“THE FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE
By HANNAH MITCHELL
It would beeasy enough to make a melodramatic start and give her some such extravaganttitle as “The Angel of the Hills” or “The Mother of the Mines” or “The FlorenceNightingale of Blair Mountain.” But ifyou did and Molly [sic] Dingess Drake found it outshe might laugh and she might make some sharp remark, but most certainly shewould not be pleased.
How sheescaped the “war correspondents” who were rushed to the front to cover West Virginia’srecent mine war is more than I can say, for the story is still told of howMolly [sic], like “Sheridan twenty miles away,” when the armed miners weremarching on Logan, made all haste not toward safety, as she might very wiselyhave done, but back to where the bullets were flying.
Hernarrowest escape from the feature pages of newspapers was several years ago—two,in fact—when, a woman of some two score years, she was graduated from highschool with her sixteen-year-old daughter. That graduation and the attendant high school diploma were in no sensehonorary affairs given out of respect for Molly DingessDrake. They had been earned by this verydetermined, ambitious woman of the hills after four years of high school work,in which she had enrolled along with her daughter and for which she hadattended classes faithfully with classmates half her age.
On pay dayMrs. Drake is a welfare worker for one of the coal companies operating in the Logan field. Having finished her high school course, shedid not go on to college with her daughter. And, as she puts it, one of the coal producers “knew she wouldn’t sit athome and knit and crochet.” So heoffered her the job of visiting nurse among the employees of his company. In this job Mollie mothers a largefamily. It is composed of men and womenmuch older than she and of the children of these older children. True to the mother-type anywhere, she makestheir individual troubles, their health, their happiness, a very personalmatter.
There wasthe young Spaniard who lay in the hospital after a severe accident. No friends or relatives rallied to hisbedside, and the doctors and nurses could not understand him when he moaned outa word of two in his native tongue. Mollie Drake scoured the hills for an interpreter and found one. She also dug up a cousin of the unfortunateboy. Moreover she made the lives ofnurses and doctors miserable until the lad was out ofdanger, sometimes calling at the hospital late at night to see how the boy wasgetting on. Was not this foreign bornlad one of her children?
It was notthe Mollie Dingess Drake, ready to face danger alongwith other brave women of Logancounty when armed miners were marching upon theirhomes, that interested me most, as you may have guessed already. The World War is too recent proof thatAmerican women are not afraid to risk their lives for a cause. It is Mollie Drake and the work of her handswhen peace broods over her native hills that make her a woman among women.
Mrs. Drakeis a mountain woman herself. She knowsthe desires, the needs and the hopes of the women and children who live in herhills; in a double sense she is working among her own people.
Noserious-minded killjoy is Mrs. Drake, but a large motherly woman with a greatcapacity for fun and for seeing the human side of things.
It is acommon statement among traveling salesmen that they live in a Pullman: Mollie Drake might say she lives ina day coach. Her headquarters are in Logan, and much of her time is spent in riding to and fromthe little mining towns along the branch lines out of Logan.
Her tripsare taken to visit the homes of miners, and no place is too remote for her tovisit. Her energy in tramping about andthe speed with which she walks over the hills is enough to make a younger womangasp for breath and all but beg for quarter. That from one who knows.
We startedout of Loganone morning on the 10 o’clock train.
Before thetrain started we were part of the social gathering which greets the all-too-fewpassenger trains that come into Logan. Mollie Dingess[sic] knew everybody.
Arrived [sic]at the mining center, our first visit was to the schoolhouse, a substantialtwo-story building, in front of which were all the latest playground devicesfor amusing the modern child. Theteachers were young and efficient in their schoolroom manners. In Logancounty the schools have the advantage of extra goodteachers because after the school board has voted what it can afford forsalaries the coal companies make up the deficit needed to attract the best.
It was thenI learned of Mrs. Drake’s unusual high school career.
“You know Ihave a high school education,” she remarked as we left the school and strode(at least Mrs. Drake strode) along the dirt road.
“As a girlI went to school till I was thirteen. Inthe teens I took up nursing and later was married. But I always wanted more education. Sometimes it is the persons who are deniededucation [sic] appreciate it most. Well, when my daughter was ready for high school I decided that I wouldget my high school education too—not by following her studies at home (I knewthat wouldn’t do), but by enrolling in high school with her.
“Some of myfriends thought it was an absurd idea. They said I could enroll in colleges for special courses or takecorrespondence courses. But the idea ofmy going to school right along with my daughter and the other young peopleseemed queer to them. I suppose it wasunusual. But what I wanted was a regulareducation. So I enrolled and wentthrough the four years of high school and was graduated in the same class withmy daughter.”
“And howdid your daughter feel about it?”
“Oh, shehad her young friends and took part in school activities just the same.” Again the twinkle behindthe glasses. “It may be that shestudied harder than she would have.” Ihad no doubt of that.
“She is incollege now,” continued Mrs. Drake. “When her grades aren’t as high as I think they ought to be she sendsthem to her father, but a man can’t keep such things secret, and I always findout. She knows I haven’t much patiencewith students who don’t keep up their grades.
“Mydaughter is going to be a physician. Shedidn’t make up her mind until after she entered college. I was rather anxious to know what she wouldchoose. After she started studyingbiology she was so interested that she decided to go on and study medicine.”
It occurredto me that Mollie Drake was a feminist. I wondered if she had ever been a suffrage worker.
“No,” sheanswered. “I’ve always been a Democrat,though. My husband says I am what is called ‘a mean Democrat.’”
She pausedand then laughed. “I made one rule whenI was married. You see, Mr. Drake is aRepublican. Well, I told him that if Imarried him he must keep just one rule. I knew our marriage would be a success if he did. And of course I promised to keep it too. The rule was that we should never talk politics. We never have and we’ve been very happy.
“Of courseI voted at the last election, and much good it did so far as the Presidency wasconcerned. But someway I didn’t care somuch for the voting. I’m old-fashionedin many ways. I was brought up a strictway and I don’t like to hear about folks playing cardson Sunday. I suppose it isn’t wicked,but I can’t get over my bringing-up. AndI never take a needle in my hand on a Sunday, only when I just have to mendsomething, that I don’t feel kind of guilty.”
Ourconversation had been interspersed with visits to various miners’ homes, mostlywhere there were babies. Mrs. Drake’sphilosophy had been punctuated by advice on babies and friendly comment uponthe little interests of the women we visited. If we weren’t inspecting a baby we were talking with some elderly womanover a fence about her latest “misery.”
As weclimbed into the train I was tired, but Mrs. Drake seemed as energetic as whenthe day began.
“I like thework,” she said, “but I want to study more. Last summer I took a course in NewYork, and I’d like to back there for a season at theHenry Street Settlement. I want to studylanguages, too. There are so many thingsI want to do.”
Some day Ihave not a doubt she will do these things she wants to do. In the meantime I think of her in connectionwith that [word missing: newspaper torn] “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do—.”
[Retrieved and transcribed by NanciHeadley Kotowski from
The Waukegan Daily Sunof January 7, 1922, Waukegan,IL.]