Thoughts about Appalachian Women in Regards to International Women’s Day

It is true that it is the men that goes in, but it is us
that carries the mine inside….
Us that picks up the pieces.

Kettle Bottom, Diane Gillam Fisher

Thoughts about Appalachian Women in Regards to International Women’s Day
By Shea Daniels
Jeff Biggers, author of The United States of Appalachia, once said that “you can’t understand America until you understand Appalachia.” I’d like to refine this thought slightly.  I think that to begin to understand Appalachia you have to begin to understand our women, and thus understanding our women becomes crucial if you want to understand America.

Sometimes our women shape the world around them by standing up.  Mother Jones, a community organizer, advocated for individuals living in coal mining camps.  Clad in her signature black dresses, Mother Jones led an entire generation of activists after the death of her husband and four children from Yellow Fever.
She spoke at rallies, wrote letters to elected officials, led marches, and challenged unfair labor practices.  Similarly, Eula Hall vowed at the age of fourteen to “raise holy hell.”  Fed up with the conditions she witnessed, Hall went on to turn her home into a community clinic.  An advocate for human rights, Hall has dedicated her entire life to raising awareness of the often sub-par conditions in Appalachia.

Sometimes our women shape the world around them by refusing to stand up.  When a bulldozer threatened to forcefully strip mine her Kentucky farm, Ollie “Widow” Combs and her sons laid down in front of it.  Although she spent Thanksgiving of 1965 in jail, it was in great part her unwillingness to stand up again which led to strip mining legislation in the Kentucky General Assembly in 1967.  Forty years later Inez Gallimore, a grandmother, spent hours sitting in the middle of a road leading to Massey Energy.
Although Gallimore was eventually arrested she began a community movement to protect the health of local children.

Sometimes our women shape the world around them through song.  Sarah Ogan Gunning watched her two children starve to death during the turmoil that was Kentucky coal country in the mid-1900s.  Ogan Gunning’s husband also died during this time because of inadequate medical care.  She began singing for human rights in response to these experiences and continued until her death in 1983.  Hazel Dickens also used song to voice larger concerns.  She sings “Fire in the Hole,” a classic Appalachian protest song, linked below.

Somewhere in our mountains the actions of these and other women are echoing, billowing towards the beautiful future that’s so possible here.  Until that future arrives, though, there’s still going to be women sitting in roads, writing poems, and making medical clinics from single wide trailers.  This is why I believe that, to understand Appalachia, you must understand our women.  And to begin to understand our women, you’ve got to begin understanding that we’re collaging a beautiful future from the often devastating pieces we’re picking up.
Fire in the Hole:


About Ohio U Women's Center

The Ohio University Women’s Center serves and responds to the needs of OU women students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. Founded in 2007, the center is dedicated to creating an inclusive and welcoming campus climate for all members of the community through programs, resources, referrals, advocacy, and education. Located in Baker University Center 403.
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