The Girl’s Part: The Story of the Mines

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, November 1, 1911:

November, hastening before the fool steps of winter,

Brings back the stark realities of life.

It is not all the cup of brimming pleasure.

That crowns the triumph of a common strife.

This month is certainly beginning in earnest. It is enough to make any cold-blooded person think of furs and the like. Examined the contents of the Youth’s Companion this evening, which arrived this morning.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I just finished examining the contents of the November 2, 1911 issue of Youth’s Companion. Whew, it’s amazing and almost surreal that I can sit in a library and read the same words that Grandma read so many years ago.

The cover story was a fictional story about a mine disaster.  I’ve included selected quotes from the story below that hopefully will give you the gist of the story.

Things that I thought about as I read the story: How has the role of women changed over the last 100 years? Was the author trying to influence public opinion regarding the use of child labor? (Child labor was extremely controversial in 1911—and states were beginning to regulate it).  How have opinions regarding mine safety and environmental issues changed?

Excerpts from

The Girl’s Part: A Story of the Mines


M. Gauss

There are hard things to be done, every now and then, in a coal –mining town. It’s supposed that the men take the brunt of what follows an explosion. Well, they go down in rescue crews, and perhaps risk their lives for their mates; but we stay at home, in the house as usual, and wait for news. The waiting part is the harder for me—because I’ve always been big and strong and active.

I was buying my some gingham for my new aprons—I’d just begun to sew my wedding things. I thought I’d ask Mrs. Varick if it would fade. And as I picked it up to show it to her, a noise came. It wasn’t like the ordinary blasting sound, but long and queer. I had never heard a mine explosion, but I knew at once that something was wrong. I dropped my gingham to run to the door.

“Oh, my boys, my boys!” Mrs. Varick cried out.

We took hold of our hands to run to the shaft, and I almost carried her.

At the mouth of the shaft were a lot of women. Some of them knew that their own men were safe, and these would call out to Mrs. Varick and me, “Did Sam and Billy get out all right?” A good many miners had come up in the cages.

Pretty soon I heard the boss calling something to us.

“Only seven men are still in the mine!” he said. Then he named them: two Hungarians and a Swede, none of whom we knew; and old man Eckert, and Mrs. Hodges’ husband, and Sam and Billy Varick.

Late that evening the rescuers found the first of our missing men—the Hungarians and the Swede. Choke-damp had killed them, soon after the explosion, a few feet from where they were working.

At noon on Tuesday, we noticed that people were running toward the mine. Nobody came to tell us; but an English miners’ wife—Mrs. Hodges—ran past our house with her baby, crying and laughing. She said they had found two men, walled up in a pocket of the mine, alive.

Then a voice said, “They’re all out but the Varick boys.” Mrs. Varick heard, but she didn’t cry out, or say a word.

“The air was simply something hawful, over south, and it was a long wasy, Well, ‘h went. ‘E tried to make Bill go back, but the kid would foller ‘im.”

“They’re together!” said poor Mrs. Varick.

“No don’t”  a woman cried.

Just then a cry came. . .  What are they saying? “

“F-o-u-n-d! A-l-i-v-e.”

After that I don’t know what did happen. But a half-hour later we were all in the Varick kitchen—Billy flat on the couch. Sam white as a ghost, but walking around. . . And I began to cry—it was so joyful to have a girl’s work to do.”

The Youth’s Companion ( November 2, 1911)

An aside: Grandma subscribed to The Youth’s Companion on October 23—and she received her first issue only nine days later. Amazing!  I don’t think that I’d receive the first issue of a magazine that quickly today.

10 thoughts on “The Girl’s Part: The Story of the Mines

  1. You must be having such fun, reading the diary, then reading the magazines, forming a psychic bridge with your grandmother. Thanks for sharing all this! ~ Kay

  2. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment.

    I’m thrilled to have found your blog. I look forward to reading your grandmother’s diary as you post entries. She is but 2 and 4 years younger than my own two grandmothers (and I have no diary from either of them).

    I have coal-mining ancestors from PA, though they lived several counties west of your grandmother, so this post was particularly appropriate and poignant to me.

    Where did you find copies of The Youth’s Companion to read? Are they available at your local library? Are they available online? They look like a helpful resource for adding social context to the lives of more recent ancestors.

    Thanks for finding me and leading me to your blog. I appreciate it.

  3. You’re right…it is remarkable that you can read exactly what your grandmother wrote. In many ways our lives these days are of passing events without the continuity of the :”old days” yet technology and preservation let us see these old documents. Wonderful.

  4. Sorry Sheryl..I meant what she read, not wrote (which you’re also doing of course with the diary). It’s too early here -need more coffee 😉

    1. And, it’s equally amazing that we can be communicating real time between Australia and the US. Enjoy your morning coffee 🙂

      Sometimes I wonder if as much will be preserved from our generation for those who come after us as past generations preserved. We know so much about what is happening today thanks to emails, Facebook, etc. –yet it seems so fleeting.

      1. More alert now, second coffee;-) And yes it’s very amazing to be able to communicate so effortlessly world wide. And yes, I also wonder how much will be lost over time.

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