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The Women of the Copper Country

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In July 1913, twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements had seen enough of the world to know that it was unfair. She’s spent her whole life in the copper-mining town of Calumet, Michigan where men risk their lives for meager salaries—and had barely enough to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. The women labor in the houses of the elite, and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home. When Annie decides to stand up for herself, and the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle.

In Annie’s hands lie the miners’ fortunes and their health, her husband’s wrath over her growing independence, and her own reputation as she faces the threat of prison and discovers a forbidden love. On her fierce quest for justice, Annie will discover just how much she is willing to sacrifice for her own independence and the families of Calumet.

From one of the most versatile writers in contemporary fiction, this novel is an authentic and moving historical portrait of the lives of the men and women of the early 20th century labor movement, and of a turbulent, violent political landscape that may feel startlingly relevant to today.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published August 6, 2019

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About the author

Mary Doria Russell

17 books2,983 followers
Mary Doria Russell is an American author. She was born in 1950 in the suburbs of Chicago. Her parents were both in the military; her father was a Marine Corps drill sergeant, and her mother was a Navy nurse.

She holds a Ph.D. in Paleoanthropology from the University of Michigan, and has also studied cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois, and social anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston. Russell lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband Don and their two dogs.

Mary is shy about online stuff like Goodreads, but she responds to all email, and would prefer to do that through her website.

Photo by Jeff Rooks

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,356 reviews
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
991 reviews2,762 followers
June 5, 2022

Some books are so good it’s hard to write a review to do them justice, this is one of those books. I do not get emotional often while reading a book but this one tore at my heart for all of the injustice and inhumanity that the miners and their families had to endure. A final tragedy that involved the deaths of many children brought tears to my eyes.

The book takes place in Calumet, Michigan which, in 1913, had the largest copper producing mines in the United States, more than the mines in Colorado and others out West. Located on the shores of Lake Superior it was an ideal shipping location.

Much of the focus of this novel is on the November 1913 strike and Annie Clements, called Big Annie because of her tall stature, who was the organizer and leader of the strike. They were striking for an 8 hour day, 5 days a week, a small raise in pay along with safer working conditions. She started a Women’s Auxiliary which sewed white dresses for women and children who marched in the strike parade. A photographer, Michael Sweeney in the novel, took photos of the parade which were run in state and national newspapers.

The general manager of Calumet & Hecla was James MacNaughton, a cheerless, selfish man who refused to listen to any talk of negotiations with the union. He felt as though the men were lucky to have a job. Many of the miners were immigrants, for which he held little respect. Even when the Governor of Michigan, Woodbridge Ferris, sent his representative to try and reason with MacNaughton, he wouldn’t even let him in his office.

Daily strike parades were made nearly impossible when a blizzard of historic proportions hit the town and surrounding areas. When the union still persisted, MacNaughton brought in “strike breakers” that beat the protestors and broke windows and ransaked union houses.

Ms. Russell’s writing is so descriptive I could almost feel the freezing cold and picture the shivering strikers. Her descriptions of the harsh winters in this area are enough to make me cold even as our temperatures are now in the 80’s.

There are so many incredible characters in this novel that I can’t list them all. One of the paragraph’s in the author’s notes really stuck with me that I will share with you “A strike is a collective action . . . . .that said, the central role of women in the 1913 copper strike and in the labor movement in general was remarkable and has been underrepresented in most historical accounts”. Most of the characters are based on actual individuals while others are a composite of several. Most historical references are discussed in the Author’s Notes.

This book is a quick read because of the wonderful flow of the writing and it’s well developed characters. I have been online reading articles and looking at photos from the strike as I can’t get this story out of my head.

I highly recommend this book for lovers of great literature and particularly historical fiction. Ms. Russell has written another stellar novel for us to embrace.

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss.

This book will be published on August 6, 2019.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
June 17, 2019
Mary Doria Russell is a wonderful story teller and it’s about time that I finally read one of her books. I will, no doubt, get to some of her others because this one for me is deserving of five stars. The writing is descriptive but not overly, enough to give the reader a fantastic sense of time and place in the mining town of Calumet, Michigan in 1913 where the mine workers endure dangerous working conditions, meager pay checks and long hours, where men and boys die and children are hungry and cold and women work so hard. The expert characterization allows us to see her characters in depth, what they are made of - from the amazing Annie Clements whose inner strength, savvy and heart move this story forward juxtaposed with the mean and heartless James MacNaughton, the mine boss. While this is a work of fiction, it is well researched. Russel clarifies in a note what is true and what she has taken liberties with. I was so captivated by this book, that I spent some time online reading more about the events that happened in Calumet around the strike that Annie and others lead. So much here is a true reflection.

The story of what happens in this place is more than a glimpse of the struggle of workers there to organize. It’s a reflection of a part of our country’s history. I learned what a major role women had in trying to affect change. While Annie and young Eva and many other women in the Women’s Auxiliary are representative of the women of Calumet, there are others who played significant roles in the labor movement in this country who make an appearance. Mother Jones and Ella Bloor - so much to admire in the strength and downright gumption of these women. A pleasure to read about them. Violence, tragedy and heartbreak mark this story and it’s not easy to read in places, but it is so worth reading. Annie is a character and a historic figure I will remember and this book will be on my list of favorites for the year.

This was a monthly read along with Diane and Esil and as always, I value our discussions.

This ARC was provided by the publisher Atria via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,109 reviews2,791 followers
September 15, 2022
The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell
Cassandra Campbell (Narrator)

In July, 1913, twenty five year old Annie Clements aka Big Annie, because she was at least 6 foot 2 inches tall, lives with her husband in in the mining town of Calumet, Michigan. She's lived here her entire life, her father and her brothers had worked the mine like her husband Joe does now. Despite the fact that their housing is better than most mining towns, it still is tiny and owned by the mining company. The men work twelve hours a day, six days a week, for $1 an hour. Death is a constant part of life in this town, due to accidents in the mine. Now things are getting even more dangerous with the one man drills that the company want to start using. A dangerous one man drill means that one less man is needed to use the drill, one less man has a job, money is saved by the company, and it isolates the men so they are less likely to talk and complain. But it also means more chance of injury or death, lost pay if that one man's light fails, rather than being able to still work with the light of that man's companion, so lost wages when the families are on the edge of starving already.

The general manager of Calumet & Hecla is James MacNaughton, a prideful, cruel man who is only interested in the profits for the company. The people of the mine and the servants in his home are just there to serve him and stay out of his way. He doesn't care about the miners or their families, there are so many more men who want a job that any workers' complaints mean nothing to him. Profits first.

Annie Clements, leader of the Women’s Auxiliary, has had enough and is instrumental in organizing union workers in Calumet. They ask for 8 hour days, $3 an hour wages for even the most lowly mine worker, and the end of using one man jacks. Then the violence begins. MacNaughton will never negotiate, will never compromise and he never even gives the workers a change to voice their concerns and wishes to him. He has the time and money to wait out the striking workers and he's more than willing to bring in a thug boss to maim and kill those who cause trouble. This isn't just about the miners but involves even more women and children who are already on the edge of starving. Their company homes are damaged so the cold can't be kept out in the winter, their meager food supplies are destroyed, businesses in the area are threatened if they do business with the miners.

