Before lifelong activist Florence Reece took the stage to sing her now-iconic labor anthems, she sat at the kitchen table writing those songs from the perspective as a mother and wife—and as a union agitator. “Unofficial social worker” Edith Easterling leveraged her local knowledge, and the federal resources she gained access to as a staffer for the anti-poverty program known as Appalachian Volunteers, to launch her own personal war on poverty at home in Pike County, Kentucky, with the Marrowbone Folk School—and saw her daughter Sue Ella follow her footsteps straight into the civil rights movement via multiracial youth organizing efforts. When Appalachian health activist Eula Hall opened the Mud Creek Clinic and Dr. Elinor Graham taught mountain women how to self-administer breast and pelvic exams and provided information on birth control, they were enabling poor women to take control of their own bodies and make their own childbearing decisions.
Discussions of women’s movements that leave out poor and lower-middle-class women who have always had to work and fight and scrap and “resist” for what they needed drive me bonkers. We have these “lean in” moments where it seems like it’s all about our personal fulfillment and our private desires, instead of about the baby eating or the roof getting fixed. Women have had to fight for those things long before (and will long after) the slogan-embossed tote bags wear out.