"I wonder whom God
will hold responsible":
Mary Behner and the Presbyterian Mission on Scotts Run
Edited by Christine M. Kreiser
In November 1928, Mary Behner, a graduate of Wooster College in Ohio and daughter of a Presbyterian minister, began her home mission work in the coal camps along Scotts Run. Behner's work reflected the efforts within mainstream Protestant churches in the 1920s and 1930s to promote a more practical Christianity and some semblance of social justice. Behner joined the Student Volunteer Movement, a national network of young Christians, and contemplated a career as a foreign missionary when the opportunity arose to work in the northern West Virginia coalfields for the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A.
A woman of seemingly boundless energy, Behner spent nine years on the Run. Much of her work focused on children, and she organized Sunday schools, vacation Bible schools, charm schools, nursery schools, scout troops, and Christian Endeavor societies. To expose the children to lifestyles and opportunities quite different from those on Scotts Run, she placed several with Morgantown families so they could attend the city's University High School. She also encouraged friends and associates in the many social and church-related organizations to which she belonged to donate their time and attention to her Scotts Run work.
Behner kept a remarkable record of her work in a series of diaries from 1928-29 and then from 1932 until she left Scotts Run in 1937. Her observations touched on every facet of life in the coal camps -- in wondering whom God would ultimately hold "responsible" for conditions there, Behner rebuked the coal industry, the operators, the churches, and the Scotts Run residents themselves. Sometimes compassionate, sometimes critical, often contradictory, her account of Depression-era West Virginia is invaluable. The following excerpts from her diaries reveal the devastation left by the boom-and-bust cycle of the coal industry and Behner's own missionary zeal to teach miners and their families "how to live."1
SATURDAY NOV. 17, 1928
"Our loving Master, thou art the God of love. May we love thee supremely that we may show thy loving-kindness to others. May we become like thee in thy love, so that day by day and hour by hour we may speak with our lives as well as with our lips."
I had planned to stay at home this year with the folks - to help Dad with his church work and to be with Mother.[. . .] While I was in Milwaukee [. . .] I got a letter from home concerning expenses and I decided immediately to look for a position. Just two days later a letter from Mr. [William] Munson - secretary of Mountain Work (Synod) in this state of W. Va. asked if I would consider being placed as a home missionary in a coal mining district near Morgantown - with a salary of $100.00 besides a $25.00 extra from the Morgantown Presby church for travelling expenses and small project beginnings. Providential!!![. . .]
NOV. 19, 1928 Monday
New-rich experiences today. It rained all day. Bought a dollars worth of bus tickets and took my first trip all alone out to "Scotts' Run."
First I climbed the hill up to the Connellsville school houses. Got acquainted with the three teachers in charge of the three school rooms[.] The grades go only to the 5th in these three buildings[.] Miss [ ] has been there for 6 years so she knows the families in the district quite well - and I am sure will cooperate with me in every way possible. She even asked me if I would take the Parent Teacher's assn. program Dec 6th - Merely observed there. Then at noon time I went on out to Pursglove district - across the trcks. Walked in about a mile of mud and cinders to get to the three school rooms. (Each room is a separate building -)
Mr. Wilson - the teacher there, and supt - asked me if I wanted to talk to the children. I said yes - I'd tell them a story if he wanted me to. So I did. Asked them if they'd ever gone to S[unday]. S[chool]. About half of them had - but only a few were going to any S. S. at the present time and had to go a long distance.
I visited the 2 school rooms there (the 3rd room is not being used) then this Mr. Wilson took me up a mile to another school building and I got acquainted with Miss [ ] there[. . . .] She has grown up in that community and knows all the families . . . so she will be a splendid tool.
Then an idea struck me concerning how to make contacts with the children before the announcement of our S. S. (whenever it begins) I'm going out there every noon to direct recreation - games - etc before afternoon school begins. This way I'll make contacts daily with the children and they will know that I mean business. I believe this will be fine. And so did the teachers.
A drunk man came up towards me as I was waiting for the bus to come home. "Youve had a little too much" - I said - "Yes" - he said[.] "Do you think you're a respectable man"? "Yes - Im a respectable man," he said - "C'mere let me educate you." "You can't educate me," said I. Then I went on to say: "Do you work?" - "Yes[.]"
"Where do you work?" - "Digging coal" - said he - "I suppose you spend all your money on liquor" - said I. "Yes" he did - `Bout that time the bus came along. He wanted to get on the bus but the driver wouldn't let him. They are not allowed to carry drunk men.
So - there are all kinds of experiences ahead of me.[. . .]
NOV. 28 WEDNESDAY
[. . .] Did a bold thing today. Announced that our library would be a library club and that in order to take the books out each child must join the club - paying 5 for library priviledges and complying with certain rules and regulations
1. I will always wash my hands before reading any book
2. I will pay a fine for any damages I am responsible for
3. I will not keep the book out longer than 5 days
In this way, each one will have more of a responsibility[.] I do not wish to make this thing out there a "spoon fed" affair - Then, I thought after a while we could elect officers and hold meetings in which we'd discuss the kind of books "to read" and "not to read.["] Hurrah! `nother happy thought.
The older children seem so anxious for S. S. to begin. Several of them wanted to know if we were going to start a Saturday School. I suppose that pretty soon they'll be wanting to know if we are going to start a Friday School and a Thursday School, etc, etc.
One little kid said I've never been to S. S. - and I'm coming - and so is my mother.
JANUARY 24  THURSDAY
[. . .] Brought a new Bible Story Book out with me today. - one of the little ones that the children like so well. During Recess Lizzie Netro asked me if she could help me put books away that had been checked off. So I let her - as I often let the girls. Well, after she finished there were some more books that came in and I put them away. While I was doing it I noticed that the new blue book wasn't in the place where I had put it at noon. The 1st thought that came to me was that she had hidden it behind the books so that no one else could get it before her. Sure enough there it was behind the books on the top shelf. So I let it there . . . . . until after school . . . . and I saw her finger in back the books to find it. __________ When her turn came in line to have her book checked out - I said - "Lizzie where did you get this book?" "Over there" - - she said . . . . "On what shelf," I asked . . . . And then her heart began to beat fast because she knew by then that I had caught her in the act. "You know Lizzie that I trust everyone in our library club to be honorable! You know you hid it there and you know that was wrong. You haven't anything to say". - - - and she didnt say a word. "Now you can't take this book out tonight. You can get another one over there if you wish." She walked out the door and never said a word . . . . When I came home I was telling the incident to the girls out in the kitchen. One of the [West Virginia] U. girls said - "I think that was criminal not to let her have it" - Well that was too much for me - - - - "You mean you think I should have let her get away with that . . . . and maybe all her life? - - you mean I should have let such an opportunity to go buy and not teach her a lesson in honesty? What do you think I'm out there for. My library isn't of any use, if I cant teach right ideals along with it - that's the end of all my work out there". ["]You know you don't mean that . . . ." And I looked her straight in the eye. I think it got across alright because she was cornered nor did she try to say a word.
Think of it - - a girl in college - - - not knowing the philosophy to say nothing of the psychology of such a situation. It stunned me! What is her college education doing for her? I cant see that it is doing anything.[. . .]
FEBRUARY 2 SATURDAY
Opened our charm school this afternoon with 23 girls and 7 teachers - 30 in all. - Just the right size. I told them that next Saturday is the last time any one can join. Because I dont want the continuity broken and then, too - . . it is about large enough as it is. - 30[.] The idea of the charm school is to learn how to become charming women. The program I have outlined for the following 3 months is as follows.
1. Charm of Posture
2. " " Exercise
3. " " Diet
4. " " Sleep
5. " " Cleanliness (surroundings)
6. " " " (personal)
7. " " Speech
8. " " Manners
9. " " friends
10. " " sex
11. " " spirit
12. " " intellect
13. " " sociability
When I asked them today what a charming woman was - they didn't know. Finally when I got them started they got some ideas. So then they copied on a sheet of note book paper - my outline of what a charming woman is - with a quotation, etc. Then we talked about "Posture" what it is - and how to get good posture. They wrote in their note books the steps in gaining good posture (1) weight on balls of feet - (2) abdoman in; (3) chest up - (4) chin in (5) "Stand tall" etc. "Stand Tall["] was the slogan for the day.
Sarah Cre then assisted me in taking some of the girls to the front of the class and correcting their posture. Gracie Myers was chosen as the one with the best posture. Then we gave them a posture exercise. Miss [Erma] Musser chose 3 girls to help her with the cooking (they made cocoa) - then the rest began hemming linen handkerchiefs (later they are going to sew footing on them) Each one was served cocoa and each one copied the recepi to make at least one time this week.
It was funny the way that old oil stove smoked - the way the girls had to chase up the hill for water and ow each one had to bring a cup and spoon that they might drink their cocoa. But oh it was such fun. The girls that came out to help were all thrilled about it - and so am I. Each girl copied the recepi for her note book. Then this next week I am going to work out a point credit system whereby each girl will be graded for the things she does. We will not build up points on things done; but rather assume each girl 100% and deduct for the things left undone. Such things as (1) reading a book a week (2) belonging to the library (3) going to S. S. (4) washing teeth twice a day (5) praying before each meal, etc will be a part of it. Then we will give a pin or a letter to all with 95% or above. Oh I think it is going to be great. There are so many possibilities in it and we've got a grand start.
