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Chapter 17 - How the Women Sang themselves Out of Jail

The miners in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, went on strike for more wages. Their pay was pitifully low. In answer to the cry for bread, the Irish – that is the Pennsylvania – constabulary were sent into the district.

One day a group of angry women were standing in front of the mine, hooting at the scabs that were taking the bread from their children’s mouths. The sheriff came and arrested all the women “for disturbing the peace.” Of course, he should have arrested the scabs, for they were the ones who really disturbed it.

I told them to take their babies and tiny children along with them when their case came up in court. They did this and while the judge was sentencing them to pay thirty dollars or serve thirty days in jail, the babies set up a terrible wail so that you could hardly hear the old judge. He scowled and asked the women if they had some one to leave the children with.

I whispered to the women to tell the judge that miners’ wives didn’t keep nurse girls; that God gave the children to their mothers and He held them responsible for their care.

Two mounted police were called to take the women to the jail, some ten miles away. They were put on an interurban car with two police men to keep them from running away. The car stopped and took on some scabs. As soon the car started the women began cleaning up the scabs. The two policemen were too nervous to do anything. The scabs, who were pretty much scratched up, begged the motorman stop and let them off but the motorman said it was against the law to stop except at the station. That gave the women a little more time to trim the fellows. When they got to the station, those scabs looked as if they had been sleeping in the tiger cat’s cage at the zoo.

When they got to Greensburg, the women sang as the car went through the town. A great crowd followed the car, singing with them. As the women, carrying their babies, got off the car before the jail the crowd cheered and cheered them. The police officers handed the prisoners over to the sheriff and both of them looked relieved.

The sheriff said to me, “Mother, I would rather you brought me a hundred men than those women. Women are fierce!”

“I didn’t bring them to you, sheriff,” said I, “ ‘twas the mining company’s judge sent them to you for a present.”

The sheriff took them upstairs, put them all in a room and let me stay with them for a long while. I told the women:

“You sing the whole night long. You can spell one another if you get tired and hoarse. Sleep all day and sing all night and don’t stop for anyone. Say you’re singing to the babies. I will bring the little ones milk and fruit. Just you all sing and sing.”

The sheriff’s wife was an irritable little cat. She used to go up and try to stop them because she couldn’t sleep. Then the sheriff sent for me and asked me to stop them.

“I can’t stop them,” said I. “They are singing to their little ones. You telephone to the judge to order them loose.”

Complaints came in by the dozens: from hotels and lodging houses and private homes.

“Those women howl like cats,” said a hotel keeper to me.

“That’s no way to speak of women who are singing patriotic songs and lullabies to their little ones,” said I.

Finally after five days in which everyone in town had been kept awake, the judge ordered their release. He was a narrow-minded, irritable, savage-looking old animal and hated to do it but no one could muzzle those women!

Next page: Chapter 18 - Victory in West Virginia