at seventeen, Viola must realize her own principles to fulfill her future goals. With every stride, Viola Knapp Ruffner marches around surprises, over potholes, and dodges folly after folly on her journey to be fulfilled. After ambling in one direction, plodding along in another, and wandering to find herself, a sudden halt pushes her forward until a factor of fate places her in the path of a newly freed slave with a desire to read and penchant to lead. After years of post-traumatic stress and mental uncoupling, she finds herself a woman who followed her mother’s dying wish to fight for what is fair and just.

THE BACK STORY: During research for reenactment characters at the Booker T. Washington National Monument, the name “Viola Ruffner” was uncovered as a lifelong friend and teacher for Booker T. Washington after the Civil War. After years of research, the author chose to weave her story, Living her steps from 1812-1903, dodging her obstacles, getting behind her heart and goals, suffering her traumas, the story comes to life. 

WHY THIS TITLE: Many factors affect a person’s growth and perspective. In this case, we learn how the influences of one woman and one teacher factored in as a pivotal impact on a young man’s drive to read, write, speak and teach. 

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Lovers of historical fiction and teachers who influence lives. The spunk and gumption of a woman seeing faifrness and justice from her dying mother’s bedside grips the reader and take them through ninety years of development.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Sheridan Brown holds advanced degrees in school leadership and is a certified teacher, principal, and educational leader. Having minored in music in college, the arts have always been a central force in her life. Ms. Brown was born in Tennessee and raised in small towns of southwest Virginia. She practiced her profession in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Florida. Upon retirement she began volunteering, painting, writing, researching, and traveling with her husband, attorney John Crawford. She has one son, Tony Hume. She is GiGi to Aiden and Lucy. She has returned to the Blue Ridge to live and explore.


1 Malden, West Virginia
Spring 1867

Come, thou fount of every blessing.” (Robert Robinson, 1758)

Viola Knapp Ruffner surveyed the bright spring landscape and shielded her eyes from the morning sun. Her striking golden hair streaked with early gray gleamed just like the moonlight on the Kanawha River last night. The braided ripples were held up under a snood that matched the deep purple of her high-necked, full skirted day dress. She rose slowly and rubbed her hands against the striped apron pinned to her bodice. The early lettuce and spring peas were rapidly taking up the allotted garden spots. Soon it would be time for corn and pumpkins to be planted. “I find the solitude and peace I most enjoy in the open air where I have used my own hands and raised new life.”

Any minute Booker would be coming down the steps to help prepare the vegetables and flowers for the Charleston markets. She knew that he understands that punctuality and promptness are expected in the Ruffner household. He had become quite trustworthy about bringing back the monies earned and accounting for each and everything he sells daily, never giving into bullies or beggars! Viola was not surprised to see in his ledgers where he had doubled their profits over the past year. She noticed the lamp oil was lower this morning and guessed he had been up again reading into the night. “He certainly catches on quickly,” she said to herself, “and is eager to learn, soaking up unfamiliar words and numbers rapidly.” 

It was a serendipitous day for us when that young man came to work here at our home in Malden, Lewis has been so busy helping recover the mines after both sides from that dreadful Civil War attacked them and I was in my dark and dreary days, that having a curious and eager pupil who also likes to do the work assigned to him is a delight for me. Now that the government has finally agreed to allow former slaves their freedoms, including learning to read and write, it helps me use my former teaching skills all over again where they are appreciated and to forget all the miseries and sorrows I have endured.

With both Ernest and Stella off to boarding school, I was getting lonely tending the house and gardens and reading all the time. The black man, Washington Ferguson, who works for Lewis in the mines, asked him if he had any work for his wife Jane and three children who had just arrived after Emancipation from a tobacco farm in Virginia. When Booker’s mother Jane took in some laundry for us and came to me requesting that we allow Booker to work in our home, we said, “Yes! If he can prove himself,” and would pay his stepdaddy $5 a month for allowing him to do so. “In fact,” she thinks, “He has become one of our family! Lewis and I both like to converse with him and listen to him read the Bible out loud to us.”

Viola flashed back to a not so happy time years ago when her growing up began away from the caring home that was her life center, far away in Vermont, far away from individual freedoms and melting snows, far away from a family of sisters, a brother, Father, Mother, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. She felt again the emptiness and loss that fell upon their family when she was just 17 years old and wondered how it had all affected her into her adult years.

WHERE TO BUY IT: online Bookbaby Bookshop, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, Scribd, Target, Kindle, Walmart.

PRICE: ebook $9.99, paperback $29.99.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:, 904-449-1580

Published by


Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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