APRIL 10 WEDNESDAY
Another beautiful day even tho it rained all day. Stopped at Mrs. Maurin's on the way up the hollow. She was so glad to see me. She came over from Russia in 1910. Most all of her family is dead. Some were killed in the war - but her mother is living. Her house looked so neat - she was baking huge loaves of bread. She seemed rather ashamed of her furniture but it was nicer than the most I've seen out there. - She said theyve never been a cent in debt. (Thats more than I can say) Her husband has been out of work for a week but they had apples in the house and she gave me one before I left. He's only getting 36 a ton now and they don't have full day work. I don't see how they do it. She said that now they always have prayer before meals. The children say it aloud - and she said it sort of amused her but at night just before they went to bed they always (the children) knelt before their beds and prayed aloud to each other. Oh it was so beautiful. There are no rewards like that. God is working - I can see it more every day. Then she told me how Marie comes home and talks about Miss Behner all the time. How everything I say and do - what I wear etc is perfect to her. And Mrs. Maurin said she very seldom feels that way towards anyone. Oh it made me feel so humble and unworthy.[. . .]
Sat. Jan 23, 1932
This is the beginning of a combination letter-diary scheme. It's a shame I dont write you oftener, and it's a crime that I haven't been keeping a record of the interesting things that happen each day out at Scotts Run. I am sending you this note book cover in which to keep these "memories" as I send them to you from time to time.[. . .]
Its been raining all day! . . . . but of course that never keeps me from Scotts Run. I got out there today after the children had finished eating their noon lunch. We are feeding six days a week now. The 24 children that have been having these lunches have all gained in a marvelous way. Matt Lay is making me 3 eight foot tables so that we can have room to almost double our feeding. There are a great number of the children that should be having these same advantages, but we didnt have room to take care of them . . . . . The Friends Relief committee said they would give me the lumber if I could get some one to make the tables. Matt was working on one of the tables when I arrived on the scene this afternoon, and I was so thrilled, because they're going to be grand. We can use them for sewing and writing also.
We are trying to make a real project out of this feeding-relief program. We eat with napkins (paper ones) a thing most of them had never heard of before, break our bread in two before eating it, tip our spoons toward the edge of the bowl away from us, etc, etc. All these things make it like a game! Then, too, everyone washes his hands before eating, combs his hair, and often cleans his fingernails. Once and a while we have a nutrition talk - learn a food-song - or something. Its a lot of fun; and it will be twice as much fun when we begin to feed twice as many children.
When I stopped at the Quaker Rooms this morning before going out to Scotts Run, Edith Mau gave me a box of games and toys, so the kiddies had a lot of fun this afternoon testing out these new treasures. We played everything frome indoor croquet to "Rummy." We ought to have a `play room' out there where we could keep a variety of games and toys - and have supervised play two or three times a week. This is only one of many dreams! If we can get the old Co. Store down by the main road we can use one of the rooms for this purpose. The Scouts were in there this afternoon cleaning things up a bit. Its impossible to clean it up thoroughly until we get permission to have it permanently because the old meat-refrigerater which is apparently built in will have to be torn out. So were fixing it up enough so the Scouts can use it for their rough work. Charles Leiphardt and the boys made some paint lines on the walls for "hand ball" today.[. . .]2
Jan 29, 1932.
[. . .] Yesterday Mrs. E. C. Maclin, wife of Prof. Maclin, and a member of the Presbyterian church went out to Scotts Run with me to observe, and begin plans for a sewing class on Connellsville Hill. We start a sewing class at Stumptown in Pursglove today. She is going out to observe that this afternoon. It will be an interesting experiment; because of course we have not the least idea how many will be there, etc. Mrs. Lay and Mrs. White have loaned their machines.[. . .]3
Jan 30, 1932.
[. . .] Today I have been visiting in homes to get the names of pre-school children who need milk. It looks like there will be 50 or 60 in Pursglove[.] The Quaker Relief Service is furnishing milk for them also.[. . .]
Something else of unusual interest and pathos - happened this week. The Bates family has been receiving help from the County for some months, and the people in the neighborhood have taken pity on the 6 children who are hungry half the time. Most of the people say Mr. Bates is lazy and good for nothing, but Mr. Bates says he has a rupture and needs medical attention. We have been feeding the school children (3) noon lunches. Mr. Joe Stewart has asked Mr. Bates to get out of the Co. house because of his not working in the Pursglove mines, but he has never made any attempt to move. Well, about a week ago Stewart gave Bates a 5 day notice that he would have to get out. Five days later Stewart sent up 3 Co. men to throw him out. So they picked up everything and dumped it out on the road. Mrs. Bates came to me crying! . . . . . . so I went down the road . . . . . but what could I do? I took her down to Crynoks office (justice of Peace) which is on the main road at Pursglove, and together we told the story. Crynok said the Co. had no legal right to "throw them out" because they had not gone thru the required legal procedure to do so - including sign put on door giving 30 days notice! etc. He suggested that the things be left where they were thrown, and that the mining Co be responsible for damages. I felt that I had done all that was possible. Several days have elapsed since this occurred - and the furniture, etc was out in the open air (some rainy weather, too) until today when the Bates shoved it in a barn. The family is scattered around in the neighbors houses - - - with no home. The mother has a 2 mo. old baby to take care of and - - - - she herself is a physical and mental wreck at the present time.[. . .]
Feb 11, 1932
[. . .] I've seen so much suffering during these few days. Yesterday I was in a boarding house run by Mrs Patakie, who stood barefoot on the floor as she held her baby - - telling me about her 22 mo. old boy who died last summer because she could get it no milk. It seems that during the strike she could not buy milk for the child, and no one would trust he. Milk was the only thing that the sick child would take, and she cried as she told how she had to watch her "beautiful child die." I was calling there to get information so I could get milk for her two pre-school children. They said they had never before taken any help from anyone. They evidently had been managing well before the hard times came. The mother looked as if she was about to be confined, but on questioning her I found it to be a growth which she said was caused by working too hard at times when she should have been in bed. I had to hurry my call, and it hurt me to leave that tear stained face![. . .]
March 1, 1932.
[. . .] Went to one house - #28 at Davis - - to see a family named SUKAS. He walks with a cane, and is able to do no work. He has received no compensation since Oct 1931. Worked at Bunker mine. Has 2 married sons who are practically feeding him.[. . .] I found out that the mines had given him compensation - then put him back to work . . . Then when he found he was unable to do the work the mining Co. felt itself released of all responsibilities. The companies have no regard for human life. They tear men to pieces then let them go to die - Its a crime that there isnt government supervision over the actions of private companies. - - no social Justice - no Christianity[. . . .]4
April 23, 1932.
Some day when the country is prosperous again, we will look back to 1932 when the Government had to issue flour to thousands of needy families in the coal fields.
No one knows what a problem it is to distribute free materials until one does it. The Government wrote to the Red Cross that it be as careful of this flour as it is with its Red Cross money.
But how in the general condition of stress is one going to determine who needs it and who doesnt need it. I frankly told Mrs. Ridgeway that I knew no way of drawing the line. I can't help but feel that the miner who is working needs flour (and should have it) - just as much as the man not working. A lot of the men not working are those who choose not to work because they are lazy, or do not work because they cannot get along with "the boss". The fellow who works hard for the paltry script he does draw each day - and takes all the hardships that come with it - deserves encouragement. So my method of procedure has been to get out flour to all who apply for it - except where there is overlapping:
1 person gets 1 sack per mo.
2 in a family get 1 " every 2 wks
3 " " " " " " " " "
4 " " " " " " " week
5 " " " " " " " "
6 " " " " " " " "
7 " " " " 2 sacks " "
Of course there were a number who tried to get all they could by unfair means. But after several distributions we will be able to check these! Some, I've heard, sold their flour for liquor, etc, etc. In thse cases where we find it out - no more flour will be given. I have a white, and colored person to help me check as they come in. Saturday we gave out 300 sacks of flour.[. . .] We worked steady from 2:00 till 6:00. It was some job.[. . .]5
Thursday, June 9.
Daily Vacation Bible School is begun with an initial enrollment of 100 exactly. I have never had such difficulty in beginning a project in Scotts Run. I have had no money to work with, and the result is that the school has to be run on absolutely nothing. Then, too we are having the school in the old Co store down by the main road at Pursglove - which means that the place had to be cleaned up and repaired a bit. We also had to build benches for seats.[. . .] The wood for the benches was once the shelving in the store. Ive been chasing up and down Scotts Run in my car gathering powder boxes to be used for seats also. Now we have enough boxes and benches and chairs to seat 175 people - I mean - children.[. . .]
June 18, 1932
[At Bible School the] boys are making wash stands and book cases. The younger boys are making towell racks out of powder boxes. Then we have a basketry class, a sewing class and a crocheting class. The sewing class is making hot holders, and the crotcheting class is making caps out of yarn. The primary department is of course making a variety of things including vases, oil cloth animals and [. . .] hot mats.
