Celebrate Working Class Women

Women's Collage (1)

In honor of International Women’s Day, and in appreciation of the holiday’s often-suppressed socialist roots, we dug into our archives to count down our ten favorite posts by and / or about working class women. Enjoy! 

Honorable Mention: Harlan County, USA

We posted a review of this legendary film last August as coal miners in Kentucky were blocking railroad tracks insisting that their bankrupt employer, Blackjewel, payed them what they were owed. The film was directed by Barbara Kopple, a brilliant artist and freedom fighter, who spent years among the Kentucky people despite some of the powers that be wanting to take her life.

10.  Taking on the Establishment

Really we’re acknowledging four posts – and honoring four women – with entry #10. These are a series of interviews with the four Latina women who ran for a seat on the Hazleton Area School Board last year on the “Moms for HASD” ticket. The grassroots candidacy of Marilyn Calderon, Taira Ferreras, Yesenia Rodriguez, and Ivelisse Eufracio came in the wake of a high-profile police brutality incident at Hazleton Area High School.

9. Anthracite Heroes: Anne

Patrick O’Neill’s powerful tribute to his grandmother, Anne, reminds us that the coal region has been home to bad-ass, anti-racist women since at least the early 1900s. Patrick tells the story of the time Anne publicly reprimanded an anti-Semitic family, standing firmly in her belief that “We must all fight against hatred.”

8. The America

This riveting piece of historical fiction by Marlane Gohl features two women – a mother and a Madame – plotting to help the latter escape from a rich, powerful, and abusive man. It’s one of two posts by Marlane, each inspired by early 20th century locomotives.

7. Elegy

In this and a subsequent post, both excerpts from her forthcoming memoir, Barbara Anne Kearney provides an elegy to her coal region ancestors. Among the most memorable is her Aunt Bridget, who, just a few years after migrating to America, needed to get her leg amputated following a doctor’s misdiagnosis. As per Catholic ritual, the leg was buried in a Scranton cemetery, “some two hundred miles from her frame” that had since re-migrated to upstate New York.

6. Anthracite Unite Speaker Series Set to Launch

This post introduced our inaugural Working Class Speaker Series event, which featured Dr. Ana Carolina Díaz Beltrán, Clinical Professor of Multicultural Education at Texas A&M University. Dr. Beltrán kicked off our series with a bang, engaging the community in important dialogue about the predicaments schools place upon transnational migrant Latinx youth.

Nijmie Dzurinko, our second speaker whom we hosted in February 2020, also deserves recognition here. Co-Chair of the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign and Co-Founder / Co-Director of Put People First, PA!, Nijmie is one of the most talented organizers in all of Pennsylvania. You can view her talk about organizing the working class in Pennsylvania here.

5. Pennsylvania Dress Factory

Coal region poet Daryl Sznyter employs captivating imagery in this tribute to her grandmother, a former garment worker, on her 96th birthday. In addition to being a moving tribute to an inspirational woman, Sznyter’s poem reminds us of the region’s exploitative textile mills that are often lost in the overwhelming historical shadow of the coal mining industry.

4. Walking Away from the Church I Love

In one of the most popular posts in the history of our blog, Katie Breslin mournfully tells the story of how sex abuse scandals and sexism caused her to leave the Catholic Church. In one instance, a priest compared the potential ordination of women to “weeds in a garden.” But Katie isn’t bashing religion – in fact, she explains how her feminist praxis brings her closer to God.

Katie’s penchant for powerful reflection is also on display in her 2017 post, Waking Up in Hazleton.

3. A Quest for Validation

We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge queer and trans women in our celebration of International Women’s Day. In this post, transgender writer and activist Mira Lazine does the important work of drawing attention to the dearth of support for trans folks in NEPA, and invigorates a call for unity among those engaged in “working class, racial, gender, and immigrant liberation movements.”

After reading Lazine, be sure to check out the activist art that Em Maloney, transgender founder of Queer NEPA curated for Pride Month in 2019. 

2. When Assimilation Isn’t Enough

Hazleton’s 2006 passage of the racist Illegal Immigration Relief Act left a permanent stain on our region’s history. Even though it was never enforced, the ordinance’s hateful message was felt. In this powerful essay, Cheryl Marcelo reflects on her experience as a Filipino American high school student at the time. She tells of enduring racial bullying, of internalizing the racism that surrounded her, and of overcoming both to become the fighter for racial justice she is today.

1. Anthracite Heroes: Big Mary

Many people know the story of the coal baron’s hired guns killing dozens of miners in the Lattimer Massacre of 1897. But what’s often forgotten is the heroism and leadership of coal region women in its immediate aftermath. Especially the legendary “Big Mary,” who mobilized a group of women to remove scabs from the mines in the days following the tragedy. As Regine Drasher – who plays “Big Mary” in her theatrical reenactment of the episode – explains here, some carried babies on their hips, others toted makeshift weapons… rolling pins or pokers from the stove. Their tactics were clever and their message was clear: “Out you go!”


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