Cover for ROMALIS: Pistol Packin' Mama: Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong

Pistol Packin' Mama

Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong

From the coal mines to the big city with the irrepressible folk singer and labor activist

Meet Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960), one of American folklore's most fascinating characters.

A coal miner's daughter, Jackson grew up in eastern Kentucky, married a miner, and became a midwife, labor activist, and songwriter. Fusing hard experience with the rich Appalachian musical tradition, her songs became weapons of struggle. In 1931, at age fifty, she was "discovered" and brought north. There, she was sponsored and befriended by an illustrious circle of left-wing intellectuals and musicians that included Theodore Dreiser, Alan Lomax, and Charles and Pete Seeger. Along with Sarah Ogan Gunning, Jim Garland (two of Aunt Molly's half-siblings), Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and other folk musicians, Jackson served as a cultural broker who linked the rural working poor to big-city, left-wing activism.

Shelly Romalis combines interviews with archival materials to construct an unforgettable portrait of an Appalachian woman who remained radical, raucous, proud, poetic, offensive, self-involved, and in spirit the "real" pistol packin' mama of the song.


"An excellent and highly readable book about an extraordinary character."--Alessandro Portelli, Journal of American History


Shelly Romalis is a professor emeritus at York University, Ontario. She is the editor of Childbirth: Alternatives to Medical Control.

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