My goal for this school was 200 and we've made it! I knew if we had it down by the concrete road we would draw from Jere, Liberty, Guston Run and Connellsville, and have that many. We would have had more had we not closed the enrollment.
[. . .]6
Sept 14, 1932
[. . .] Had a very unusual experience last Sunday - I said something to Cheeks, a negro out at Scotts Run about wanting to come to the Union meeting when they held it in our building for the first time. As long as it was being held in my building (thru Joe Stewart) I felt free in mentioning it. So Cheeks proceeded to invite me, and in fact set it at a time when I could come (after S. S.). So after Sunday School I went to the building and the door keeper said I couldn't come in because they were having union business. I asked for Mr. Cheeks, and he wouldn't let me stay on a chair in the back but made me go up to the front and sit. I was expecting to have them fire any miniute . . . . . but instead they kept on with their business. A lot of their discussion was concerning technical mine problems, but I was able to grasp most of it. The poor fellows havent got a chance. But I admire them so much for trying . . . . I can't describe the mixture of emotions that went thru my being as the two hours rolled by. It was intensely interesting and instructive. I certainly did get to know the men. What in the world would I say to a group of men like that were they to call on me to speak. I was thinking hard . . . because I always like to be prepared a little. Sure enough they called on
me -. and at the close of their Union business.[. . .]
I told them how much I appreciated their inviting me to come to the meeting and I told them I was there because I wanted to know them better and I also wanted them to know that any thing that had been said at that meeting - in my presence would go no further than me . . . . and I had hoped that they had not felt strange in having me there. You see . . . . I wanted to make sure that they wouldn't feel that I was there to pry into their private affairs. Well, I had those 200 men with me - s I went on. I told them what a fine thing I thought it was for them to get together and discuss their problems in a frank and business like way (However the argument at times ran pretty hot!) Then I said that there were 3 things I wanted to leave with them that I thought might help them - and I expanded on these 3 points.
1. Keep Smiling
2. Keep Cool
3. Keep Square.
What else could I say - I didn't know. It was a marvelous opportunity and the men were so responsive I was thrilled and inspired. Since then I have been turning over in my mind an idea of perhaps having a miner's men's S. S. class in that building. What a wonderful thing that would be . . . . . and if I cant get a U. Prof - or some man to teach it - - maybe I could try it.[. . .]
October 3, 1932.
Dearest Family -
[. . .] We had a case committee meeting this afternoon in the W. C. T. U. Community building - - to discuss the handling of Red Cross goods, and government R. F. C.[. . .]
The plan is to pay 30 an hr for road work - which will amount to about 13.50 per mo for a family of 5. This is more than the average miner at Pursglove #2 is making . . . . and I said in the meeting that I thought there would be many men quiting their mine jobs for R. F. C. work[. . . .]7
Thurs. Oct 5, 1932.
Pursglove #2 Mine did not work yesterday . . . . . a strike!!! I was there at their meeting on Tuesday evening when they unanimously decided to go on a hunger strike. They said they couldn't work with nothing in their stomachs. Many of them had no food in the houses whatsoever. They were just desperate!! Again, I was the only woman in the room, and I tried to make myself as obscure as possible in the back of the room . . . . but it didnt work.[. . .] At the end of their heated discussion Cheeks asked me to come to the front of the room and say a few words . . . . . . some fast thinking followed - - as I went up to the front of the room. At first I just stood there and looked at them without saying a word. It was a[s] still as a tomb . . . . you could have heard a pin drop. Then I told them that I was supposed to be their spiritual adviser, and that the relief work was really not my job . . . . . but that last year when times were so hard I felt I couldn't talk to them about their spirits without attending to their stomachs. I said, tho, that of one thing I was sure . . . . . that if that crowd of men was as enthusiastic about their souls as they were about getting something to eat, that I was certain they wouldnt find it so difficult to fill their stomachs[. . . .] I said their bodies crumbled away into dust after death but that their souls would exist forever - and that yet they were paying little attention to their souls. I said that we were going to have a S. S. class for men sometime in the near future and that I hoped they would be as enthusiastic over it as they were over the "strike"[.] Until then I was sure if they kept cool they would get some food to eat.
Whew! It was pretty plain. Today the County is sending out food - and urging them to go back to work with the promise that they will get some road work from the R. F. C.[. . .]
Dearest Family -
[. . .] You should have seen the line of miners waiting for a bit of salt side, potatoes, lard and canned tomatoes yesterday. If it hadnt been raining I would have taken a picture. I took my new "Relief Worker" Carie Brown Robinson out with me, and let her take over the responsibility. This afternoon we are going to register the unemployed for road work on R. F. C. funds. Carrie is going to have complete charge of that - and Im taking out 4 or 5 "U" students to assist her. This is going to help so much. The mine laid off 150 men - who were not living in the Co. houses. These men - we are hoping will get road work thru this registration. Then if the mines continue to work only one day a week we will give these men one day of road work, too once in a while. Its an awfully big problem.[. . .]
Oct 12, 1932.
[. . .] Yesterday afternoon I took the students out to Scotts Run to help register the unemployed for road work on R. F. C. Funds. We signed up 75 which makes the total come to 150. One man told me that he was pretty sure the whole mine would shut down the first of next week. You see, 280 men were laid off last week by the mine. That was after they went to work following the strike. Well, I asked him how he was sure, and finally I got it out of him. The operators are conferring this Friday over a reduction to 16 per ton which means that the men would be working for a little less than 1.50 per day. What he meant was that they would strike again. So, I don't know what we are coming to out there. These students surely got an eye full yesterday . . . . . many of them were sociology students, and some of them had the queerest idea of what Scotts Run would be like!!! How limited a students experience is if he doesn't get away from the campus into a field of actual service.[. . .]
Oct 13, 1932.
[. . .] I was talking yesterday afternoon to Jim Hart - colored fellow - - perhaps the most prominent leader in the Pursglove #2 camp. He has been in the coal business all his life - has a good education, and is a bright man . . . . is well posted on the coal business all over the country and knows Bittner personally. He says he has been criticized frequently by Scotts Run miners for standing up for the operators. He says that if the situation in former years has been padded - that it is not now . . . . . and that if the union officials accept this 16 ton reduction the men will refuse to accept it and he says they will do it with blood in their eyes. He swore that half the families in the camp had nothing to feed their children "tonight" . . . . and I believe he's right. He says the men are determined and that he cant stand up in front of them and tell them to keep cool when their children are starving . . . and said that next week at this time - if wage cuts go thru, the men will be breaking in store windows and forcing a way for food. He said he himself had two children of high school age being deprived of an education and 3 other smaller ones home from school for lack of shoes - - - because he had no money to get anything.
[. . .] The only thing in sight is this Red Cross goods which committees are serving up as fast as they can. There are about 100 Morgantown volunteers working on this project. Bridge clubs and other Social clubs are doing sewing at their meetings instead of playing bridge and gossiping!! Its regular war time procedure . . . . . How pitiful in a land of plenty! . . . How unsocial, how unChristian!!![. . .]8
Feb 2, 1933
Dearest Mother and Father,
[. . .] Remember the 21 year old girl and 36 year old man whom I mentioned to you the last time I was home? The family relations had come to a crisis, and the husband had asked me to help. Lies had been going around about his innocent little girl wife - and he was half believing them. They have 4 children and are expecting a fifth. Marie was married at 13 years of age - efore she had ever menstruated. At 14 she had her first child - All but one of the four are under school age. The youngest is still wearing diapers and is a thin puny child . . . . . . and they are almost naked for clothes - - - to think a 5th one is on the way! Marie said she'd rather die than have another child . . . . . I found out later from her that she had taken quinine, kerosine, iodine and everything she could get her hands on and nothing seemed to cause a miscarriage, so she had decided to go to the doctor and have her womb opened. Some one else on Connellsville Hill had had it done and altho it was a terriably painful process she knew nothing could be more painful than child birth. She is small. (He is large) The doctor gives nothing to the patient for this operation! and I guess it all but kills the person. When I first talked to her about it I thought to myself - - - I hardly blame her
. . . . . and I didnt say much . . . . . But that night I got to thinking about it - and I felt urged to save that unborn child. So the next day I called her down to The Shack[.] (It was the first time her husband had let her off the hill for months) He is so selfish and envious of her. He hardly allows her to speak to anyone. I called for her on the pretense of having some things for her. She can't read, and her husband had read the note to her! Imagine!
Well, I talked to her very frankly about her condition, what a chance she was taking with her own life in planning to do what she had. She said she was going in that morning, but that something just held her back. I tried to show her that a human soul had been formed in her body, and explained the biology of it which was all new to her. To show her ignorance on the subject let me say that she did not know that there was life in her body after being 4 mos pregnant! I also said that perhaps that unborn child might be some genius someday, or might do something wonderful in this old world, if allowed to live. A new light came into her face, and she changed in an instant as if struck by something. We dedicated the child then and there to God, and I know that the nurturing of that child will be different from all the others she has had. I ransacked the boxes of things you gave me, and found a lot of goods, lace, etc and the little sewing bag - gave her a number of things to sew in preparation, and said I'd help her and we'd plan it out together. So I almost feel as if the baby when it comes will be part mine. God somehow gave me the strength to make her cherish the life within her and want it to live . . . . . and before she was madly descouraged, willing to do anything in her power to crush out life.
