Eula Hall, One-Woman Relief Agency in Appalachia, Dies at 93

The Four Percent


She landed work in a canning and munitions factory outside Rochester, N.Y. But she found the conditions unsafe and unfair and organized some of the workers to strike, unaware of the futility of making demands on the federal government in wartime.

She was arrested and charged with instigating a riot. But the booking officer realized she was younger than she claimed and, instead of jailing her, sent her back to Kentucky. It was a trial run at speaking truth to power, which she would do throughout her life.

Back home, she found work as a domestic, cooking, cleaning and taking care of children, all without benefit of electricity, plumbing or refrigeration.

“Eula found solace in helping neighbors through tough times,” Mr. Bhatraju wrote.

She married her first husband, McKinley Hall, a miner, in 1944. He was a heavy drinker who was more interested in making moonshine than mining coal, and he abused her physically, according to her biography. Her neighbors started looking after her, and she in turn started looking after them. She gradually became the local fixer for people in trouble.

This included rushing a very pregnant neighbor to several hospitals, all of which turned the woman away because she didn’t have a primary doctor and couldn’t pay. At the last hospital, Mrs. Hall yelled at the intake nurse and threatened to call the local newspaper if the staff members wouldn’t help. They did, the birth went fine, and Mrs. Hall then took the woman’s plight to a meeting of hospital officials, where she unleashed a diatribe at them for allowing people to suffer.

She read two influential books that reinforced her courage to speak out: “Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area” (1963), by Harry Caudill, and “The Other America” (1962), by Michael Harrington. Both books helped inspire President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty — and Mrs. Hall.

She participated in miners’ strikes throughout the region. She was elected president of the Kentucky Black Lung Association and organized frequent bus trips to Washington, where she lobbied for better benefits for miners and for widow’s benefits. She was often the only woman at the table.


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