From the bestselling and award-winning author of The Sparrow comes an inspiring historical novel about “America’s Joan of Arc” Annie Clements—the courageous woman who started a rebellion by leading a strike against the largest copper mining company in the world.
In July 1913, twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements had seen enough of the world to know that it was unfair. She’s spent her whole life in the copper-mining town of Calumet, Michigan where men risk their lives for meager salaries—and had barely enough to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. The women labor in the houses of the elite, and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home. When Annie decides to stand up for herself, and the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle.
In Annie’s hands lie the miners’ fortunes and their health, her husband’s wrath over her growing independence, and her own reputation as she faces the threat of prison and discovers a forbidden love. On her fierce quest for justice, Annie will discover just how much she is willing to sacrifice for her own independence and the families of Calumet.
From one of the most versatile writers in contemporary fiction, this novel is an authentic and moving historical portrait of the lives of the men and women of the early 20th century labor movement, and of a turbulent, violent political landscape that may feel startlingly relevant to today.
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Widely praised for her meticulous research, fine prose, and compelling narrative drive, Mary Doria Russell is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, Dreamers of the Day, Doc, and Epitaph. Dr. Russell holds a PhD in biological anthropology. She lives in Lyndhurst, Ohio.
Date of Birth:August 19, 1950
Place of Birth:Elmhurst, Illinois
Education:B.A., The University of Illinois; M.A., Northeastern University; Ph.D., The University of Michigan
Read an Excerpt
The Women of the Copper Country
Turn tears to fires
—Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The dream is always simple. The memory never is.
It’s an echo from 1903 when she was almost sixteen. A rare family outing down to the county fair in Houghton, Michigan.
Her father probably expected the excursion to cheer her up. There were horse races and ox pulls, all day long. A merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel. Games of chance. Vendors calling their wares. Quilts, pies, and jams vying for blue ribbons. The promise of fireworks after dark. But there were crowds as well. Strangers. People who’d never before seen the girl called Big Annie up in Calumet.
At twenty-five, Anna Klobuchar Clements would be known around the world as America’s Joan of Arc. Ten thousand miners would march behind her in a wildcat strike against the richest, most powerful copper company on earth. But that day at the Houghton fair? She was just a big, gawky girl—tired to tears of being pointed at, remarked upon, ridiculed.
Being tall didn’t bother her when she was five. She liked being the biggest in her kindergarten class. She liked school. She didn’t mind at all when the teachers started calling her Big Annie. It never occurred to anyone that she might be embarrassed by the nickname. It was simply meant to distinguish her from another—much smaller—Annie in her class.
The tall American daughter of tall Slovenian parents, Anna Klobuchar had topped six feet at fifteen. In a mining town increasingly populated by underfed, undersized immigrants fresh off the boat, she could never escape the goggle-eyed notice. The endless, stupid teasing of boys her own age was the worst. As she got taller, they began to feel diminished by her. Intimidated. Irritated by the existence of a girl who was bigger and stronger than they were.
Her younger sister, Maritza, was already engaged. She was barely fourteen but she would marry in a month, long before she reached her full height and got bigger than her husband. And Annie was supposed to be happy about it.
So. That awful county fair in 1903. Which was supposed to cheer her up.
Everybody stared. Grown men came to a stop and demanded, “Jeez, how tall are you anyways?” as though her height were both a marvel and an affront. Women and girls shook their heads and gave silent thanks that they themselves were dainty little things, or at least appeared so when compared to that poor girl. Boys laughed and pointed, calling out familiar taunts, along with new ones that were more hateful. Freak. Giant. Monster. Holy cripes! Look at the size of her! Oughta be in the sideshow with that bearded lady . . .
She stood it as long as she could. Finally, a couple of hours before dusk, she fled toward the cornfields and cherry orchards and pastures beyond the fair. Her sight was still blurred with tears when she heard her father’s voice, just behind her. “Anna, don’t—”
She shattered into frustrated, embarrassed, angry weeping. When the storm passed, she sucked in snot and wiped her nose on the back of her hand and waved toward the crowds. “I’m taller than every boy in Calumet. I’m probably taller than every boy in Michigan! Nobody will ever marry me. Why do I have to be so tall?”
“Your mother’s tall,” he said. “She got me.”
Which didn’t help.
