Sanora Babb: Strong Woman of the Dust Bowl by Linda Harris Sittig

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This particular strong woman is near and dear to my heart, because of her one supposed failure.

Born in 1907 in Red Rock, Oklahoma, when the land was still a territory, Sanora Babb moved frequently as a child. When she was six, her unemployed father moved the family to eastern Colorado to homestead a 320-acre farm, where hundreds of acres were devoted to growing grasses for the making of brooms.

The isolated farm sat on the vast High Plains of Colorado and the family lived in a single room dugout, their home ‘papered’ on the inside with sheets of newspapers. Those pages were Sanora’s first exposure to the world of written stories, and journalism. Using the newspaper sheets, Sanora taught herself how to read.

After repeated crop failures the family moved on, first to Kansas and eventually to the panhandle of Oklahoma. There, Sanora and her sister were finally able to attend school. Although Sanora was eleven when she walked into her first classroom, she later graduated valedictorian of her high school class.

She worked odd jobs after high school while writing on the side, and landed her first journalism job as a cub reporter for the Kansas Garden City Herald.  Then in 1929, she moved to Los Angeles and was hired by the Los Angeles Times.

The stock market crash a few months later, plunging the country into the Great Depression. Sanora found herself unemployed and homeless. Undeterred, she found work as a secretary, and she continued to write.

On a trip home to see her mother, Sanora was astounded to see families she had known as prosperous, now waiting on soup lines along with evicted farmers. The visit made her acutely aware of the misery that the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression had thrust upon the people of the Oklahoma.

By 1938, Sanora was back in California and hired as an assistant to Tom Collins, the head of the local Farm Security Administration program. Together they traveled throughout the central California valley talking to migrant workers about federal programs that could offer them assistance. Everywhere they traveled, Sanora took copious notes for a novel she was writing about the Okies experience of surviving the devastation of the Dust Bowl, only to find a system of widespread discrimination in the migrant worker camps.

A year later she sent her manuscript, Whose Names Are Unknown, to Random House, and the editor, Bennett Cerf was so impressed he offered her a publishing contract. Her novel told the story of two Okie families whose lives had been decimated by the Dust Bowl and had packed up all their belongings and headed to California where they hoped to establish new lives. Once in California, they encountered bigotry and hatred and the hellish experience of life in the migrant camps.

Sound familiar? It should. While Sanora was taking notes about the migrant families, her boss Tom Collins was secretly sharing those notes with a friend who was also writing a novel. That friend was John Steinbeck.

Back in New York, Bennett Cerf and Random House were on the verge of publication when Viking Press launched The Grapes of Wrath to immediate success. Bennett Cerf had to make the decision of rescinding Sanora’s contract because he felt that a second novel on the same subject would not sell.

The Grapes of Wrath went on to win the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and made John Steinbeck a household name.  When asked about his research on the book, Steinbeck said he had made a few visits to the migrant camps with his good friend Tom Collins, and he would be forever grateful for the notes provided to him by Collins. Sanora Babb’s name was never mentioned.

Sanora decided not to attempt another novel but continued to write short stories. She became the common law wife of James Wong Howe, a noted Hollywood cinematographer, but could not legally marry him because of California’s anti-miscegenation laws (marrying a person of another race). Those laws were repealed in 1948 and Sanora formally married James in 1949.

She did go on to write several novels and at the age of 97 her original novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, was published. She died the following year in 2005. Critics have compared The Grapes of Wrath to Whose Names Are Unknown and have ascertained that Sanora’s novel was written with the eye of a true journalist, marrying raw details to unparalleled human compassion for a group of people who defined the true meaning of being an Okie.

Sanora Babb, I hope I did you proud. The Grapes of Wrath will never mean the same to me again.

Thanks to blog follower, Bucky Schriver for Sanora’s name.

If you have not yet told a friend about this blog, please do and ask them to become a follower. My goal is to reach 700 followers by summer. Catch me on twitter @LHSittig or www.lindasittig.com or on Amazon with my novel, Cut From Strong Cloth.

