minewar.org documenting the 1930's Illinois Mine War

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We Were Not Ladies. We Were Women. is a feature-length audio documentary produced by Greg Boozell. It chronicles the story of Agnes Burns Wieck and her tumultuous year as president of the Illinois Women’s Auxiliary of the Progressive Miners of America.

In September, 1932 thousands of Illinois miners split from the United Mine Workers of America to form a dissident union, the Progressive Miners of America. More than a factional dispute, the Illinois mine war would determine whether a union’s power could be wielded autocratically by its leaders, or if the miner’s union would be governed democratically by its members.  And under Agnes Burns Wieck’s leadership, the women of the coal fields would assert themselves as equal partners in the struggle.

Narrated by Kim Holmes, this story is told through first-person accounts, many taken from the Oral History Collection of the University of Illinois Springfield, interviews with scholars, and historical reenactments featuring Diane Pritchard as Agnes Burns Wieck. (Click here for a complete list of credits.)

After its premiere Labor Day weekend broadcasst on Illinois public radio stations, WILL-AM Urbana, WUIS Springfield, and WSIU Carbondale,  We Were Not Ladies. We Were Women is now available online.

Here’s the documentary:


 “We Were Not Ladies, We Were Women recovers one of the most overlooked, yet defining chapters in American labor history–the extraordinary role of fearless militant women in galvanizing union ranks in the Illinois coalfields in the 1930s. Through a fascinating montage of radio clips, interviews and theatrical narrative, this program recalls the life of Agnes Wieck Burns, who courageously organized women to agitate for fair wages for the miners and democracy in the unions, and deserves to be considered alongside legendary 20th Century labor figures like Mother Jones and Lucy Parsons. As the movement for fair living wages takes center stage today, this program is an informative and cautionary tale of the political challenges at play, and the inspiring role of women on the front lines of labor.”

Jeff Biggers, author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland

Research for this program was made possible in part by a grant from Illinois Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly.

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