Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

A Life Bigger Than Mom’s

A Life Bigger Than Mom’s

More From Barbara

In this video

Burns and her father saw a bigger future for her than the life of her homemaker mother.

Barbara's Biography

Secret to a Happy Marriage: “Treat your husband or your wife the same way you did on your first date.”
Most Meaningful Advice:  From her father: “To be honest and always remember that I was no better than anyone else but I was no less.  And not to worry about things, to deal with them.”
Biggest Influences: “All the women that preceded me that were brave enough to go into non-traditional jobs.”
“Not a Quitter”: After sticking out a thirteen-year sexual harassment suit Burns knows a thing or two about perseverance: “When you get discouraged just take a deep breath, wait a day or two, and just start over.”

Barbara Burns was one of the first female coal miners in the country and an ‘everywoman’ champion against sexual harassment in the workplace. The oldest of eight, Burns grew up in West Virginia, in a family where almost all the men were coal miners. By 1975, she was a mother of two, with ambitions to pursue nursing and a husband in poor health. Eager to earn more than she could in the low-wage, female-dominated jobs she was working—waitress, cashier, she went to work in the mines as one of the first female coal miners in the country. Burns went underground and worked her way up to foreman before being recruited to Smoot Coal as a lab technician in 1984.
 
At Smoot, Burns found herself the target of aggressive sexual advances and stalking by her boss, the company president. She endured the escalating harassment for months, scared to quit because of her husband’s failing health and the threat of being blacklisted from another job in the coal industry. But in 1986, unable to take it any longer, she sought out attorney Betty Jean Hall and filed a complaint with the West Virginia Commission on Human Rights. Excruciatingly, the case dragged on until 2000, when the West Virginia Supreme Court finally ruled in her favor. Meanwhile, Burns’ sexual harassment case, the first from a coal miner, encouraged Burns’ coal miner peers and women in other industries to move forward with their own complaints, and they often turned to Burns for advice and support. Burns became a nurse, a cattle farmer, and a grandmother of four.

Related Videos

Linda Bray
Linda Bray
Captain, US Army (Ret)

Captain Linda Bray was the first woman to lead US troops into battle, during the invasion of Panama in 1989. In 1982, she joined the ROTC. In 83, she was assigned to duty in German...

Li Yinhe
Li Yinhe
China's First Female Sexologist

Li Yinhe is a sociologist, sexologist and LGBT rights activist from Beijing, China. Dubbed “China’s first sexologist,” Li is a pioneer for women and gender studie...

Tavi Gevinson
Tavi Gevinson
Fashion Blogger & Feminist

At age 11, Tavi Gevinson shocked the fashion world when her blog, Style Rookie, became one of the most popular online style guides. A mere four years later, she is a notable and st...

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland
Ballet Dancer

Misty Copeland began her ballet career at age 13. Two years later, she had won first place in the Music Center Spotlight Awards, and began her studies at the Lauridsien Ballet Cent...