And then something even worse happens in December. A horrible tragedy that sounds like it must be a fictional event but it's true. These women, these union workers have been through so much loss and death and something even worse occurs. The fights have been for families and the heart of the families is the children. Annie and MacNaughton and others in this story were real people. Other characters in this story are composites of several real people. This story had me learning more about Annie, MacNaughton, the Copper Country Strike of 1913–1914, and the December tragedy that devastates the mining town.

Pub August 6, 2019 by Simon Schuster Audio
Profile Image for Beata.
729 reviews1,113 followers
August 18, 2019
I have often come across the reviews by my Friends of Ms Russell's novels over some time now, and they are full of praise for her writing. Now I can fully comprehend why .... The Women of the Copper Country swept me of my feet, and I am certain this will be one of my top books of this year.
I never heard of the Copper Country or Big Annie, but now I am proud to have become part of the community who while reading felt for the miners and their families, who could learn about their tragic experience, and who probably benefit, perhaps indirectly but still, from Annie Clements and her followers' fight and spirit.
This is one of those novels that engage readers fully through the writing style and character development, and which leave a trace in their hearts.
A historical fiction about the union struggle against the oppressive working conditions turned out to be unputdownable for me. Thank you, Ms Russell, for this magnificent and powerful novel that moved me deeply so much .....
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
June 20, 2019
4.5 Such amazing courage in the face of unbeatable odds. That's what my thought was when I finished this book. A twenty five year old Roman who took on a copper Baron. The year was 1913 and changes were coming to the mine, but not good ones. One man drills were not only dangerous but would cost many men their jobs. The company owned them, here in Calumet on the peninsula of Michigan. Owned their houses, the stores, the banks and almost everything within view. A death, will be the impetus to strike, and to strike now.

We will meet Mother Jones whose indefatigable spirit will lend support and money. A Union organizers, and a photographer, and another woman who comes from afar, to support and bring a fresh infusion of cash. Most of all, we will meet Annie, and many other strong, amazing women. A grim novel, some scenes touch the heart, but all history isn't pretty. Most isn't. We meet a man without a heart or a soul.

Incredibly well researched, something this author is noted for, it brings us a time when workers had little power. I think sometimes we forget the horror these early unionizers went through to insure we were treated fair by employers. Strikes that led to changes in labor laws. Just like the women who fought to bring women the vote, these women, these workers should always be remembered.

Another one Angela, Esil and I all agreed on.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
September 23, 2020
”Charlie Miller took jobs on the surface and below it, and everywhere he went, the mine operators played the same games. Docking wages when they pleased for whatever reason occurred to them. Firing anyone who squawked. Promising a price for ore, then lowering the bottoms of the cars so they were deeper and you had to load more for the same money. Short-weighting the trams. Calling their paid-for sheriffs and deputizing thugs to beat you bloody and run you out of town if you protested. When the price of metals went down, so did your pay, but there was never a raise when it went up. You bought your own shovels and hammers and steels and blasting powder and lamps and boots and gloves and overalls and food from the company store for whatever price the company cared to charge. You lived in company shacks and slept in lousy company bunks and paid rent for the privilege. One way or another, every penny you earned went straight into the stockholders’ pocketbooks.”

There will be a lot of people who read this passage above and will think, why don’t they just quit? I have many Republican friends who make that argument. Why, so they can go to the next job and be treated the same way, and the next job and be treated even worse? A series of strikes broke out in 1913, and the rich and powerful were furious that President Woodrow Wilson refused to step in and “fix” their problem. The problem that began with paying people shit wages and forcing them to work in treacherous circumstances. They tried to leverage governors into mustering the National Guard to quell the strikers because that way the taxpayer could pay for their problem. If that didn’t work, they hired thugs to beat them up and even kill them. Anything to keep profits high and expenses low.

Quitting doesn’t work, so the only thing you can do is stand and fight.

Charlie wasn’t ready for a strike in Calumet, Michigan, at the copper mines. He knew how hard headed the manager, James MacNaughton, was, and the company was flush with cash. It would be hard to outlast them, but Annie Clements, soon to be dubbed the Joan of Arc of labor, decided enough was enough. How many more lives were the unsafe conditions below ground and the long working hours going to cost the community? She was tired of burying friends and family.

Most of us have benefited from the work of unions. There would have never been a middle class without men and women striking and asking for a fairer portion of the pie. There would have never been an eight hour work day. We’d all still be at their whim and mercy, barely getting by with the crusts of what they choose to give us. Few greedy capitalists are as far sighted as Henry Ford, who realized that he needed to pay his workers more so they could buy his cars and give them time off so they would enjoy using them. The American taxpayer subsidies Walmart profits to the tune of billions of dollars. They don’t pay their employees a living wage, so the rest of us have to pick up the tab, all so that Walmart will enjoy billions of dollars in profits. Of course, what they don’t seem to understand is that paying their employees more will stabilize their staff, which will result in a more knowledgeable and helpful staff, which would be a service to their customers. How much of that extra pay would be spent in Walmart? Of course, why pay more when the taxpayer can pick up the rest of the expense? Walmart needs to be unionized.

Unfortunately, I see a lot of anti-union rhetoric in this country from the workers themselves who feel like they have the ability to negotiate their own pay just fine and don’t need the protection of a union to have safe working conditions. Anne Clements and Mother Jones and scores of other labor rabble rousers would be shaking their heads. As most of the world’s money pools in the hands of a select few, and the middle class, what’s left of it, is hanging onto the vestiges of a dream of respectability, we are sliding back into a master and serf society that existed in the Middle Ages. Companies, to make an extra few dollars, are shipping their companies overseas and then bring the goods back to America to sell to the people who used to make them. We let them do this! Profit is way more important than patriotism.

This book had me thinking about the fact that the cruelty and unabashed greed of the past very well may be our future. Our working class is vulnerable, and the improvements in technology haven’t benefited us. It just means we can do more in less time with no extra compensation. Robots are on the verge of replacing us, so how will this all work in the future when we don’t have a way to make a living, and therefore, don’t have any money to buy the goods the rich want to sell us? Will they share the wealth with us? Uhhh, no.

If you follow Mary Doria Russell on Facebook, you will soon discover that she is unabashedly liberal. I can tell she feels a need to remind us of the past and how hard people fought for decency and that we may very well need an Anne Clements to wrap herself in a flag once again. I love the way the women of Calumet were the catalyst for the strike. The men were dying underground, but it was the women who grieved and were left in destitution. If a woman didn’t have a son to replace a father killed in the mines, the company took her house away.

As always, Russell tells her story with power and grace. You will find yourself caught up in the events and wish that you, too, could march through the streets of Calumet until the cold hard heart of James MacNaughton splits asunder.

I want to thank Atria Books and Isabel DaSilva for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Carol.
829 reviews482 followers
August 31, 2019
The Hook - After reading The Sparrow I'm a fan for life.

