Date of Award

5-1-2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Historical Studies

First Advisor

Argersinger, Jo Ann

Abstract

This study concerns the people of the mining communities throughout the state of Illinois during the first three decades of the twentieth century. In the thirty-four years following the 1897 bituminous miners' strike and the subsequent 1898 event in Virden, the people of the Illinois mining communities developed a perspective and a standard of living that shaped their character. During these years, Illinois miners were thoroughly unionized and used the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) as a vehicle to advance their lives and the lives of their families. Indeed, in 1923, the aging Mary Harris "Mother" Jones herself pointed to Illinois as "the best organized labor state in America" in her written request to be buried in the Mt. Olive, Illinois union cemetery. This perspective held by the people of the Illinois mining communities, herein labeled the "Illinois perspective," shaped every aspect of their lives including their values, economic decisions, and their union policies. Though the events for this perspective took hold following the 1897 strike, its roots go back farther in time to the Chartist movement in England. From these British immigrant beginnings and through the inclusion of new immigration from southern and eastern Europe at the turn of the century, Illinois miners and their families addressed the devastation of their industry and their way of life in ways that were fundamentally different than miners in other locales. When national union bureaucratization, as exemplified in the larger than life figure of John L. Lewis, threatened regional control and statewide decision making in the 1930s, many Illinois mining families abandoned the UMWA and created the Progressive Miners of America (PMA) in hopes of regaining regional control and weathering their extremely difficult present. Current scholarship regarding Illinois miners from this era generally focuses on specific regions within the state or on the "Illinois Mine Wars" of the 1930s when members of the badly fractured mining district fought with, and sometimes killed, one another. This study brings the state of Illinois together as one united district during its time frame of concentration and argues all regions of the state shared this united perspective. Various primary sources, oral histories, contemporary newspaper accounts, and a statistical analysis of the 1908 Macoupin County Coal Miners' Application Book help to explain how these people lived their lives and why it was possible for them to do so.

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