It was a relief to the pair of them when they were startled by the hushed roar of a gas-fired burner behind them, just over a little hill. They turned, and looked up, and saw a huge balloon rising. Red, white, and blue silk, billowing.
“Let’s go for a ride,” he suggested. “Just us. Me and you.”
Years later, she would ask herself, Where did he find the wisdom? But that day in Houghton, she wondered where he’d found the cash. Tickets were a day’s pay—each—for a copper miner. She tried to talk him out of it. They both knew her mother would be infuriated by an indulgence like that; nevertheless her father told the balloonist, “Two,” and handed him the money. Together they clambered up and over the edge of a big wicker basket and waited for the other passengers to do the same. The balloon would be tethered— “So you won’t drift out over the lake!” When the basket was full of paying customers, the pilot released the moorings. There were little shrieks of excitement and fear when the basket rocked off the ground. Everyone ducked and laughed nervously when the pilot opened the burner for a fresh blast of heat. And then . . . no sound except for their own breathing as the huge balloon lifted them higher and higher, its colors aglow in the slanting sunlight.
Below them, the merry-go-round and Ferris wheel seemed like wind-up toys made of tin, and people on the fairgrounds looked like tiny flowers on a vast colorful tablecloth laid out for a picnic.
Summer evenings in Upper Michigan are often brilliant with orange and purple and golden clouds. That spectacle can become ordinary to those who live in the far north. What surprised Big Annie was how pretty the land itself was when you could see it from above: greened by the scrubby brush that grew around countless tree stumps, laced by white waves edging the stony shoreline of the Keweenaw Peninsula, surrounded by Lake Superior’s blue depths.
And that is what her dream always feels like. Like floating into the silence, leaving mockery and fear and anger far below. Like soaring upward without the slightest effort and seeing an unexpectedly beautiful world stretched out in all directions . . .
In the next decade, she would more commonly awaken with her heart pounding from a different kind of dream, one in which she runs toward some urgent task, increasingly frantic because she is late and there is always an obstacle of some kind. A train blocking the road. A locked door. Knots of men standing in her way. But now and then, that dream of silent floating would come to her, like a father’s blessing. And she would remember, when she woke, what her father told her that day as they floated far above the Copper Country.
“Stand up straight, Anna. Hold your head high,” he told her. “That’s your strength. You are tall for a reason. When your head is high, you can see farther than anyone else.”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Women of the Copper Country includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Mary Doria Russell. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In The Women of the Copper Country, which opens in July 1913, twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements has seen enough of the world to know that it is unfair. She’s spent her whole life in the copper-mining town of Calumet, Michigan, where men risk their lives for meager salaries—and have barely enough to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. The women labor in the houses of the elite and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home. When Annie decides to stand up for herself, and the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle.
In Annie’s hands lie the miners’ fortunes and their health, her husband’s wrath over her growing independence, and her own reputation as she faces the threat of prison and discovers a forbidden love. On her fierce quest for justice, Annie will discover just how much she is willing to sacrifice for her own independence and the families of Calumet.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The prologue begins with the line “The dream is always simple. The memory never is.” How do you think this opening sets up the rest of the novel?
2. Annie Klobuchar Clements was known as “America’s Joan of Arc.” Despite living centuries apart, how do you think these women were similar? How were they different? Do you think this is an apt moniker?
3. Mr. McNaughton reads the newspaper, summarizing the major issues of the day, and also begins to contemplate the state of the American workforce. He thinks, of immigration, “How much of the Old World’s excess population can America absorb?” What does this say about attitudes about immigration and xenophobia during this time?
4. Annie’s height is frequently mentioned throughout the novel, often in regards to finding a husband, and “she admitted to six foot one when she finally married at eighteen.” Why do you think such emphasis is placed on her height?
5. Chapters open with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What do you think this represents?
6. At the meeting with Charlie Miller and her fellow women, Annie says “we speak different languages, but we always find a way to talk, don’t we?” How do these women of diverse backgrounds and languages band together throughout the novel?
7. A number of chapters are told from the point of view of Mr. MacNaughton, creating an interesting juxtaposition between his work and that of the miners. How does his life and perspective better illuminate the miners’ struggle?