The Line(s) - The last two books I've read have epigraphs by William Shakespeare. I haven't checked to see if any are the same. Isn't this interesting. I could have left my line of choice blank and just thought about what the bard intended but decided to include this longer quote.
A parade of strikers...

”15,000 on strike? Ask CM.
Slogan: No to the widow-maker! Yes to the union! A fair share for labor!
Songs, brass band. Giddy laughter. Children shrieking.
The smell: fresh popcorn and roasted peanuts sold in little paper cones.
Giggling girls hang on to one another, slyly watching boys who scramble up light poles they hang on like circus acrobats.
Strikers as far as the eye can see, filling the streets. Everyone thrilled by their own daring, amazed by their own numbers.

He himself is thrilled by the poetry of it. Men who work bent over in hard darkness are marching in bright sunshine, their full height unfurled. Half-grown sons, who'll soon go down in the the mines, linking arms with fathers and uncles, with a soft breeze on their scrubbed faces. Women with children—mothers, sisters, wives, daughters—lining the parade route, laughing at the squealing toddlers who ride the shoulders of crippled grandfathers. All of them dreaming of a better life for the next generation.”

The Sinker - All the stars for Mary Doria Russell and her latest book, Women of the Copper Country This is an incredible historical fiction novel and like all her books, a winner. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

The briefest of a summary:

It's 1913 in Calumet, Michigan, coal mining country. When six foot one Annie Klobuchar Clements of Slovenian descent decides to fight the copper giant, Jame McNaughton of Calumet & Hecla by starting a union she does it in as big a way as her height. Sparks are bound to fly. She's sick of men working 12 hour days for low pay and miner's slump. Though C&H offers matching contributions to the laborers' medical fund, men are still dying from the perils of working underground. Whose father, husband, brother, uncle, would be next?

There's much to love here. Annie is based on a true character and in her quest for better working conditions she is joined by a few other women that made history including Mother Jones and

Women of the Copper Country is the perfect book to read on Labor Day Weekend. This is why unions were needed. Fair wages, decent working conditions, paid overtime, child labor laws, all needed reform.

Be certain to read The Authors Note as it outlines the fact and fiction in these pages. There may be some surprises and perhaps some further reading to do.

Profile Image for Sue.
1,241 reviews533 followers
August 6, 2019
This is why I read historical fiction. To be taken back to a time that I don’t truly understand and to learn about the people and events. This can only happen when the author combines excellent research with an ability to tell a story in a lucid, interesting and inspiring way. Mary Doria Russell has certainly accomplished this and The Women of the Copper Country is definitely one of my favorite books of the year.

The setting for this novel is the company town of Calumet Michigan, site of a major copper mine. What happens during this novel is the butting of heads of a fledgling union and entrenched management. We see all that happens through multiple participants, miners, their families, union organizers, company men, management, newsmen.

Through information provided in the afterword, we learn how much of this book is, or is very close to, fact. And that is a lot. I was unfamiliar with this particular history and wondered a bit as I read, but there is such an air of authenticity and authority that I felt comfortable. And most of us of a certain age have heard something of Mother Jones! I had never heard of Annie Clements before. I now would like to know as much as possible about the real woman. This would be an excellent novel for high school students, perhaps, to excite them about the past and how it influences our present and the future. For issues of workers’ rights vs owners’ overwhelming wealth continue.

A definite 5* and highly recommended.

A copy of this book was provided by Atria Books through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
486 reviews1,356 followers
February 9, 2020
This is a unique and moving story about miners in the rural Michigan peninsula who worked in substandard conditions.
It’s also about a strong female character, Big Annie Clements, who fought bravely and courageously for the men of this town against the Big Bad company who owned it. She attempted to bring in the union with the strength of thousands backing her but the collateral damage was enormous.

I am very much anti-union. However that being said, I do believe unions served a time and place in history to ensure fair working conditions-8 hour days, 5 days a week, a safer working environment. I no longer believe it has a place in society today - but this is my opinion and I’m not opening a debate here.

Anyone who adores historical fiction and strong female characters will wrap their arms around this one. As much as this was a work of fiction, there was much fact to accompany it.
Profile Image for Annette.
763 reviews336 followers
April 12, 2019
Annie Clements (1888-1956), known as “American Joan of Arc” – the courageous woman who started a rebellion by leading a strike against the largest copper mining company in the world.

A fight for a good life, not just a better life, comes vividly in this story. The nice city of Calumet built by one of the most profitable companies of its time is just a façade. What hides behind it, is the meager wages hardly making ends meet and the dangerous conditions under the ground. Every week someone dies or gets injured. The injustice sparks major union strike.

Houghton, Michigan: Anna Klobuchar, daughter of tall Slovenian parents, at 15 years old she already tops 6 feet. This causes her to be a subject of ridicule. “Boys laughed and pointed, calling out familiar taunts (…). Freak. Giant. Monster.” But her father encourages her, “Stand up, straight, Anna. Hold your head high. (…) That’s your strength. You are tall for a reason. When your head is high, you can see farther than anyone else.”

Lake Superior, Michigan: James MacNaughton in 1901 became the general manager of Calumet & Hecla, the world’s largest copper mining company in the so called Copper Country along the Lake Superior. The Keweenaw Peninsula holds the richest copper deposits on earth. “He was a pioneer in the field of scientific industrial management.”

“For fifty years, wave after wave of immigrants have come to the copper Country, all of them eager to work for the world’s most productive and progressive mining company.”

Anna Klobuchar, at 18, marries Joe Clements, who now works night shifts at the mine. They share a small house with three young Italian immigrant men. What miners make is a bare minimum to survive. They “can’t make enough money to get even a little ahead, what hope is there for anybody? (…) Annie comes to a decision. Somebody has to do something.”

The focus of the story is 1913 strike. The Western Federation of Miners demanding an 8-hr work-day, 5 days a week, a minimum wage, and an end to use of the one-man pneumatic drill.

I’ve read quite a few books with vivid depiction of a time period or a historical figure, and yet I have to say WOW what an impressive vivid portrayal. Not only of the fight for a good life, but also of very memorable characters, passionate driven immigrants.

Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930), known as Mother Jones, is quite a character. The union men call her the Miner’s Angel. “She left Cork (Ireland) during the Great Famine and survived a voyage across the Atlantic in a filthy, overloaded boat. (…) Odds against, she found a good man in America, and survived four pregnancies (…)” only to lose them all to yellow fever. Then lost her home and business in the Great Fire of Chicago. “So she rolled up her sleeves and went to work besides the laborers who rebuilt that city.” Her last straw “came when her own parish priest began to preach that the strikers should go back to work.” She yelled from the last pew, “I’m damned if I’ll eat shite on earth, praying for pie in the sky when I’m dead.” After that she became a union representative and a ferocious fighter for a good life, not just better.

Profile Image for Karen.
573 reviews1,114 followers
August 18, 2019
Based on the real life of “America’s Joan of Arc” Annie Clements. 23 years old, she witnessed the injustices of the copper mining business in her town of Calumet in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and she formed The Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners and actively participated in the Copper County Strike of 1913-1914. The miners were working for a dollar a day in very hazardous conditions, many losses of life.
I had no idea of these happenings or of the town and that it was such a draw for immigrants to come to for work. The population in Calumet Township area was 40,000 during those years... now in Calumet the population is barely 800.
Being a life long Michigander, I was very interested in this book and though I did enjoy it, I had to take a lot of breaks from it because it was so detailed.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,120 reviews42 followers
August 10, 2021
A fictionalized accounting of real people, places, and events focusing on the women who bolstered, upheld, and championed the men, families, and overall community of the company owned mining town of Calumet, Michigan.

