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(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Volume 49 Strategies for Survival: Women's Work in the Southern West Virginia Coal Camps

By Janet W. Greene

Volume 49 (1990), pp. 37-54

It was a hard life [in the coal camps]. I wonder if people can remember those hard times. It's not a pleasant thought. It's not something to brag about. But people should remember it.1

Miners' wives in southern West Virginia's coalfields were an integral segment of the mining community but have often been unrecognized for their ability to help their family survive in the face of unpredictable conditions. This study is an attempt to spotlight the miner's wife, the difficult conditions she faced in the coal camps, and the manner in which she confronted housing problems and inconsistent wages.2

The coal camps were the workplaces of women. Unlike women in many other industrial areas,3 women in the southern West Virginia coalfields had few employment opportunities outside the home between 1900 and 1950.4 However, their primary work was critical to coal production: they fed the miner, washed his clothes, took care of him when sick or injured, and raised the children who would become the next generation of mineworkers. They added to the family income by performing domestic work for other families, produced goods for use in the home, and scavenged and bartered.

This study examines the coal camp as a workplace for women and explores the working conditions women faced. In the coal camps, as elsewhere, all houses were not the same; women confronted a variety of working conditions. Like their husbands, they struggled to make better lives for themselves and their families.

The primary sources for this study are interviews with the wives of coal mine workers who lived in company-owned housing in the southern West Virginia counties of Boone, Fayette, Logan, Kanawha, McDowell and Raleigh between 1900 and 1950. Most of the interviews were conducted in the winter of 1989 as part of "Traditions and Transitions," a public history project sponsored by the West Virginia Women's Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Other interviews were drawn from a variety of oral archives collected in the region between 1970 and 1989. Information from these oral documents was compared with census records, photographs, federal reports on coalfield conditions, and secondary works on the history and industrial development of the region to produce a portrait of the coal camp as women's workplace.5

Recently, social historians have revealed that many working-class households in America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries utilized unpaid and unacknowledged cash-earning activities to supplement the family income.6 In company-owned coal camps where most of the necessities of life, including food, had to be purchased from the company store, cash was important. Women's earnings and unpaid work helped the family survive when wages were low, work was slack, or when the wage earner was injured, ill or unable to work. Economic fluctuations haunted the southern West Virginia coalfields, and indeed the entire coal industry. Scholars have established that employment in the coal industry steadily declined after 1926. The uncertainty of miners' incomes was further compounded by individual and catastrophic disasters which killed and disabled miners during this entire period.7

In interviews with coal miners' wives who lived in housing owned by coal companies during those years, women reported that wages were not stable in the mining life. To meet the challenges of uncertain wages and work shut-downs, women raised gardens on available land, preserved food, and, if necessary, sewed underwear for their children out of flour sacks. Women earned cash by taking in boarders and laundry, selling butter and eggs, and serving as bootleggers and prostitutes. They scavenged coal for fuel and sold coal company scrip for cash. Women worked as clerks in company stores and as nannies and maids in the homes of company officials, while others cooked and made beds in company-owned boardinghouses.8

Although census records do not list most of these activities as "occupations," they were historically important. Women's work often helped the family to survive when wages from mining fell short or disappeared.

Women's workplaces in the southern West Virginia coal camps were complicated by the existing social and economic conditions. According to historian David Corbin, the company-controlled economy of the coal camps of southern West Virginia united the racially and ethnically diverse work force into open revolt against the coal companies. He, along with other scholars, including economist Richard Simon, describes the camps as places of "abject" exploitation.9 However, when the camps are studied from the perspective of the women who worked there, two conclusions become clear; the coal camps were indeed places under the complete control of company officials, but women and their families were not passive victims of exploitation. In a variety of ways, miners' wives maneuvered within the industrial structure imposed upon them and drew on their resources and ingenuity to struggle for the needs of their families. Ethel Brewster graphically demonstrates these conclusions.

The daughter of a miner in Boone County, Ethel Brewster was thirteen years old when she married a Logan County miner. Their life together was hard, beginning as it did during the Depression in the 1930s. Her husband's search for steady work required the family to move frequently. Each change of housing brought new working conditions for Mrs. Brewster, and the lack of wages eventually led her to scavenge for fuel. Brewster stated,

He moved me every place. I lived at Holden and Mud Fork; I lived all over Rum Creek-that's where Slagle [Coal Company] is. I'll never forget the moving. You know, then you didn't have bathrooms in your house. You had to carry water from a pump. Sometimes you lived a great distance from the pump; sometimes you lived next door. It was just according to how lucky you was. You burnt coal. . . cooked with coal. When we lived in coal camps, the company truck brought it. [After her husband quit working in the 1950s], my lot was I went in the mines and carried [coal] on my back. It was a worked-out mines [sic]. It was dangerous. A lot of women had to do it. They were in the same boat I was in.10

