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“In the Sight of God”: Woes of a Miner’s Wife

Religious concepts and metaphors suffused the words and ideas of many late nineteenth-century American workers. The New and Old Testaments provided not only personal succor to many working people but also a set of allusions and parables they applied directly to their lives and struggles in industrial America. Working-class ideas and writing often were cast in stark millenarian terms, with prophesies of imminent doom predicted for capitalists who worshipped at Mammon’s temple and imminent redemption for hard-working, long-suffering, and God-fearing laboring men and women. Christ was uniformly depicted in workers' writing as a poor workingman put on Earth to teach the simple principles of brotherhood and unionism. Indiana coal miner’s wife Ettie West pined for the “good and religious” ways of her mother’s time in this letter to the editor, published in 1900 in The United Mine Workers Journal.

Dear brothers, I want to tell you that when it comes down so hard that the busy house wife has to wash and work for the living in order to keep her little children from starving and to keep them in clothing while the husband takes his earnings and spends them at the saloon, the condition is a deplorable one. . . . There is not a day passes over our heads but what there are some crimes committed or something done which is displeasing in the sight of God. And according to history at the end of every two thousand years there is a visitation. First we will take from Adam and Eve. The next two thousand years was when this world was destroyed by water. When the next two thousand years rolled around was when our Savior came to this earth, and died that we might live. And the next two thousand years is rolling around, and just look at the people as they were in olden times and compare them as they stand to-day.

I have heard my mother talk about her girlhood days and how good and religious the people were. It was an awful disgrace then to do like some do nowadays. Where there is one follower of Christ there are a hundred for mammon. The Lord says in that blessed book that there are many called, but few chosen. The harvest is great but the laborers are few. It is no wonder that God sends his voice in thunder through the air as wicked as this world stands today. I know that we all have our trials, but that is just to try us, and when we try to do what right there will be some to set off and scorn you. But nevertheless we must remember that we are living in a land where shadows are continually falling in our pathway. I still remain a friend to brother miners.

Source: Ettie West (Voorhees, Indiana) to the editor, The United Mine Workers Journal, 8 March 1900.

See Also:Introducing New Recruits to "Labor's Catechism"
"The Brotherhood of Man": A Unionist Uses the Bible
Was Christ a Union Man?
"Pumpkin Smasher" Predicts the Ultimate Redemption of Coal Miners