Women Of Coal

By: Jon Sonnheim Email
By: Jon Sonnheim Email

So often we hear about the men of Eastern Kentucky working underground in the coal mines. WYMT's Jon Sonnheim has more on the women of coal, who were spotlighted at a luncheon Monday in Harlan County.

Believe it or not, in the early 1970's, just one generation ago, women simply did not work in the coal mines. In fact, they were even considered bad luck. It took federal affirmative action laws and many brave women to cross that underground gender barrier turning secretaries and housewives into the women of coal.

When you look at their faces, their earnings, and their hands, would you be able to tell that these women worked for years underground in the coal mines?

"It wasn't a female chauvinistic thing, it was a survival thing. It paid good money," said Former Coal Miner Beverly Webb.

"It was dirty, dark, scary, loud noises, equipment running everywhere. I told the girl I went with, if we get out, I won't come back," said Betty Jones who worked 19 years underground.

But women like Betty Jones did come back and worked day in and day out in the male dominated mines.

"They made it rough on us, but we endured," said Former Coal Miner Dorothy Belcher.

Showing the male miners they were there to make money and support a family, just like them, earning their respect.

"They treated me like a sister, and they were my brothers," said Former Miner Barbara Lewis.

Coal mining is a job that runs deep in many current and former miners, like these ladies, a job they say they remain proud of and are sure to incorporate into their own children's lives. Guest Speaker Betty Jones says her seven children, including NFL Running Backs Thomas and Julius Jones, learned from the mines, even though they never worked as miners themselves.

"These boys saw how hard we worked, and the girls as well. They saw how hard mom and daddy worked," Jones said.

Again, so many of these women are so proud of the work they did underground saying they would do it all again if they had the chance. However, many said they wouldn't let their own daughters go underground, saying they sacrificed so their children wouldn't have to.

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