Coal miners' wives who lived in company-owned coal camps between 1900 and 1950 worked in conditions determined primarily by the needs of industrial production. Housing for miners was built around the mining equipment, railroad tracks, and coal tipples that filled the narrow valleys of southern West Virginia. When large-scale mining operations became common in southern West Virginia in the 1890s, there were few towns and a scattered population engaged in subsistence farming and lumbering. Much of the work force arrived between 1890 and 1920 from other parts of West Virginia, other mining areas of the nation, rural areas in southern and eastern Europe and the American South.11 Coal companies met the miners' need for housing by constructing their own towns, called "camps."

But housing needs were always secondary to the extraction and transportation needs of the industry. Dwelling for the miners, a store, mining offices, and perhaps a school and church building were built in the space remaining after the construction of the railroad tracks, coke ovens, coal tipple, and other structures necessary for production. Even as late as 1946, social investigators reported that some coal camps had no restaurants, beauty parlors, telephones, laundries, daily papers, drug stores, or movies, even though these were quite common in nearby towns.12

The companies exercised complete control over coal camps, which were an extension of mining operations. In many cases, workers were required to live in company housing as a condition of employment. The camps had no governmental structure apart from the company; they were unincorporated settlements within the counties, administered and governed for the purpose of coal mining. In the early decades of the century, some companies dealt harshly with any behavior that interfered with production, whether union activity, family squabbles, or drunkenness. They often evicted families as punishment.13

In considering the coal camps as workplaces, it is useful to look at their construction as it affected the primary work of women: cooking, laundry, cleaning, childcare, grocery shopping and gardening. The size and condition of housing and the water supply were most important, followed by the fuel for heating and cooking, technology available for housework, land for gardening, and the company store and its wares.

In coal camps, houses were assigned to families according to the type of job the miner held.14 Within the camp, the family was not an isolated unit, but part of the social structure of the mining industry. "Aunt Jenny" Wilson described her life in Logan County camps:

The bigger the job you had, the better the house you got. They had what they called the bosses' camp, and then they had a camp for just the coal miners off away from the bosses' camp. And then on above there was a camp for black people, which was called the colored camp.15

As part of its control over the mining community, housing assignments followed the hierarchy of employment. The best houses were reserved for company officials and their families. Many had indoor plumbing and running waster as early as 1895.16 Urban historians of Pittsburgh and the Lower East Side of New York City have noted that working-class neighborhoods often lacked the sewers, paved streets and running water found in sections of the city where middle-class and professional people lived.17 In similar fashion, the houses built for miners and their families in coal camps did not share the modern conveniences provided for the mine superintendent, the company doctor, store manager, mining engineer and chief electrician.18

The housing hierarchy described by "Aunt Jenny" Wilson was typical in the southern coalfields:

My husband made his mine foreman certificate when he was 22, but he didn't always boss. He was an electrician too, but what he enjoyed most was runnin' a machine because, back then [1918], you made more money doing that than you did anything else. When you was hired as a machine runner, you would live right along just the same as the coal loaders, track men, and motormen. But when you was hired as a key man-as boss-you would stand a show to get a choice house.

The best houses in the camp they called "Silk Stocking Row." That's where the middle class people lived. You'd live right there as long as your husband worked at that company. But you better not let your house get all messed up and dirty around it.19

As the wife of a skilled worker, Mrs. Wilson developed a strategy to improve upon her initial housing assignment in the camps:

You know, if I moved in one of them bad houses, I wouldn't be there very long until I got a good house. If you wasn't a troublesome person . . . why then if a better house came empty, you could go and see about gettin' it.

Some places it was the manager, sometimes you went to the bookkeeper, and if you was liked, you didn't cause much trouble in the camp and your husband was a good worker, nine times out of ten, you would get the house. And that way, I always kept on the good side of the company until I could get the house I was pitchin' for.20

This strategy might work for white women whose husbands held skilled jobs, but for black women and for white women like Ethel Brewster, whose husbands were hired at more menial jobs, the options were less flexible.

Nannie Woodson Jones lived in a series of coal camps where her family was confined to a racially segregated "colored camp." Her father, a black farm worker from Farmville, Virginia, brought his family to Page in Fayette County where he worked as a miner before moving to Taplin in Logan County. There Nannie Woodson married a miner in 1922, and lived in a series of coal camps as her husband moved the family in search of better working conditions.

