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Women of the Southern Colorado Coal Fields
As controversies in the coal fields between miners and CF & I became more and more abrasive, families joined together in the miners struggle against the dominant company rule. This concept of extended family was if for no other reason out of a need to survive. Once miners and their families left the company provided housing and moved into the tent colonies, as with the need to endure, the bonds that had been created between families grew even stronger. While the patriarchal branch of families were tending to more dominant roles, the women were banding together, providing the strength, both physical and mental, that was needed to sustain.

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was dubbed the most dangerous woman in America. So dangerous that General John Chase of the Colorado National Guard banned her from Colorado. This perception was not shared by the miners who saw her as an angel. Originating from Cork City Ireland, Mary Harris came to Canada in her teenage years and obtained a Catholic education. Subsequently, her teaching career found her in Memphis where she married the love of her life, George Jones, member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Molders. When Mary tragically lost George and their four children (all under the age of five) to Yellow fever, she eventually became an active union organizer herself. Mary Jones may be responsible for single handedly changing the course of mining families throughout the Southern Colorado coal fields. She had a strong sense of family and believed that the coal industry should provide enough money for the men so that the women could stay home and support the family from within. Her passion was contagious as she encouraged men, women, and children to fight for the cause. Her influence was so strong that she once convinced a young National Guard volunteer to desert his company and become a miner himself.
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Many women of the coal fields came from the old country as young brides or brides to be. However, the promise of a new and better life didn’t always turn out as planned. When Mary Thompson arrived from Wales with two small children, she was looking for the husband that abandoned her two years earlier. What she found was a fierce environment, one not preferred for the raising of children. Mary did what she had to survive. Fortunately she was taken in by the Costas family where she was swiftly brought into the union’s organizing campaign. Skilled as an opera singer, she often used her talents to rally miners and promote their cause.

Emma Zanetell, a young wife and mother found herself homeless when mine guards threw her out of her company owned home. Emma, turned out into the cold prairie sleet and snow with her babies, lost her newborn twins as they sickened and died. After joining her husband Joseph at the Ludlow Tent colony, she was in such mourning that she could not attend her babies’ funeral in Trinidad. As residents left to attend the funeral and the colony emptied, guards came in shooting and burning the tents. Thankfully, Emma’s tent was the only one spared. She remained loyal to the union until her death.
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Pearl Jolly had only been married for a year when the Ludlow attack occurred. Pearl had been a nurse at the Minnequah hospital before coming to Ludlow and marrying her husband, Mr. Thompson at the age of 21. When the shooting began on that dreadful day after Easter, Pearl did what she could to help. She pinned a red cross on her white dress and set out to help others amid the gun fire. In her own words that may not have been such a good idea: “When I got out there, they took it to be a good target and shot me as hard as they could”. Pearl went home and removed the red crosses but continued to make sandwiches for those in the holes and help people escape the gun fire. She later bravely testified to Congress on behalf of the miners.

Helen Korich’s mother came to Colorado from Yugoslovia in 1906. After five years of hard work, her father could finally afford to send for her. Helen remembers when her family lived in Hastings Colorado in 1912 and says her father was the first one to sign up to go fight for the union. She describes her move to Ludlow by saying they did not know what they were getting into. She said everyone spoke different languages and she had to learn a little of each to get by. She used to accompany her older sister to the dances because her mother did not want her sister going alone with all the scabs around. She says that she enjoyed living at Ludlow even though she was scared all the time. Helen recalls that morning when she was 7 years old. She remembers running across the prairie with her mother and siblings trying to escape the gunfire of the Colorado State Militia as they opened fire on her home. Still wearing her Easter dress, she caught her skirt on barbed wire as she ran. As the bullets flew everywhere, she saw her good friend get the top of his head blown off. She kept running. Helen’s family moved to Wyoming a few years after that day. She grew up to be the wife of a miner and supported the union until her death.

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Coal fields of Southern Colorado during the early 20th century belonged to men. The grueling labor required to extract the coal from the terrain was considered men’s work and if a woman entered a mine, it was said to be bad luck. Women were compared to cattle and dealt an oppressive hand by the Militia. A hand they refused to accept. The role of the Southern Colorado Coal Field women was anything but submissive during the early 20th as they played a vastly significant role in revolutionizing the quality of life for miners.