8. When Mike tells Annie his personal story, he speaks about both photographer Jacob Riis and the Orphan Trains. Do these references give you a better sense of the time period? Are there similarities between Sweeney’s life and the conditions in Calumet?
9. After taking Annie’s photo, comparing her to Joan of Arc, Sweeney mutters, “And that’s the one for the history books.” How was Annie’s public persona and legacy shaped by both the press and those who knew her?
10. The novel makes clear that Annie’s involvement with the union and strike strains her marriage to Joe. How do their perceptions of each other change over the course of the novel?
11. What do you think is the greatest effect of Mother Jones’s visit to Calumet?
12. How does the riot change things for each of the major characters in the novel?
13. Consider the various characters’ reactions to the Italian Hall disaster. What do these reactions say about each of them?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Get out a map and trace the Keweenaw Peninsula region of Upper Michigan, which is still called the Copper Country. What strikes you most about it?
2. A number of other historical women are mentioned in this novel. Research other activists including Joan of Arc, Mother Jones, Ella Bloor, Jane Addams, and Beatrice Potter Webb. Compare their stories to that of Annie Clements.
3. Visit the author’s website marydoriarussell.com to learn more about her and her books.
A Conversation with Mary Doria Russell
This novel utilizes several perspectives, including those of Annie and Mr. MacNaughton. Why did you choose to tell the story this way?
History is never just one person’s story. I have come to think of events like the strike as existing in the center of a dark place; each point of view shines a different kind of light from a different direction. You get a more complete understanding of history when you see it from multiple perspectives.
For this book in particular, I realized that without James MacNaughton’s attitudes and decisions, the Keweenaw copper strike would probably have been settled in a matter of days. We need to see from his point of view what the stakes were, and what his strategy was, in order to understand what his tactics became.
In MacNaughton’s view, the union had declared war on private property rights, but there are additional motives for his actions. His self-image is rooted in his identity as a WASP: a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. He truly believes in his right to rule the lives of lesser peoples. He proudly carries the “white man's burden” at a time when Scandinavians, Slavs, and Italians were not considered white.
Furthermore, his professional expertise is based on controlling every motion his employees make, from how to scrub a pot to how to shovel ore into a tram; nobody was going to tell him how to do anything. And finally, he has an economic agenda: using Calumet & Hecla’s market strength to drive smaller competitors out of business.
What kind of research did you do to bring this story to life?
I spent time in the Keweenaw Peninsula, walking through the streets of Calumet, touring the mines, talking to people who still live there. There are two museums in the city, and the docents were very helpful, answering my many questions. Michigan Technical University in Houghton has extensive archives online.
It’s important for a novelist to know what you don’t know. I had no background in mining or labor relations, or legal issues, but I knew enough to ask a variety of people to help me understand various elements of the strike. And, of course, there was a massive amount of reading; I collected about ten linear feet of mining and union histories about the Copper Country and about labor organizing and strikes in the southern and western United States.
There have been a few nonfiction treatments of Annie’s life and the copper strike. What made you think the time was right for a work of historical fiction?
The copper strike itself has been studied and written about by historians and legal experts, but those accounts are not meant to engage the emotion of the reader. That's the novelist’s job: to combine imagination and empathy with research.
Strikes are, by their nature, collective actions, so individuals' lives sink into that mass of people in the streets. And, apart from a few well-known figures like Mother Jones and Norma Rae, women usually fade even further into the background of union history.
Miners’ wives were rarely well educated, nor did they have the time and energy to tell their own stories. They were consumed with the daily struggle to keep their families afloat during strikes. Nobody was keeping a diary or writing an autobiography.
Even for Annie Clements, whose name was once well known, the accounts are necessarily thin. We have no interviews, no family memoirs about her. She herself never spoke about her part in the strike after she left Calumet in 1914. Her life seemed significant for less than a year. A few months later, the first world war began, and the newspapers moved on.
And yet, here is a twenty-five-year-old woman who is central to a strike against the most powerful company in the most dangerous industry of her time. A child of despised immigrants. A housewife with a simple education in a time when women couldn’t vote and weren’t supposed to take part in public life. Somehow, she mobilized 10,000 miners and kept everyone going, day after day, month after month.
So my task was to answer Mike Sweeney’s question: What makes a woman like Annie Clements?