He used to go in the mines or if he just didn't like the work he'd come out and pack up. He could get a job most anywhere. He'd go out and get him a job and get him a house and move. One time he moved me every two or three months.21

Like most of the women who came to the coalfields in the early part of this century, Mrs. Jones was from a rural background. Her work was similar to that on the farm in Virginia. There were, however, important distinctions between rural life on a farm and rural life in the industrial environment of the coal camps. On a farm, whether it was family-owned or a sharecropping arrangement, the dwelling was usually isolated. In some of the coal camps, however, homes were as crowded as urban areas, resulting in public health problems such as polluted water and unhealthy sewerage.22 Farm families could survive without cash because they produced their own food. In the coal camps, the industrial setting and the absence of tillable land hindered the mine family's ability to produce sufficient food to live on.

Coal dust from coke ovens, steam engines, and coal cars settled everywhere. Houses were crowded beside railroad tracks and around tipples. Burning slag smoldered beside some of the homes. In the early twentieth century, some women recalled that the creeks were still clear, but after the mid-1920s the ground was black with coal dust. Children were covered with it; it sifted onto wet wash hanging on the lines to dry; at times it seemed to block the sun.23

The coal company controlled maintenance in the camps, which led to a variety of conditions. One social investigator described the Raleigh County coal camps in 1923:

If the policy of the company is to provide attractive houses and clean and wholesome surroundings, it is in an exceptionally good position to demand and secure immediate response to its program. If, on the other hand, company standards are below those of the community, the inhabitants may not take steps to secure clean streets, for example, or a safe water supply. They have no redress from conditions which may be intolerable, except to move to another camp.24

A few coal companies were proud of the living conditions in their communities and these came to be called "model" camps or towns. Houses were painted frequently and garbage collected regularly. Owners of the model towns like Tams in Raleigh County and Gary in McDowell County sponsored annual garden contests. The photographs of winning gardens show women standing in front of neatly-painted houses, surrounded by large and beautiful vegetable and flower gardens.25

In other towns, company control meant neglect. A 1923 researcher's field notes on the conditions of three adjacent McDowell County mining camps owned by the same coal company described a range of conditions:

Repair at Warwick was good houses newer and more recently painted. Rest were older. At Orkney paint very old often inside walls dirty, houses some of them leaked, porches & steps poor; boards often broken. At Harvard houses old, paint dirty, houses had some leaky roofs some boards gone or holes in floor-not very bad.26

Generally, the houses reserved for mine officials and more skilled workers were well-maintained, while the older homes, often left in tumble-down condition, were assigned to the less-skilled and black and foreign workers. Houses were painted the same color and often so infrequently that the coal dust quickly turned them a uniform grey.27

Women had to confront this dirt, whether they were the wives of company officials or the wives of miners. Some women fought the dirt and disrepair valiantly, and others became discouraged. One woman in Raleigh County told researchers in 1923 that when she first came to the coalfields, she cleaned the privy assigned to her house. But the privy was located on the road and used by anyone who might be passing by. In no time, it was again dirty and unsanitary. She struggled to keep it clean for a time, but eventually gave up.28

Some company towns had no garbage collection, and families either burned garbage or fed it to their livestock, if they owned any. The rest was tossed in the creek or ditches. Unsanitary conditions, even in the best camps, resulted from crowded living conditions and poor drainage; government investigators in 1923 and 1946 reported that on warm summer days the stench from privies and creekbeds filled with garbage was indescribably offensive. Later investigators were often surprised by the contrast between dilapidated exteriors and the cozy homes they enclosed.29

Women who lived in coal camps during the 1920s described their efforts to make comfortable homes. Cynthia Cardea Earnest was the daughter of Italian immigrants who came to McDowell County in 1913. The family lived in the "foreign" section of Vivian with other Italians, Russians and Poles. The women cleaned their houses and beautified the interior. Some of the Italian women even hung curtains with inserts of handmade lace.30

Gladys Lowe, daughter of a miner who lived at Powellton in Fayette County, recalled that her mother put up new wallpaper every year during the 1920s. She painted the woodwork and whitewashed the exterior of their company house. In the 1930s, the camp changed ownership and the new company provided wood, glass and paint for external repairs.31

Women's work in the coal camps was directly affected by the water supply. Coal dust produced a greasy dirt, which could only be removed by washing and rinsing several times. Miners were covered with this dirt at the end of their shifts and, in the absence of a bath house, his wife or the woman at the boardinghouse where he lived had to supply the hot water for the bath.

