Women coal miners from across the United States, Canada and England will gather in Jonesborough this weekend for a reunion at which their stories will be documented by the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University.
The first international gathering of women coal miners conducted in nearly 15 years, the Saturday and Sunday reunion will include guests from former underground miners’ organizations that pioneered gender integration in the coal industry in the 1970s as well as representatives from Women Against Pit Closures in England.
On Saturday, representatives of the Archives of Appalachia and ETSU’s Office of University Relations will film interviews of women miners to add to the archives’ existing coal mining collections, to strengthen the public understanding of the histories of mining and labor and to foster a greater appreciation for women miners.
Amy Collins, director of the Archives of Appalachia, said interest in the history of women coal miners draws researchers from across the country and abroad to archived collections at ETSU that document women miners’ efforts in the areas of mine health and safety, pregnancy research, parental leave and pay equity.
The reunion will also include a Saturday evening concert by folk musician and social justice organizer Sue Massek. Sponsored by the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at ETSU, the concert will begin at 7 at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, 125 W. Main St.
Massek will perform “Precious Memories,” a one-woman play that celebrates the life and music of Sarah Ogan Gunning, an early 20th century labor organizer and songwriter in the eastern Kentucky coalfields whose talent and activism was admired by fellow folksinger and activist of the era, Woody Guthrie.
Like Gunning, Massek has used her music to advance social justice for more than 30 years. A founding member of the Reel World String Band, she has toured the United States, Canada and Italy and played for many conferences of the Coal Employment Project, a national nonprofit organization of women miners initiated in the late 1970s to address issues not advocated by the United Mine Workers of America in that era.
Massek has also been actively involved in the work of Highlander Center in New Market that has been training grassroots labor organizers since the 1930s. Admission to her concert is free and any donations received will be used to help support the Jonesborough Repertory Theater.
For more information on the Women Coal Miners Reunion, call Marat Moore at 301-474-2721, 240-240-7617 or email [email protected]
For more information about the coal mining collections at the Archives of Appalachia, call ETSU at 439-4338.
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