Linda 

 

 

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Isabelle Eberhardt and Noor Inayat Kahn by Linda Harris Sittig

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It has often been said that actions speak louder than words. However, actions coupled with the written word can last even longer.

Both of the women I have chosen for this month’s blog hail from unique backgrounds. Blessed with good educations, they exhibited courage in the face of tyranny, and both followed the Muslim faith.

And, although separated by several decades, they both drew inspiration for  writing while living in Paris, France.

Isabelle Eberhardt was born in Switzerland in 1877 and from her teenage years showed a strong interest in the history of North Africa. Extremely competent in languages, she spoke French, Russian, German, and Italian, and later became fluent in Arabic as well.

In addition to languages, Isabelle had a talent for writing and became published by the age of eighteen. After the success of her first written piece, she began to focus her writing on the culture of North Africa, even though she had never been there. Two years later, after several more pieces were published, she journeyed with her mother to Algeria. Together, they chose to live outside the European quarter, and thus alienated themselves from the French population.

When her mother died a few months later, Isabelle decided to convert to Islam and remain in Algeria. She soon began to dress as an Arabic man in order to freely roam throughout Northern Africa to explore the culture. When her funds ran out, she left for Paris to write about French colonialism.

She eventually returned to Algeria, met an Algerian soldier and married him, and continued to write. For the next several years she studied Islam, wrote for newspapers advocating the theme of decolonization for North Africa, and traveled widely.

At the age of twenty-seven, in 1904, while renting a small mud house with her husband, a flash flood struck the area and Isabelle was killed. Many of her previously unpublished manuscripts were made public after her death and she was eventually regarded as a force of literacy action in the decolonization movement.

It would take Algeria another fifty-eight years before the country achieved independence from France.

Noor Inayat Kahn was born ten years after Isabelle Eberhardt died, but she was also a champion against political oppression.

Born in Moscow to a Muslim-Indian father and American mother, Noor Inayat Kahn initially moved with her family to London. Soon, the family relocated to Paris where Noor received much of her education and became fluent in both English and French.

She started her writing career penning children’s stories, but when France fell to the Nazi occupation in 1940, Noor escaped to England. There, she joined the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained to become a wireless operator.

Her mastery of dual languages made her an asset and she was quickly recruited to become a special agent. She would go on to spend two years as an active member of the French Resistance transmitting messages to the British.

In October of 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to solitary confinement in a German prison. One year later she was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp and executed by a firing squad.

She was thirty years old.

Both Isabelle and Noor left their mark on the world through their writings, their courageous acts against political domination, and by being strong young women.

It helps to remember that good people exist in all parts of the world, regardless of religious and ethnic diversity.

Strong women might come from a variety of backgrounds, but they are united by their passion of trying to make this a better world for others.

Thank you to Harley Gamble who shared Isabelle’s story with me.

And, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE BLOG! Strong Women in History is starting its 5th year with over 600 followers in 64 different countries. Give the blog a birthday present by sharing it with a new friend and telling them to become a follower, too.

You can catch me also on Twitter @LHsittig, my website at http://www.lindasittig.com, and Amazon: http://www.amazn.com/1940553024. I am currently hard at work finishing my second novel, Last Curtain Call, which features a strong female protagonist caught up in the violent coal mining strike of 1894, and was inspired by the life of a real woman.

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Florena Budwin and her 500 Sisters by Linda Harris Sittig

 

shutterstock_553813One hundred and fifty-two years ago Florena Budwin faced the agonizing truth that her husband was dead and she was on the verge of being captured as a Yankee prisoner of war.

The previous year, in 1864, at the age of nineteen, she had faced the momentous decision of either watching her husband march off to fight for the Union Army, or dress like a man herself and accompany him.

A few days later she enlisted with him.

By the best estimates, more than five hundred women became soldiers during the Civil War. Some, like Florena, joined so they could be with their husbands, others were drawn by a variety of factors and perhaps even the supposed adventure of marching off to war.

While both the North and the South assumed that the War Between the States would be concluded in a few months time, we have the hindsight to know that it lasted a full four years. To date, almost as many casualties occurred during that war, as from all other wars combined in which Americans fought.

