National Park Service
Life for women in the coal camps was often difficult and isolating. Young women growing up in the camps seldom had vision beyond marriage and family. Keeping house in a coal camp was frustrated with dust from the tipple and grime from mineworker—husband’s clothing.
Nor were the women exempt from the health hazards often only associated with mining itself. Women prone to respiratory ailments suffered living near the tipple where coal dust made breathing more difficult.
A typical day consisted of preparing food for the man of the house to take to the mines and packing it up in a tin pan with water, getting children off to school, scrubbing wash, house and belongings free of the pervasive coal dust. If the wind was wrong, the wash might have to be done over as tipple dust would settle on fresh sheets.
The men’s work schedules dictated women’s life and work, and the daily round might begin with the husband’s shift. The end of the day held more cooking and cleaning with occasional evenings devoted to mending and listening to the radio.
Visiting among the women provided the only relief from hard work and isolation. Most women who had moved from camp to camp with their father’s or husband’s work preferred Fidelity or Co-operative camps to Blue Heron. Not only were both of those camps larger and more accessible, but the atmosphere was more convivial.
Even the men reported that women did not visit one another as much as Blue Heron camp, and those who enjoyed it there seemed most satisfied with being alone.
They were reared up to believe, such as my mother told me, that when you get old enough, which is seventeen or eighteen, no later than eighteen, you get married. You have a husband that takes care of you. You don’t work and you have kids. That’s your responsibility. You don’t have to worry about anything else.
The girls had a much harder time and more to be confined to what the boys were. Sure it was small and everybody knew everybody. And the gossip.
Boys could go to armed services. They could go to work in the mines. The girls were expected to just get married and start having kids and keeping house while the people went to the mines and the armed services.
It was pounded in our heads. Religion is all we knew, really, work and religion. To be God fearing and to be clean that was it.
Same thing every day
Clean house. We always mopped our kitchen every day. Friday was usually your big day. You’d clean everything on Friday (laughing}, getting ready I guess for the weekend.
You didn’t like the kids on the front porch or back porch if you didn’t want to see their faces all black like the coal miners.
We washed and hung out clothes to dry and they got covered in that tipple dust. You know and you’d have to wash them again.
I remembered we had venetian blinds. I hated them because they would cut your fingers. We had to take them down dip them in the bath tub, and then hang them on the line to get them clean. But only lasted about a week. Our mother didn’t seem to mind it. I mean it just seemed part of the life to her. She never complained or raised cane with dad or anything. She just loved up children. She was Christian woman and tried to teach us to do the right thing and pray every day.
My mother was type of woman that when we went anyplace we had on gloves. We had to be very lady-like. This was our mother you know. She was strictly a lady.
I told the women that I can remember Philip Waters' maw. I always called her maw too. Our mothers seemed to keep their selves busy by quilting or something like that, singing or something. They never let us know they were really depressed very, very much.
Back then you know the women did not have all the freedom they have nowadays. They just did what their husbands told them to do. That was it. Stay home, cook, wash, and listen to the radio. We finally got a radio.
That camp was not like Worley camp use to be. You never saw those women visiting a whole lot. Down there at Worley you could stand out there on the store porch and see a woman go in one house and thirty minutes later she would come out and go in another. It was just all day and all afternoon that way. You didn't see that at Blue Heron.
I worked one day in the store there after I got married. And my husband worked at the mines you know. The guys went up there and told him, "Hey there's a good looking woman working down there at the store." He come in there and made me quit.
My aunt Dorothy taught me to crochet. I learned to crochet real well. I had nine dresses crocheted for my first son when he was born.
Well I didn't want to be miner's girlfriend or wife because my mother had a rough life. I wouldn't want to live like that. If my husband took me back in the hills or someplace. You got to carry water. You got to live by oil lamp. I'd say goodbye.
If I was a man or if I was younger woman I'd be right up there working in the coal mines. I'd live my life out yonder.
To continue your visit through the Blue Heron Mining Community, choose the next "ghost structure" you wish to visit.