Pennsylvania’s first female coal miner is from Bentleyville | Local News
When Bethlehem Mines announced in 1974 that it was looking to hire Pennsylvania’s first underage women at their Washington County underground facility, Karen Tyler jumped at the chance to be a trailblazer for women in dangerous professions.
His father and grandfather had been miners, so coal was deeply rooted in his family’s blood. But his father traveled from New York to try to talk him out of it. Her husband Sylvester, known as Lou, also objected to the idea of Tyler working underground.
Neither man could dissuade her, however, and Tyler was particularly blunt with her husband when he refused to drive her from their Bentleyville home to Mine 51 in Ellsworth, according to their son, Wendell.
“If you don’t take me, then I’ll start walking and file my candidacy,” Wendell Tyler recalls, telling her mom she told her dad.
“She started to walk. And then my dad drove her away, ”Wendell said.
This brief walk from Tyler paved the way for other women in the area who wanted to follow in his footsteps. When other women learned that she had applied, they also expressed interest in the job, Wendell said.
“They probably thought she was serious,” Wendell said of her mother’s influence on others. “I think my mom changed everyone’s mindset. She was very kind and wanted to see people succeed and help anyone she could.
Four months after applying for the job, Tyler was hired by Bethlehem Mines on August 1, 1974 and would be the first female coal miner in Pennsylvania. The first officially recognized female minor in the country was hired in West Virginia at the end of 1973, although her name is not known, according to one. New York Times article in 1982. Most coal companies were under federal court orders to hire a number of women for their mines, the article said.
Tyler, who is just 5ft 1in and raises four young sons with her husband in Bentleyville, loved her new job even though it had some of the more difficult chores as longtime miners tried to push her, as well as three other recently hired female colleagues. job. But that did not deter them.
“They saw they weren’t giving up,” Wendell said.
Tyler and some of the other black women who worked with her in the mine faced both racism and sexism at the time. Tyler spoke to her husband about some of the racist remarks she suffered, prompting him to speak directly with the mine foreman to let the company know that the behavior would not be tolerated.
“My father was a strong advocate for women coal miners,” said Wendell. “He had to clear some people up. She told my dad and he took care of it.
But the harsh atmosphere didn’t bother Tyler or the other women.
“She hardly paid any attention to it,” Wendell said. “She brushed them off: ‘I have a job to do.’ “She was a volunteer. She knew she had children to take care of.
Mark Segedi worked with several women in his 37 years as a miner before retiring in 2015. Segedi, president of United Mine Workers Local 1197, said it was a difficult transition for the dominated profession. the men, but eventually the other miners came to respect the women for their hard work and tenacity.
“At first some men just didn’t want to see it,” Segedi said. “It was a man’s job in a man’s world, and this and that. But most of the guys got it right. And after a while, they were part of the crew.
After all, the dangers faced by men in the mine were the same for women.
A roof bolt hit Tyler in the head and knocked her out, and the brakes of an underground vehicle went out, forcing her to jump to avoid serious injury before he crashed.
In another dire situation, Tyler was buried in debris and other miners had to search for her under the rubble. Carmen Tyler, one of her other sons, received a phone call from a worker informing the family of the accident.
“We can’t find Karen,” Carmen recalls hearing the worker tell her over the phone.
Tyler was safely removed from the heap and ultimately underwent physical rehabilitation for his injuries.
“And then she went back into the mine,” Carmen said.
The camaraderie among the women who worked in the mines was close. Segedi recalls seeing this in person while working with Tyler and several other women at various mines in Ellsworth and Cokeburg, including Barbara Johnson, Kip Dawson, and Gwen Bailey.
“They did the job and were respected,” Segedi said. “Very close. These women, they stayed together, naturally. They were close friends.
“Sorority,” Wendell added. “It was his family.”
Bailey, 77, was a childhood friend of Tyler’s growing up in Daisytown. Bailey followed Tyler into the mines in the late 1970s and worked as a miner for over 30 years before retiring in 2008.
“We have proven that we can do the job. Some of us have worked better than the men. We had to prove ourselves because they didn’t think we could, ”said Bailey, who started working at Mine 60 in Cokeburg. “A lot of women have done a lot of things that men have done. We had.”
Tyler was also a leader, helping to organize the Fifth National Conference of Underage Women in Dawson, Fayette County, in June 1983. The keynote speaker at this convention was UMWA President Richard Trumka, who passed away the month. last when he was president of the AFL. -CIO, the largest federation of trade unions in the country. Tyler also served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Women Miners Support Team and state representative for 717 women coal miners in Pennsylvania in the early 1980s.
“She was in all of this union stuff,” Bailey said. “She found out she was the only black woman there.”
Tyler tried to use her role to empower and inspire other women, telling a post for a story featuring underage women in March 1984 to “be patient and not give up.” By doing her own research, Tyler learned that she was the first female coal miner in Pennsylvania, she told the publication.
“Keep moving,” Tyler said. “If you do that, everything will work out. Develop your self-confidence and don’t let anything get in your way.
Carmen remembers a local TV station and Polish magazine interviewing her mother when the public began to learn about these avant-garde underage women.
“They were like celebrities in a way,” Carmen said.
But coal companies struggled in the 1980s as the steel industry collapsed. Tyler, who worked most of the time at Mines 51 and 60, was repeatedly laid off and brought back, but left the mines for good in late 1986 or early 1987 when a downturn in the industry made his layoff permanent. She became a nurse and worked in this field for years, while her husband, Lou, worked as a mining mechanic for 24 years.
“She missed it,” Wendell said of her mother’s work in the mines. “She was a member of a paying union until the day of her death.”
Tyler passed away on June 15, 2020 at the age of 71. Now her four sons, Carmen, Sylvester Jr., Chuck and Wendell, try to keep their mother’s memory alive by telling others about her historic work as the state’s first female minor.
Wendell, who lives in Houston, Pa., Is “super proud” of her mother and what she meant to the other women who have followed her into the mines.
“I tell everyone I meet. It makes me excited to talk about her, ”he said. “I consider my mother to be a trailblazer for many of the women who go into the coal mine. She gave the best of herself.