Water purity in the camps was hindered by crowded conditions and steep mineral-laden hillsides. Investigators for the United States Coal Commission in 1923 found many wells contaminated by the drainage from hillside privies. In McDowell County, residents gathered rainwater rather than use water supplied by the company. According to the investigators' field notes:

At Harvard one driven well situated in the middle of hillside with 26 privies above and below it supplied water for all houses. People didn't like mineral water so used two unprotected springs which go dry in summer. Catch rain water for washing. Nearly all use springs.

At Orkney there were 9 drilled wells 4 broken leaving 5 in use only one considered "good" water others had bad taste & discolored clothes and pails. Majority of people used springs.

At Warwick water from drilled wells pumped to tank and piped to houses. All drilled wells have concrete slab at base of pump and pump screwed down.32

Although many companies supplied water and indoor plumbing to the houses of mine officials, water purity could be unpredictable. In 1895, mine superintendent Bert Wright's diary noted that worms appeared in the water piped into the store manager's house at Vivian. Rusty water was also a problem as late as the 1940s.33

Most miners' houses built by coal companies before 1920 had no running water. "Model" coal camps had water pumps located close to each miner's house, but in many other camps, water had to be carried from distances of perhaps twenty yards for washing and cooking.34 "I met my husband at the pump," recalled Nannie Jones, clearly indicating that in retrospect, romance was more important to her than the location of the water supply.35 Other women, including Jenny Wilson, had more negative memories:

If young women today had to do what the older women done back then, they would commit suicide. I have washed clothes on a scrub board 'til the skin would be off my knuckles. Yes, sir. You carry the water a boil it, and then you take and you wash 'em through two waters and then you put 'em in and boil 'em, and then take 'em out of there and put 'em in your rinse wager and rinse 'em through two waters.36

"I carried water up 75 steps," said Gladys Lowe of her years at Boomer in Fayette County. "We lived up on a hill and when it rained you brought half the mountain in with you."37

In a survey of 38,183 family dwellings in 402 company-controlled communities in West Virginia, only 11.2 percent of the houses had running water in 1923.38 By 1946, another survey found that running water and indoor plumbing were commonplace in coalfield towns, but many company houses lacked these modern conveniences. Officials told investigators in 1946 that housing had not been modernized because the mines were nearly worked-out and would be closed soon. In fact, after 1950 many mines closed and the work force was cut by 50 percent due to increased mechanization.39

While the difficulty of obtaining water hindered women's work in the coalfields, the availability of electricity made a number of chores easier to perform. Many mining operations required electricity, and used their power station to provide service to miners' houses. One survey reported 80 percent of miners' homes in West Virginia had electricity in the 1920s, at least a decade before most rural farms in the state.40 Coalfield women used electricity for ironing, cooking, and washing if the family could afford to purchase these appliances, which were usually available at the company store. Despite the availability of electric stoves, many women were more willing to give up the washboard than the coal stove. They had learned to cook on woodburning or coal stoves and the stoves provided both heat and hot water even if they added more soot and ashes to the air.

Similarly, European immigrant women continued their tradition of baking in outdoor ovens. The first generation of immigrants who lived in the coal camps built outdoor ovens like those used in Italy. Italian immigrants, Concetta Quattrone, who arrived in McDowell County in 1918, and Cynthia Cardea Earnest joined their neighbors in making bread in round brick ovens similar to the ones they had used in Italy. The ovens were built near their houses in the coal camp at Vivian, presumable by the same European stonemasons who built the round beehive coke ovens in coal mining operations throughout southern West Virginia.41

But in times of financial crisis, the washing machine was sold or repossessed, and women went back to the washboard. Irene Earnest explained how reverses in the family finances affected her mother's work:

We got a washing machine in Keystone, and Mama taught sister Catherine how to run it. But in Hemphill, we had to use a wash board again. They did a lot of boiling [water] on the stove. She had a coal stove with a tank on the side of it for hot water. We didn't have a bathroom in the house. . . We had a coal heater and a coal stove.42

In many households, carrying coal, like carrying water, was the work of women and children.43 Coal companies delivered the coal to miners' houses in the camps, but it still had to be carried in small scuttles to the house, sometimes up long hillsides. Removal of ashes was an additional laborious task.

Many women raised small gardens and kept some chickens on the limited land available in the coal camps. If the camps provided no space for gardening, some families cleared patches of company-owned land in the wooded mountainside above the camps and grew clandestine gardens.