- But the condition between husband and wife remains - and what shall be done about it. He is still a brute and demands of her every night in the world that he is home. Each night's experience is nothing but agony to her because she is so small, and he is so large. And if she doesn't give in to him he beats her, and sometimes doesn't speak to her for weeks.
I have always known this to be a general condition in Scotts Run, but never before had I experienced so intimately facts of a specific situation . . . and now I know.
[. . .]
[. . .] And now, I must tell you about our nursery school which is 5 days old today. One of Dr. Elizabeth Stalnakers Psychology students phoned me one day, and asked if there would be a possibility of doing some scheduled testing with pre-school children at The Shack. It has long been a pet dream of mine to have a kindergarten or nursery school, but there has never been an opportunity. So I grasped this chance and it has worked. They tested a number of the children last week, and this week we began with a group of 3 year olds in a nursery school. The nurse and I visited at least 30 homes last week, picking out ones who needed the food, training, etc the worst. Each mother was told that he child should come if there was an invitation for it at the milk station on Saturday. We chose 12 to begin with. On the following Monday - 11 came - the 12th claimed there was no coat to be worn down! We made a mistake in keeping the mothers any length of time on the first day. Because they saw us let the children cry before they knew what it was all about and several of the mothers became furious
. . . . 2 of the children were taken home . . . . . one of these needed it the worst of
any[. . . .]
The first day was a grand squaking party - and we had one beautiful tantrum. Now the children are getting used to their new experience and we have less trouble. Dr. Stalnaker seems very interested[.] She has been out 3 afternoons this week cancelling one engagement to be there! Her class in Child Psychology is using it as a laboratory period, and those students who give their services have their amt of outside reading material cut in half. She has worked out a regular schedule - and at least 3 students go out each day. Then each student is studying a certain subject in connection. Some are studying sleep, others eating and others motor ability - and mental ability. Its fascinating and may be a beginning towards a more definite relation of the University to our Scotts Run. Dr. Stalnaker has had charge of the nursery school for children of "U." Professors at the home management house for the last two summers, and of course is an expert in her line![. . .]9
The Shack Schedule - Dec 19, 1933.
Sun. 11:00-12:00 Sunday School
7:30- 8:30 Christian Endeavor
Mon. 9:00-12:00 Negro Kindergarten
12:30- 3:30 White Kindergarten
4:00- 5:00 Library
7:00- 9:00 Beautiful Homes Club
Tues. 9:00-12:00 Negro Kindergarten
9:00-10:00 Hygiene Class, Negro girls.
12:30- 3:30 White Kindergarten
2:00- 3:30 Womans Club
7:00- 9:00 Boy Scouts
Wed 9:00-12:00 Negro Kindergarten
12:30- 3:30 White Kindergarten
4:00- 5:00 Library
7:00- 9:00 Dramatic Club
Thurs. 9:00-12:00 Negro Kindergarten
12:30- 3:30 White Kindergarten
9:30-10:30 Nutrition Class, Negro girls
1:00- 4:00 Sewing Class for Women
7:00- 9:00 Library Reading Night
Friday 9:00-12:00 Negro Kindergarten
9:30-10:30 Nutrition Class Conn. girls
12:30- 3:30 White Kindergarten
4:00- 5:00 Library
4:00- 6:00 Music Lessons
7:00- 9:00 Committee Meetings
Saturday 9:00-12:00 Clean Up "The Shack"
1:00- 4:00 Shower Baths
7:00-10:00 Socials, Parties, etc.
This schedule gives an idea of the regular weekly activities at "The Shack". So you can imagine how very busy it is with the extra Christmas preparations[. . . .]
Mar 6, 1934.
Mar 8, 1934.
[. . .] Have been mulling over in my mind a way to create more cooporation and better understanding - in my work at "The Shack"[.] We must have a Council of Workers - including representatives of P. T. A.'s, clubs and C. W. A. projects - Our work has so enlarged that so many people are involved with little knowledge concerning what it is all about. That is the hardest thing I've had to do yet. How am I going to explain to them why I am out there - I feel so inadequate to meet the situation - and yet it must be met - - and by me -[. . .]
Have been very much concerned about our nursery school at "The Shack" for some time and there seems to be nothing we can do about it. There are so many activities going on at "The Shack" and then we don't have much light in the room, and because of the coal dust - it is very difficult to keep clean. In fact my nursery school is the worst - and we stand a good chance of losing it. The Co. Health Dept is making them permanent projects, but unless we can find a house or expand in some way, our N. S. is doomed, I fear. Its a big problem now - and not easy to swallow -
If we could get the Pursglove Co. to give us the house next door to "The Shack" - we would be all set - But that is impossible. However I haven't given up hopes.10
March 16, 1934.
Just finished reading "The Inside of the Cup". I have always wanted to read one of Winston Churchill's books.[. . .] I admire his boldness in offering such a book to the public in 1913 - when Religion was just emerging from its emphasis on dogmas and creeds. However unusual the book must have appeared at the time it was published I feel that we still are so far from a practical religion today as to need this message of Churchill. The Upper man still grafts for wealth and then turns around to give money for settlement houses - professing to belong to the church of God! The last 20 years has seen the church struggling to emerge from this paradoxical situation till today we find the impression being expressed thru governmental methods. The tearing down of N. Y. tenements, the W. Va plan to get rid of the slums in the mines. Surely religion has not been in vain - or hopeless as it has seen at times! We are on the threshold of a new Era - when some leaders who are at the helm are striving for "Life Abundant" for all. We will be descouraged continually by politicians who have no sense of justice but if we can keep a few leaders who can control the following of the people in our country - there is much hope for a better day. My prayer is with President Roosevelt as he fearlessly goes on fighting a great cause.
I feel a slight parallelism [with the Churchill book] and my situation at Scotts Run. The Pursgloves are considered of good standing in the church - they support it well, but they continue to degrade humanity by starving employees in bad times and allowing them to run wild with money made in good times. They will not even consider giving us a cheap Co. House for the expansion of my center - while at the same time they are paying money to the church which is supporting me!! What a dastardly round about way to accomplish a thing. It cant be a lack of intelligence, but on the other hand it must be a lack of righteous desire. The blame goes back to our ministers who have feared to speak the truth because of losing their monthly salary.[. . .] Some day the self complacency of some church members will be shaken to understanding -[. . .]
Friday the 13th [April]
[. . .] This week has been unusually full of activities which has helped fill in the lull of strike days. I certainly hope they get that situation settled[.] I have sworn I will ot be a part of direct relief - and feeding which has already so pauperized these people. Well, it's a real problem - the miner will spend as much money as he has when he has it. Rarely ever is there a miner who plans and saves. They have learned not their lesson from the depression! If we dont begin to educate them soon they'll never change. I have an idea now that we could start with our direct relief cases, and demand certain standards of cleanliness, budget, and home management, etc . . . . . . garden, too. Cutting off those who refuse to meet such standards! It would take an abundance of checking up, but it would be worth it. It seems to me we always take the easiest way out, and that is the reason we never get any place.[. . .]
May 22, 1934.
[. . .] The initial meeting of the Scotts Run Community Council was held last Sunday afternoon at "The Shack." This Council is composed of the Presidents of all the organizations in the vicinity of Pursglove - Stumptown - Liberty - and Guston Run - It also touches Jere and Osage. In it are represented the miner's unions - the
P. T. A.'s - and social, recreational and religious groups[.]
The object is to coordinate the efforts of the community - and to more adequately prepare to meet the many constant needs as a community. It is about time that we in our social and religious attempts quit using the "dole system." So called charity is an outworn method.
The business of the council meeting Sunday centered around the possibilities of having a playground. Since the Recreation department now includes the whole county, Scotts Run becomes a part of the working unit and is eligible for a playground. This seemed a real opportunity to have the community unite its efforts toward the establishment of a playground in their midst - So with 18 out of 20 members of the Council present Sunday - all eager to go forward in support of the movement to provide recreational equipment for their own people I couldnt help feel that a new era had begun.
[. . .] If we go into this program in earnest we will build a road to the Peach Orchard and take a water pipe line there - also erect a shelter for supplies and put up various equipment[.] The miners are only working 2 and 3 days a week, and they figure that there will be plenty of labor available for the road building. The Peach Orchard is the largest flat surface in Scotts Run and if the proper road approach can be made to it along with a certain amount of grading and beautification it will be the recreational showplace of the county aside from serving the cramped mining families[.] It is away from slag piles, miners houses, and the noise of the tipples - up on top of the world where the air is clean and the hills for miles around can be viewed.
Well - we - shall - see - - -[. . .]
June 11, 1934.