Among the casualties of the Civil War, were women like Florena Budwin.

After her husband was killed soon after enlistment, Florena was captured by the Confederates and sent to the South’s most notorious prison camp—Camp Sumter, or Andersonville as it was commonly known.

Prison camps existed on both sides and early in the war prisoner exchanges were facilitated. However, as the war dragged on, Ulysses S. Grant concluded that released southern prisoners would pose additional security threats and the exchanges were permanently halted for both North and South.

For prisoners like Florena, it meant the difference between possible survival and certain death.

While none of the prison camps, North or South, were a walk in the park, Andersonville became synonymous with almost no hope of survival. Completely surrounded by a 15-foot high stockade wall of Georgia pine, another barrier of logs was placed 12 feet inside the outer stockade. If any prisoner attempted to cross the inner barricade perimeter, he (or she) was shot on sight. The demarcation point became known as the dead-line; coining a new term in the America lexicon.

Prison camps in the North, like the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, VA were fashioned from existing buildings, and used for barracks. But in the South, the prison camps were open stockades and prisoners lived in makeshift tents exposed to the elements. It was up to each prisoner to construct his own shelter.

Hastily built in January 1864 to accommodate 10,000 men, the Andersonville prison population would swell to 33,000 before the camp’s twelve-month life came to an abrupt end.

Florena was among the 33,000.

The location of Andersonville had been chosen as a prison site in the western Georgian hills because it was remote, surrounded by acres of timber, and serviced by a rail line. An added benefit was that a fresh running stream coursed through the property.

In theory, the stream could have been used for washing and drinking. But after months of a brutally hot Georgia summer and the arrival of 400 additional prisoners arriving every day, the water source soon became diminished. The little bit of the stream that continued to run became contaminated when Confederate officers housed upstream, used it as a latrine.

With virtually no hygiene or toilet facilities, diseases in the prison tent-city exploded. Food rations were scarce, housing was a series of tattered canvas tents, and dysentery (debilitating diarrhea) claimed more victims than any other diagnosis.

As the ugly war raged on, the Confederate Army sorely needed all sources of available food and supplies for their own troops. There was no surplus that could be spared for captured Federal prisoners.

By the late fall of 1864 when Union General W. T. Sherman tore across the South, the Commander of Andersonville Prison, Captain Henry Wirz, decided it would be better to transfer his prisoners to other camps, rather than let them be liberated by Sherman.

Florena Budwin, still posing as a male soldier, was shipped to the Florence Stockade, near Florence, South Carolina. She died there from pneumonia in January 1865—just a few months shy of the end of the war.

While the name of Andersonville Prison still retains its former notoriety, there were roughly 100 prison camps in the Civil War and the northern prisons held their own badge of infamy for the deplorable treatment of their Confederate prisoners.

Both sides harbored women as soldiers, and both sides harbored women as prisoners.

While General Sherman is remembered for his devastating March to the Sea, his troops carving a path of total destruction sixty-six miles wide from Atlanta to Savannah, he is also remembered for saying, “War is Hell.”

No doubt Florena Budwin and her 500 sisters would have agreed.

You can also find me on Twitter @lhsittig and find my books on Amazon at http://www.amzn.com/1940553024.

~Linda~

 

 

 

 

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Maria Montessori – a Visionary Educator by Linda Harris Sittig

shutterstock_244261051I know that I usually choose women who are relatively unknown and that the name of Montessori is always synonymous with child-centered education. But, as I read about the life of Maria Montessori, I found that along with being a strong woman, she was a catalyst—she challenged the established educational norms of her time. Consequently, her actions sent ripples around the world, eventually reaching almost every continent on Earth.

Born in 1870 in a small provincial town in Italy, Maria was blessed to have a family where reading and education were highly prized. When the family moved to Rome, Maria’s mother took her to libraries, museums, and cultural events, and enrolled her in a school known for excellence in education.