In times when families moved frequently or during strikes, maintaining a garden and preserving the produce was impossible. During the Depression of the 1930s these clandestine gardens became more important for residents of the coal camps, especially for black and foreign-born families, who owned no "home place" or small farm in the mountains to return to when the mines were not working. These gardens were especially important to black families because more than 90 percent of the black mining population of the southern West Virginia coalfields lived in company housing.44

Gladys Lowe's family was more self-sufficient than many in the coal camps. They lived on a "lease," a small farm rented from the company. It was not as crowded as the camps and had a "garden spot" where they could raise corn and beans and keep a hog, cow and some chickens. Her mother canned vegetables, made kraut, milked the cows, and made butter. Many families kept livestock in the camps and helped each other butcher hogs in the fall.45

Company stores were frequently the only source of food and supplies to miners in the coal camps. Purchases could be made with company currency issued to the miners as pay or on credit against the miners' future wages. Sometimes when a miner picked up his pay envelope, there was little or nothing in it after deductions for housing, coal, work supplies and credit from the company store.46

Many families were deeply indebted to the store; in many cases, there was no limit on credit. In a recent article, economist Price Fishback contends that such a portrait exaggerates the captivity of the miners whom he contends did not "owe their souls to the company store."47 He cites as evidence the proximity of towns to coal camps, which would allow miners and their families to shop wherever they wished. Proximity does not take several factors into account, however. If they could manage it, families would shop elsewhere, but not every camp in southern West Virginia was near a town. For the most part, family responsibilities made shopping at a distance difficult because women had to be prepared to send in a second lunch if the men worked overtime, and supper and hot water for bathing had to be ready when they came out.48

In 1923, a social investigator noted the following transportation difficulties in Raleigh County:

Railroad service was infrequent and uncertain. For example, the single daily train from Beckley to one of the camps, only about eight miles distant, took over two hours for the run under the most favorable conditions and was frequently delayed. Most of the camps were from one half- mile to several miles away from rough country roads.49

Gladys Lowe said her mother made the all-day trip from Elk Ridge at Powellton to nearby Montgomery only once or twice a year in the 1920s.50

Even if a town was nearby, having cash to spend presented a problem because many companies paid employees in scrip. Hemphill, a coal camp only one mile from Welch, the McDowell County seat, was an easy walk to town. If a family had only scrip to spend, however, purchasing outside the coal camp could be difficult. Whenever possible, miners' families exchanged their scrip for cash. The small businesses near coal camps would buy scrip, but at only 60 cents for each dollar. Some banks reportedly exchanged at 90 cents for the dollar.51

Many store managers were friendly and helpful to the miners and their families and even delivered groceries if the orders were large enough. The store manager at Vivian went to great trouble to encourage people to buy at the store. He visited the houses in the foreign section to take grocery orders from the women who did not speak English.52

Many women tried to economize at home to avoid debt. Gladys Lowe's mother declined to shop at the company store, and when the store manager tried to pressure her, she told him she would shop where she pleased. Other women were not so outspoken, but they helped alleviate some of the expense at the company store by producing goods at home. Many baked bread and biscuits, Italian women made pasta, and some women made household and clothing necessities. Others bartered their services by exchanging childcare for sewing, for example, and helping each other in neighborly ways. Families with small gardens or no gardens at all had to buy food, which was expensive because it was shipped from outside the coalfields.53

When times were hard, women living in coal camps in southern West Virginia primarily relied on domestic work for extra cash income.54 They took in boarders and laundry, and packed lunches for single miners. While many women bartered their services, others worked for pay. Annie Allen, the daughter of a black coal miner in Kanawha County, recalled going to work with her mother as a child. Her mother made beds in a company-owned boardinghouse during the 1930s.55 More black women in the bituminous coal communities described themselves as domestic wage workers than white women, but both black and white women said they did domestic work for pay.56

While the paid work of the wife often allowed the family to eat during hard times, it also helped some families get out of mining. For example, the Quattrone family opened a small independent grocery store with the help of Concetta's work and savings. Concetta Quattrone kept several single miners as boarders at her house in Vivian between 1917 and mid-1920s. She was paid in cash for cooking their meals, packing their lunches, preparing bath water, and doing laundry. This was in addition to her routine work of tending the animals, gardening, cooking and cleaning for her ten children. Mrs. Quattrone's husband work underground for ten or twelve years before the couple saved enough money to open their store.57

Women's work had its own rhythms which were tied to coal production. For that matter, women's work did not stop during strike periods, when it was transformed and performed under more difficult conditions. Gladys Lowe's recollections of a strike in Fayette County portray these difficulties:

We were evicted during a strike in 1923. The company cut our power off and gave us notices. . . You had to get out of the house or go to work. . . We didn't want to break the strike, so we moved out. There was a strike at Mt. Carbon later. The union built barracks and tents for striking miners.58

Coal mining is a dangerous occupation. Like other industrial occupations, such as iron production and meat-packing, men engaged in mining historically have had high rates of accidents, injury, and death.59 When the wage earner was disabled or killed, the wife worked to earn money for the family. The single-industry economy of the southern West Virginia coalfields affected women's ability to earn money as illustrated by Jenny Wilson:

My husband lived three months after a slate fall paralyzed him from the waist down in 1939. . .