I was pulled in by the individual stories relating the living and working conditions of the miners, not to mention the personal situations of many of the key characters. Reading the words and imagining their lives invoked both sympathetic understanding and rising disbelief. The collective company position showed the pronounced contrast between the two sides. You see how broad and impersonal business can be, with its focus on capital gains, while there is little or no regard for the effects on and losses experienced by the individuals physically bringing about the gains.

The year was 1913, but the topic is still relevant yet today: the revolutionary fight for fair working conditions and living wages. Annie Clements stood up for those unable to stand up for themselves. Those who were too tired, too beaten down, too broken, too green to American life and big business politics. She stood and she led when others could not or would not, and may her courage and convictions inspire us today.

For more information on Annie Clemenc (Clements), here’s a great nonfiction kids’ book: Big Annie of Calumet: A True Story of the Industrial Revolution
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
October 15, 2019
A book that educates and informs the reader of a time or event in history is a book that is well worth reading for me and The Women of The Copper county is a book where the details are clear and concise and the author exposes the reader to a time when our foremothers and fathers fought for fair working conditions and to make a difference in the lives of future generations

In July 1913 Annie Clements is tired of an unfair and unjust world of the Copper Mining conditions in the town of Calument Michigan where every day women fear a knock on their doors as their husbands sons and brothers risk their lives for unfair and unsafe working conditions in return for a meagre wage that just about puts food on the table for their families. When Annie decides to stand up and be counted the town feels she may have taken on more than she can handle.

An extremely well written and researched historical fiction novel where Mary Doria Russell accurately depicts the conditions of the Copper Miners and their families before and during the strike. While some of the characters are real and some are imagined you got a real feel for the lives of the copper county miners and their families, the constant fear and hardship is vivid in the writing.

I enjoyed the author’s note at the end and just wish there had been a few photos included in the book.

I liked the book but did find it dragged a little in places, but having said that I am delighted I ordered a hard copy for my real life bookshelf.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,002 reviews36k followers
October 14, 2019
Annie Klobuchar Clements, “Big Annie”, 25 years old, nearly six feet tall, a copper minors wife....known as “America’s Joan of Arc”....
rebels against the largest copper mining company in the world in 1913 - to 1914... set in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

The greedy-evil-vindictive-capitalist - James MacNaughton, was President and Director manager of the Calument and Hecla Copper underground Mining Company in Calument, Michigan.
MacNaughton’s workers were underpaid. The miners were doing extremely dangerous work in unsafe horrid conditions. Too many people were getting injured and dying!!!

....“Big Annie”, was a real person.
....James MacNaughton was a real person.
....The history of the copper mining strike in 1913 was also real. It drew international attention.

40,000 people were living in the Calument community in 1913. Many of the labor workers were European immigrants- speaking many different languages. In some cases, married couples didn’t even speak the same language.
The immigrants didn’t have the proper skills to work in those copper mines, but they were considered cheap labor.

....One of the fictional characters, Michael Sweeney, was a photographer who took a liking to Annie. He didn’t think the strike with other wives would succeed but desire ( for Annie) & the drama kept him quite interested.

....Another fictional character was Charlie Miller. ... a union organizer who thought it was too early to strike. Annie didn’t let his beliefs stop her.

....We meet Mary Mother Jones, a real person in history.... who left Ireland during the great famine.Mother Jones was a prominent American labor and community organizer who helped coordinate major strikes and cofounded the industrial workers of the world. The union members in this story called her the miner’s angel.
She was one of my favorite characters next to Big Annie.

The historical facts we learn are important and tragic: it was maddening how employees were taken advantage of and severely mistreated....
but facts alone could make a story dry....
but it’s not dry!!!
Mary Doria Russel ... not only does impeccable research… She’s an incredible storyteller.
Warning...have tissues near the end.

Getting to meet family members - both men and women - felt intimate.
Real personalities came alive.

....We meet characters who died in the mines before the strike. Jack and Eve were teenagers. It was heartbreaking to feeling their loss.

....Annie, herself was a likable strong woman who not only organized the strike - but she tolerated her husband, Joe, who was both anti social and anti union.
They had no children of their own, but she was known by everyone - took on the duty of ‘acting mother’ to any child who didn’t have a mother.
Annie took care of all the house duties, ( including canning, and gardening), while also doing other people’s laundry to earn extra income.
She led daily marches
under the banner of American Flag.
Women and ‘children’ march daily.
No wonder Annie earned the name of “Joan of Arc”.... she just never slowed down or let discouragement and challenges stop her.
Annie lead the Women’s Auxiliary- local 15- of the Western Federation of Miners - against her husbands wishes - literally to fight for what was right. Salaries and safety conditions were unacceptable... inhuman.

Being introduced to Annie - meeting her friends - the kids - the families - and the life the community endured over 100 years ago - ( tragedies and deaths were devastating) was one of those books - that when you sit and reflect on it after reading it - one says to themselves .....
“I’m soooo glad I read this story. I’m so glad I didn’t miss it”.

With Kaleidoscopic wonderful narrative, Mary Doria Russell wrote a gripping story during a turbulent times.
My eyes were opened to history I never knew about!

Utterly readable & emotional!!!

Profile Image for Julie.
1,948 reviews38 followers
January 13, 2020
1/7/2020 Simon and I are currently listening to this, as we will be meeting the author, Dr. Mary Doria Russell at Elgin Public Library on Sunday, 1/12/2020!!!

Update: Well, after listening whenever we could during this week, we finally finished the audiobook in the car on the way to the Library to meet the author!

This was an intense read, which engaged my attention and filled me with anger and sorrow. To use a clichéd phrase, "read it and weep." I surely did. The sorrow and suffering was relentless. Just when I thought it couldn't get much worse, there was a truly cruel and senseless tragedy involving the devastating loss of young lives in the Italian Hall disaster.

I am glad I read this wonderful book written by an author who is inspired to learn through curiosity and passionate to tell the story of the human spirit and the struggle for decent living and working conditions. Against all odds, the Women's Auxiliary and the Union stood up to the most powerful mining company in the world. Russell wants us to know and remember Anna "Big Annie" Klobuchar Clemenc, aka. "American Joan of Arc." A previously unknown/unsung American labor activist hero.

Some meaningful quotes:
"a good day in the mine is a day when nobody gets killed or crippled."
"fathers harden their sons to this life"- generation after generation of men worked in the mines.
"As for copper, the Cornish have mined it since Merlin's beard was short."
"it used to be warlords against peasants, now it's factory owners against mill girls, industrialists against unions."
"Remember, Jesus said, "the poor you will always have with you" what he didn't mention is the rich will always be there to exploit them."
"It's like a librarian once told her, "If you learn something from each person you meet and from each book you read you will be the best educated person in the world.""

