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.

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410 Benedicta Ave, Trinidad, CO 81082