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Women Enter the Mines

By the end of the summer, Packa called in sick to work every day rather than going back. She couldn’t stand the atmosphere, and the work was mind-numbing. But there were women who thrived on the work and shrugged off the harassment. Lynn Henderson got a job at US Steel in 1976, and loved the physical labor.

Lynn Henderson started a women's committee at the mine where she worked and was a founding member of the Iron Range chapter of the National Organization for Women. - Photo by Stephanie Hemphill

“I was always kind of a tomboy, so I just really fit in,” she says.

Henderson says her dad told her she’d have to take some grief if she wanted to work with men. And she did. “I had my butt pinched many times,” she says. “Or breasts bounced up, or… ‘You got a nice set of stacks.’ They were just the kind of guys with small brains, very insensitive. Trying to get rid of the women.”

Henderson says most of the guys weren’t like that, and she never complained about the ones who were. Until some men made up a t-shirt that said, “I hate dumb gash.”

“I was a union grievance person at the time and people were coming up to me and complaining to get rid of those t-shirts,” says Henderson. “So I went down to the union hall and spoke to Joe Samargia, the president. I said, ‘Joe, we have to do something about these t-shirts.’ He said, ‘You know, Lynn, if you women are going to work in the mines, you’re going to have to put up with the words f--k and c--t and blah blah blah, it’s just the nature of the beast around here.’ I says, ‘You know Joe, I don’t have a problem with the word c--t. I happen to think that my c--t is one of the nicest parts of my body, but I don’t want anybody referring to any of us as being dumb.’ The guys in the union hall just roared.”

The former union president, Joe Samargia, says he doesn’t remember the t-shirts, or the conversation, but he figures he would have said something like that. His memories of those days are different from some of the women’s. As he remembers it, the men and women at the mine got used to each other quickly.

Samargia remembers the time an older worker who was a carpenter said to him, “Joe, there's rumor they're going to hire a woman to be my apprentice, and I’m not going to let her work with me.”

Samargia says he responded, “Wait a minute. If they hire her and she’s going to be an apprentice and they tell you she's going to work for you, she’s going to. Period.”

Samargia says the man bristled and walked away, but a few months later Samargia saw him with a female apprentice. “And he was protective of her like it was his daughter!” Samargia says with a laugh. “It was the greatest thing I ever saw.”

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