PITTSBURG — Inspired by her family’s ancestry, Linda Knoll helps document the past through manuscript.

Knoll, coordinator for Gifted Education Services for the SEK Interlocal #637 and a local historian, was recently honored as one of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Women of Distinction.
“To join that — all of these women, I’ve admired all these years — it was very humbling,” she said. “It’s very wonderful to be a part of something that is so positive.”

Her historical work has been featured at a variety of settings, her play “Army of Amazons: An Oral History of Southeast Kansas,” has been performed for many audiences and she hopes to see it on stage again during the “Amazon Women” march’s 100th anniversary in 2021.

The play was awarded a Human & Civil Rights award in 2005 from the National Educational Association in Los Angeles and the year before, it was awarded the KNEA HCR honor at the state conference in Topeka.

When Knoll was a child, she was fascinated by her grandmothers’ stories of the past.

Her grandmothers were Maggie Onelio whose family immigrated from Italy before she was born and Frances Pulin who immigrated from Slovenia at a young age.

Knoll was certain some of the stories would be documented in history books when she grew up, but they were not until recently.

Southeast Kansas was a coal mining area during her grandmothers’ youths and young adult years. Those times in their lives were affected by the issues caused by the dangers of coal mining. These included injury and death of fathers and older sons, leaving mothers and wives struggling to make a living, she said.

One of her grandmothers, Pulin, helped create a boarding home after the loss of her brother and father in the mines.

Onelio was in the “Amazon Army,” a march of women — called Amazons —  who wanted the wages and working conditions for miners to improve.

“Maybe they didn’t do it directly, but their willingness to stand up for stuff when it wasn’t cool — sometimes when it meant losing everything — it added to the activism that got them to a better place,” Knoll said.

She didn’t know about her grandmother Onelio’s experience in the march until she was an adult, the response to why her grandmother didn’t tell her was “You didn’t ask.”

With the help of local curators, historians and her own students, she was able to create her play based on the march.

The proceeds from the play were donated to the Franklin Community Council to benefit the community following a tornado in 2003.
“There were so many donors,” she said. “Many residents have ties to mining, they never asked just like me.”

Knoll also assisted in the development of the Miners Memorial in Pittsburg and the Miners Hall Museum in Franklin.

Based on her work, the mural “Solidarity” hangs in the Pittsburg Public Library, a joint project between the Kansas Arts Commission, PACCA and Pittsburg and Girard schools.

Other murals based on the coal mining theme will be placed on a few local businesses building soon, including the Miners Hall Museum.

Other organizations benefiting from Knoll’s efforts include the Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation and the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts.

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.