In the last half of 1945, news of the war’s end and aftermath shared space with reports of a battle on the home front, led by a woman. She was Elizabeth O. Hayes, MD, doctor for a coal company that owned the town of Force, PA, where sewage contaminated the drinking waters, and ambulances sank into muddy unpaved roads while corrupt managers, ensconced in Manhattan high-rises, refused to make improvements.
When Hayes resigned to protest intolerable living conditions, 350 miners followed her in strike, shaking the foundation of the town and attracting a national media storm. Press – including women reporters, temporarily assigned to national news desks in wartime – flocked to the small mining town to champion Dr. Hayes’ cause. Slim, blonde, and 33, “Dr. Betty” became the heroine of an environmental drama that captured the nation’s attention, complete with mustache-twirling villains, surprises, setbacks, and a mostly happy ending.
News outlets ranging from Business Week to the Daily Worker applauded her guts. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about her. Soldiers followed her progress in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, flooding her with fan mail. A Philadelphia newspaper recommended Dr. Betty’s prescription to others: “Rx: Get Good and Angry.” President Harry S. Truman referred her grievances to his justice department, which handed her a victory.
A Mighty Force is the only book, popular or academic, written about Hayes. Readers interested in feminism, the environment, corporate accountability, and the World War II home front will be excited to discover this engaging, untold episode in women’s history. Fortunately, a fascinated press captured Hayes’s words and deeds in scores of news pieces. Author Marcia Biederman uses these pieces, written by major news outlets and tiny local papers, as well as interviews with descendants, letters written by Hayes’s opponents, union files, court records, an observer’s scrapbook, mining company data, and a journalist’s oral history to tell the story of Dr. Betty and her pursuit of public health for the first time.
Marcia Biederman has contributed more than 150 articles to the New York Times, writing about everything from ice dancing to automobile wheel repair. She was a staff reporter for Crain’s New York Business and an editor for Chain Store Age. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, the New York Observer, and Newsday. She is the author of several books including Popovers and Candlelight: Patricia Murphy and The Rise and Fall of a Restaurant Empire, published by SUNY Press in 2018, and Scan Artist: How Evelyn Wood Convinced the World That Speed Reading Worked, published by Chicago Review Press in 2019.
"In dramatic detail, A Mighty Force brings to life the story of Dr. Elizabeth Hayes who, true to the oath that she took as a physician, bravely fought against powerful forces on behalf of her vulnerable patients. Dr. Betty should be a household name – not only did she pave the way for improved health and wellness of miners everywhere, but she also paved the way for generations of women physicians to walk out of their clinics demanding better for their patients."
– Mona Hanna-Attisha, Flint, Michigan pediatrician and author of What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City
“An engrossing, fast-paced biography of a woman who devoted years of her life to a heroic fight against the appallingly unsanitary conditions of a mining town and the venality of its intransigent owners.”
–Cathy Curtis, author of A Splendid Intelligence: The Life of Elizabeth Hardwick
“Even though her subject's personal papers have not survived, Marcia Biederman has successfully documented the events that made Dr. Betty Hayes briefly famous as a company doctor and advocate for public health and sanitation. Biederman captures the spirit of 1945 and 1946 in A Mighty Force, which chronicles the persistence of Dr. Betty and her miners, the strategies of resistance by corporate managers and owners, and the squalid living conditions that mining families were forced to endure in unincorporated company-owned towns.”
– Janet Wells Greene, Ph.D., author, Cameras in the Coalfields: Photographs as Evidence for Comparative Coalfield History
NetGalley review: 5 stars
Last Updated 28 Jun 2021
"Amazing and inspirational. 2 words that barely describe what environmental health activist Dr Elizabeth Hayes work means to our world. I learned a lot about a woman I had never heard of! This book was really well done, made it easy for me to read and I honestly think it should be required reading in science classes. Absolutely great book about a true hero for people and the environmental activism movement."
—Holly Senecal, Consumer Reviewer
“This spirited biography rescues a well-deserving public health crusader from obscurity.” —Publishers Weekly
NetGalley Review: 5 stars
Last updated on 26 Sep 2021
"Great story-telling about an unsung hero
I loved this book. The story-telling and character development are excellent. The book reads more like a novel than a history book; it is so much more than a list of names and dates. The story is well paced and I found it difficult to put the book down. It has everything I was expecting, a mix of history, science, and politics. The hardest part of the book to accept was that such unsanitary conditions existed so late into the 20th century. I had to check the dates on occasion as a reality check. This is a great read about an unsung hero and I recommend it for anyone interested in history or public health. Thank you to Netgalley and Rowman & Littlefield for the advance reader copy."—Stephen Goldberg, freelance reviewer