I am often asked if these stories are real. ROCKED IN THE
CRADLE OF COAL stories are as true as photographs, as factual as
historical newspaper articles, as accurate as personal diaries, and
as precious as memories.
Before reading about the lives of early 20th
Century children living in anthracite coal country there are some
things you should know. Life for these immigrant children was very
different from how children live today.
Photo courtesy of the Luzerne County Historical
“ROCKED IN THE CRADLE OF
What was life like in the
early 1900s for a poor eastern European immigrant seeking a better
life in America? If you had only a meager education and didn’t
speak English well, if you had spent most of your savings buying
passage on a ship to The Land of Opportunity, and if you also had a
family to support, then a job in the Pennsylvania coal mines was
your best chance at achieving The American Dream.
Can you imagine long
days working hundreds of feet underground in cold dampness? There
was no light except for a small carbide lamp bracketed above the
brim of your canvas cap. Water was constantly dripping down the
black mine walls, and the rocky floor was wet and slippery. Sticky
black coal dust filled the air and coated your skin, clothing, and
Many miners got sick
from inhaling the coal dust. Miners' Asthma, or Black Lung Disease,
forced some miners to leave the mines. Deadly mining accidents
claimed others. If a miner was not able to work, then his family no
longer received his pay. They also had to vacate their
company-owned house, unless one of his boys was old
enough to work in the mine. That is why sons of miners often had to
quit school early, even before completing elementary school, so
they could help support their families.
Young girls also
learned to contribute to the success of their families. They helped
with cooking and household chores, gardening, and tending to
younger siblings. Eventually, even the girls left school early to
work outside the home for whatever meager pay they could earn. Did
the children get to keep their wages? No, children dutifully handed
over their pay envelopes to their parents. Survival of the family
was everyone’s primary concern.