[. . .] Just came from Mrs. [Sara] Stewarts house. She has spoken very frankly, and is convinced that I should live in Scotts Run as Anna Santore did for several months this year. She says a number of people have spoken to her about it, and wondered why I didnt live out there instead of Anna. Of course that is a product of unthinking minds - and shows ignorance of what the contacts with the students mean to the work. She says she would be willing to give over a room in her house for an office or headquarters here in town! So if it is not one thing it is another! The one thing I am learning in this whole experience is not to criticize or judge others. If we knew every little circumstance and cause surrounding peoples actions, we would be so much more understanding. "Judge not, that ye be judged". - was surely a true saying. I am thankful for these hard things coming to me![. . .]11
[. . .] The community council has been working on plans for a playground as their initial project. It has been a real job to interest the people in doing a real constructive piece of work in their own community. They are willing to talk about it but when it comes to doing the work it is slow motion. We have spent a week or so now clearing the land in this grove of trees - the help coming mostly from the older boys who have been meeting at `The Shack' this winter[. . . .] I was hoping tho that the miners in their idle time would go up there in "herds" to work on the place - and show a little community spirit. Its a slow process educating people to "better themselves"[.] The coal co has leased us an acre of land for a year. It is quite slopy except at the base - but is always breezy and cool. In fact were thinking of naming the place "Breezy Heights." We have been given the best playground supervisor in the county - James Shepherd who has had a playground in Westover for a number of years. The only real snag in the whole proposition is the fact that our probable ball diamond would be on private property (John Bodzek) and he is not willing as yet that we use it. He is one of the foreigners who always talks about what is wrong with the government and white colar man but who is not willing to share of what he has himself - He owns 48 acres of land!!!
Have spoken before two local miners' unions concerning the playground idea and certainly had fun! I told them that a lot of people in Morgantown thought they were a bunch of "chislers" and that here was a chance for them to do something for themselves. That I was working out there because I had faith in them and wanted to help them have a fairer chance - and that I believed they would go right along with the project. Pursglove #5 mine is working tomorrow so a bunch who raised up their hands to help on this hill will not be able to get there. We are also making stone steps up to the place which is certainly making it look nice[. . . .] Miss Barnes, recreation supt, is sending out equipment for one swing, a sand box, slide and see saw tomorrow. We plan to open the playground on July 1st next Monday. There are wild roses on the hill and I've made several rose gardens with stones bordering[. . . .]
July 25, 1934.
Yesterday was an historical red letter day in my young life, and I'm sure it will be for others in the future - as the events of the day crystallize into constructive developments.
Mr Colebank, supt of the U. H. S. and Miss Alice Davis, county relief administrator sponsered a meeting of outstanding educators and social workers here.
[. . .] There were present such people as T[homas]. L. Harris - head of "U" sociology department, Dr. [John] Winter - head of psychology department, Jeanne Barnes, co. recreational director, Dr. J[oseph]. Deahl - founder of the "University High School["] - a number of U. H. S. teachers and a few representatives from the rural P. T. A.s - a group of about 30 in all. The purpose of the meeting was to entertain a round table discussion on the extension of educational work into the mining and rural districts thru the "U" and "U. H. S." thru government funds. After they rambled for about 30 min. I presented an idea that has been in my mind for years. - is to have a resident house in Scotts Run where choice students could be placed representing the various departments of the University for a semester - on a scholarship basis of earning their room and board and transportation for work done in the district under close supervision - and receiving credit in the "U"[.] There would be a dramatic major to teach dramatics, a music major to teach music, a sociology major to study conditions thru case studies - making diagrams - graphs - surveys - a home ec major to do home ec work - a psychology student to conduct nursery schools, etc, etc. In fact I really never understood why something of this kind has not been done efore. There is an unusual wealth of material in these mining communities that is invaluable in our educational experiences and experiments - Dr. Deahl, who is one of the most progressive educators in the state - took immediate reaction and asked me to go on in detail with the idea. So I explained how we had been working in Scotts Run for 6 years and had a humble community center - "The Shack" - that next door to "the Shack" was a 10 room house on which I've had my evil eye for some time. That this - equipped with mountaineer furniture could be used as a student resident house in connection with a work already established. That the students could teach part time in the "U. H. S." and part time in "Scotts Run." That only the best students be chosen and they be given "U" credit along with room - board - etc.12
[. . .] Well - it all seemed like a dream afterwards - - - to think that this thing which has been but a pipe dream - is now a planning actuality. It seems to good to be true! But - we shall see.
But that isn't all that happened yesterday. For weeks Mr. Voithofer has been talking to me about his plan to take me into the Pursglove mine. He asked Ruth one day to ask me if I would like to go in, saying that he thought I deserved such a privilege after having worked out there so long. Well - coming from one of the people out there - that invitation meant everything. I have always wanted to go in a mine, but knowing the superstition of the miners - just never approached the subject. You see many of the miners really believe that women in the mines bring bad luck. But Joe Voithofer isn't superstitious, and he was interested in my having first hand knowledge of the mines so he talked to the "Boss" - Bill Reeves, and together they planned the trip. We were to "go in" sometime when the mine would not be working.
Last night was the eventful night - Anna Santore, Ruth Voithofer and I donned pants and overhauls rubbers etc and stood waiting at the mouth of the mine for boss! While waiting, the man in the lamp house wouldn't give us our battery lamps because of the complaint from the mine committee concerning our going in. Mrs. Netro (slav) was out there raving. She said she had a husband and a son in the mines, and she wasn't going to have any women in the mines. Evidently other complaints came in because the mine committee was protesting - all of which made the experience more thrilling.
Well - when the boss came out - we got our lamps without any trouble. A battery was hooked on to our belts which had a wire attatched, and leading to the light on our caps. We were off. Piling into the coal car with motor car attatched, we started our journey underneath the earth. A cold darkness enveloped us, and all we could see was a long narrow passage with walls of coal on either side, and a roof of slate - and each others faces reflected by the lights on our caps. Mr. Reeves was very kind in stopping to explain the various parts of the mine, and we got out of our car a number of times to walk down the passageways and view the landscape. Many places were piled up with slate that had fallen. We saw a number of spots where the roof had caved in[.] But as a whole it didn't look really very dangerous. We saw one passageway dammed up to hold water that had leaked into the mines. Near it was a 40 horse power pump which we saw pump the water out for about 5 minutes. By means of a chalk mark we noted that the water in the passageway lowered an inch in that time.[. . .] After we got back in under the ground about 2 miles we got out of our car and walked down a long passageway and came to a place where two men were working - (loading coal.). They had just shot the powder to loosen the coal and the air was very heavy with smoke, and powder odor. We came to another section where loaders had left after having "shot" the coal, and Anna took a pick in hand and actually picked some coal.[. . .] It was a wonderful experience and I am so glad we went. Now if there are no accidents in the mine we will be O. K. and no doubt our going in will help to overcome this superstition about women going in the mines. Since our "going in" there has been considerable talk, and some of the men have refused to go in the mines to work. So - we ar pioneers again - on a different mission. I wouldn't have missed the opportunity for the world! I know now a little something about the feeling that miners have as they go to their work. And I can appreciate why the coal is called black diamonds, because in complete darkness - it just sparkles like diamonds as the cap lights reflect. The coal is really beautiful underground, and I can see a certain lure in the life of a miner doing his work.[. . .]
Nov 9, 1934.
[. . .] After the D. A. R. the other night one of the ladies asked me why it was that it was so difficult to get maids from Scotts Run. She said that she didn't think all of them should be encouraged to follow higher lives - and that some of them should be encouraged to be good maids.[. . .] My - - - what a gulf between class - what little understanding there is. I had never given that angle any special consideration, but answered her as best I knew how. Of course I'm not out there to train maids! What a narrow view of life she did present.[. . .] The biggest hindrance to our work is the attitude of people who think they are the very helpers!! The final note of my talk the other night was the Friendship we must give to these people if we expect them to be better citizens. If when the young folks thru personal contact with people here in town cant find a spirit of Christian citizenship how can we expect the children themselves to become good citizens. All these incidents are splendid illustrations for talks . . . . and I continue to use them right here in Morgantown.[. . .]
Nov 21, 1934
[. . .] It was quite an innovation for the [Woman's Music] club to have unsophisticated talent from Scotts Run - but the negro children were received wonderfully and certainly with appreciation. Most of the club members realized for the first time, Im sure, that such places as Scotts Run do have their cultural sides that need only to be encouraged. In fact I think the women were surprised at the wealth of talent displayed. The children ate their refreshments there in the club rooms. Imagine that for below the "Mason-Dixon"! It was real thrilling and the whole thing made a "sure `nuff hit"[. . . .]13
Dear father -
[. . .] Had a significant meeting of our community council last Sunday Feb 23 at 4:00 - P.M. The colored and white nurse, Miss Hemmingway and Miss Ferrell were there to present the County Health Program. After their talks, a number of questions were asked and a good discussion followed. The men raised the question concerning a need for the miners to know more about the health rules, etc. The result was that the nurses were invited to speak at the local union meetings some time. This is an innovation in that women are scarcely ever even allowed in local meetings. But the importance of the move is that it will give us a chance to get better cooporation from the real heads of the homes - the men. So far the health educational program has been limited to women - so this is a new step. Again we have a constructive suggestion out of the community council.[. . .]14
MARCH 13 - 1935
I was just getting ready to go to Scotts Run on Mon. 11th when the call came concerning this disaster [at Pursglove No. 5]. Two explosions had occurred early Monday A.M. There was little we could do at The Shack but pacify the crowds that came along to learn of the progress the rescue crews were making. There was a tension among the miners because all knew that it could have easily been the man in their family. Crowds remained t the mouth of the mine for hours in hopes the bodies would be recovered alive - Many of the wives of the rescue crew waited for fear something might happen to them while working - For there was news that another explosion might occur any moment. We got some bread and meat from the Co. store and made some sandwiches and coffee for the state police and rescue team.[. . .]