As it happens, I know two young people who were well over six feet tall at twelve. They were seen as adults in junior high. They lived with the expectation that they’d be responsible and reliable long before their age mates. Their size has been a dominating element of their maturation. That physical fact was my starting point for Annie.
In late Victorian times, an ideal woman was supposed to be small and weak and quiet, while those fighting for equality were vilified and mocked for being manly. Annie would have taken on that cultural expectation as a girl, and the mockery of boys her age would have reinforced her self-consciousness. She was also supposed to be a mother, and her childlessness was both a sadness and an opportunity.
My feeling was that she'd have devoted herself to her children if she and Joe had been able to have them. She combined her need to nurture with an opportunity to make life better for others through the Women's Auxiliary.
So much of this novel focuses on the strength of unions. Do you see any parallels between the unions of the nineteenth century and today?
The dynamics of labor/management relations remain the same, more than a hundred years after the copper strike. Economic and political power still lies largely in the hands of huge corporations. Sometimes their power is wrapped in paternalism, but it’s always backed by “If you don't like it here, find a job somewhere else.” Take it or leave it.
Unions are meant to balance that corporate power by giving employees a say in how a business runs. In the middle of the twentieth century, there were great advances in labor relations, and ever since there has been fierce corporate resistance to such improvements.
Today, global labor markets and the modern gig economy are undermining any control workers might once have had over their income and their working conditions. Once again, the concentration of wealthy is distorting the lives of 99 percent of the population, but activism is increasing. The pendulum always swings.
We live in interesting times.
Michael Sweeney is a major character, and so much of his work influences the course of this novel. Why did you choose to include a member of the press rather than simply summarizing the press attention the strike received?
I do have a tendency to lean on narrative, but as the drafts of a novel accumulate, I look for ways to see the story through a character’s eyes and make narrative into dialogue. As the dictum goes: show, don't tell.
And, while the delivery of news has changed from newspapers to online media, we still see independent journalists working to get the stories out, to make the larger public aware of hidden conflicts, just as there are still media that spin those stories to protect corporate and political interests.
This novel really shows how the women of Calumet banded together to create change. It’s a truly feminist tale; do you think that our telling of history reflects that?
If it did, there wouldn’t have been so many women wearing pink hats in the streets of Washington!
Throughout my seven decades, there has been a relentless effort to bring women into the civil, legal, academic, and economic power structures, and—no surprise—we have faced the same kind of push-back that was at work in the streets of Calumet in 1913. Belittling, carping, sniping, threats, beatings, rape, and murder are still the tools that are used to keep women out of power.
I wanted to honor our foremothers’ courage and determination in this novel, while acknowledging how exhausting and frightening and dangerous it can be to stand up for change.
You use the perspectives of several children and adolescents throughout the course of the novel. Was that a conscious choice you made? Why were their voices important to include?
I often include a fourteen-year-old or two in my novels! I find that age fascinating. They're almost mature. They're still working out where they fit in the world, but they see that world with fresh eyes. They often reject the entrenched adult beliefs that injustice and stupidity and misery are simply “the way things are.” I love that. I love how vocal and demanding they are, and how willing they are to fight the status quo, whether it’s denial of the climate crisis, or school massacres, or institutional sexism and racism. They are fierce and I admire that.
What was your favorite scene to write? Your least favorite?
It was a pure joy to write Mother Jones’s passages. I didn’t have to make much up! She was a powerhouse, and it was fun to write someone closer to my own age. Writing for MacNaughton wasn't fun. I had to articulate attitudes that I personally find contemptible, but he is as central to the story as Annie Clements.
What do you think is the legacy of the Copper Country Strike of 1913–1914?
Well, up in Calumet, it was much like the Vietnam War was nationally. It divided the city then and it still does to this day. The strike itself changed very little. MacNaughton was rewarded for his part in resisting unionization. The workforce was halved, but that was because of automation—something that continues to be dominant in today's economy.
What we can learn from MacNaughton is that one man can wield outsized power, but also that he will use our divisions against us. What we can learn from the women of the Copper Country is that we can make ourselves heard when we work together. There's power in unity.
Both the riot and Italian Hall disaster are weighty subject matter. How did you manage to write about these with clarity and empathy?
