Over 96 years ago, on December 11, 1921, the Amazon Army met in Franklin, Kansas at the site of the current Miners Hall Museum to begin their mass march. Miners Hall Museum was formerly the location of the Union Hall.
The women participated in a mass march in December 1921 in which two to six thousand wives, daughters, mothers, sisters and sweethearts of striking miners marched in protest against unfair labor practices and laws across the coalfields of Southeast Kansas. They considered their cause one of conserving democratic values rather than one of revolt.
The march made headlines across the state and the nation. This large-scale involvement of women, christened the “Amazon Army” by The New York Times, set this demonstration apart from the labor unrest that often disturbed the area.
The women’s actions echoed feelings of solidarity with male members of the mining community and linked the miners struggle to American ideals of justice and equality, which ultimately led to national social reform. This spirited act linked men and women together in one of the most dynamic pages in the history of American labor.
Mary Skubitz, later identified as one of the leaders at the December 11 meeting, spoke five languages. She was born in 1887 and came to America at the age of three from Slovenia with her coal miner father, Andrew Youvan, and her mother Julia. Mary, along with her mother, was among those arrested and held on $750 bond instead of the standard $200. Mary kept a journal of the events surrounding the march.
Clemence DeGruson was born on March 1, 1903 in Roseland, Kansas. Her father was a coal miner and her mother, Marie Merciez, ran a grocery store in opposition to the company store there. The store was moved to Camp 50 in 1915. Clemence and her mother attended the first meeting of the women marchers in Franklin. The plan was to march on the mines and barricade them from non-union workers. The women were to sign and rum on pit buckets, throw red pepper into the eyes of anyone who tried to stop them and join hands at the mine’s entrance. Marie volunteered to supply the red pepper from her store. Later Clemence’s son, Gene, curator and director of the Special Collections Library at Pittsburg State University, wrote of his mother’s experience in the poem entitled “Alien Women”.
The Kansas Balkans refer to the coal mining regions of Southeast Kansas, particularly Crawford and Cherokee Counties. It is an area known for its rich cultural heritage and for its turbulent strike-ridden history. This ‘fight for your rights’ and ‘belligerent independence’ created a volatile political history of rebellion and reform. The Kansas Balkans became one of the most progressive, influential regions of the state.
While Southeast Kansas was often out of step with the rest of the state, its history suggests it was often in advance of it. Reforms such as the 8-hour work day, equal rights for women and minorities, and child labor laws, now an accepted standard of the American way of life, were all fought for in the coal fields of Southeast Kansas.
Thanks to MHM Board Trustee Linda Knoll for preserving this important story.
Excerpts for this story were obtained from Linda’s website www.amazonarmy.com. Visit the museum to learn more about this amazing group of women.
You will also see the beautiful Amazon Army bucket which was the first art work project for SEK ArtFest. The Amazon bucket was donated in honor of Harold Coleman, a 37-year veteran strip miner for Mackie Clemens Coal Company. The artist for this piece was Nicole Meyer-Foresman. The underwriter was WATCO Companies, LLC.
MHM also has an original print of the Amazon Army women which was donated by Linda Knoll. The photo appeared in the New York Herald Sun Syndicate on December 19, 1921.
These brave women laid the groundwork for their descendants and the spirit of those women is seen today. Last week Kaye Lynne Webb was named the inaugural 2017 Influential Women in Business. Kaye Lynne is a founding trustee of Miners Hall Museum.
Linda Knoll, current Miners Hall Museum trustee, was named 2017 Woman of Distinction and will appear on the Chamber of Commerce calendar.
Linda Roberts, current board co-chair, along with Linda Grilz and Phyllis Bitner (both founding trustees) were named as Women of Distinction in previous years. These women are descendants of mining families who settled in southeast Kansas.
— Linda Kramer is the museum operations manager at Miners Hall Museum.