Filed Under Women and Gender

Women and the Colorado Coalfield Strike

While it is true that all miners who participated in the Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913–14 were men, women were also embroiled in the controversy and consequences of the movement. Wives of miners, sympathetic locals, and even a famous union agitator involved themselves in remarkable ways throughout the strike.

When the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) strike was called in September, women enthusiastically joined the cause of their male family members. They harassed strikebreaking miners—“scabs”—and beat one scab, tracklayer John Hale, so badly that some newspapers erroneously reported that he had died. Meanwhile, other women organized their new homes in the various tent colonies throughout the area. The deprivations suffered by the women and children in those colonies were probably no worse than what they faced in company housing, apart from the thin canvas tents. The thin tents could do little to protect them from the cold and a record-breaking four-foot snowfall in December 1913.

To make matters worse, women were unable to leave the colonies without a male escort because they feared assault by militiamen. Hungry, tired, cold, and scared, women were desperate to see the results of a successful strike. Mother Jones, a seventy-six-year-old famous union agitator, “pepped up” women of the tent colonies several times as she encouraged them to keep up the fight. After the arrest of Mother Jones in January 1914, the UMWA encouraged the women to participate in a peaceful demonstration for the release of the elderly Mother Jones. General John Chase consented to a procession through downtown Trinidad with the expectation that the women would not approach the San Rafael hospital where Mother Jones was being kept prisoner. As the women marched, the militiamen on horseback blocked the way to the hospital. As General Chase shouted at the women to stop, he fell from his horse—much to the delight of the women. Infuriated, he ordered his troops to charge. Women began hurling stones, bottles, and bricks at the soldiers, provoking the frightened cavalrymen to slash at the projectiles and the women with their sabers. Instantly, the parade turned into a full-blown riot as sympathetic townspeople jumped into the fray. Eleven men and eight women were arrested for inciting a riot. Dozens of women and children were injured, but no deaths were reported.

Troubles persisted after the women’s march, but the militia now included women and children on their enemies list.

Images

Business Section of Trinidad, Colorado
Business Section of Trinidad, Colorado This 1907 photograph captures the quiet mountain town of Trinidad where so much violence occurred during the 1913–1914 strike. Source: From the Library of Congress. “Business Section of Trinidad, Colorado,” available at https://lccn.loc.gov/95501273.
Women’s March:  Call number X-60486
Women’s March: Call number X-60486 Women march in support of UMWA coal miners on strike against CFI in Trinidad, Colorado. Dressed in their best, they carried a United States flag and signs: "God Bless Mother Jones" and "Ladies Assembly of Southern Colorado." Source: From the Denver Public Library, Western History Photographic Collections. “Women’s March,” available at http://digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15330coll22/id/35373/rec/1.
Women’s Demonstration: Call number X-60499
Women’s Demonstration: Call number X-60499 The women’s march through Trinidad abruptly ended in a riot close to San Rafael hospital, where Mother Jones was being held prisoner. Source: From the Denver Public Library, Western History Photographic Collections. “Women’s Demonstration,” available at http://digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15330coll22/id/35377/rec/1.
Women’s March: Call number X-60516
Women’s March: Call number X-60516 Mounted members of the Colorado National Guard disperse participants in a women’s march to free Mother Jones. Near the Post Office on Main Street in Trinidad, Colorado. Source: From the Denver Public Library, Western History Photographic Collections. “Women’s March,” available at http://digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15330coll22/id/29209/rec/1.
“Mother” Jones -- #1
“Mother” Jones -- #1 Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, the union agitator, won the hearts of many strikers with her enthusiastic speeches on their behalf. Some strikers described her as an “angel,” but Gen. John Chase called her “a very headstrong old woman . . . an eccentric and peculiar figure.” Source: From the Library of Congress. “‘Mother’ Jones -- #1,” available at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a10320/.

Location

410 Benedicta Ave, Trinidad, CO 81082

Metadata

Natalie Larsen, Brigham Young University, “Women and the Colorado Coalfield Strike,” Intermountain Histories, accessed June 13, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/220.