Many, many, many drafts. Two things had to happen. I had to find the most effective pair of eyes with which to see the moments I was depicting. And I had to drain the pathos, to make the moments starker and less emotional. If you’ve seen movies like Platoon and Gladiator, the battle scenes are backed with an adagio, not a scherzo. I wanted the confusion and panic and horror to be experienced as it is in life. Time slows down. People who’ve been through something like that say, “I couldn’t believe what was happening.” Paralysis sets in. It’s only later that you begin to feel the dimensions of the moments.
What are you working on next?
I'm circling back toward some of the themes I explored in The Sparrow and Children of God: science and religion, faith and folly, politics and companionship. Too early to say much more!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1913, Annie Clements organizes the strikes for miners in Houghton county, Michigan that work under the duress of James MacNaughton, the general manager for Calumet & Hecla Mining. The strikers are continuously met with violence and other cruel means by Mr. MacNaughton and his bully boys. “This is the price of copper,” she says in that clear, quiet voice. “A dead man. Every week. Month after month. Year after year.” While most of the story builds on the 1913 Copper Country miners strike, the characters are used to exploit the everyday family life in the mining community of Calumet & Hecla under the watchful eye of Mr. MacNaughton. As things transpire, the tragic lives of families in the community unfold. It is within all of their lives that the telling tells. And, although the title itself perhaps suggests the focus of the characters is on women, the characters point of view included is comprised of both genders. We see some chapters told from the point of view of a husband, a female child, a male bar-tender, a butler, a maid, a male governor, etc. The historical aspects were pleasantly well-researched. The main character, Annie Clements, is based on the historical figure Anna Klobuchar Clemenc and was presented valiantly. Likewise, James MacNaughton, the real historical corporate tycoon and the novel based character, are both found to be equally repulsive. Many characters represent authentic strikers during the 1913 Michigan copper strike and can be found in the Author’s Note of this book. The novel contains, but is not limited to, Croatians, Finns, Poles, Slavs, and Italians; however, only certain characters truly represented the dialect. I recommend this to readers interested in labor unions, Women's Auxiliary, and immigrant workers to the U.S. in the early 20th century. Many thanks to Atria Books, Mary Doria Russell, and NetGalley for allowing me to read this advanced copy.
Ask anyone who has ever lived with, or seen, the struggles of mining towns and the people who work in them, and you’ll see that the dangers, horrible conditions and poverty is never far behind: even now with improvements and safety regulations. But in the early 1900’s with the demand for Copper, Coal, Gold and other mined items, miners were often subjected to harsh conditions without safety regulations while their women were left above ground scrabbling for ‘extra work’ to make ends meet. Children were often in the mines, health and worker’s rights were unheard of, and those who sought to organize for safety, better wages, better conditions and opportunities were silenced, some violently. Enter Annie Clements, twenty-five in 1913, she’s lived her entire life under the auspices of the mining company bosses: seen the hardships, dangers and deprivations first-hand, and has decided that enough is enough. Despite her husband’s displeasure with her increasing independence, her refusal to not be heard, and her determination to improve the lot of the families and the workers in the small town of Calumet, she soldiers on – heedless of the dangers to herself, aware of (and a bit in awe too) of other female organizers like Mother Jones, and faced with choices that pit love and freedom against what she knows to be right – she’s indomitable and a force to be reckoned with. Russell brings Annie to life and light, showing both her determination and the challenges, as well as her own doubts when it seems that everyone is unable (or unwilling) to praise her efforts, despite the end result being an improvement for them all. In a time when the current thought doesn’t lead us to much “organizational acknowledgement” for women beyond suffragettes and abstinence, the inclusion of women flocking to Annie’s cause with money, publicity and suggested courses of action, as well as a solid sense of support through the challenges she will meet are strong and show the early pitfalls and challenges to those looking to secure worker’s rights, safety and some sort of family security in times that were unstable at best, with companies interested only in their own profits and not the labor which made them possible. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Having visited Copper Country some years ago, steeped in its history of mining, excessive wealth, dirt poverty, and tragedy, my interest in this title was highly piqued. And oh, what a story this one was! Author Mary Doria Russell delivers a rich telling of the people, place and time of 1913 Calumet, Michigan - the heart of Michigan's Keewenaw Peninsula and the richest Michigan city, in its day. Copper mining made it so rich, that back in 1890, the state capital almost moved there. It's 1913. The winds of war are beginning to brew in Europe. Germany is flexing its muscles and the world's industrialists are smelling great revenue opportunities - none more so than the copper producers. Copper is a vital component in the brass casings of bullets and artillery shells and it clads the hulls of warships. