February 17th, 2016
Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Digital Projects and Outreach Archivist, WVRHC.
Van A. Bittner (1885-1949) was a noted United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) representative and labor organizer. He worked as a miner in the western Pennsylvania coal fields and became president of his local union by age 16. During his long career in the labor movement, Bittner led union drives in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama before focusing his efforts in West Virginia. His early organizing efforts in the state were largely unsuccessful, but he made great gains in the southern coal fields during the 1930s. Bittner is also known an instrumental figure in the organization of steel workers in the United States.
The West Virginia & Regional History Center is home to Van Bittner’s papers. The collection, A&M 1698, includes correspondence, diaries, and legal papers. It also contains a rich collection of photographs that document striking coal miners and their families in West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, most dating from 1915-1925. Many show barrack housing constructed by the union when miners were evicted from coal company houses. There are also photographs related to the massacre at Ludlow, Colorado, where national guardsmen attacked a tent colony occupied by miners and their families during a strike in 1914.
Women working in the garden in a barrack village near Fairmont, West Virginia.
Union signage on barracks at Irona, Preston County, West Virginia.
Barracks at Meriden, Barbour County, West Virginia.
Family and belongings between barracks, location unknown.
Miner’s children at Owings, Harrison County, West Virginia.
Women and children with union sign, location unknown.
Miner and family, location unknown.
Remains of the miner’s colony at Ludlow, Colorado.
Over 300 images from the Bittner collection have been digitized and are part of the West Virginia History OnView database. The manuscript collection is open for research at the WVRHC.
If you can identify any of the people or places in our unidentified photos, please let us know!