How cheap life is after all. There is such bravery in the coal camps. One never knows when going into a mine whether he will come out alive - and yet the miner goes in smiling and sometimes even singing - and gladly the families risk their men to help another in distress.[. . .]15
May 29, 1935. Morgantown.
[. . .] Last week I found that Mrs. Pursglove's sister and a friend from N. J. were visiting Mrs. Pursglove at the hotel. They were out at the mines slumming, in fact even went into the No. 2 Mine. Mr. Sam Pursglove (big boss) sent word over to The Shack in the afternoon that they would be out for a chicken dinner the next day. I thought he was kidding, but later found out he wasn't. However when I tried to find out more about it over at the office he was not around, and later sent word over not to bother. But I WANTED to bother, and made a point of landing at Richard's [in Morgantown] for dinner about the time I knew they would be eating there. Sure enough they came in about fifteen till seven when I was about finished - and sat at the table next to me. So when I got up I stopped at the table and after being introduced to the guests mentioned the chicken dinner. Mrs Pursglove heard me and said they would just love to come, and of course when she asked Sam if he could come, he meekly replied he could. What can a man do when 3 women are around! Mrs. P. surely knows how to handle her husband, and that's just what I figured, and why I've been wanting to make the contact. We set the time for 1:30. Well I hopped in my car, drove out to Scotts Run, picked up Bonnie Ware, and together we made 15 calls up and down the Run getting our force mobilized for the affair. The next day there were 30 women there, and you should have seen the feed. They were received graciously by the women, shown all around The Shack, and even accepted the invitation to witness the May Festival at the Pursglove School. They asked me to drive up on the hill with them in their car, so that I had a grand opportunity to get acquainted with them. We stopped at the Co. store on the way up, and Sam picked up a carton of Camels saying, "Here's some cigarettes for you girls down at The Shack." Can you imagine that! I thot that was a good anecdote to write up for you and Diary! I found out later that Bonnie had asked him for some.
The women seemed to enjoy the association and I'm sure I did. While I don't think we got very deep with them, we certainly made some impression, and at least it's a start.[. . .]
Jan 14, 1936
[. . .] Lee has been bringing to my attention some questions about our set up . . . which has puzzled me somewhat. He points out, and I agree - - that the weakness of the set up is the lack of loyalties and responsibility on the part of the adults in the community - for our work. Of course I have explained to him that my work has been among the young people and that perhaps in time they will take definite responsibility!! And even so - I am not so sure that he is wrong. Because . . . . there is the Catholic Church out there that has been organized very rapidly and to which a great deal of money and loyalty has already been given by the adults. But of course - - there is a method of coercion - - which is the opposite of ours.
But then, even our young people don't take any real vital responsibility in regard to supporting the work! We can't even get them to take a great deal of responsibility in supporting their own groups. Our C[hristian]. E[ndeavor]. collections are one evidence of that fact. Perhaps my attitude is colored at present by the fact that our C. E. is not going so well at present.
Even so - - - the fact remains that the community has not assumed any vital responsibility for the work.
I have been holding my hope for support (as far as the work as a whole and a future community center is concerned) in our community council and my idea has been to have that body work into the nucleus for a desirable community center of the future. But there we have negro representatives (who already have their church) catholic (who already have their church and representing an opposition body to our project) - and white protestant people - who lack a church and have less leadership than either of the other two groups. Now - what are we working for? I say a community center and Lee wonders if it should be a church! If we should be working toward church, were certainly not on the right track, and least of all is Lee. He doesnt even like to be called Reverand. We'll have to begin preaching services if there's to be a church - - - and Lee can't even make himself understood . . . . . let alone preaching -
The white protestants need a church - I suppose - but the community as a whole needs a community center that is adequate, and frankly I am more interested in the latter . . . . . . however I should like to see both. The question is one of method. Shall we work thru the community council as our supporters - or shall we look at the few adults in our S. S. for leadership. Frankly I am a little disturbed about it all. The strongest organized group in Scotts Run is the miners union, and obviously if we work toward a church - their support as a union is out - because of the catholic and negro element. If we work toward a community center we may be able to get their support which would mean the support of the community as a whole.[. . .] What - - at the present time - should an advisory Shack committee be composed of . . . . . . the work of The Shack is but one interest in the community council where is also represented the negro church, S. S - the P. T. As which meet for the most part in schools, the miners' union which meets in the Beer garden, etc. It looks to me as if one approach to it is to encourage these groups to meet in The Shack as we have been doing this fall. The negro P. T. A. had a meeting there last week. The catholic group wont send a representative to our community council meetings. We have invited them. But theyre naturally suspicious, and in fact are doing their best to have clubs and various activities as we have had in The Shack. These efforts represent the efforts of one family, particularly, who reside at Liberty, and the head of which is the justice of the peace. I dont believe the catholics as a whole in the community are aware of their efforts to compete. What I would like to see done - would be for us all to get together toward the building of a community center . . . . Otherwise there will be denominational differences, I'm afraid. I am just wondering about these things. I should like to get some reading material on organization of community centers . . . . . and your comments. I don't seem to be able to release the idea of the community working for a center that would be used for everything[. . . .]16
Feb 29, 1936.
I think it was on Tuesday of this week when I was driving from Jere on my way to town after Library; when we saw a huge crowd of mostly negro people gathered on and around the bridge at Pursglove near Crynock's office. We stopped of course to see what had happened . . . . and found that the little Fain girl had fallen into the high waters up near the tipple. She was walking across a little foot bridge and I presume got dizzy from the rushing waters beneath. The ran and melted snow have raised the waters so much during the week - and when she fell she could not even be found. The fire department came from Morgantown and could make no discovery with their equipment. They found her the morning after the next day in some brush about a mile down the stream. It was a ghastly sight the next day - to see negroes all up and down the bank of Scotts Run looking into the waters! I stopped to talk to Mrs Fain who was sitting on the steps of Crynock's office in the afternoon of the day before they found her - - - Her girls were wanting to know if they were working at the mouth of the "run" - with a net - so I drove them down there. On Thursday morning I got out to Scotts Run about 11:30 and again seeing a crowd, knew they had found her. In fact they had just that miniute taken the body to Morgantown. Today was the funeral[. . . .] I have never been to a negro funeral - and my what an experience it was! When I went in - I was surprised that there were so few present at The Church - but on reflection decided that the reason was - "pay day" - (When I left town there were mobs of people on the streets). I arrived a little bit late for the services and they were going strong. The atmosphere was highly colored - with a green crepe paper sign of welcome in the front of the room - a vase of old discolored artificial lilies on the reed organ, a mans hat hanging on the left stage wall - and a pulpit draped in black and white. "It was necessary that the infant go down into the water - and stay there for the Lord" - he was shouting - - while the poor mother on the front bench was stamping her feet and yelling - with her body going thru crazed contortions - I have never seen such terror and agony at a funeral. And the more effect the preachers words would have on the woman the louder he would be inspired to yell - - He repeated the awful word picture - - until I felt like screaming myself - to shut him up. It just seemed to me as if the woman was being stabbed thru the heart . . . . . . . . . . . This in the name of Religion!!
Last week Mrs. Hornick died leaving a gang of children for her oldest daughter and "relief husband" to care for. I presume you will remember the family. The[y] live in the basement of the Boarding House at Liberty our prize example of the lowest type of living conditions among the white people. Mrs. Hornick had been ill ever since I knew her. She has had several sets of twins - and - one child after another. Her skin was always yellow - she was very thin - and her height of about 6 feet accentuated her thiness. - - and her straight red hair and black eyes made her look even more ghastly. I have never seen such a cheap box. I've seen a lot of cheap ones out there, but this one was like unto a paste board box[.]
Of course it was a relief funeral - - and the kids didn't even have clean clothes! to say nothing of new ones. I took them up some sweaters and pants for the boys - who were piled on the bed covered with a rag sheet when I came into the services. Several of the children were sitting on a bench - while Elizabeth was standing behind the coal stove[.] I sat on a wooden box at the foot of the bed directly behind Mr. Hornick where I couldnt help but see his dirty neck as I looked toword the preacher. The coffin was to the left of me - and draped with one small spray of varied colored flowers. One of the most pathetic things about funerals in Scotts Run - - - is that at so many of them you really see the deceased and the family wearing new clothes for the first time!! In this case, however, it was just the deceased who was wearing something new. That always gets me[.]
I think funerals are terriable any way . . . and personally I don't believe in them or mourning of any kind.[. . .]
