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Women at Eveleth Mines

Other women who worked for Eveleth Mines in the 1970s and 80s have stories, too. They testified in court that buildings at the mine were full of raunchy pictures of women and filthy graffiti about the female workers. Over and over, men told the women that they didn’t belong at the mine. That they should be at home baking bread, or barefoot and pregnant, or taking care of a husband. That they were taking a job from a man. One woman testified that a man asked her why she was taking food from men’s children’s mouths.

Some men at the mine tried to make the women so miserable that they would quit. Women were groped and grabbed and punched. Men threatened to rape them or even kill them. Some women later testified that men followed them and even broke into their houses.

Some of the women feared for their lives; they barricaded themselves into their work areas so men couldn’t get at them. Some carried knives or mace in their lunch pails. One woman kept a sharpened screwdriver in her boot.

Marcy Steele worked at Eveleth Taconite for 27 years. - Photo by Stephen Smith

Marcy Steele started work at the mine in 1976. She says a man took a swing at her, knocking off her hardhat. Another man grabbed her crotch.

“We used to say once you cross that guard gate, there are no laws anymore,” she says. “No normal laws that apply on the outside.”

In court, she testified that a foreman kept a huge red dildo in his locker and would wave it at women, saying, “If you don’t do your job, you’re going to get Big Red.”

Steele was assigned to be an oiler, greasing the enormous machines in the ore processing plant. She says the men she was supposed to work with deliberately made her job harder. They’d take her up to a catwalk and then run away, leaving her there. They’d call her filthy names.

“My sister remembers me going to work crying and coming home crying,” Steele says. “You didn’t know day-to-day what was going to happen, and that’s where probably the stress level came in. Not knowing.”

Constant fear made some women sick. Several were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the psychological ailment that affects some combat veterans and rape victims.

One woman who was later diagnosed with PTSD said in court that a man stalked her at work. She said that three times she opened her locker to find that someone had broken into it and masturbated onto her clothing.

In court ten years later, her lawyer asked her how she felt about the harassment she had faced. She said:

“It’s with me all the time, I always think about it…. I thought I would be able to put it behind me when I left, that it would go away, but it hasn’t. In fact, it’s gotten worse. … I used to be able to go outside and go down by the lake and listen to the frogs and look at the stars and now I don’t feel that there’s safety in that darkness anymore. I just always feel there’s someone there to leap at me. So I stay inside.”

Next: A Man's World