Loretta Lynn’s Representation of Appalachian Women

Written by Brooke Williams, a Senior Honors student at Western Carolina University

The following is an abstract of a longer research paper written for Robert Ferguson’s History class. If you would like more information please email him at rhferguson@email.wcu.edu.

Loretta Lynn once said, “To make it in this business, you either have to be first, great or different, and I was the first to ever go into Nashville, singin’ it like the women lived it.” Loretta Lynn, born Loretta Webb on April 14, 1932 in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, grew up in a poor coal mining community of the Appalachians. Throughout childhood she experienced poverty and hardships that many women throughout the Southern Appalachian Mountains did. Being born during The Great Depression, growing up in a small coal mining town, meeting and marrying her husband and learning to have her own voice makes her representative of many Appalachian women in the twentieth century. As Appalachian scholar Sara Webb-Sunderhaus states, Appalachian women are usually seen as “long-suffering victims of poverty, illiteracy and violence who survive through a combination of pluck and down-home wisdom.” When speaking on poverty, Lynn said, “I think maybe it’s worse today, because people know they’re poor from watching television news and stuff. Back then, we didn’t know we were poor, and people were more proud then.” Loretta’s father worked most nights in a dangerous line of work where at any minute a mine could blow, as they often did. She believed that he “kept his family alive by breaking his own body down.” According to Lynn, “Holler people are just different than everybody else. They live high up in the hills, one day at a time. There’s probably a few who don’t know who the president is, and there have been times when they were better off that way.” Some people have said that men are bound to “run around a little bit” but Lynn’s stance is that she “don’t believe in double standards, where men can get away with things that women can’t. In God’s eyes, there’s no double standard. That’s one of the things I’ve been trying to say in my songs.” Lynn made a point in her songs to speak about the way she believed women should be treated by their husbands. One of the greatest influences she had was her father. “He wasn’t one of those men who was gone half the time, either—he didn’t have no bad habits…the nice way he treated [Loretta’s Mother] gave me ideas about the way I wanted to be treated. I make that point clear in my songs, in case you hadn’t noticed.” Doing things her way has always been a hallmark of Lynn’s music and personality. “It’s like in 1972,” said Lynn when she was nominated for the Best Female Singer and about to accept the award on national television, “Charley Pride was going to present the award. People warned me not to kiss Charley (an African American country artist) in case I won, because it would hurt my popularity with country fans. Well, Charley Pride is one of my favorite people in country music,” declared Lynn, “I got so mad that when I won, I made sure I gave him a big old hug and kiss right on camera.” Lynn’s popularity was not hurt by detractors, and—she mentions, “If they had, fine, I’d have gone home to my babies and canned some string beans and the heck with them all.” Lynn’s past can be seen as one of the many pasts that southern Appalachian Women have had. While she might not have the same struggles as many women today do, she knows them. Loretta Lynn, on the last page of her autobiography says, on country music, “When you hear country music, you know it. Country music takes me right back to those strawberry fields. Or further back, to that little house in the holler where Momma sang to me.” She has been and continues to be a representative voice for many southern
Appalachian woman.

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