Adequate care could be provided for injured mine workers only by a hospital, yet in the anthracite regions there were only two hospitals. Through the generosity of Delaware, Lackawanna and Western officials, Scranton boasted a hospital, and in 1872 the citizens of Wilkes-Barre established the City Hospital.1 But the remainder of the anthracite regions had no hospitals. In the Lehigh region, for example, injured miners requiring hospitalization had to be taken to Bethlehem.
The regions’ middle class could not fill the hospital deficiency. It was not that area businessmen were callous toward the suffering around them; many realized that a hospital would not only alleviate suffering but increase the stature of the community. But many realized, too, that, given the fact of the low wages of the mine workers, an effective hospital would have to be run as an enterprise of charity, which few coal region towns could support. The middle class, therefore, looked to the state for aid. In 1849, for example, the Miners’ Journal called for the establishment of a “miners’ hospital” to be financed by a voluntary tax of one cent per ton of coal which would be paid by the consumer.
The Journal’s appeal went unnoticed. It was not until the mine workers organized the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association that the legislature considered establishing hospitals in the anthracite fields. In 1870 the legislature passed an act incorporating “the Miners’ Hospital and Asylum of Schuylkill County.” According to the act the hospital would provide free medical care to those injured in mining and transporting coal. A tax of one cent per ton of coal mined or transported in Schuylkill County was authorized to support the free hospital. A board of directors elected by the borough councils in the county was to govern the institution.
But the hospital aroused community jealousies. In 1874 the Shenandoah merchants decided that their city needed a medical institution. After holding a fund-raising ball, the merchants joined with the mine workers in asking the executive board of the W.B.A. to assume direction of the project. The executive board accepted the obligation and appointed a hospital committee which promptly organized the Anthracite Hospital Association. The association went to Harrisburg and got a grant of $15,000 from the legislature. The grant, however, carried a proviso that it had to be matched by the investment of a like sum in grounds and buildings.2 But when the Shenandoah merchants learned that the W.B.A. wanted to put the hospital outside Shenandoah they refused to turn over the funds raised by the ball. Unable to meet the proviso, the association did not establish another hospital.
As the accident rate in the mines increased, it became obvious that a free hospital open to all anthracite miners was needed. In 1879 John Welsh, former president of the W.B.A., led a successful drive for a hospital for miners, which resulted in legislation creating a commission composed of two members from each anthracite county. The commission was to select a site for and erect the hospital provided that the land be donated and the building costs stay within a $60,000 limit. Once built, the hospital would be turned over to a board of trustees who would give injured mine workers preference “over paying patients.” Appropriations from the state treasury would defray operating costs. The commissioners named Fountain Springs near Ashland as the site for the new hospital.
The southern location of the hospital was inconvenient for mine workers in the Lehigh and Wyoming regions; they wanted a more central location. The northern mine workers received valuable support from the state mine inspectors; in 1886 James E. Roderick, inspector for the fourth district, suggested that a hospital be located in Hazleton. The legislature accepted Roderick’s proposal in 1887 and authorized the establishment of a second state hospital in the middle coal field. After 1887 the legislature responded to the increasing demands of the mine workers by establishing a system of seven state hospitals in the anthracite regions.3
The state hospitals, however, would be of little use if there was not rapid transportation, which the anthracite mine owners were unwilling to provide. Joseph F. Patterson, a W.B.A. veteran, reported the experience of a man badly burned in an explosion. Friends carried the injured man to the surface and asked the foreman to send him home on a company car. The foreman said he could not furnish a car at that moment because the boiler house was blocked up with ashes. He did, however, place an extra man at the boiler house to expedite matters. Meanwhile, they laid the injured man under a tree and poured oil over his burns after which, having no bandages, they covered the wounds with “blasting paper.”4
The mine operators appreciated the need for emergency transportation, but were unwilling to assume the extra cost unless assured that other operators would also provide ambulances. In 1875 Colonel Henry Pleasants, general superintendent of the Philadelphia and Reading, explained the position of his company to the miners and suggested that they secure legislation requiring such transportation. But 1875 marked the demise of the W.B.A., and the mine workers were unable to get what they wanted in Harrisburg.
In 1879 the anthracite mine workers secured the introduction, but not passage, of a bill requiring the transportation of injured miners. Encouraged by the authorization of a state hospital during the same session, the miners renewed their efforts in 1881 and were successful. Applying to all anthracite mines employing more than 20, the ambulance act of 1881 required operators to provide either an ambulance or two stretchers at every mine unless the owner operated two mines within a mile of each other. Noncompliance would be punishable by a $150 fine or 30 days’ imprisonment.