[. . .] On the Monday evening before Christmas we had an event at The Shack that really was one of the finest of the whole Christmas season. Mr. Parsons, one of the case workers decided it would be a grand idea to have a Christmas dinner for the sinle old men on Relief. So a large number of various groups began working on the idea. The men began coming at noon - and by night there was a Shack Full of them . . . . . . My what a wonderful time they did have. The Richard Restaurant had cooked some huge pans of meat which were brought out. Mrs. Dodds gave me some money to buy dishes - which we used. And with the red candles, Xmas tree and the gifts of home made cookies, red bandanna handkerchiefs - socks, and tobacco, apples - etc - which every one received, you can imagine what an occasion it was. Incidentally it was the first time Father [Joseph] Flynn had ever been inside The Shack. He is the catholic priest from [St. John's Chapel in] Morgantown who has started strong catholic work at Liberty in the last few years and who is so opposed to protestantism and our work at The Shack.[. . .]
By 1937, Behner had increasing doubts about the effectiveness of her work on Scotts Run, and she began to think of moving on to other projects. Friction with Lee Klaer and Reverend William Brooks of the First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown contributed to her discomfort. In the spring of 1937, Behner became engaged to David A. Christopher, the office manager for the West Virginia University Stadium Corporation. With plans to marry by the end of the year, Behner decided the time had come to end her missionary role. Having made herself a force to be reckoned with over the course of nine years, Behner's leave-taking was far from uneventful.
August, 7 
[. . .] Last Sunday before Christian Endeavor Ruth came in and told me that something terriable had happened at the No 2. local union meeting in the afternoon after Les Stanton had made an appeal for tents for our Chestnut Ridge Camp - Frank Ponceroff got up and stopped the movement by stating that sme publicity had been found in the students rooms that was against Scotts Run, etc - etc . . . . . .
Since then we have found out that there were two sources of information . . . . . one the labor day issue of "Forward" which Kay Ponceroff had asked me for, and another the articles written by Wooster students in the Wooster Voice this spring - for the purpose of making Wooster Scotts Run conscious in regard to the scholarship for the Student Industrial Inquiry this summer. The latter were found in the room of Dorothy Thompson by the lady (Catholic) from whom she rented. Because she could not read - she called in Mary Zeni (another Catholic) to read it. Mary hid it behind the trunk (she told this herself to Ruth Voithofer) for just in case Dorothy asked for it, it could be found - - - than waited till Dorothy left last Saturday and got it around. Now it is all over and of course I am getting the blame for even writing the articles.[. . .] Monday night at a meeting of the Womans Auxiliary at The Shack Mary Capellanti, a Catholic girl from Morgantown (who goes out there to play the organ at the Catholic Church - a university graduate this June who will teach this fall) was present to read the articles. How she got ahold of them, I don't know . . . . at any rate, they must have been in Morgantown - Well - she not only read the articles, but she paraphrased them . . . . with such remarks as "pretty soon theyll write about you having rings in your noses" - - - and I have caught that phrase several times since stretched to the fact that Scotts Run was written up as having rings in their noses!!!!! - I wasn't present at the meeting. Several told me that I would have been torn to pieces had I been there - so I'm glad I wasn't there - 17
Aug 9, 1937.
Well my dears, had you been at Dallass Beer Garden yesterday you would have witnessed a modern crucifiction. I've never before known so thoroughly the meaning of the words "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do["] . . . . . . What a drama my life has been -! How similar to the experiences of the Master, really Nine years of giving everything to the people of Scotts Run - and then as I'm about to close my years of service there - - to be put on trial - accused - hissed at - slandered, defended by not even my friends. Ruth and I were all alone! Lee Klaer chaired the meeting. There were close to 300 present at the meeting I'm sure. It was terriable.
[. . .] The meeting began with an explanation from Lee coming to the question of the nature of the greivance. Then the 3 articles in the Wooster Voice were read by three different people - and oh - so poorly and intelligently - - they couldn't even pronounce the words - and admitted that they didn't know what some of them meant - like "complacency" in speaking of the Wooster students (the students having written this about themselves!) Oh - - what ignorance . . . . - and then basing their slanders on an article they didn't fully understand to begin with.
[. . .] That mob scene was just like a night mare. It was hard to believe it had actually happened - after it was all over. I never shall forget - when Dave and I parked my car in front of The Shack and walked over to the Beer Garden. The hall was jammed with people sitting and standing, cars were packed all around the place - policemen were there[.]
Very soon after the meeting began, I was put "on the spot"[.] They wanted to know who placed the students at Scotts Run this summer - and I told them I found them rooms to stay. They wanted to know where I got my salery! - and I told them and where their money went that they gave to "The Shack" - Imagine. I had my reports there
"in the bag," and showed what a small proportion of Scotts Run money went into The Work of "The Shack" etc. At first I was very matter of fact but when they began to uphold the conditions of Scotts Run - and asked me if I wrote the articles . . . . I got up and said that "I did not" write them; etc. and that while the material had the appearances of newspaper sensationalism - still they couldn't deny that the underlying facts were true! Were they satisfied with no sanitary toilets, running water, etc! and tried to point out that for better conditions - we must expose the worst. They hissed, stamped their feet - etc! I can't describe how terriable it was. The height of emotion and tension was such that when we analyzed it afterwords we realized that a certain group (minority) were running the meeting and influencing the others.[. . .] Those who were the sorest were the ones who seldom came to The Shack - - - - The Catholic crowd and many believe it to be Catholic propaganda[. . . .] It was Rumored that Father Flynn was waiting for more articles at Wooster. Ruth spoke in defense of the right . . . . my body and soul throbbed with thrills when she got up to speak. The whole thing was worth it all - to witness the child of my work defending the right in her own community in face of opposing family and relative ties. I tell you it was worth it for that! She was superb. She had the sympathy of the crowd but wasn't able to swing it. The emotion was too high . . . and the opposing forces too great[. . . .] I probably would have done better to have answered plain cold facts rather than to make the oration. I did towards the end of the meeting. But I couldn't stand it any longer! - - and of course the tension of it all - I made a few blunders.
After the meeting, Ruth, Dave and I went out to the hills and ate a picnic lunch then we had a C. E. meeting which was attended by one of the largest crowds we've had yet, 40 or so, some were there out of curiosity - and many because of genuine expression of their attitude in the matter. Owen Hamilton (who was kicked out of the school system because he started the Teachers Union) was the speaker - quite a coincidence.
Lee Klaer came out to the meeting and brought a man dressed in a white linen suit who was at the public hearing. It turned out to be a Wooster graduate who had preached at the Presbyterian church in the morning. He was introduced to the group after the meeting and spoke a few words - saying that he wondered where the young pople were - that none of them had spoken etc. He did it in such a nice way - that it went deep and I really think they were hurt.[. . .]
Well the meeting at least gave the people of Scotts Run a chance to air their greivances over a period of 9 years . . . . . you should have heard the petty things brought up. A person can make a lot of mistakes in 9 years - - at least there were no moral attacks, etc.
Well - its all over now - and the thing is wearing out a little and many are coming to their senses - out there are a group who are still wagging their tongues and digging up dirt. The ones who made the loudest racket are the ones who have the dirtiest mouths. What a closing dramatic chapter to my work!! I suppose if my work had not been successful things would never have come to a head.[. . .]18
Behner continued to support social justice and community service projects in Morgantown until her death in 1988. She was a charter member of the Council of International Programs at West Virginia University, the president of Church Women United of Monongalia County, and a founder of Odyssey House for abused children. She joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and was one of forty-eight American women chosen to take part in a "Peace Causeway" in South Vietnam in 1974. She also developed peace education programs for children and served on planning committees to promote womens studies and peace forums at WVU.
The social service programs begun by Behner and the Presbyterian Church at The Shack continue to this day.
1. The Mary Behner Diaries are part of the Mary Behner Christopher Collection, West Virginia State Archives, Charleston, hereafter referred to as Diaries. Other materials pertaining to Behner and Scotts Run are at the West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University, Morgantown. For a brief biography, see Bettijane Burger, "Mary Elizabeth Behner Christoper, 1906- ," in Missing Chapters II: West Virginia Women in History, ed. by Frances S. Hensley (Charleston: WV Women's Commission, 1986): 47-59. Burger is Mary Behner Christopher's daughter. For a discussion of the attitudes of Protestant churches toward social justice issues, see Robert Moats Miller, American Protestantism and Social Issues, 1919-1939 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1958). While Miller castigates left political groups and organizations such as the Southern Tenant Farmers Union for their promotion of "radical" politics, the book contains a useful survey of primary church literature, tracing the evolution of a more sympathetic stance on the labor movement. For an example of the work of the Student Volunteer Movement and other similar organizations, see Robert F. Martin, Howard Kester and the Struggle for Social Justice in the South, 1904-77 (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1991). An introduction to the education of missionaries and lay people for religious fieldwork is Virginia Lieson Brereton, Training God's Army: The American Bible School, 1880-1914 (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1990).
