Holding the Line: Women in the Great American Mine Strike of 1983, by Barbara Kingsolver


Long before she became a novelist with a massive best selling hits which include The Poisonwood Bible (2008), The Lacuna (2010), and The Bean Trees (2013) among others, Barbara Kingsolver wrote a history book. Though largely forgotten by Kingsolver fans and historians alike, Holding the Line: Women in the Great American Mine Strike of 1983 remains one of the most compelling and inspiring portraits of working-class female activism ever written.  The book covers an 18-month period between June 1983 and December 1985 that involved the strike against the Phelps Dodge Copper in Clifton, Arizona. Working as a journalist at the time, Kingsolver realized in covering the strike that the striking women were virtually invisible to journalists, townspeople, and sometimes even their male labor resistance partners. Along the way, Kingsolver explores how economics, ethnicity, and gender shaped the female striker’s experience. Mexican-American female strikers played a central role in the resistance movement, belying stereotypes of Hispanic women as passive domestic workers. As Kingsolver so clearly demonstrates, a woman’s place was in the home and on the picket line.  Holding the Line also suggests that the kind of poverty most Americans believe exists only in the developing world does exist in the United States, particularly among those who labor for powerful and exploitative companies.  Most importantly, Kingsolver’s book offers an antidote to the over-whelming male-centered and white-focused histories of American labor resistance, and she does so while fully accounting for her topic’s subjectivity. Rich with oral interview sources, Holding the Line engages the reader with the voices of her subjects and the strength of purpose in the face of racism, sexism, and corporate abuse.

Peg A. Lamphier and Rosanne Welch are editors of the 2018 RUSA award-winning reference set, Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection.

Peg A. Lamphier, PhD, teaches in an interdisciplinary program at California State Polytechnic at Pomona in southern California and American history at Mount San Antonio College. An American historian specializing in American Civil War and women’s history, she has also authored Kate Chase and William Sprague: Politics and Gender in a Civil War Marriage and Spur Up Your Pegasus: Family Letters of Salmon, Kate, and Nettie Chase, 1844–1873.

Rosanne Welch, PhD, teaches humanities courses for California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and MFA screen writing programs at California State University, Fullerton, and Stephens College, Missouri. A film and television historian, Welch has published chapters in Torchwood Declassified: Investigating Mainstream Cult Television and Doctor Who and Race: An Anthology and has edited Three Ring Circus: How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work, and Family and The Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space (ABC-CLIO, 1998).

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