Abstract

Much has been written about mine accidents in Appalachia but not the role that gender has played in responding to these accidents. This paper redresses this lacuna, focusing on one case—the mine explosion in Monongah, West Virginia, in 1907. The public response to this tragedy was partly determined by a gendering of the miners. Scholars have tended to focus on the labor conditions and the ethnic or social divisions in Appalachian communities. This article demonstrates that following the disaster, the public concentrated on the gender of the dead miners, often emphasizing their manliness in ways unseen outside of the context of a disaster. The article begins with a general historical overview of the Monongah tragedy. It then explores the relationship of gender and death in four ways: the impact, albeit temporary, the disaster had in lessening the importance of social and ethnic divisions in the community; the role the disaster played in reetching gender roles with heavy emphasis on the masculinity of the dead miners; the temporary supplanting of males as heads of households pending the return to the norm as new males grew into roles left by dead male miners; and the permanent iconographie impact the tragedy has on the communities resulting from grief and unresolved healing. This overwhelming grief produced what can best be described as a community of death, an area saturated with morbid images, dead bodies, funeral processions, rescuers locked in gruesome toil, and thousands of other people who were either directly impacted by death or were there to gaze at those in mourning. The text ends on a broader note by examining the public response to death in Monongah and in the process suggests a new scholarly framework for examining death in the mines.

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