COAL MINERS' WIVES by Carol A.B. Giesen


Portraits of Endurance
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 An examination of the stress and hardship faced by the wives of coal miners in West Virginia. Instead of scientific analysis, Giesen (Human Development/St. Mary's College, Md.) uses methods of oral history. Drawing from her conversations with 18 women whose husbands have worked in the mines, she reveals the extreme danger coal miners face in the workplace and the stress that mining families face because of it. A high fatality rate, occupational hazards such as black lung, and lack of regular shifts contribute to a mining family's constant preoccupation with their welfare. Giesen conveys the extremes wives go to in order to feel free from anxiety when their husbands enter the mines. Most often, this includes taking on all of the family chores and the exclusive responsibility for their children. As one woman says, ``It's the men work in the mines, but it's the women carry the mines in them.'' These women do not see their husbands' work in the mines as a choice; they see it as the best way to support a family where they are. West Virginians, one of the women says, stay in West Virginia. Some of the women's voices are pungent: ``The miners mine more coal in their talk than they ever do in the mine.'' None of the women had close friends whose husbands worked outside the mine because they felt they would not be understood. Most of the women in the study had never worked regularly outside of the home, except during a strike or a layoff. Giesen's analysis of their lives often distracts from the women's voices. To her credit, she doesn't idealize their strength. Instead, she seeks to examine where and how they find support, whether it be from family members, prayer, or work outside the home. An academic study, sometimes repetitive, that would have fared better had more attention been paid to its participants' individual voices.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8131-1903-0
Page count: 184pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995


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