Barbara Angle - hygiene in the mine, relationship with miners,
Carol Jean Niland: What kind of facilities did you have as far as shower?
Barbara Angle: We had a little cupboard. It was dirty. If you weren’t dirty when you went in there, you sure as hell got dirty fast. The superintendent had this great sense of humor. He put up this red shower curtain and a baroque mirror. It looked like a whorehouse. Sulfur coated the shower stalls bright yellow. The men bitched if they didn’t get their bathhouse cleaned every day. We were lucky if we got ours cleaned once a week. Most of the time that was fresh newspaper on top of the trash already there. You had your garbage bags for your clothes.
You just reconciled yourself when you went in that you were going to be filthy. You never got clean. When I was in the hospital with my arm the nurses down there were just amazed. They kept scrubbing and scrubbing and they couldn’t get the dirt from under my fingernails. They thought I was a brunette when I went in when, with a little help from Clairol, I’m a blonde.
But I went in there, they didn’t know if I was a man or a woman. I can still remember the shock when the nurse lifted the blanket...they had radioed they were bringing in an injured coalminer and they had expected a male ... somebody says “Oh my God! It’s a woman.” and there’s like this general panic going around. And we get kind of false celebrity status, not that we don’t deserved it. Being a woman and being a coalminer, at the Union I was their token coalminer; at the hospital, I was their resident token coalminer and now I find that people come to me and they are just amazed to find that people live and work in those conditions.
CJ: What were the toilet facilities in the mines?
BA: [Mutual giggle.] Dump. If you had to do a basic thing, you took off your belt, your hardhat, eliminated the basic things. Guys just took down their zipper. We were more complicated. You prepared yourself outside. They had a box of rags in the shop outside, supposedly to wipe your hands but the guys really took them inside in case they, quote, had to dump, they used them. It was like real fun to see who got the best rag. They got them as discards from a sewing factory, irregulars. I used to take them home and make quilts out of them sometimes. I had this old army jacket with quilt patches all over it. Left over from my hippie days.
You went down, you did your business and then you draped a rag over it. That’s a bit of courtesy on the miner’s part because another miner knows when he sees a rag strategically placed, not to step on it because if he does, he’s going to stink the rest of the night. There’s no ventilation underground and if you step in the wrong place, you’re not popular that evening. So you just went in the returns, dropped your drawers. There were sani-potties but if you used them, you had to take them outside and clean them and no one wanted to go through that stuff. It was just understood that that was the way it’s done and that was the way you did it.
Of course as a woman you ran the double jeopardy of hoping no one would sneak up on you in the dark and catch you in the middle of an embarrassing moment. It’s kind of like Russian roulette. You run and hide. There was a big thing made when they started putting tampons in the first aid kit. We heard that for months. Hygiene as such...you just went with what you could do.
CJ: If you had it to do again, would you go back into the mines and do you miss the mines?
BA: If I had it to do over again and I was in physical health, I would go back in the mines. In my current condition, I couldn’t go back, because of my arm. They gave me 78% disability and 80% is total. They kinda hamstrung me there because I am hurt too bad to adequately perform but they’re not giving me that extra 2% I need to collect any benefits so they kind of have me over a barrel on that.
Yeah. Yeah, I miss them. I really miss them. I dream about them. You see those guys on the street and it’s like: “Hey, hey,” even though you haven’t worked with them for years. Like I went through 12 years of school with the same group of 26 kids. I never had the intimacy with those kids after 12 years that I have with those guys after a couple years workin’ underground. It is the situation of the underground that breeds that because you are forced into this environment, this place where everyone has to watch out for everyone else. You might not even like the son of a bitch, but you look out for him. That makes a relationship you don’t get in normal job circumstances.
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.
The photograph of a shuttle car is courtesy of Ankan Basu, Coal Geology and Mining
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980