By Jamie Goodman
My grandmother was a true Appalachian mountain woman.
She stood a mere 5 feet 2 inches, but she was as tall as a tree in my eyes. Her skin was weathered by years of working on the farm; her eyes were water-blue, and her hands scarred and tough. Her back was hunched from years of bending to tend the garden, chop and stack wood, carry water and wash laundry by hand.
She could grab a hot pan of yeast rolls out of the oven without using a towel and carry 60-pound bales of hay on her back to feed the cattle. She crocheted small white ornaments, using sugar water to shape the thread into angels and delicate lace teacups. She mended fences, chased off snakes and sewed gorgeous patchwork quilts from scraps of fabric and my grandfather’s old shirts and ties.
She was a midwife, and would walk miles to help the country doctors deliver babies. She knew the plants in the woods, how to make herbal teas and poultices for croup. She often tended sick neighbors when the doctor couldn’t come. She took care of the animals, one time using her own hands to turn a breached calf in a birthing cow.
She ate country ham nearly every morning of her life, and baked the best biscuits I have ever tasted. Her name was Virginia, but we called her Nanny. She was humble to the point of being self-effacing, always put others before herself and faithfully kept the family Bible updated with new births. She saw the ocean only one time in her entire life.
My grandmother was in her mid-eighties when she stopped tending the farm, 93 when she died in 2002. At her funeral, the pastor spoke of her as though she were the last of the real mountain women, and at the time I believed him. But after researching the amazing women for this issue, I know for a fact this is not true.
While the women of today may not have to be as versed in the art of every-woman-on-the-farm like my grandmother, they are as equally if not more amazing in their contributions to our region. I wish we had enough space in this issue to include all of the spectacular, deserving Appalachian mothers, grandmothers, health care providers, nuns, students, scientists, musicians, teachers, farmers, writers and historians (to name just a few) striving for a better world.
In the following pages, we feature more than 60 women and groups who represent a mere sampling of the ladies who have devoted their lives to work for the health and well-being of our mountain culture, people and environment in their own unique ways.
We thank the folks who helped us compile these stories; without you this would have been next to impossible. Please forgive us for the ones we inadvertently left out, and help us to expand our list by visiting AppalachianVoices.org/superwomen/ to add to our growing database of fearless, formidable, stupendous and fantastic super women of Appalachia.