The Pennsylvania legislature also provided for the care of injured miners, but refused to go further and create a welfare state. In 1872 the mine workers petitioned the House of Representatives to establish a relief fund for disabled miners, widows, and orphans by taxing coal. The bill passed in the House, but a Senate committee reported it negatively.
Labor received some outside support in its quest for a tax-supported relief fund. In 1878 The Mountain Beacon suggested that a special tax of one dollar be levied on all taxables in the anthracite regions, to go into the county treasuries. The county treasurer would use the money to pay injured miners $10 per week during disability and a $500 death benefit to the family in event of a fatal accident. In 1882 Mine Inspector James E. Roderick called attention to the suffering of the disabled miners and concluded: “humanity demands that something be done to relieve them, and that as speedily as possible.”5 But the demands of humanity were not heard in Harrisburg.
Finally in 1891 the mine workers secured the introduction of a relief bill in the House of Representatives. The bill provided for a semiannual tax of one cent on each ton of anthracite mined, which would be paid into the county treasuries. The county commissioners would use the funds to pay $1 a day to disabled miners. If the accident resulted in a loss of limbs, the victim would receive $60 for the limb lost. In fatal accidents the commissioners would pay a death benefit of $60, and the widow would receive $8 a month and $2 a month for each child under 14 years of age. The bill ran into stiff opposition after it was amended to include all mines in the state and only passed the House after it was agreed that the Senate would exclude the bituminous coal mines from its application. But again a Senate committee reported the bill negatively.
Unable to get a tax-supported relief program, the mine workers attempted to provide their own. The anthracite coal regions abounded with beneficial societies serving particular ethnic groups. The Lithuanian Church in Shenandoah, for example, was the focal point of 14 such societies. The ethnic group society, however, could not completely minister to the mine workers’ needs, so they turned to their unions.
The W.B.A. maintained a well-defined relief program. The union provided financial aid to disabled miners and required members to visit their unfortunate brethren. In case of death, the W.B.A. assumed the deceased member’s burial expenses.
Later unions also doubled as beneficial societies. The Knights of Labor established a relief fund with the proceeds from the 1879 public picnic. The Miners and Laborers’ Amalgamated Association levied an occasional ten cents per capita tax to aid accident victims. The United Mine Workers considered the establishment of a benevolent fund. The short lifespans of the various unions, however, made them a questionable source of protection.
The middle class in the anthracite regions supplied some charity to the unfortunate miners. The ladies of Wilkes-Barre organized the Christian Benevolent Association in 1887 to care for the poor of the city, and the leading citizens of Pottsville supported the Benevolent Association of Pottsville. But usually the charitable organizations were so afraid the undeserving would take advantage of their good intentions that they made it difficult for injured miners to receive aid. The Wilkes-Barre Relief Association, for example, required its applicants to pick culm banks or break stones, tasks few maimed miners could do.
Occasionally the middle class responded directly to the needs of an injured miner. In 1874 the citizens of Mahanoy City sponsored a show consisting of trapeze and singing performances for the benefit of Abel Davis who was maimed in a mine accident. The people in Saint Clair held a benefit ball for Hugh Duffy, “a father of a large family,” after he was injured in the mines.
While the general public was sympathetic to individual needs, it reserved its aid for “disaster” victims. Appalled by the Avondale mine disaster, Reverend T. P. Hunt collected $155,825.24 for the relief of the victims’ families. In 1886 the Scranton Truth raised $2,740 for the support of the families of the five victims of the Fair Lawn disaster. Indeed, almost every major accident prompted the formation of a committee to raise funds for the victims and their families.6
A disaster relief committee assured protection to those miners killed or injured en masse, but most mine workers suffered individually. The individual mine accident victim faced an uncertain future. His ethnic group and labor union provided inefficient and sporadic relief. Regulations of organized charities made it difficult, if not impossible, for the injured miner to receive aid, while the general public only occasionally came to his rescue. Yet the increasing number of mine accidents made the provision of individual relief a pressing need in the anthracite coal regions.
Surprisingly the large mine operators eventually supplied the need. At first, however, they gave aid only to the victims of disasters. In 1846 the Delaware and Hudson Company donated $1,500 to the Carbondale disaster victims’ families. The Pennsylvania Coal Company contributed $5,000 and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western gave $20,000 to the Avondale disaster relief fund. Although the large operators donated generously to the relief of disaster victims, they did not move to provide for the welfare of the individual miner until the mine workers organized their first union.