By the time Maria was thirteen she was attending a previously all-boys technical school, where she could further her education in the sciences. The goal was for her to become an engineer, highly unusual in Italy at that time. At the technical school, she received lessons in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, accounting, history, and geography, in addition to the sciences. Her records indicated that she was particularly adept in mathematics and science.  Three years later she enrolled in the technical institute Regio Instituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci, adding physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, and two foreign languages to her intellectual repertoire.

When she graduated in 1890 with a certificate in physics, she decided she wanted to go on to study medicine. She applied for a spot at the University of Rome’s medical program, but even with a record of stellar grades, she was rejected. Not one to easily quit, she began to take classes at the university that would prepare her for entrance to medical school. Eventually, she was admitted. Being the only female in her class, her professors deemed it inappropriate for her to dissect human cadavers in mixed company. She was relegated to that activity after hours, solo in the lab. When she graduated in 1896, she was among Italy’s first cadre of female physicians.

She focused her early medical practice in psychiatry and then began to take additional classes in pedagogy – the study of education. During this time, she began to question the methods used in Italy to teach children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In 1898, she gave birth to her son, Mario Montessori, whose father was a fellow doctor. Maria was given the choice of marrying with the knowledge that she would have to stop working—or continue her life’s work, but remain single. She chose to remain single.

In 1900, she was appointed as the co-director for an institute that trained special education teachers. Maria decided to have the teachers engage in a variety of instructional techniques and then record which ones led the students to further gains. By her own observations, she saw how the children learned from play and investigating nature.

By 1907, she armed herself with the research from her previous jobs and opened a childcare center in a poor inner-city neighborhood. The instruction here would be geared towards those techniques which had proved so successful at the institute. She called the school Casa Dei Bambini, which touted a child-centered environment for learning. Children were encouraged to work with puzzles, help to prepare the meals at the school, and were given various manipulatives to make mathematics a more concrete concept. They were also given ample time to spend outdoors in nature and play. Believing that children learned best by absorbing knowledge from their surroundings, Maria began to design specific learning materials to be used in all of her classrooms.

The school became an immediate success, and by 1910, Montessori schools (as they were now called) had spread throughout Italy.

For the rest of her life, Maria dedicated herself to studying the child-centered approach to learning. She lectured, wrote books, and designed curriculum – all with the young child in mind. Exiled in India during WWII, she took the opportunity to establish a training method for teachers interested in pursuing the Montessori Method.

In 1952, at the age of eighty-one Maria Montessori was sitting in a friend’s garden in Holland. Her life had been full and her efforts had transformed primary education more than she would realize. She closed her eyes and surrounded by the nature she loved, she peacefully passed away.

It is estimated that the number of Montessori schools worldwide is now approximately 20,000.

Thank you to the Broad Branch Children’s House Montessori School of Washington D.C. for allowing me to participate in their visitors’ programs and witness firsthand young children immersed in the joy of learning.

Did you have one particular teacher who stands out in your life? Who was that person!

~ Linda ~

It is with excitement that I announce the unveiling of my brand new website! Please take a moment to visit at www.lindasittig.com and see what new information might interest you:)

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Leila Denmark: A Doctor in the House by Linda Harris Sittig

Leila Daughtry Denmark had the incredible distinction of being the oldest practicing physician in the United States when she closed her office at the age of 103. Yes, you read that correctly. But it is her full story that makes her such a fascinating woman.

Born in 1898 into a large farm family in Bulloch County, eastern Georgia, she grew up surrounded by nature. Living on a farm meant learning about tending plants and taking care of animals. Even at a young age, she was drawn to help the young, sick animals that needed special attention. It would become a passion that fueled her life.

At the age of nineteen she enrolled in Tift College, about twenty miles from Macon, Georgia, and pursued a bachelor’s degree. After college she taught high school science, but never lost her early interest in healing.

After two years of teaching, she applied for enrollment in the Medical College of Georgia. The year was 1924 and she was the only female in a class of fifty-two students.

Once she received her medical degree, she married banker John Denmark whom she had known since childhood. Together they moved to Atlanta and she immediately began her internship in the segregated black wards of Grady Hospital. Within a year she began to concentrate her efforts in pediatrics, caring for young children.