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company has positioned itself well to fill those military orders. It considers itself to be a forward thinking and enlightened company. Heck, it even provides clubhouses, bowling alleys, and a library with materials in 20 languages to the miners and their families. It even matches the miners' contributions to the employee aid fund. (Of course, very view miners can even make that first payment given how little they make in the mine of the company town in which they live.) The copper veins of the Keewenaw run deep beneath the ground. Every day, miners descend deep under the earth's surface and are grateful each day in which they can walk out of it. Meanwhile, the surface mines of the West are applying pressure on C&H's profitability and a one-man drill is born. Sure, it weighs 150 lbs and can only be wielded by the strongest miner but it allows management to cut the employee roster way back. The Miners' Union is against this new method as it forces miners to work alone thus increasing safety risk. It also takes away a lot of jobs of the dues paying members. In walks Big Annie, Anna Klobuchar Clements, a larger than life woman (after all, she's of Finnish stock and over six feet tall). She is married to a miner. She's fiercely compassionate for the miners', their wives, widows and children. Following yet another death from the mines, she and her Women's Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners, Local 15, have had enough. It's time that H&C treat their employees fairly and improve work conditions - accept an 8-hour instead of 12-hour workday from each miner; 5 instead of 6-day work week, provide minimum wages, and improve the safety of each mine. Thus the famous strike of all mines in the Michigan Copper Country by the Western Federation of Miners was called in July, 2013 and Big Annie was out in front to lead it. At this point, this rich story takes off and the reader is in for quite a ride. Ms. Russell has deftly produced a well written and an extremely well researched narrative of the mining life of the early 20th century. Many of the characters of the story are real people of history - Big Annie, Mary Harris Jones (known as "Mother Jones"), Ella Boor, Governor Woodbridge Ferris, and James MacNaughton - the heartless General Manager of H&C. Within her author's notes, she clearly shares where in the story she has created some characters to facilitate the flow of the story. She also provides references for the reader's further historical research. All in all, this was an excellent piece of historical fiction and definitely worth reading. I look forward to Ms. Russell's other books, already of much reno
A flag of courage I found this an interesting period in history and one which I have never heard much about. The book brings to life the story of a copper miners' strike in a small Michigan mining town. The characters in the book are most vividly described and believable. While reading the book I was totally engrossed to the point I felt in the middle of the actions taking place. I can still picture big Anna with the large flagpole in a white dress leading the striker's parade with Eva at her side. I especially liked the character of big Anna, Michael and Eva. I loathed the character of Mr. McNaughton while knowing that men such as this do indeed live amongst us. Big Anna was determined and courageous , Eva was sweet and spunky, and Michael made me laugh. Mother Jones was inspiring and Mrs. Bloor was a colorful character with a big heart. Mr. Glass put himself and his business at risk to help the striker's and to help Anna. What I found the most interesting is that the women of the town did the most to promote the Union and the strike for better wages and working conditions for their husbands and families. The miners themselves participated for the most part at the insistence of their wives. It was heartwarming to read how the Union families supported each other through the strike although a town of immigrants with several different languages being spoken. The women stuck together and made sure that everyone was fed and clothed and the dead buried. The Christmas Eve event at the Italian Hall building was the saddest part of the story. The way it was handled by Mr. McNaughton the general manager of the mining company was deplorable. One if my favorite parts in the book was when all of Mr. McNaughton's hired help all quit all at once on Christmas Eve. This small tidbit was karma at its best. The book was well written and grabbed the essence of the period in history. It was interesting, informative, funny, sad, tragic and heartwarming all in one book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it to others.
I’ve been trying to take a break lately from all the WW2 HF, even though I love it. This new release was an interesting read about corporate greed, the birth of organized unions, and the role of women in this process. This author is known for doing a ton of research for her books and I always really appreciate that when reading historical fiction. I learned so much by reading this book!