I had a hard time after that. I wasn't old enough to draw social security, and there wasn't nothing like black lung, nor none of that, you see. All I got was state compensation, and, at that time, it paid $30 for a widow, $5 for each child. I had one child that drawed it, and buddy I would live on that $35 a month. I would raise a big garden back there on this hill [Crooked Creek in Logan County], can up stuff, and then when I could get far enough ahead I took in washin'. . .

[My husband] had carried $750 insurance, and I took that insurance and bought this little house. Three rooms, and it was fallin' in everywhere, no gas, no water, no lights, but I gave $300 for it. I took the rest of the money and fixed it up till you could live in it. . .

Then my boy, he went in the service, and he made me an allotment, it was $47 a month. . .

So here I just had the hardest time, but never missed a meal. . . . I was a good washer. Wash a heapin' basket full for two dollars. I don't know how much an hour that was. It would take you about all day to do a washin', and then, about half of the night to do the ironin'.

My oldest daughter was in high school when her daddy got killed. She quit school and went to work-doin' housework. My baby one. . . she was 10. And we went on and I got her through high school, but buddy, it took work. . . . I thought I would never on earth get old enough for social security, but I finally got that. Had to wait 22 or 23 years.

But I'd always teach the kids, I'd say, "Listen children, you have had everything any other miner's children can have, but you can't have that now. But always hold your head high and just say "I'm no better than nobody, but I'm as good as anybody." That's the very way to be.60

The history of the southern West Virginia coalfields, when considered from the perspective of women's labor, demonstrates the difficulty of their daily lives. The difficulties ranged from life- shattering to mundane, from inconsistent wages and work shut-downs to washing out imbedded coal dust from clothes. Yet, in the midst of these circumstances, miners' wives adopted strategies to cope and survive, whether that required working outside the home for wages or washing and rinsing coal-stained clothes several times to remove the stubborn dirt. In many ways, women's unrecognized labor was critical to coal production in the same manner that this work was vital to their family's happiness. They provided the services enabling their husbands, brothers and sons to work in the mines, and as mothers played a major role in continuing the supply of men to the mines. Any social history of the coalfields that does not consider the work of women is only half- written, and also an injustice to those women whose workplace was the coal camp.


Janet Wells Greene, an archivist for the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives of the Tamiment Institute Library, New York University, was an instructor at Bluefield State College and West Virginia Institute of Technology. She earned masters' degrees in history from Stanford University and English from Ohio State University.


1. Ethel Brewster, interview with author, Rumble, WV, January 1989, author's possession.

2. For recent works on the West Virginia coalfields, see David Alan Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coalfields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1920 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1981); Ronald D. Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: The lndustrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1930 (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1982); Randall G. Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis: Industrializing Society on the Central Appalachian Plateau, 1860-1913" (Ph.D. Diss., Duke Univ., 1983); Ronald Lewis, "From Peasant to Proletarian: The Migration of Southern Blacks to the Central Appalachian Coalfields," Journal of Southern History, 55 (February 1989): 77- 102; and John A. Williams, West Virginia: A Bicentennial History (New York; W.W. Norton and Co., 1976).

3. See, for example, Dorothy Schwieder, Black Diamonds: Life and Work in Iowa's Coal Mining Communities, 1895-1925 (Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press, 1983); Donald L. Miller, The Kingdom of Coal: Work, Enterprise and Ethnic Communities in the Coalfields (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1985); Dorothy Schwieder, Joseph Hraba, and Elmer Schwieder, Buxton: Work and Racial Equality in a Coal Mining Town (Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press, 1987); John Bodnar, "Immigration and Modernization: The Case of Slavic Peasants in Industrial America," Journal of Social History, 9 ( 1975): 44-71, and The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1985), especially 71-84.

4. Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion, 33-34; Lewis, "From Peasant to Proletarian," 89; and working mss. by Mary Beth Pudup, "Women in West Virginia Economic Development," and Frances Hensley, "Women and Industrial Work in West Virginia."