When she became pregnant a few years later, Leila decided to open a practice at home, so that she could still take care of her baby. One room of the Atlanta house became her medical facility, while her young daughter played nearby.

Her office rooms were always simple. There was an outer section where patients signed in on a notepad, and then her examining room—which usually consisted of two chairs, an examination table, a smaller table with an infant scale, a larger adult scale, lamps, and a window. Her tools were a stethoscope, otoscope, blood pressure cuff, and various chemicals to test urine.

From the start, Leila opened her door to anyone who needed her services. She charged a small fee, the same for everyone. Many decades later, she had still not raised that fee beyond $10.00 a visit.  With no receptionist or assistant, Leila Denmark managed the practice flying solo. Patients quickly became loyal clients.

In 1932 the epidemic of whooping cough (pertussis) raged across America, sweeping up innocent babies in its wake. Fearful of it spreading to her patients, Leila began to research the disease in her spare time—hoping to unlock a cure. She partnered herself with the pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, and helped them develop a successful vaccine for the dreaded disease. She would later receive the prestigious Fisher Award for her research.

For the next seventy years she followed her passion of healing babies and passing out medical advice to young mothers.

Throughout her professional life she always had her office in her home: first in Atlanta, next in North Atlanta, and finally in a 19th century farm house she and her husband bought in rural Forsyth County, Georgia. Wherever she practiced, her reputation traveled by word of mouth and mothers of all economic levels sought out her expertise, knowing that their children would be in tender caring hands.

By the time Leila was in her 80s, she was already an anomaly. Most of her friends and colleagues had retired decades ago. But not Leila. She continued her practice until the spring of 2001, when she was 103 years old. Her career had spanned over seven decades and she had entered medicine in the days before immunizations and continued into the technology age of a new millennium.

When asked what she attributed her long life to, she answered; “Eat right, and love what you do.”

Dr. Leila Denmark collated her thoughts about child care and privately published a book, Every Child Should Have a Chance. Over the years, thousands of copies have been sold. Like Leila herself, the book offers no-nonsense advice on how to take care of a child.

Leila Denmark passed away in 2012 at the age of 114. Along the way, she lived the life of a strong woman.

Thank you to Sandy Robinson of Savannah, GA who alerted me to the story of Leila Denmark.

If you have not yet signed up to be a follower of this blog, please join the 600+ readers from 64 countries who have already done that. Simply use the right side bar to sign up. If you already subscribe, then pass the blog along to friends. So far the blog has had 11,145 views.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2016, and you can still order my debut novel, Cut From Strong Cloth, on Amazon at www.amzn.com/1940553024.

Linda

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Ann Eliza Young by Linda Harris Sittig

This month I am highlighting a controversial woman who refused to be silenced.

Ann Eliza Young went up against the most powerful man of her times. He was the leader of her church, the undisputed head of the pioneer territory, and a man whose authority was unquestioned. He was also her husband.

Divorce was not an option, as long as she was living under the rules of his household. But after several years of plural marriage, Ann Eliza Young left Brigham Young. He was then seventy-six and the highly respected leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).

With the help of non-Mormon acquaintances, she was able to flee Utah and file for divorce in 1875. Her goal was not only to achieve her own personal freedom, but to travel to Washington D.C. and speak with President Ulysses S. Grant. She wanted to elicit his help in making polygamy illegal in America.

Ann Eliza was Brigham Young’s fifty-second wife—he would go on to have a total of fifty-five. Because of the vague definition of Mormon plural marriage at the time, it did not mean that Brigham necessarily lived with all his wives, some of them could have been married to him in name only.

I am not writing to cast aspersions on the religion into which Ann Eliza was born, but rather to highlight the bravery of a woman disputing the idea that a husband could legally have absolute and total authority over his wife and offspring.

It might help to read this very brief background of the Church of Latter Day Saints, often referred to as Mormon.