In 1869 the Wilkes-Barre Coal and Iron Company, later the Lehigh-Wilkes-Barre Coal Company, established a relief fund for its employees. Under the plan the company donated a day’s product each year and the mine workers contributed one day’s wages to the fund. Members received $6 a week during disability caused by mine accidents. Upon accidental death the fund paid $50 toward funeral expenses and a pension of $3 a week to the widow and $1 a week for each child under 12 years for a period of one year. By 1874 the benefit fund had received $65,599.38 and distributed $41,336.47 among its members.
During the 1875 “long strikes,” Franklin B. Gowen attempted to woo his employees from their union by announcing the creation of a relief program by the Philadelphia and Reading. Under the program there were three classes of contributors: miners and inside laborers paid 30 cents a month; outside laborers 20 cents; and boys and old men either 5 or 10 cents. The company endowed the fund with $20,000 and met whatever deficiencies existed at the end of the year. For occupational death the fund paid $30 toward funeral expenses and weekly payments of $7 to the families of first- and second-class contributors and either $2.40 or $1.40, depending on the monthly payment, to families of third-class members. Injured first- and second-class members received $5, while third-class membership paid either $2 or $1 per week during the first six months of disability.
The plan went into effect in 1877 and was an immediate success. By 1880 the mine inspector reported that 95 percent of the injured miners in Schuylkill County were members of the fund. But the plan was also expensive; in 1889 the Reading announced that during its first 12 years the relief fund had overdrawn its account by $131,763.50 and that the Reading was reorganizing the plan to place it on a self-supporting basis. The second plan created four classes of contributors and raised the monthly premiums while maintaining the old benefits.
Other large operators followed the lead of these two corporations. In 1878 the Lehigh Valley created a relief fund supported by the donation of one day’s wages per year, which the company matched. The fund paid the same benefits as the Lehigh–Wilkes-Barre Coal Company’s relief program. The Lehigh Valley’s beneficial fund, however, contained several innovations. The program devoted part of its funds to the support of the Wilkes-Barre City Hospital. A committee composed of the foreman and two elected employee representatives managed the program at the colliery level. The Delaware and Hudson Company, the Susquehanna Coal Company, and the Mineral Mining Company, the latter two being subsidiaries of the Pennsylvania Railroad, adopted similar beneficial plans.
In 1883 the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company inaugurated a different plan. Under its program the company paid a royalty of a half cent per ton of coal mined, while the employees contributed 1/2 or -1/4 per cent of their earnings to the fund. Injured members received one-half of the average wages for their class during the first six months of their injury. Benefits would be paid only if the member furnished a certificate of his disability from a fund-appointed doctor every two weeks. Upon accidental death the plan paid $30 toward the funeral expenses and a weekly pension of 50 percent of the average earnings of the deceased for a period of 18 months to his widow.
The Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western did not offer a welfare plan, but it did provide free hospital care for its employees and their families. The corporation also gave its blessing to the mine workers’ several “keg funds.” Miners redeemed their empty powder kegs for ten cents; the money was used to establish a relief fund to which the other mine workers contributed. The fund was entirely an employee project and was usually local in scope. In 1891 the various groups formed the Amalgamated Miners’ Accidental Funds which provided general supervision and greater financial stability.
With the exception of a few “keg funds,” Eckley B. Coxe was the only independent operator to provide a relief system for his employees. Coxe did not create a relief fund to which his employees contributed; instead he personally donated $50 toward funeral expenses upon accidental death and gave the widow $3 a week, provided she remain unmarried, and each child under 12 years $1 a week for a period of one year. Injured men received $5 a week during disability. In addition, the company provided hospital care to its employees at the nominal fee of six cents a day.
In seeking to provide for their welfare the anthracite mine workers turned to the state. Although the legislature provided a system of state-supported hospitals and required the operators to maintain emergency vehicles at each mine, it refused to accept the responsibility for the relief of injured miners. Not the union nor the ethnic group nor the community was able to provide welfare for the mine worker injured or killed in an individual mine accident. The large corporation filled the gap by sponsoring relief funds. But the mine workers noted the correlation between the formation of their unions and the establishment of welfare programs and concluded that the action of the corporations was an attempt to weaken unionism and not a generous and compassionate act.7 The mine workers, therefore, viewed the company-sponsored relief fund as an indirect result of their collective response to the problems confronted in the physical plant of the anthracite industry.