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Open Access Publications from the University of California

His Strike, Her Fight: Gender Roles and Identity Formation in the Massillon War


Life and work in American coal-mining communities during the latter half of the nineteenth century fostered gender relations which diverged in distinct ways from both hegemonic, middle-class norms and subaltern, working-class ideals. The Massillon War, the culmination of a series of labor disputes in the coal fields of Stark County, Ohio, between 1874 and 1876, highlights the importance of gender roles and identities in the coal mines. By investigating the strikes and violence this paper addresses a gap in the historiography of coal mining by focusing on the creation of gender identity in a hyper-masculinized industry. The dynamics of a strike in this coal-mining community provides insight into the influences of family, community, and the workplace on creating definitions of manhood which contrasted with the hegemonic nineteenth-century norms embodied by the middle class. While by no means comprehensive, this paper explores two distinct factors in the labor dispute which were indicative of colliers’ conceptions of manhood, specifically the questions of wages and workers control and the role of women in the strike and on the picket-lines. In doing so, this investigation exposes a distinct concept of collier manhood which embodied aspects of hegemonic and subaltern ideals while rejecting simple classification in either category. Stark County coal miners and their families instead created gendered identities which reflected their unique position in nineteenth-century America.

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