Barbara Angle - United Mine Workers
Carol Jean Niland: Did you participate in the Union?
Barbara Angle: Yes. I’m a strong believer in the United Mine Workers and of course, ours was a Union mine. When I was pregnant, I called the Union and said “I’m pregnant” and they said “At what mine does your husband work?” and I said “It’s Laurel Run Mine and it’s me”. There was a general panic and they said, “Let us get back to you.” Turned out there wasn’t anything they could do. So I thought “What the hell,” and I got in the car and drove to Union headquarters in Washington and said, “I’m a sister” and they took me up to Harry Patrick, who was Vice President, then they took me into Arnold Miller. I made the whole rounds. I was like their pet project. “Hey, we got a pregnant coalminer out here.” They found out I was college educated and I had worked as an editor and had journalistic experience and such so they had me work on their convention in Cincinnati that year, I met a lot of the Miners for Democracy, the reform movement, the good ol’ boys who were going to make it all right, and never managed to.
CJ: Other than your accident, did you have any other close calls in the mines?
BA: Oh when I was working on the longwall, we always had sandstone coming down. You just don’t go home and think about it. It’s like being handicapped. I don’t think about what I can’t do. If you think about what you can and can’t do, I limit myself. You just go in there and do what you can. It’s the same with the mines. You gotta be careful but at the same time, if you go in there paranoid, you’re just asking for it. I knew I had sandstone falling around me and oh yeah, there was numerous close calls. As the miners say, unfortunately, you’ve signed for it. It’s all the fault of our government, the Union, everyone else who hasn’t taken sufficient measures to ensure our safety. It’s like Black Lung. Britain’s eliminated Black Lung. The only country that’s had a worse safety record than the United States is South Africa. When you consider the relative difference in technology...
CJ: How did you feel the first day you went in the mines? Were you excited? Afraid?
BA: I didn’t have enough sense to be afraid. I was too surprised to be excited. I was just stunned. This is like Alice down the rabbit hole. You have no idea till you get there. The men are one thing. Their language, their attitude, the work are part of the environment in the mines, the odors, the sounds, everything. It is an alien world. They are different people when they cross that pit mouth. No matter how they present themselves to you on the outside, when they go underground, they are different people. In some sense it’s good because the buddy system kicks in. They may give you hell on the outside about a woman takin’ a good man’s job but when you get underground, you are one of them and everyone watches out for everybody. The main thing is to get out of there after eight hours alive and you gotta watch out for the next guy as he’s watching out for you.
Oh, the first day, they gave me a pair of pliers and said get in there and start movin’ that belt and I just took them and poked and pulled and the next day my brother said, “Well, they said you just took them and poked and pulled.” But you know it was the fact that I just made the effort because a lot of women just stood around and looked at the thing. They appreciated the effort but they at least expected some sort of token gesture. They didn’t want anybody in there on a freebie. If you were in there and you tried and you acted like you wanted to learn, they’d cut you a break. Not too much because they didn’t cut each other a break. Everybody was on everybody’s ass all the time. In a kidding way. You cannot get personally insulted by them because they don’t mean it personally.
Barbara Angle and Carol Jean Niland
Barbara Angle died in 2011. More on her life and writings can be found at Barbara Angle, Allegany County Women.
Gary Angle, Barbara's brother, gave permission for this interview to be made available.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980