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Celebrating Women of Appalachia

Mrs. Grace Bundy and Family, before 1910. James Agee Film Project Photographs | Archives of Appalachia, ETSU.

Photo essay from the Archives of Appalachia

East Tennessee State University

By Sandy Laws

Women of Appalachia are unsung trailblazers whose defining characteristics are strength, stamina and stability. They are pioneers, farmers, foragers, midwives, doctors, nurses, tailors, miners, weavers, artists, lyricists, musicians, teachers, storytellers, botanists and herbalists. They built cabins, plowed fields, chopped wood, milked cows, tended the sick, created remedies from herbs, made quilts and clothing, foraged, planted, harvested and preserved food. They relentlessly pursued the right to work and earn a living in non-traditional roles, many times placing themselves in mortal danger. Appalachian women forged a path that still allows others to pursue dreams, achieve goals, and meaningfully contribute to society. 


“For women in Appalachia, non-traditional employment means more than economic equity,” Leslie Lilly, acting chair of the Southern Women’s Employment Coalition, said to the Council on Appalachian Women circa 1980. “It means the difference between the quality of life that sustains and the disparity of life that destroys. Their pride, integrity, and leadership accomplished something that all the paternal efforts to put Appalachia into mainstream America failed to do — to give them paychecks that went a long way toward their income needs.”

The following images, drawn from the more than 250,000 photographs held by ETSU’s Archives of Appalachia, provide unique insight into some of the ways these unsung trailblazers have pursued their own dreams while forging a path that has allowed future generations of Appalachian women to do the same.

To see the image gallery, click here.

Sandy Laws is archives assistant for the Archives of Appalachia at The Center for Appalachian Studies & Services, ETSU.


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