In the 1820s a young man in western New York State named Joseph Smith experienced spiritual visions leading him to establish the religion based on the early principles of Christianity. He led his band of initial converts in 1830 to Ohio, and then Missouri, with the purpose of establishing a permanent community. However, from 1831 to 1839 the Mormons met with resistance and persecution for their beliefs. The group moved again and converted a swampland on the banks of the Mississippi River for their new home and christened it, Nauvoo, Illinois. Only a few years later in 1844, Joseph Smith was assassinated by non-Mormons, and the church was thrown into the tumultuous process of establishing a new leader.

The man who would rise to prominence would be forty-three year-old Brigham Young. In 1847 he decided to lead his people west, eventually to the unsettled area called the Utah Territory. Here they would be free to practice their religion. It was also at this time that he began to publicize the positive aspects of plural marriage, or polygamy, that Joseph Smith had endorsed years before.

In a period of a few years, over 60,000 Mormons would move to Utah. Brigham Young incorporated the Latter-day Saints Church as a legal entity, pronounced himself as both the President of the church and the leader of the Utah Territory. Together, this gave him unprecedented power.

Ann Eliza Webb was born to Mormon parents in 1844. Impetuous by nature and with striking good looks, she eloped at the age of nineteen with a Civil War soldier who provided her with two sons but not much of a stable future.

Divorce followed within a few years and Ann Eliza decided to take her two small boys and reunite with her parents, now living in Salt Lake City, Utah. With no viable means of support, her father urged her to accept the proposal of becoming one of Brigham Young’s wives.

She was twenty-four and Brigham Young was sixty-seven.

It is hard to say from our modern viewpoint if Ann Eliza had any idea of what matrimony would be like with a man who had already wed fifty-one times and was currently supporting fifty-six children. All too quickly she must have learned that a marriage involving one man and over fifty women can be fraught with jealousy, bickering, and inevitable favoritism.

At first Ann Eliza lived in Brigham’s large house in Salt Lake City, but then he sent her to manage one of his farms outside the city and only came to visit her on a sporadic basis. Two years later she was brought back to Salt Lake and given a modest house in which to live, but with no financial support beyond basic necessities. In desperation she asked to be allowed to rent out rooms in the house as a way of supporting her two children and her mother, who was living with her at the time.

Who can say for sure what finally forced her to leave. But in 1875 she fled in the middle of the night, bound for the East and freedom. Her two sons were eventually sent to live with relatives.

She was at once excommunicated from church, friends, and family members. Even her mother asked her to reconsider her actions and return to Utah. But there was no turning back.

If Ann Eliza had simply stated that she wanted to live as a free woman, it might have worked. But she went on the speakers’ circuit and publicly accused the Latter-day Saints Church, Brigham Young, and polygamy as being evils that threatened the stability of society.

She wrote and published a book titled, Wife Number Nineteen: the Story of a Life in Bondage. It was met with great success as Americans hungered to read all about Brigham Young and his perceived scandalous polygamy.

Her sensational story accompanied by her impassioned stage delivery and her personal beauty made her a star on the lecture circuit. Her goal, however, to end polygamy was serious. She campaigned relentlessly and in 1882 a bill was passed in Congress which signaled the coming end of polygamy in America.

Brigham Young only lived a few more years after Ann Eliza filed for divorce. To the end, he was engaged in his own campaign to discredit her.

Although she persevered and lived to see the end of polygamy, she became estranged from most of her family, she married and divorced a third time, and eventually died in ambiguity.

Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has over 15 million in membership and ranks as the fourth largest denomination of Christians in the United States.

Polygamy is still illegal in America.

Thank you, Ann Eliza Young for being a strong woman.

You can also catch me on Twitter @LHsittig or my web page http://www.lindasittig.com or on Amazon at http://www.amzn.com/1940553024.

Thank you for reading about strong women who persevered to make this world a better place. During this holiday time, I wish for peace on Earth.

~Linda~

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My Name is Anonymous by Linda Harris Sittig

This month’s blog is written about twenty very strong women, whose names I do not know. There was a time when their neighbors, or husbands, or perhaps friends could have listed their identity; but no more. They lived in a small mining community in western Allegany County, Maryland in 1894, and this is their story.