From the author's note at the end:
Russell states that "she wanted to reflect the importance of photography to social reformers," which gave me pause for thought. She also talks of wanting to highlight the "remarkable" role that women played in the strike and in the labor movement in general, that has been heretofore under reported.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,336 followers
June 18, 2019
An enthusiastic 4 stars!

As far as I’m concerned, good historical fiction does not romanticize or trivialize real historical events, but rather uses fiction as a way to bring history to life. The Women of the Copper Country really hit the mark. The novel focuses on a mining strike in Northern Michigan in 1913 as mostly seen through the eyes of the women of the town. Specifically, the story focuses on Annie Clements — known as Big Annie — who was the head of the Women’s Auxiliary and instrumental in getting the strike going. Annie was a real person, and the author clearly did a lot of research about her life and the strike. This is not a happy story — because it’s based on a difficult historical time and because this author does not romanticize what happened to Annie and others. But it’s not all bleak — the story really highlights the role and strength of women involved in the labour movement and it brings home the dramatic improvements in working conditions over the last 100 years — with perhaps a warning to be careful not to backslide. And I should mention that the writing was excellent. This was my first but won’t be my last book by this author. This was a great buddy read with Angela and Diane. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
September 20, 2019
3.5 Stars

The Women of Copper Country is a carefully researched historical fiction about the copper country strike of 1913 -1914 and that research really shines through here in the telling of this story. So much so it felt like a history lesson to me and it lacked the emotional depth to the story I love so much.

I loved the strength and bravery to the women in this story. They took a stand for what they believed in and sacrificed for the future.

The pace is bleak and not an easy one for me with the telling over the showing of the story. Mary Doria Russell pays attention to detail here with the characters and the story and it just became a little too tedious for me. At times the tone did switch to more of an emotional feel to it for me and I began to feel some emotional connection to the characters. The voices of the women were so powerful and I felt chills reading it.

I am in the minority here with my thoughts and my friends here on GR got so much more out of it then I did. It's an important and powerful story that needs to be told and remembered. It was just too much telling for this emotional and busy reader. I still highly recommend

I received a copy from the publisher on NG
Profile Image for Erin.
2,955 reviews485 followers
July 9, 2019
Thanks to Netgalley and Atria books for a digital galley in exchange for an honest review.

It's a working man I am
And I've been down under ground
And I swear to God if I ever see the sun
Or for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind
I never again will go down under ground
"Working Man" Rita McNeil 1990

I wasn't in a huge hurry to get to my August arcs, but then I read a few reviews of this one and was all about making it a priority. Once again, I have discovered a book that is a contender for best book of 2019.

Set in early 20th century Michigan, Mary Dora Russell introduces readers to the struggles of the union movement against the copper mining industry and the intriguing story of one of its leaders, Big Annie Klobuchar Clements aka "America's Joan of Arc." Annie and the other women who have watched their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers become casualties in the mining companies one man drill operation either by losing their lives or permanently disabled have had enough. In 1913, they push for a union strike and while the smaller companies are willing to give into worker demands, one particular mining boss refuses to back down. As the months pass, there will be many trials, tribulations and tragedies along the way.

A few decades later than this story, my maternal grandfather was a miner and thankfully he nor any of the men he worked with were seriously injured or lost their lives during his lengthy career. But having learned much about mining in both Canada and the United States, there's no doubt that it's a dangerous industry especially when business overlooks the safety of the workers.

Mary Dora Russell's novel is a good reminder of what the miners and their families had to do in order to have better working conditions. This novel is well written, researched, and with the inclusion of the Italian Hall tragedy of 1913, a heartbreaking and powerful story. An important part of American history that shouldn't be overlooked!

Expected publication 06/08/19
Goodreads Review published 04/07/19
Profile Image for Libby.
581 reviews157 followers
August 17, 2019
Mary Doria Russell writes about a wildcat strike in Calumet, Michigan in 1913 and 1914; Calumet was a town that was seeing the copper industry boom. It is a story of greed and the story of labor and its fight to give the working man a life that is beyond the basics of survival. For fans of historical fiction or anyone who loves heroes and heroines engaged in Goliathan battles, Russell delivers an amazing story that will have you researching the history just because you have fallen in love with the characters.

James MacNaughton is the general manager of the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, an inflexible man of strong habits who has taken the elements of managing the copper mines as the blueprint by which he also runs his home. He doesn’t know the names of the cook, butler, or maids, but he knows what they’re supposed to be doing and when. MacNaughton thinks the workforce at the mine has deteriorated as Swedes, Danes, Finns, and other immigrants have arrived, no longer grateful to have a job, a nice company home to live in, and a company store where they can spend their hard earned dollars. Instead, they complain about conditions underground and want a reduction in their twelve hour, six days a week working life. He has little idea about the reality of the miner’s working lives, about what conditions are really like underground. MacNaughton’s life purpose is to give the stockholders profit.

Annie has been married to Joe Clement for seven years, he was one of the few her equal in height (she’s six feet two inches tall); now she’s twenty-five and there have been no children. A life tied to the mine is the only one that Annie has ever known. Her father had been a union organizer, and the truth is that Annie has never known if he died in a cave-in or was beaten to death by those opposed to his union activities. Known as ‘Big Annie’, her days are filled with work from sun-up to sun-down. Now they have boarders, the Giannelli brothers, three of them, whose uncle had died in the mines by the time they arrived in Calumet. Annie will prepare pasties for the four men to eat while underground, as well as their other meals.

Every week seems to bring a death in the mines. If a husband, brother, or son is late coming off their shift, a tragic accident immediately comes to the mind of those who wait. The latest death, the death of Solomon Kivisto, a Finn, will galvanize the community to action, and Annie, the president of the Women’s Auxiliary No. 15 of the Western Federation of Miners is one of the instigators of a wildcat strike. The men have become more and more upset about the one-man drill which leaves one man working alone with no-one to go for help or even know if he becomes injured. He could lay there injured, or dying, for hours, before anyone would know. Charlie Miller, a man with experience in mines, has come to Calumet as a union organizer. Charlie thinks they need to collect funds and wait a couple of years before going on strike, but Sol’s death, concerns over the one-man drill, and Annie’s well-oiled Woman’s Auxiliary feed into a volcano that erupts.

Annie is a heroine I can get behind. A firm believer in community and the spirit of improving the life of the common people, she is an extraordinary leader. She knows how to rouse the hearts and minds as well as organize food and clothing drives. I love how she comes to life under Russell’s pen. I feel so proud when I visualize her at the head of her parade of protestors, bearing the American flag. Her fellow protestors are women who have buried husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. The price of the copper that has come out of the mines is the life of their lost beloved. For the powerful and wealthy, the miners’ labor has brought them more power, more wealth. For those bloodied and injured, it translates into bending, bowing, working more for less.

Because I was so engaged with Annie, I was happy when she met, Michael Sweeney, a photographer who showcases Annie in newspapers around the country. Sweeney wants to give the strike a face, as well as a voice. Sweeney believes that we always know what the rich and powerful are thinking, why shouldn’t we know and care about what is happening to the miners? As he studies Annie’s face behind his camera, as well as in the developing photographs, he begins to feel more for her. Sweeney also makes me aware of the purity of journalism and photo-journalism’s vision, of getting to the bare bones of a story without regard for power and prestige.

