Author to show empowerment of women coal miners

By Kristin Stock

For Suzanne Tallichet, coal mines are a symbol of womanhood and the strength that comes from within females.

Tallichet, author of “Daughters of the Mountain,” is looking to convey that strength and empower those who still work in Appalachian coal mines through her lecture today at 3 p.m. in the President’s Room at the Singletary Center for the Arts. A reception will follow the lecture.

Tallichet, a professor at Morehead State University, examines in her book the empowerment of women who worked in central Appalachia coal mines in the 1970s.

Rural Appalachian women should continue challenging the forces of patriarchy, capitalism, racism and regionalism to find the dignity they deserve, Tallichet said in an e-mail.

“I would like my audience to remember that Appalachia is America, and the experiences of people there, particularly women coal miners, are instructive,” she said.

Kate Black, a manuscripts archivist in special collections and digital programs division at UK, said that three important factors led to more women working in coal mines: the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s, the federal government’s implementation of affirmative action policies for women and the 1970s coal boom spurred by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ increase in oil prices.

These events opened more jobs for women in Appalachia’s predominantly patriarchal society.

The era included an uprising of feminism in Appalachia, Black said. Women in coal mines were feminists who fought for what they believed in.

“Students of your generation are often afraid to say they are feminists or they think we do not need feminism anymore,” she said. “But women who became coal miners were part of this incredible surge in the early 1970s of women from all walks of life taking matters into their own hands and creating change.”

Shaunna Scott, associate professor of sociology, said feminism is not a derogatory term, but rather it refers to social and political rights to make women equal to men.

“Women coal miners are like Rosie the Riveter,” Scott said.

Appalachian women have shown great creativity in finding ways to living off their small wages by bartering with neighbors, creating their own gardens and having flea markets, Scott said.

“We should learn from them not to be limited by our imagined boundaries,” she said.

Tallichet will focus on teaching people, especially past and present women of coal mines, not to be inhibited by their limitations.

Scott said that these women not only went through risky jobs, but opened themselves to hazing, sexual harassment and discrimination.

“Women can do a lot of things that they physically think they cannot do, but they can,” she said. “They are strong enough and smart enough.”