Back in the 1890s the economy of western Allegany County was almost completely dependent upon coal. Eleven miles west of Cumberland, Maryland, nestled between the mountains was a sixteen mile long strip of fertile land called the Georges Creek Valley. The Earth harbored so much hidden coal there that numerous companies set up business and bituminous coal was being dug and sent out at a rate of 8,000 hand-dug tons a week. Thousands of men were employed throughout the region as miners.

The immediate and surrounding area was composed of numerous coal mining towns and small mining villages. While the owners of the coal companies grew rich, the miners worked for 50 cents a ton. On a good day a man could dig 4 tons of coal. Out of his $2.00 haul, he would be charged for the rental and sharpening of his tools, and various other ‘deductions’. His resulting pay was often issued in script; small coins imprinted with the name of the coal company and redeemable at the local company store; which was, of course, aligned with the already prosperous mining company.

Accidents were commonplace and often fatal. Pay was meager and only came twice a month. While the miners dug, often in atrocious conditions, it was the miners’ wives who had to scrimp and save to put food on the table. In the toughest of times a pot of cabbage soup might be all there was to feed a family of nine or ten, for several days straight.

In late 1893 the U.S. experienced a devastating economic depression which affected every American business, including the coal industry. The owners of the Georges Creek coal companies reacted to the probable loss of revenue by reducing the miners’ pay to 40 cents per ton dug.

It was a decision that would have unprecedented ramifications.

At this same time, a fledgling union called the United Mine Workers was headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio and was championing for the rights of American miners. The officials of the UMW decided that a nationwide strike could cripple the coal industry and therefore the owners of the companies would be willing to meet in negotiation. The Allegany miners wanted their 50 cent pay re-instated and were petitioning for safer working conditions.

The strike was set for April 21, 1894 with the hope of including every miner from Indiana to eastern Pennsylvania.

However, three small mining communities in western Allegany County had been through this before. Back in 1882 their miners had gone out on strike for six months. In the end nothing changed, except that many people died from either sickness or starvation because of the six months without pay through a brutal time. Those communities of Hoffman Hollow, Ocean, and Eckhart Mines were not willing to join the current strike.

On April 21st, thousands of men went out on strike while the miners of the three Allegany communities continued to work. The UMW needed the solidarity of all the miners in order to make the strike successful. Violence ensued when striking miners rose up against their non-striking counterparts.

Saturday morning, May 12, 1894, started out quiet as the miners of Eckhart were preparing to go to work, unaware that a vigilante mob had formed the night before. The intention of the mob was to march in force, some 300 men strong, down to Eckhart and force the miners to abandon their jobs or be subject to violence that would leave them with broken legs, or worse.

To this day no one knows how the women of Eckhart found out ahead of time about the mob. But at 6:15am they marched alongside their husbands, supposedly in solidarity of the decision not to strike. By 6:30am the men had turned off toward the Number Four mine and the twenty women continued on their way, but soon encountered the mob of surly men coming down the pike to Eckhart, swinging baseball bats and other weapons.

The mob stopped when it met the human chain of twenty women, some with babies on their hips. Heated words were exchanged. One woman called out that they might prevent the men from digging, but then the Eckhart women would go into the mines and dig in their husband’s place.

About twenty minutes later the angry mob dispersed, apparently not willing to attack women.

After the sheriff got wind of what had happened he telegraphed Governor Brown in Annapolis asking for the National Guard to be called out to help him deal with the escalating violence. Troops of soldiers arrived, along with journalists from the Baltimore Sun Newspaper. Everyone wanted to meet the women who had held off the mob.

But no woman in Eckhart would take credit. In fact, no woman in Eckhart would even admit that she had been there. Six weeks later the strike was over.

To this day, none of the twenty women from Eckhart have ever been identified in print.

But if you are curious about the entire story, be patient. My next novel, Last Curtain Call, tells that story, and will hopefully be out in print by summer 2016.

~Linda~

You can sign up on the right side of the blog to become a follower of strong women, and can also catch me on Twitter #@LHsittig, or my website LINDASITTIG.COM, or on Amazon at http://www.amzn.com/1940553024.

 

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