Russell accomplishes so much with this novel, showing the lives of so many that are affected by the copper mines, all while keeping the company general manager, MacNaughton, close at hand, and allowing me to hate him for the powerlessness he engenders in those that provide the company with its wealth. He is a true villain (and yet undeniably human) with many modern counterparts. As a reader, Russell kept me present and attentive. I kept wanting to google everything and learn how it turned out (I was unfamiliar with the history). The suspense of not knowing was killing me. But I didn’t let myself do it and I’m glad I didn’t, glad I let it unfold just as Russell has written it, a beautiful and extremely sad story, masterfully written, one of America’s grueling labor sagas. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion. Many thanks to Simon & Schuster (Atria Books) and Mary Doria Russell.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,734 reviews1,469 followers
August 16, 2019
This is a book of historical fiction, and as such it is very good. It is about the Copper Country Strike of 1913-1914 as it played out at Calumet & Hecla Mining Company in Calumet, Michigan. The strike was organized by the Western Federation of Miners labor union. An 8-hour day, a minimum wage of $3 per day, an end to the use of the one-man pneumatic drill and that companies must recognize the union as the employees’ representative were demanded. A strike is a collective effort, and as such it involves many individuals.

While the characters are many, they are all given form and substance. The majority existed in reality, some are fictional, and a few are conglomerate figures where two real people are merged into one. An author’s note at the book’s end clarifies this and specifies which events have been altered. Did I come to feel close to any one character? Maybe, for a short time, but then the focus would shift. James MacNaughton is a figure you will come to despise. This guy did actually exist! The book is about the strike itself, what led to it, how it played out and the many that took part in it. Women, quite a number of women, played an influential role in what happened. That it is so is made clear in the book’s title.

The writing is excellent. Historical details are presented in an engaging manner, never dumped on the reader in bucket-loads. Facts are clearly presented. Dialogs, some based on what real life characters have said and others imagined, feel genuine. What is said is well expressed—sometimes bringing a tear to your eye, sometimes making you smile.

Cassandra Campbell narrates the audiobook. She reads it very well. She uses different intonations and accents for different characters. There are many immigrants in the story. Their dialects are convincingly portrayed. I liked the narration a lot and so have given the performance a four star rating.

If the history of unions interests you, I heartily recommend this book.

As I read, I wanted to go back to available source material. The information provided below DOES contain spoilers.

*Calumet & Hecla Mining Company https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calumet...

*James MacNaughton

*Anna Klobuchar Clemenc

*Mary Harris Jones

*Ella Reeve Bloor

*A Thread of Grace 4 stars
*Dreamers of the Day 4 stars
*The Women of the Copper Country 4 stars
*Doc 3 stars


Books about the growth of unions in the US:
*The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell 4 stars
*Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina 4 stars
*Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle 3 stars
*The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
616 reviews337 followers
September 25, 2019
As a youngster I recall coming across a union picket line and my dad turning the car around while proclaiming he would never cross one. Since he never held the type of job where a union was involved, I later wondered how he came by such a strong viewpoint. He once said to a family member working under the benefit of one “I don’t know how a man can enjoy the protections of a union and be a Republican.”
Recently I read that perhaps the time and need for them in this country has come and gone. Not surprising since all those jobs have gone across the seas where people currently working them could probably use one.

This story centering around a copper mine strike in 1913 Michigan was an eye opener for me. I now get why my dad said the things he did—solidarity with hard working men trying to feed and house their family, no matter the job description.
Mary Doria Russell has written excellent and compelling historical fiction about people we should not forget, their backbreaking labor and sacrifice on behalf of fair pay and safe working conditions with a price tag many would not consider paying today in the USA. We’ve become soft and malleable. If you’ve ever worked a job with benefits, these are the people you have to thank, poor immigrants dreaming of basic necessities and willing to die for them.
Their story is horrific, heartbreaking, and tragic on a grand scale—we should all know the true cost of copper.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,226 reviews1,275 followers
July 23, 2019
If the words on the page find a niche in your heart, it deserves all the stars....

Mary Doria Russell has a sharp skilled, fine-tuned talent to capture the angst, the sorrow, the despair of the mining families clustered around the copper mines of Calumet, Michigan in 1913. It is a desperate life for the men who leave the freshness of nature above ground to enter into her pits of unspeakable darkness below ground. It is an equally difficult life for the wives and the families who wait at day's end for the sound of their footsteps entering dimmed doorways....or possibly not.

Russell presents the character of Annie Klobuchar Clements in such a raw, human way that the reader feels a deep connection from the onset. "Big Annie" as she is called by friends and neighbors, is beyond tall at over six feet in height. She had always been self-conscious as she towered over everyone. But fate brought her Joe Clements who met Annie eye-to-eye even though he was twelve years older. Annie dutifully cooked, cleaned, and packed adequate lunches for Joe every day.

The copper mine was located on Kewanee Peninsula along Lake Superior and was manned by Poles, Czechs, Swedes, Russians, and the like who spoke 30 different languages. Men worked twelve hour days under precarious conditions. Russell introduces us to James MacNaughton, manager of Hecla Mining Company. She paints him with dark, absolutely no sunshine, colors. If the man had a soul, it would be found only with a high-powered microscope. We'll see him in action throughout this story.

As conditions worsen, Annie finds herself more and more involved with the daily activities at the mine much to Joe's chagrin. She becomes president of the Women's Auxiliary of Western Federation of Miners Local 15. Annie is the go-to person for everything now.

MacNaughton's unfairness and cruelty forces the miners to go on strike. The impact of that decision will be felt throughout the pages as Russell takes you into the midst of this turmoil. As the situation tightens and becomes knotted and knotted, the families take on the painful brunt of no work and no pay. Violence sets foot in Calumet and it takes a deadly toll.

The Women of the Copper Country sets the tone for the voices of those who leaned hard into almost impossible odds in order to cut into this rugged land of America. The backbones of these individuals formed the steps of which led to better working conditions for those who came after them. In reflection, such supreme sacrifice appears to be a word found only in the pages of the past.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest opinion. My thanks to Simon & Schuster (Atria Books) and to Mary Doria Russell for the opportunity.

Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book487 followers
July 31, 2019
Do you think your life is difficult? The boss doesn’t really appreciate you or give you your due? Your under a glass ceiling? Not being paid what you are worth? There is laundry to do and dishes to wash and kids to bathe when you get home from work? It rained during your entire week’s paid vacation and you spent way too much time just having messages and eating in restaurants because it wasn’t the weather for doing what you had planned? Bugger.

If you answered yes to even one of those questions, you need to read this book. It is a reminder of what people went through getting us to a 5-day work week, an 8-hour day, and a pay rate that provides living conditions that are not wholly insufferable. It is a reminder that before women were all gainfully employed in the workplace, they were working like drudges to keep homes running and children fed and men able to earn the pay.

