minewar.org documenting the 1930's Illinois Mine War

“It Is All Over”
Agnes Burns Wieck photo courtesy of Sean Burns

Agnes Burns Wieck photo courtesy of Sean Burns

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the 2nd annual convention of the Illinois Women’s Auxiliary of the Progressive Miners of America (IWA).  Why commemorate the 2nd annual convention?  Because it marked a decisive moment in the formation of the union and the role of women within that movement.

Founded in November, 1932 the IWA’s first president was the visionary and determined Agnes Burns Wieck.  In that tumultuous first year, Agnes escaped perilous violence, confronted government indifference, humiliated iconic labor leader John L. Lewis while upsetting the gender applecart within her own union – much to the consternation of the male leaders of the Progressive Miners of America. Historian Caroline Waldron Merithew notes: “…the PMA was one of the few movements in which non-wage-earning women became leaders in organizing an industry that employed only male labor.” 1

However, Agnes Burns Wieck’s determined and energetic leadership came at a cost. The conditions of her childhood in the southern Illinois coal fields taxed her health and the perpetual danger, violence and conflict of the first year of the Illinois mine war was exhausting to say the least.

Yet Agnes did not fight alone.  While term limits and her physical limitations necessitated Agnes departure from the IWA presidency, she and her peers faced a serious question. Would the militants retain leadership of the IWA and risk fracturing the fragile, nascent movement?  Or would they surrender power to more conservative and male-dominated control, effectively agreeing to subordinate the role of PMA women to the men?

Well you’ll have to listen to the feature-length audio documentary to learn the answer to that question. But here’s an excerpt from Agnes.  On her exit from the presidency, returning to her southern Illinois farm, she laments the lost opportunities of the previous year in a letter to friend and labor activist, Tom Tippett.  Agnes is read by the stellar actor, Diane Pritchard.

1 Caroline Waldron Merithew, “‘We’re Not Ladies’ Gender, Class, and a Women’s Auxiliary Battle For MIning Unionism”, Journal of Women’s History, Vol.  18 No. 2, page 66.


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2 Responses to “It Is All Over”

  1. Joan Kenevan says:

    Hi Greg,

    My name is Joan Kenevan. I am happy you have this webpage and are maintaining the history of one of the greatest unions ever organized in America for working men and women.

    I have been involved in the restoration of the Monument since 2010, and only when visiting after a twenty year absence and witnessing the need for some TLC. Plus I was 50 years old then and slowly began to realize what these men and women did was a huge accomplishment during the depths of the depression or anytime for that matter. The Progressive movement was so courageous, and I am dedicated to making this a restoration in the best professional manner.

    I was just made aware of the Progressive involvement with the 1972 entrance and wholeheartedly agree that it should be kept as it is a part of the history.

    I can feel the spirit of Mother Jones and Progressive Movement steadily rising again in this country.

    Thank you.

  2. minewaro says:

    test comment

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