"Fighting for our homes": An archaeology of women's domestic labor and social change in a working-class, coal mining community, 1900--1930

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Douglas V. Armstrong


Women, Domestic labor, Social change, Coal mining, Community, Working class, Colorado

Subject Categories

Archaeological Anthropology | United States History | Women's History


The objective of this dissertation is to document and explain changes in women's domestic labor in the working-class, coal mining community of Berwind in southern Colorado. Using archaeological data, documentary sources, and oral histories, I demonstrate how domesticity was a contested terrain where specific class and gender interests were played out. I argue that women's housework was linked with social change within the working-class community and provided an alternative to middle-class individualism, work patterns, and family life.

By examining the material remains of household refuse, I piece together the kinds of labor in which women were engaged within their homes and flesh out the social relations built around that work. This study focuses on the years between 1900 and 1930 using the 1913-1914 strike as a center point for comparison. Artifacts excavated from pre-strike and post-strike contexts are used to track specific changes in women's work and concomitant changes in social relations throughout the community. By exploring connections between women's work, ethnicity, and nationalism, this study details how social relations surrounding women's domestic labor were essential to class struggle.

Other material culture including photographs, cartoons, and landscapes are used to explore the ways that miners, their wives, and the company used ideological constructs of manhood, womanhood, motherhood, and family to articulate and substantiate their class based demands. Domesticity, and its gendered implications, were deployed by various interest groups as they worked to achieve their social, political, and economic objectives.

Oral history chapters are interspersed throughout the text to complement and complicate the academic narrative. In their own words, people who lived in the coal camps recount intimate aspects of their daily lives.

Throughout the early twentieth century people at Berwind struggled to achieve better working conditions, higher wages, and an "American" standard of living. The working-class home, made by the women of Berwind, provided a base from which mining families sustained a challenge to the emerging corporate order.


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