Coal mining was a major industry in southeast Kansas. In 1921 the United Mine Workers of America wanted to improve the wages and working conditions of the miners in Kansas. While they agreed not to strike during World War I, once the war ended, the union decided to strike. Workers refused to work until their demands were heard. Governor Henry Allen asked the Kansas Supreme Court to allow the state to take over the mines until the strikers went back to work. Volunteers were recruited from college campuses to help. The families of the coal miners were upset that these volunteers, called "scabs", were being hired during the strike. From December 12 to 14, 1921, a group of southeast Kansas wives, mothers, and sisters marched from coal camp to coal camp to protest the hiring of the scab labor. They became known as the "Amazon Army."
The Amazon Army consisted of more than 6,000 women at one point. These women, many of whom were pregnant, or carrying children too small to be left at home, would enter the coal camps and block the entrances of the mines so that the scabs could not enter. They used buckets of red pepper flakes to encourage the workers to stay away. They also sang patriotic songs and marched with large American flags, so as to show that even though they were supporting the strike they were true Americans.
What these women did was considered shocking at the time. Many were arrested for their efforts. But within the coal camps these women were considered heroes. One of the women wrote a letter to the Pittsburg Daily Headlight saying, "What we want is our industrial freedom and liberty and we want our men to be good, true, loyal union men and 100 percent American citizens."
This poem was written by Gene DeGruson, whose mother marched with the Amazons.
In ’21, my mother marched still herself
at seventeen marched for Alexander
Howat to bust the scabs who worked
the mines in place of the fathers
and husbands of the thousand women
who marched with her carrying
their men’s pit buckets filled
with red pepper to throw in the eyes
of the poor scabs who cursed back
in English to their Slovene, German,
French, and Italian over
the State Militia’s rifle fire.
Its all dim in her mind now. She
remembers only that she was hungry
and frightened. She does not remember
Judge Curran, who said, “It is a fact
that these are bolsheviki, communists,
and anarchists among the alien women
of this community. It was the lawlessness
of these women which made it necessary
the stationing of the State Militia
in our county for two months
to preserve law and order.”
She does not remember they
were called an Army of Amazons.
Eventually the state ended its control of the coal mines, the union negotiated a new pay plan, and the miners went back to work.
Portions from The Kansas Journey.
Entry: Amazon Women
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: February 2011
Date Modified: December 2012
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.