Coal Miners' Wives

Coal Miners' Wives: Portraits of Endurance

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 188
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  • Book Info
    Coal Miners' Wives
    Book Description:

    Few people in America today live with the dangers and deprivations that Appalachian coal mining families experience. But to the eighteen West Virginia women Carol Giesen interviewed for this book, hard times are just everyday life.

    These coal miners' wives, ranging in age from late teens to eighty-five, tell of a way of life dominated by coal mining -- and shadowed by a constant fear of death or injury to a loved one. From birth to old age, they experience the social and economic pressures of the coal mining industry. Few families in these communities earn their living in any job outside a coal mine, and most young men and women find no advantage in completing their education.

    Women whose stresses and strengths have seldom been disclosed reveal here their personal stories, their understanding of the dangers of coal mining, their domestic concerns, the place of friends and faith in their lives, and their expectations of the future.

    What emerges is a deeply moving story of determination in the face of adversity. Over and over, these women deal with the frustrations caused by strikes, layoffs, and mine closings, often taking any jobs they can find while their husbands are out of work. Endlessly; their home concerns revolve around protecting their husbands from additional work or worry. Always there is fear for their husbands' lives and the pervasive anger they feel toward the mining companies. For some, there is also the pain of losing a loved one to the mines. Behind these women's acceptance of their circumstances lies a pragmatic understanding of the politics of mining and of the communities in which they live.

    Giesen's insights into the experiences of miners' wives contribute much to our understanding of the impact of industry, economics, and politics on women's lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5714-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. ONE Raising Consciousness: An Overview
    (pp. 1-14)

    It’s midmorning when the sirens sound, but in minutes people are gathering outside the tall wire fence. Others are on their way, and in homes out of reach of the sirens’ sounds, telephones are ringing. From the distance, other sirens begin, shrill pulses that grow steadily nearer. Twenty minutes later, a hundred people stand outside the fence, and the number grows quickly.

    The crowd is subdued, waiting. Most are women. Some are crying, while others try to comfort them. Some are praying aloud; others hold themselves tightly with folded arms and pray silently. The look of fear is on everyone’s...

  6. TWO Traditional Views: The Backgrounds of Their Lives
    (pp. 15-39)

    Most of the eighteen women whose stories make up this book were second, third, or fourth generation West Virginians. Their grandfathers, fathers, and other male ancestors had earned their living, and some had died, in the deep coal mines that were the primary industry of West Virginia. As we sat and talked in their living rooms and kitchens, their husbands, sons, and sons-inlaw labored under the mountains to bring out the coal.

    The decades between their ancestors’ time and contemporary times had brought tremendous change to the mining lands of Appalachia. A few of the traditions and values of earlier...

  7. THREE Unseen Dangers: The Perils of Mining
    (pp. 40-62)

    Tales of death and heroism, injuries, near injuries, and narrow escapes are themes that have been woven through the lives of generations of West Virginia miners. Among nonmining families, such tales were folklore, yesterday’s and today’s news, events that happened to someone else. To mining families, the tales were alive, close, and painful examples of the consequences of working under the ground. They told of what could, had, or might happen today or tomorrow to a neighbor or friend or the person with whom you shared dinner, conversation, life.

    Talking about mining was a part of the everyday routine of...

  8. FOUR Living Day by Day: Women’s Work and Widowhood
    (pp. 63-88)

    Life-threatening accidents resulting from the specific dangers of mining—the roof falls, explosions, and deadly gasses—nearly always had a high probability of occurring and were, in addition, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Because of this, they imposed high levels of stress on mining families and shaped and colored the families’ daily home routines. Nevertheless, in most ways, the mining families’ daily concerns were similar to those of nonmining families. Adults in both types of families had to fit into their schedules the tasks of homemaking, child rearing, and participating in family events, and they had to divide tasks between wives and...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. FIVE Coping: Work, Faith, and Denial
    (pp. 89-112)

    The daily lives of the miners’ wives were shaped by a constellation of social, economic, and physical conditions with clear potential for creating high levels of stress. For example, corporate economic interests were best served by having workers work around the clock, and economic considerations were often the cause of layoffs and shutdowns. The consequences for mining families were the frustrating family and personal problems that arose from the rotating work shifts and threats to family income. Social tradition, however, was responsible for the notion that the miners’ wives should take on the burden of responsibility for creating a stress-free...

  11. SIX Today and Tomorrow: Company Issues and Personal Issues
    (pp. 113-135)

    When conversations with the miners’ wives turned to the subject of the coal companies, the women described a relationship between themselves and the companies that was complex and deeply emotional. Built from years of mistrust, oppression, and sometimes violent conflicts (Brooks 1973; Corbin 1981; Maggard 1990a; Naughton 1988; Scott 1988), the tensions of this relationship lay beneath the surface of everyday interactions between the women, their-husbands, and their families. The emotional nature of this relationship colored their perceptions of daily as well as future events. Discussions of the companies’ effects on daily life suggested that, when the mines were working...

  12. APPENDIX A Personal Portraits
    (pp. 136-143)
  13. APPENDIX B Other Women, Other Occupations
    (pp. 144-149)
  14. APPENDIX C Research Methods and Findings
    (pp. 150-156)
  15. APPENDIX D The Interview Schedule
    (pp. 157-159)
  16. References
    (pp. 160-162)
  17. Index
    (pp. 163-172)