A New York Times travel writer recently discovered Appalachia as a vacation destination. Appalachia has been periodically "discovered" for over a hundred years now. John Fox Junior and the local color writers discovered it in the early 1900s. Anti-poverty warriors crusaded through it in the 1960s. And big energy companies know exactly where it is now that they want to convert coal to liquid.
But every time that Appalachia gets discovered, the writers, policy makers, and economic development efforts leave out the women!
The New York Times travel story does mention one woman serving up a batch of fried chicken livers. But the story is mostly about colorful male characters who tote guns, start a museum, mine coal, and play music.
It's time to remember the contributions that Appalachian women have made and still make to the cultural traditions, economic survival, and progressive future of this heartland region. Here are just a few.
Harriet Arnow gave the world The Dollmaker, the signature story of an Appalachian family forced to immigrate to find work.
Hazel Dickens has been singing songs of resistance, with musicians like Pete Seeger, for as long as I can remember.
Mother Maybelle Carter was the matriarch of the singing Carter family. Her songs and traditions still continues at the Carter Fold in western Virginia.
Today, filmmakers at Appalshop, the spunky arts and education center in the heart of the east Kentucky coalfields, honor the women who have sat down to quilt and stood up to fight pollution, environmental destruction, and the burgeoning prison-industrial complex in their region.
The Highlander Research and Education Center near the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee will soon celebrate 75 years of citizen education and progressive change. Women inside the region and out, like Rosa Parks, came to Highlander to learn about civil disobedience.
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Becky Anderson started Handmade in America. This organization is now a major economic development engine for women and men who want to stay in the region, practice their crafts, AND make a decent living wage.
Negative portrayals of women and girls have serious repercussions the world over. For example, the Media Awareness Network in Canada is documenting how the mainstream media there stereotypes women and girls.
But it is harder to document the impact of absence and silence about women in the media and in education. Nowhere is the impact of silence and absence felt more than in my home region of Appalachia. Women in that region are leading the way in preserving the culture and accomplishing positive social change for a brighter future. I challenge you to discover the contributions of Appalachian women for yourselves since you probably won't find it reported in The New York Times!