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‘Women, Work, and Activism in the Coal Mines’ virtual event set for Nov. 2

The West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC) invites everyone to a virtual presentation titled, Women, Work, and Activism in the Coal Mines: Stories from the Women Miners Oral History Project at 7 p.m. Nov. 2.

Jessie Wilkerson, an associate professor in WVU’s Department of History, and graduate student Emily Walter will discuss the oral history project and what they learned talking to women miners from the region.

The Women Miners Oral History Project aims to collect and preserve the life histories of women in the Appalachian region who entered the mines as protected workers in the late 1970s after decades of exclusion.

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This project is the outgrowth of a conversation between Wilkerson and former miners Kipp Dawson, Marat Moore and Libby Lindsay, all of whom were involved in the United Mine Workers of America and the Coal Employment Project (CEP), a nonprofit organization that advocated for women’s entrance into industrial mines, fought discrimination that working women encountered and organized around working-class women’s issues.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Dawson, Moore and Lindsay began organizing lists of women miners and considering ways to preserve their history, compelled by the loss of some sisters and the illness of others.

“Jessie and Emily’s presentation will shed light on this important project that is documenting the stories of women who worked in the mines. It also provides an important example of women coming together to save their history,” WVRHC Interim Director Lori Hostuttler said.

The oral history interviews will be preserved at the WVRHC and be a part of the WVRHC’s ongoing West Virginia Feminist Activist Collection (WVFAC) project. The WVFAC is an effort to preserve the history of people and organizations who have worked to affirm the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

“One of the goals of the WVFAC project is to emphasize that the stories of women and marginalized communities are an important part of West Virginia history and are worthy of preservation. The Women Miners Oral History Project affirms this objective. The interviews will add a new dimension to the resources about coal already held at the History Center,” Hostuttler said.

Wilkerson is the Joyce and Stuart Robbins Chair and associate professor of history at WVU. Her first book, “To Live Here You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice,” was published in 2019. She is working on two book projects focused on women’s history and was named a Carnegie Fellow for 2022-23. Walter is pursuing a master’s in public history at WVU. She studies the history of Appalachia, particularly labor and the environment.

This program is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.