The diary entries here presented were chosen to give a broad overview of Scotts Run between 1928 and 1937 and the mission programs instituted there. They also give some insight into Behner's own interests, objectives, and beliefs. Every attempt has been made to preserve the character of the original record while transcribing these excerpts. Irregularities in spelling and punctuation have been maintained. All editorial insertions are bracketed and bracketed ellipses indicate omissions.
2. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) began a feeding program in November 1931 with twenty-four children from the Stumptown school. The children were, on average, nine pounds underweight. A lunch of seven hundred calories, including a pint of milk, was served six days a week. Scotts Run residents prepared and served the ood. See clipping "Feeding Project is Subject of Survey," [no date], Diaries, 23 January 1932. For conditions in the coalfields and the establishment of the Friends relief work see Malcom Ross, "When Depression Blights a Great Area," New York Times Magazine (31 January 1932) in Diaries, 31 January 1932.
Behner eventually got her wish when the Pursglove Coal Company turned over the old company store for use as a community building. The refrigerator was converted to a shower. Christened "The Shack" in 1932, this small building hosted everything from the Christian Endeavor (CE) youth group to union local meetings and became a lasting symbol of the Presbyterian mission work on Scotts Run. Burger, "Mary Elizabeth Behner Christopher," 51.
3. By early March, ninety women were registered in the Pursglove and Connellsville sewing classes. Scotts Run women who assisted with running the classes were given clothes as payment for their services. Diaries, 3 March 1932.
4. Behner often took the coal operators to task for their treatment of the miners and their lack of interest in aiding her work. For example, in March 1932, Behner approached the Connellsville, Guston Run, and Pursglove operators about helping the Council of Social Agencies obtain garden seeds at a discount for miners. To avoid the appearance of charity and being mindful that this seed distribution program would cut into company store business, the operators declined. Diaries, 3 March 1932.
5. Nine thousand sacks of flour were shipped from Indiana to the Morgantown Red Cross and its director Minta H. Ridgeway for distribution in Monongalia County. Approximately twenty-five supervisors were appointed to oversee the program in their local areas. Behner was assigned to Pursglove and Connellsville. See clipping, "9,000 Sacks of Flour are Stored Here," [no date], Diaries, 23 April 1932. Complaints about people (particularly of "foreign birth") "padding" the lines and receiving more than their fair share led to the closing of the distribution points in Osage and Pursglove in May. See clipping, "Flour Depots to be Closed," [no date], Diaries, 28 May 1932.
6. According to a report Behner prepared for the Board of National Missions, 1,321 children attended Daily Vacation Bible School during its ten-day run in the summer of 1932. See the compiled statistics for the Scotts Run work from 1928 to 1933 in Diaries, 25 June 1934.
7. The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) Community Building was built in 1922 on Fayette Street in Morgantown. In addition to serving as a meeting place, the Community Building also functioned as a dormitory and Behner took a room there in 1928.
The Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) was authorized by President Herbert Hoover to provide up to $300 million of emergency relief for unemployment and underemployment. Between October 1932 and March 1933, fifty-three West Virginia counties were given loans through this program. Monongalia County received $391,708, and over half the county's families were considered destitute. James S. Olson, "The Depths of the Great Depression: Economic Collapse in West Virginia, 1932-1933," West Virginia History 38(April 1977): 214-25. In early October, two hundred Monongalia County men were registered for the program which provided money for public works projects such as road improvements. See clipping, "200 Men to Begin Work," [6 October 1932], Diaries, 7 October 1932.
8. The Morgantown Dominion News reported that a proposal to drop the wage scale from 22 per ton to 16 was made at a meeting of union operators and United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) officials. The Fairmont Times reported that the wage scale might be dropped from 22 to 18 per ton. Van Bittner of the UMWA denied this rumor that a wage reduction was imminent. While the UMWA did not call a strike, wildcat strikes by union locals on Scotts Run periodically hit individual mines to protest rumored wage cuts. In early July 1933, the bituminous coal operators and UMWA, under the newly enacted National Industrial Recovery Act, agreed to a basic wage rate of $5 per day with differentials for miners who were paid by the ton. Morgantown Dominion News13 October 1932 and 1 June, 5 and 12 July 1933; Fairmont Times, 13 October 1932.
9. Elizabeth Stalnaker was a long-time psychology professor at West Virginia University.
10. The Civil Works Administration (CWA) was established in November 1933 to create jobs through public works projects. Over two thousand jobs were slated for Monongalia County, with wages ranging between 45 and $1.10 per hour. Intended mainly to see the unemployed through the winter of 1933-34, the CWA was discontinued in March 1934 and its projects reverted back to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. See Earl L. Core, The Monongalia Story: A Bicentennial History, Vol. 5: Sophistication (Parsons: McClain Printing, 1984), 67, 74, 92.
11. As part of her report to the board on activities from 1928 to 1935, Behner included a statement on "Philosophies of My Work." She defended her decision to live in Morgantown because her mission work was "two-fold," including both Morgantown and Scotts Run: "[F]ully as much as Scott's Run needs the knowledge of Christ does Morgantown need the opportunity to serve in the name of Christ. By living in town, Behner believed she could cultivate the interest of local people to serve the tremendous needs in the coal camps. See Diaries, 25 June 1934.
Anna Santore was one of the many student volunteers from West Virginia University who were vital to the early success of The Shacks programs. Santore was later hired by the CWA and conducted adult education classes on Scotts Run.
12. In 1932, the AFSC established the Mountaineer Craftsman's Cooperative Association in Morgantown to employ former miners. The association's handcrafted "mountaineer furniture" was renowned for its fine quality. See Marvin R. Weisbord, "Once a Miner, Always a Miner," in Some Form of Peace: True Stories of the American Friends Service Committee at Home and Abroad (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 83-102.
13. The Steppin' Stones (Alice Sowell, Ida Boyd, Sarah Boyd, Fannie Roebuck, Mary Spencer, Ida Miller, and Gladys Woods) and the Invincible Four (Florence Brown, Ora Miller, Willa Sowell, and Willa Boyd), two groups of black girls, often performed at local club meetings and events. See, for example, Diaries, 21 November 1934.
14. Elizabeth Hemminway and Elizabeth Ferrell were employed as nurses with the County Relief Administration.
15. Pursglove No. 5 was rocked by explosions at 5:30 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. on March 11, killing Herbert Boso, Lindsay Wheeler, and Jesse Phillips. Investigators determined that accumulated gas and dust triggered the blasts. See clippings, "Three Bodies May Be Found in Few Hours" and "Bodies Taken From Pit By Rescue Crews" [no date], in Diaries, 13 March 1935 and West Virginia Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1935 (Charleston: Jarrett Printing, 1935), 12.
16. Lee Klaer arrived in Morgantown in April 1935 to take the position of campus minister at West Virginia University and to direct the Student Service Project. Klaer went on to found the Chestnut Ridge Camp at Cheat Lake for children from the coal camps to enjoy fresh air and mountain scenery.
In January 1935, John Maxwell Adams of the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A. and William P. Shriver of the Board of National Missions, in conjunction with local religious, university, and social service leaders, proposed the establishment of a Student Service Project in Morgantown. The project would give WVU students practical experience and provide "competent Christian leadership" for Scotts Run. Student workers, particularly from the education and sociology departments, would receive fellowships from the Board of National Missions and were required to have served at least one year as a volunteer in Scotts Run programs. See "Morgantown Student Service Project," in Diaries, 3 February 1935.
Behner's animosity toward the Catholic Church can be traced in part to the Interdenominational Conference on Work with New Americans which she attended in Chicago in November 1935. One session that left a particular impression on her depicted Catholicism as a religion of "coercion," originally a product of a government which ruled by force. Catholicism, therefore, was incompatible with democracy as represented by the "truly American" Protestantism. Diaries, January 1936.
17. Forward was a paper for young people published by the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A. The 4 September 1937 issue contained a short article by Elizabeth Allen Cavanna, giving an overview of The Shack's programs. In the spring of the 1937, Wooster College offered a scholarship for one student to participate in an industrial inquiry program was designed by provide practical experience in the social services. Participants also attended seminars and lectures on industrialization and its effects on workers and communities. See clippin, "Eastern Social Group to Work in Scott's Run," [no date], in Diaries, 29 May 1936 and ibid., 6 August 1936.) An editorial in the 6 May student newspaper the Wooster Voice described conditions in the coalfields and stated: If the student who goes to Scott's Run is jarred out of his complacency, and if he succeeds in jarring other students from their complacency and giving them a degree of social vision, the [scholarship] will have accomplished its purpose." Diaries, 24 May 1937.
18. Ruth Voithofer, Behner's lone supporter at the meeting, was a Scotts Run native. Voithofer was one of the first Scotts Run graduates from University High School and, with Behner's help and encouragement, went on to graduate from Wooster College. While in college, Voithofer often gave talks on the plight of the miners and the terrible conditions in the coalfields. She later worked for the United Electrical Radio, and Machine Workers and never forgot the influence of Behner or The Shack. See, letter from Ruth Voithofer Newell submitted for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of The Shack, 14 August 1978, in Mary Behner Christopher Collection.
Christine M. Kreiser is a historian at the West Virginia State Archives and the assistant editor of West Virginia History.
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