Coal Miners Wives

Coal Miners' Wives

Author: Carol A.B. Giesen


It’s midmorning when the sirens sound, but in minutes people are gathering outside the tall wire fence. 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.

The crowd is subdued, waiting. Most are woman. Some are crying, while others try to comfort them. Some are praying aloud; others hold themselves tightly with folded arms and pray silently.

The greatest fear of the woman outside the fence has leaped into shocking reality. Somewhere deep under the ground, men and woman may be choking in the blinding dust; they may be crushed, burned, or electrocuted. The waiting woman do not know which of them will go home with their loved ones at their side and which will go to the hospital to wait and pray. They know that some will go home in shock and disbelief at the death of someone they love.

Who are the people who wait outside the coal company fences and why do they choose to live their lives in an environment in which death, injury, and unemployment are frequent realities? How do they manage their daily lives in the face of such threatening events?.... Some answers seem apparent in the economy of West Virginia. A greater part of the answers are found in the human spirit, strength, flexibility, and endurance of the people themselves.

Few people in America today live with the dangers and deprivations that Appalachian coal mining families experience.  But to eighteen West Virginia woman 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 woman find no advantage in completing their education.

Woman 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 woman 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 and worry. Always there is fear for their husbands’ lives and 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 woman’s acceptance of their circumstances lies a pragmatic understanding of the politics of mining and of communities in which they live.