5. The most significant federal investigations include: Nettle P. McGill, The Welfare of Children in Bituminous Coal Mining Communities in West Virginia, U.S. Department of Labor, Children's Bureau, Bulletin No. 117 (Washington: GPO, 1923); U.S. Coal Commission, Report of the United States Coal Commission, Senate Document 195, 68th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: GPO, 1925); U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Home Environment and Employment Opportunities of Women in Coal Mine Workers' Families, Bulletin No. 45, (Washington: GPO, 1925); U.S. Coal Mines Administration, A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry (Washington: GPO, 1947).

6. Elizabeth Blackmar, Manhattan for Rent, 1785-1850 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 1-14; Elizabeth Ewen, Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars: Life and Culture on the Lower East Side (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1985); Jeanne Boydston, "To Earn Her Daily Bread: Housework and Antebellum Working-Class Subsistence," Radical History Review, 35 (1986): 7-25; Rachel A. Bernstein, "Boarding-House Keepers and Brothel Keepers in New York City, 1880-1910" (Ph.D. Diss., Rutgers, The State Univ. of New Jersey, 1984).

7. For changes in the coal industry and to impact on life and work, see John P. David, "Earnings, Health, Safety and Welfare of Bituminous Coal Miners Since the Encouragement of Mechanization by the United Mine Workers of America" (Ph.D. Diss., West Virginia Univ., 1972); Curtis Seltzer, Fire in the Hole: Miners and Managers in the American Coal Industry (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1985); Keith Dix, What's a Coal Miner to Do?: The Mechanization of Coal Mining (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1988); Barbara E. Smith, Digging Our Own Graves: Coal Miners and the Struggle Over Black Lung Disease (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1987); and U.S. Senate, 82nd Congress, Providing for the Welfare of Coal Miners: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Mine Safety of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, January 24, 28, 29, and 30, 1952 (Washington: GPO, 1952), 427-43.

8. Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 198-99 and 201-02; Helen Powell, interview with author. Glen Jean, WV, February 1989, author's possession; Cynthia Cardea Earnest, interview with author, Welch, WV, February 1989, author's possession; Irvin Wells (former company store manager for Semet-Solvay Coal Company), interview with author, Nashville, TN, January 1989, author's possession; photographs of coal company buildings in the Eastern Regional Coal Archives, Bluefield, WV [hereafter ERCA] and the West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV [hereafter WVRHC); and Anne Lawrence, On Dark and Bloody Ground: An Oral History of the UMWA in Central Appalachia (Charleston: Miners' Voice, 1973).

9. Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion, 61-79; Rick Simon, "The Labour Process and Uneven Development: The Appalachian Coalfields, 1880-1930," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 4(1980): 46-71.

10. Brewster interview, January 1989.

11. Mack Gillenwater, "Cultural and Historical Geography of Mining Settlements in the Pocahontas Coalfields of Southern West Virginia" (Ph.D. Diss., Univ. of Tennessee, 1972), 37- 68; Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers, 86-198; and Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 28-47.

12. Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers, 161-98; Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 80-122; and Coal Mines Admin., Medical Survey, 198.

13. Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers, 161-98; Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 167-68; Charles Kenneth Sullivan "Coal Men and Coal Towns: Development of the Smokeless Coalfields of Southern West Virginia" (Ph.D. Diss., Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1979); and Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion, 9-10.

14. Ibid., 124; Gillenwater, "Cultural and Historical Geography," 87-88; coal camp housing photos in the ERCA and WVRHC.

15. Jenny Wilson, interview with author, Crooked Creek, WV 1983, Southern West Virginia Community College Library, Logan, WV [hereafter SWVCC].

16. Gillenwater, "Cultural and Historical Geography," 101-05; Bert Wright, diary, October 1889- February 1890, ERCA.

17. Susan J. Kleinberg, "Technology and Women's Work: The Lives of Working Class Women in Pittsburgh, 1870-1900," Labor History, 17(Winter 1976): 58-72; Donna R. Gabaccia, From Sicily to Elizabeth Street: Housing and Social Change Among Italian Immigrants, 1880-1930 (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1984), 66-74.

18. Gillenwater, "Cultural and Historical Geography," 87; Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers, 196; Wilson interview, 1983.

19. Wilson interview, 1983.

20. Ibid.

21. Nannie Jones, interview with author, Kistler, WV, January 1989, author's possession.

22. McGill, Welfare of Children, 14-17; Coal Mines Admin., Medical Survey, 46; and Madolyn Maxwell Taylor, interview with author, Rand, WV, May 1989, author's possession.

23. Irene Cardea Earnest, interview with author, Welch, WV, February 1989, author's possession; Betty Wells, interview with author, Nashville, TN, January 1989, author's possession; Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 135-36.

24. McGill, Welfare of Children, 7.

25. Robert F. Munn, "The Development of Model Towns in the Bituminous Coal Fields," West Virginia History, 40(Spring 1979):243-53.

