Women and the Lattimer massacre: Mary Septak

A bit more on the interesting but perhaps not unusual women of the Lattimer massacre–this time, “Big” Mary Septak, a Polish immigrant, miner’s wife, mother, and caretaker of several boarders.  Evidently she not only took care of all these people, but the men in the mines, too.  She seemingly had no fear of the National Guard and local police, leading women on marches, and calling men up from the mines to fight for their rights.

I’ll report more in on Mary as I find it – she’s quite the character and is bound to appear again.  This entry comes from The Century Vol. 55(6), April 1898: “A Pennsylvania Colliery Village. An Artist’s Impressions of the Colliery” by Jay Hambidge (available online at the Cornell University Library).  Mr. Hambidge also illustrated an article before this in that edition of The Century. I recommend reading and looking at it to get a feel for the local sentiment at that time.  It’s interesting stuff!  Anyway, here’s a bit about “Big Mary”:

Mary Septak

Mary Septak by Jay Hambidge

“‘Big Mary’ is for the time the object of our search, and we finally find her cleaning a goose for her Sunday dinner.  Mary is by far the most forcible and picturesque character in all the mining region.  In her peculiar way she is a queen, and rules things with a high hand.  During the strike Mary was the most troublesome of all the foreigners.  No professional agitator had half the force for mischief that this woman exerted.  One day she led seventy-five women of the patch in a charge on the troops.  At that time these amazons were armed with clubs and pieces of scarp-iron, and they stopped only when they felt the bayonets of the immovable line of soldiery.  One would not imagine her such a character from the smiling greeting she gave us.  With her husband, she keeps a sort of boarding house for other miners; and in the living-room of the shanty were seven beds and eight trunks.  Probably from twelve to fifteen men occupy the same room with this man, his wife, and daughter, a large-boned girl of fourteen.  …

In a bed at one end of the room two men are sleeping with their clothes on.  They work on the ‘night shift’ in the mines, and sleep during the day.  These men belong to the class which was most active during the strike.  Mary the mother rattles along in conversation with her husband and daughter, her talk being punctuated with profanity.  Suddenly she turns to me with a demand to know if I eat meat on Friday.  I answer in the affirmative.  ‘Jesus kill you some day,’ she says, and laughs.

The amazon loves her husband, she asserts, and the affection is evidently mutual, for as he passes  her from time to time, he says some pleasant words or pats her cheek.  They have been married thirty years, and the daughter Mary is the only living one of ten children.  ‘When I ‘way from my man I cry all time, and when he ‘way from me he cry all time’ is the way the woman puts it.  In all their  years of married life he had never once struck her.

This is the woman who has the reputation of being a veritable tigress.  The men in the mining company’s offices are afraid of her, and give her a wide berth.  The trolley-car conductors tremble when she hails a car, and not one of them has ever been known to collect a fare from her except when she felt disposed to pay.  She has a contempt for American women.  They are not strong, she says, and cannot work in the fields.  The food they eat is too sweet; they would be better off if they ate sour soup and sour cabbage.” – p.826

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Women and the Lattimer massacre: Mrs. Gallagher

There are some really interesting female figures associated with the Lattimer massacre trial and aftermath.  They showed a great deal of strength in the face of authority at a time when women couldn’t even vote.  Take for example Mrs. Mary Gallagher of Harleigh, who lived about a mile from Lattimer.  In the Hazleton Plain Speaker (02/21/1898) Mrs. Gallagher made quite a stir when she turned the defense into a laughingstock with her damning testimony and wit:

“Mrs. Gallagher seemed somewhat annoyed at [Defense Attourney] Lenahan’s questions and her tilt with Lenahan caused some amusement.

She replied to Lenahan’s laughter: ‘I did not think I came to a theatre.  You seem to be the principal actor.’  The woman said: ‘The wounded man lay about 500 feet from where the deputies stood.  I did not see any weapons on the man.  Going down farther I saw another wounded man.  He was about 400 feet away from the deputies’ position; the man was terribly wounded in the stomach.  He was dying.’  She continued: ‘The next man was lying near by, and was wounded directly in the back.  he was about 400 feet away from the deputies.  I saw a man lying on the embankment.  He was bleeding from the arm.’

Lenahan and the woman had another tilt and she seemed to have the best of it, so the attorney appealed to the court to compel her to respect his objections.  Their tilt caused considerable amusement in the court room.

Mrs. Gallagher continued:  ‘I furnished bandages for that man and then went down and found another who was lying along the trolley tracks.  He was only about 19 years old and all my sympathy went out to him.  I said it was red handed murder.’

Lenahan objected again and there was more laughter.  Referring to a man she said: ‘He was not the sheriff.  He was a very respectable looking man.’ (Loud laughter)

She said: ‘I spoke my mind rather freely and denounced them all.  I suppose I am not allowed to tell what I said.’

During her testimony there was frequent bursts of laughter and even the court smiled.

Lenahan seemed afraid to cross examine the witness and said: ‘You can go Mrs. Gallagher.’

There was more laughter as the witness swept out fo the court room.  As she passed she said: ‘It was a massacre, Mr. Lenahan.  Thats is what it was.  You are a very good lawyer for a damn bad man.'”