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free ARC in exchange for an honest review. Mary Doria Russell is one of my favorite authors. Unfortunately, this book is not her best. Of the books I've read, I like Doc and A Thread of Grace the best. The Women of the Copper Country starts out slowly and it took me a while to warm to the character of Annie Clements. At times this book read more like non-fiction than fiction, and a bit dry at that. The true story behind this book is a fascinating one. I'm glad that Mary Doria Russell took it on and I enjoyed reading the book despite some of the dry sections.
I loved 'The Women of the Copper Country. Our story takes place in Calumet, Upper Peninsula, Northern Michigan, from July 1913 through the spring of 1914. Calumet is a company town housing 40,000 residents and owned in its entirety, homes, churches, stores and community buildings, by the sole local employer, Calumet & Hecla mining company. The mine had been worked for over half a century by this company, the surface copper ore cleared out long ago and the mine now very deep. Miners and their families rented their home, paid C&H for the coal used to heat that home 8 or 9 months of the year, hauled water from a company well and purchased all they needed from shoes to groceries and household goods to candles and work-related clothing and supplies from the company store. Any traveling to and from the town they did had to be on the company train. The last thing C&H and their efficient - and heartless -manager James MacNaughton wanted in Calumet was a union. They liked their employees isolated from the world, the news, and other miners. Adding to that physical isolation felt by all of the residents of Calumet was the fact that it was peopled by refugees with 33 different native languages - Swedes, Finns, Danes, Norwegians, Poles, Russians, Czechs, and Italians, etc., many who had no common language with their co-workers and neighbors. Occasionally even a husband and wife didn't share a common language. Scho0ling for the children didn't include much in the way of language arts except what the family chose to teach them at home but persons who could read were not rare. There were books but often not in a language that was useful. Those with more than one language were often called upon to translate. In most families, the girls were married by 14 or 15 and the boys were in the mine beside or replacing their fathers even younger. When a miner died on the job - and one a week did just that - their family was immediately homeless and without any sort of support. Many boys had no choice but to take their father's place at the mine to support their families. The Union was interested in helping the miners at the C&H copper mine, but the timing was bad. The world was on the verge of war. The open-pit copper mines in Arizona and Montana were keeping the price of copper lower than C&H was comfortable with as the Calumet mine was very deep therefore it required more expense to bring the ore up. Betting on the war, they had been stockpiling copper for months, waiting for the price to increase significantly. It would be many many months before a strike would affect the stockholders of C&H. And the community was dirt poor - most wouldn't have enough set back to miss a paycheck for more than a week or two, to pay the rent and feed the children. But the Union hadn't counted on the drive and enthusiasm of Big Annie. You're going to love Big Annie, twenty-five and with no quit button. Her husband was opposed to the union on general principles, a taciturn man without many saving graces. Though they had been married about ten years, they had no children, so Annie Klobuchar Clements was 'mother' to those without one of their own. Everyone in Calumet knew her- at six foot three inches she was hard to miss- and most adored her. And we get to spend time with Mother Jones, Ella Bloor, and Jane Addams, more women who don't quit. And you are going to love Big Annie's 'kids', her friends, her 'family'. It is remarkable what she and that communi
The Women of the Copper Country is based on the copper mines strike of 1913 in which Annie Clements becomes the leader of the strike movement that made it possible for workers to have better hours, better pay and health benefits. It showcases tremendous female courage and inner strength, difficult choices and heartbreak. I found the book to be well-written and I appreciated the research that went into writing this book. This a deeply moving, unforgettable book. I highly recommend it.
Having previously read another book by Mary Doria Russell, I knew that this newest novel would be a pleasure to read and I was not disappointed. The story takes place in Calumet, Michigan and centers around the lives of copper miners and the horrible conditions they had to endure in the early 1900’s. After one accident too many, the women decide they have had enough worrying over the safety of their men and gather together to bring about change. Annie Clements, nicknamed “Big Annie” due to her height, emerged as the leader of the group of women. They join forces with the Union and begin to recruit members, eventually helping to orchestrate a strike that lasted several months. Tensions rise as the strike lasts longer and longer, with several Union workers ending up getting arrested, injured or worse. The strike and Annie’s work with the Union also begins to take its toll on her marriage. This is another great work of historical fiction that prompted me to find out more. Annie Clements was a real life American Labor activist and was inducted into the Michigan Hall of Fame. It’s so inspiring to read about women who made a difference in the lives of others and most especially the lives of the future generation. Many thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review.