26. Coal Mines Admin., Medical Survey, 46; McGill, Welfare of Children, 10; U.S. Coal Commission, "Field Notes" of Kingston-Pocahontas Mines at Orkney, Harvard, and Warwick, Hemphill, WV, 1923, ERCA.

27. McGill, Welfare of Children, 10; Coal Mines Admin., Medical Survey, 46.

28. McGill, Welfare of Children, 16.

29. Coal Mines Admin., Medical Survey, 2-33, 46; McGill, Welfare of Children, 10.

30. Cynthia Earnest interview, February 1989.

31. Gladys Lowe, interview with Kenneth Bailey, Powellton, WV, March 1972, Kenneth Bailey's possession.

32. Coal Comm., "Field Notes."

33. Wright, diary; Wells interview, January 1989.

34. Brewster interview, January 1989; Wilson interview, 1983; Jones interview, January 1989; Lowe interview, March 1972; and Women's Bureau, Home Environment and Employment Opportunities of Women, 55.

35. Jones interview, January 1989.

36. Wilson interview, 1983.

37. Lowe interview, March 1972.

38. Women's Bureau, Home Environment and Employment Opportunities of Women, 55.

39. Coal Mines Admin., Medical Survey, 20, 24; Lewis, "From Peasant to Proletarian," 99; and Williams, West Virginia, 178-80.

40. Women's Bureau, Home Environment and Employment Opportunities of Women, 55; Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 177.

41. Brewster interview, January 1989; Taylor interview, May 1989; Cynthia Earnest interview, February 1989; Concetta Quattrone, interview with author, Princeton, WV, February 1989, author's possession.

42. Irene Earnest interview, February 1989.

43. Cynthia Earnest interview, February 1989; Jones interview, January 1989; Wilson interview, 1983; Brewster interview, January 1989.

44. Jones interview, January 1989; Taylor interview, May 1989. Randall Lawrence discussed the frequent moves of coalfield families in "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Coal Miners in Appalachia, 1880-1940," paper presented at the Organization of American Historians Convention, Detroit, MI, April 1-4, 1981 and in "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 158; Lewis, "From Peasant to Proletarian," 81.

45. Lowe interview, March 1972; for a description of leases and mining operations, see Gillenwater, "Cultural and Historical Geography," 47; Cynthia Earnest interview, February 1989.

46. Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion, 10, 15, 32-33; Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 234-37.

47. Price V. Fishback, "Did Coal Miners 'Owe Their Souls to the Company Store?' Theory and Evidence from the Early 1900s," Journal of Economic History, 46(1986): 1101-29.

48. Cynthia Earnest interview, February 1989; Quattrone interview, February 1989; Stell Ray, interview with author, Chapmanville, WV, 1983, SWVCC; Lowe interview, March 1972.

49. McGill, Welfare of Children, 6.

50. Lowe interview, March 1972.

51. Irvin Wells interview, January 1989; Quattrone interview, February 1989; Cynthia Earnest interview, February 1989; Irene Earnest interview, February 1989; and Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 162.

52. Jones interview, January 1989; Irvin Wells interview, January 1989; Cynthia Earnest interview, February 1989; and Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 197.

53. Lowe interview, March 1972; contrast with Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 234. Cynthia Earnest interview, February 1989; Wilson interview, 1983; Brewster interview, January 1989; Hazel Leckie Prickett, interview with author, Welch, WV, February 1989, author's possession; and Lawrence, "Appalachian Metamorphosis," 197.

54. Women's Bureau, Home Environment and Employment Opportunities of Women, 38.

55. Annie Allen, interview with author, Chesapeake, WV, May 1989, author's possession; and Chessie Clay Bennett, "These Times Stand Out in Memory," Goldenseal, 15(Spring 1989): 31.

56. Women's Bureau, Home Environment and Employment Opportunities of Women, 39.

57. Quattrone interview, February 1989.

58. Lowe interview, March 1972; see also Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion, 87- 101, for a description of strike activity; and Wilson interview, 1983.

59. Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion, 10, 29-30; United Mine Workers Journal, March 1986, 24; U.S. Senate Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Mine Safety, January 1952, "Providing for the Welfare of Coal Miners," 434-35. For discussions of health and safety in the iron and meat-packing industries, see Daniel J. Walkowitz, Worker City, Company Town: Iron and Cotton Worker Protest in Troy and Cohoes, New York, 1855-1884 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1978) and James R. Barrett, "Work and Community in the Jungle: Chicago's Packing House Workers, 1894-1922" (Ph.D. Diss., Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1981).

60. Wilson interview, 1983.

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