Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Ronald L. Lewis.


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the coal industry entered McDowell County, a predominantly rural county in southern West Virginia. Because of common experiences working and living in the coalfields, workers of significantly different backgrounds created a unique, working-class community in McDowell County. Although the coal industry experienced numerous downturns during the first half of the twentieth century, there was a long-term rise in the number of workers employed by the industry. By 1950, McDowell County had a population of almost 100,000, most of which was impacted by the coal industry.;After World War II, however, the industry began to change. Competition from alternative fuels, such as oil, natural gas, and nuclear power, forced coal companies to cut costs in order to survive in a tight market. Companies first tried mechanization to cut labor costs, a phenomenon that had roots well before the post-war period. For those companies that could not, or would not, implement machinery, the only true alternative was to close the mines.;I argue that deindustrialization, the combination of mechanization and disinvestment in McDowell County, contributed to the loss of the unique coalfield community that flourished in the county during much of the twentieth century. This occurred in two ways. First, many former miners left the county in an attempt to find work; most migrated either to the Midwest or to Maryland. Second, those who remained found a county much different than before. The lack of diversification in the county's economy limited the employment prospects of the people remaining, leading to a significant increase in poverty. The decline in coal employment and the increase in poverty created a society of contrasts, where some residents succeeded, while many more struggled to survive.