Mary Doria Russell is a modern day minstrel. She writes historical fiction with the emphasis on historical accuracy, but she does it with a flow and flare that is purely lyrical. Every character she creates, whether a fleshing out of a historical figure or an invention to illustrate a historical type, is as real as your closest neighbor. She navigates this world seamlessly, as if she had been there herself and known and felt what it was.

Besides giving us a perfect picture of the women of the Copper Country and the company man who lives in the mansion on the hill and neither understands, nor wishes to understand, anything of their lives, she explains in a way you cannot help relating to what it is like for the men and why they risk so much to change the rules of their lives for the betterment of their sons.

You get up, you dress, you eat, you walk to the change house. You clock in and climb down flight after flight of slippery cut-stone stairs before a hike through miles of tunnels--just to start the day’s work. It’s cold underground. It’s wet. It smells of rock. Beyond that dim little funnel of light from your headlamp, there’s a hellish nothing, and Christ, the noise! After a few weeks, you’re half-def from the pounding of the drills. So you listen hard all the time to the crunch and scrape of shoveling, the squeal of tram wheels grating on rusty rails, because a few seconds can make all the difference when a wall starts to come down.

Annie Clements is a person I will now never forget. If you enjoy reading about a strong woman who is nonetheless human, you will love her. It makes me sad that she has been buried in our history for so many years, unsung, and appreciative that Russell has unearthed her and shown the world her face once more. The events that occurred in Calumet, Michigan, so much more startling because they are events that real people experienced, will make you wonder at man’s inhumanity, at the courage of individuals, and at the ability of human beings to survive disaster and continue to draw breath. But they will also make you consider that we have made so much progress that we forget about, and that, while there are certainly still wrongs to right and justice to seek, a solid foundation has been laid for us with the blood of others.

My sincerest thanks to Mary Doria Russell and Atria books for giving me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Paige.
152 reviews286 followers
July 16, 2019
In 1913, Annie Clements organizes the strikes for miners in Houghton county, Michigan that work under the duress of James MacNaughton, the general manager for Calumet & Hecla Mining. The strikers are continuously met with violence and other cruel means by Mr. MacNaughton and his bully boys.
“This is the price of copper,” she says in that clear, quiet voice. “A dead man. Every week. Month after month. Year after year.”

While most of the story builds on the 1913 Copper Country miners strike, the characters are used to exploit the everyday family life in the mining community of Calumet & Hecla under the watchful eye of Mr. MacNaughton. As things transpire, the tragic lives of families in the community unfold. It is within all of their lives that the telling tells. And, although the title itself perhaps suggests the focus of the characters is on women, the characters point of view included is comprised of both genders. We see some chapters told from the point of view of a husband, a female child, a male bar-tender, a butler, a maid, Annie, a male governor, etc.

The historical aspects were pleasantly well-researched. The main character, Annie Clements, is based on the historical figure Anna Klobuchar Clemenc and was presented valiantly. Likewise, James MacNaughton, the real historical corporate tycoon and the novel based character, are both found to be equally repulsive. Many characters represent authentic strikers during the 1913 Michigan copper strike and can be found in the Author’s Note of this book. The novel contains, but is not limited to, Croatians, Finns, Poles, Slavs, and Italians; however, only certain characters truly represented the dialect.

I recommend this to readers interested in labor unions, Women's Auxiliary, and immigrant workers to the U.S. in the early 20th century.

Many thanks to Atria Books, Mary Doria Russell, and NetGalley for allowing me to read this advanced copy.
Profile Image for DeAnn.
1,317 reviews
October 14, 2019
4.5 Union stars

This was a fascinating, well-researched novel based on the copper mining world of Calumet, Michigan in the 1910s. It was a time when labor unions were starting to gain steam and mine owners were protesting and fighting against them tooth and nail. While fiction, there are some real characters thrown into the story like Mother Jones and Ella Bloor.

The interesting twist here is that the women were also organizing to try to improve things. Annie Clements, a very tall and big personality woman, had a passion for this work. Another death in a mining accident galvanizes Big Annie and the workers to call for a strike. As Annie gains more independence, her husband grows increasingly distant. I was rooting for Annie the whole way! The conditions were truly miserable for these miners and their families.

I admit that this book took a while to take hold for me, but about ¾ way through, I was totally invested and could not wait to finish and see how this one would end up. It’s very interesting to read how movements get started and gain momentum or fizzle out. The mine owner was spectacularly bad and I was really hoping that he would get his due in the course of the book.

This was my first read from this author, but I will definitely make time to read some of her earlier books. Mary Doria Russell is an excellent storyteller.
Profile Image for Tammy.
511 reviews429 followers
August 19, 2019
It’s a nice change of pace to read a good old fashioned linear historical novel. This is really a David and Goliath story which takes place during the early 1900’s. Big Annie Clements was dubbed America’s “Joan of Arc” for staging protest marches against the C&H Mining Company. The plight of these copper miners in Calumet, Michigan was dismal. Dangerous working conditions caused deaths or maiming nearly weekly, the wages were paltry and working hours were outrageously long. Standing at 6’2”Big Annie founded and presided over the Women’s Auxiliary No. 15 of the Western Federation of miners. In addition to their labor activism, the community of wives and widows led by Annie supported families of striking miners. Not only a story of America’s early labor unions it is also a story of tragedy, courage and feminism.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,507 followers
August 2, 2019
Russell again delivers a lovely reading experience by creating vivid characters who breathe life into significant historical events. Here we are treated to the role of certain real-life women in the labor movement shortly before World War 1. Our key hero is Annie Clement, the wife of a copper miner at the Calumet & Hecla massive operation in the Upper peninsula of Michigan. Known as “Big Annie” because of her 6 ft. 1 in. height, she grew up in Calumet, where her suffering of the loss of her father to a mining accident has led her since childhood to participate in the community grieving process of all such deaths. Recently Annie has assumed leadership of the Women’s Auxiliary, which organizes social services and supports for mining families in dire straits, all the while keeping house for her husband, gardening and canning, and doing laundry for necessary extra income.

Despite her husband Joe’s compliant, non-Union posture with respect to grievances, she is brave and forthright in moving to the stage of organizing a protest against company policies that have led to another miner’s recent death. Soon the intransigence of corporate management leads her to the next step of leading a full-scale strike, for which she heads frequent planning sessions, media relations, and daily marches of mostly women and children under the banner of a huge American flag that only she is strong enough. A union organizer from the Western Federation of Mines envies her ability to personally connect to hundreds of community members and marshall help to deal with the 32 languages they speak. Yet he wishes she didn’t take on a company with such deep pockets and a shop with insufficient rates of union members. Despite the limitation of union funds to sustain strikers without a paycheck due to an ongoing major strike in Colorado, Annie gets enough headlines and empathic news images from a photojournalist who is sweet on her (he aims to make her a Michigan Joan of Arc) to pull in a lot of donations to their cause. This support gets amplified when her teenaged Finnish protégé, Eva, succeeds in getting Mother Jones to come and lead rallies in Calumet.

The company’s CEO is a man you come to love to hate, one James MacNaughton. On the surface he has reasons to be proud of his visionary approach to drawing immigrant labor with modern facilities and housing of the town he has built. Clean, well-built homes and dorms with running water, bathrooms, and electricity, , a school, and communal grounds for gardening or even pigsties. Personally, his Scottish Calvinist background puts him on a righteous moral plane, which aligns with obsessions over cleanliness and efficiency and distaste for outward ostentation over his wealth. On the other hand …there is a world of other hands. Such as being the type of man who never learns the name of his Irish maid and his cook; the type who dreams of a scheme to sterilize all immigrants. One who sees 12 hour shifts, six days a week, as only to be expected. One who is willing to leverage his power as landlord for the whole town to threaten eviction of renters or revocation of business leases of any troublemakers. There is no negotiation with a man who refuses even to acknowledge the existence of a union. There is little wrestling over Christian values when he eventually hires a “professional” company of strikebreaker thugs to terrorize the strike leaders with beatings and arson. Or orchestrating the arming a trainload of immigrant scabs with clubs and siccing them the strikers as impediments to their being able to work.

There is much tragedy along the way and a disastrous finale out of left field, but Russell’s writing about these courageous women is so uplifting and makes me take to heart Mother Jones’ inspiring message that sacrifices for justice are worthwhile even if the efforts only benefit future generations. The pacing of the drama and character development here are masterful, confirming that I can’t help adoring everything Russell writes.
Profile Image for Tom Mathews.
662 reviews
August 28, 2019
This weekend Americans will be celebrating the Labor Day holiday. I’ll be donning my kilt and going to the annual Scottish Highland Games nearby. Others will be camping, picnicking, shopping, or just enjoying some much-needed time off from work. In all the bustle, it is easy to forget that our enjoyment of this day was paid for with the tremendous sacrifice and suffering of those in the labor movement. Because of their efforts, we all enjoy this holiday and other benefits that we take for granted such as 8-hour work days, 40-hour work weeks, minimum wages, employer sponsored health insurance, paid sick days and vacations. The list goes on.

So why should we spend our precious time away from the salt mines reading a book about organized labor? To those who haven’t read her books, Mary Doria Russell’s previous novels could fit in some commonly accepted genre. Doc and Epitaph could be called westerns, The Sparrow and Children of God are science fiction and A Thread of Grace is a war story. But where do you put a book about people in the back of beyond who go out on strike? More to the point, why should you read it?

The bottom line is that Russell’s books are not what you think they will be. The Sparrow was first recommended to me by a friend and I put off reading it because I’m not that into sci-fi. Ten years and my friend had passed before I finally picked it up and I have kicked myself ever since for not having read it sooner. It may be a story about first contact with an alien species but couched within it readers will find a wealth of information about religion, philosophy, science, music, current affairs, sociology and human relationships. It is still one of my all-time favorites.

Russell herself admits that a book about a miners’ strike in the far northern reaches of Michigan is not an easy sell for either publishers or readers. Fortunately, I have read most of her previous books and she has made it onto the very small list of authors whose books I will buy sight unseen. I also recall once hearing an enigmatic protest song by Woody Guthrie called 1913 Massacre that has stuck with me over the years more for its confusing description of events that left me wanting to know more about what happened in Calumet, Michigan in 1913 and what role women played in it.

As to why others should read her book my best response is that if you haven’t read her books yet, you are in for a treat. If you have, you know what I mean. There are few authors who have never disappointed me. Russell is one. Her research is impeccable and her prose is inspiring. She brings the past back to life so adroitly that its easy to forget that many of her characters have been dead for a century or that they never existed at all. Whether it was the subject matter of The Women of the Copper Country or the current political climate, she has added a fire to her voice that I don't recall being there in her earlier works. I have been a union member for a grand total of one day in my life but in reading this book I felt inspired to get up and get out there and march and to learn all I can about such women as Mother Jones, Ella Bloor and Big Annie Clemenc, the star of this tale.

I highly recommend this book. I also want to thank the author for introducing me to the poem The Mask of Anarchy by Percy Bysshe Shelley and for including this memorable stanza in her book.
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number--
Shake your chains to earth like dew
We are many -- they are few.

*Quotations are cited from an advanced reading copy and may not be the same as appears in the final published edition. The review was based on an advanced reading copy obtained at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. While this does take any ‘not worth what I paid for it’ statements out of my review, it otherwise has no impact on the content of my review.

FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star – The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,053 reviews1,374 followers
August 6, 2019
The determination and power of women who literally had none in the 1900's is one of the themes in THE WOMEN OF THE COPPER COUNTRY.

Annie Clements had always been someone who helped others. Being a miner's wife she knew how they and their families could always use help in one way or another.

Because of the need, Annie banded together with the wives of the copper miners to stop the unsafe conditions in the copper mines and the deaths of loved ones by trying to get the miners to join the union.

The other and main theme was the strike called by the miners so the company would recognize the union and get better working conditions.

Annie and the other wives want the men to join the union so they can ask for shorter days and more pay for their dangerous, unhealthful work that only makes the owners of the mines rich.

We follow Annie and the families as they prepare to strike to get what they need for their families.

We get to see the personal side of this community, share in their sorrows and worries, see how they suffer at the hands of company owners who won't give into union demands, and see how they come together to help one another in times of need.

Most of the characters were easy to like and to relate to. Some were despicable.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, women's fiction, and learning about the lifestyle and hardships in the early 1900's both personal and work-wise, THE WOMEN OF THE COPPER COUNTRY will be a book you will want to read.

This book brought to light for me another not very well-known historical event about the plight of the copper miners and their families in Calumet, Michigan. All isn't pleasant especially when the strikebreakers come on the scene.

A good book always has me looking up more information about events taking place in the story line, and THE WOMEN OF THE COPPER COUNTRY is no exception.

Dr. Russell's thorough, in-depth research brought the reader into the town and homes of the Calumet families. 4/5

This book was given to me as an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,329 reviews118 followers
January 30, 2021
What is the price of copper? For the women of 1913 Calumet, Michigan, the price is the weekly death of one of their copper-mining men. For 25-year-old Annie Clements, the price is too high and she impetuously convinces the budding union of 9,000 miners to go on strike to demand better safety conditions, shorter hours and better wages.

Calumet is a ‘company town’, where Calumet & Heck (C&H) own everything, including the miners’ homes. The promise of jobs attracts immigrants—Finns, Swedes, Italians, Cornishmen, Hungarians, and Austrians. They work 12-hour days deep beneath the earth in dark, dangerous conditions. It is their wives who bond with each other, organize the strike, and sustain it month after month.

Russell conducted exhaustive historical research into the strike and the charismatic woman leader known as ‘Big Annie’ for her towering 6-foot plus height and called America’s Joan of Arc. The author has created composite characters for the union organizer, Charlie Miller; the photographer Michael Sweeney; the despicable mine manager, James MacNaughton, and the brutish strike-breakers.

Also included in the story is the tragic Christmas Eve event held for the striking miners’ children on the second floor of the Italian Hall. Someone yelled “fire” (there was no fire), causing a stampede down the narrow stairs resulting in the deaths of 73 people, most of them children.

Recommend this stirring story of a strong woman leader.
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