Mollie (Dingess) Drake, daughter of Allen B. Dingess and Caroline (Jackson) Dingess, was born on June 30, 1881 in Logan County, WV. She was the wife of Leo Frank Drake, a salesman. She appears in the 1910 Wayne County Census (Ceredo District). Hannah Mitchell profiled her life in the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, on December 30, 1921. Her husband died in 1925. In 1930, Mollie lived at Springfield, IL. In 1940, she made her home in Cattaraugus County, NY. Mrs. Drake died on July 7, 1958 at a nursing home in Huntington, WV.
It would be easy enough to make a melodramatic start and give her some such extravagant title as “The Angel of the Hills” or “The Mother of the Mines” or “The Florence Nightingale of Blair Mountain.” But if you did and Molly Dingess Drake found it out she might laugh and she might make some sharp remark, but most certainly she would not be pleased.
How she escaped the “war correspondents” who were rushed to the front to cover West Virginia’s recent mine war is more than I can say, for the story is still told of how Molly, like “Sheridan twenty miles away,” when the armed miners were marching on Logan, made all haste not toward safety, as she might very wisely have done, but back to where the bullets were flying.
Her narrowest escape from the feature pages of newspapers was several years ago–two, in fact–when, a woman of some two score years, she was graduated from high school with her sixteen-year-old daughter. That graduation and the attendant high school diploma were in no sense honorary affairs given out of respect for Molly Dingess Drake. They had been earned by this very determined, ambitious woman of the hills after four years of high school work, in which she had enrolled along with her daughter and for which she had attended classes faithfully and with classmates half her age.
On pay day Mrs. Drake is a welfare worker for one of the coal companies operating in the Logan field. Having finished her high school course, she did not go on to college with her daughter. And, as she puts it, one of the coal producers “knew she wouldn’t sit at home and knit and crochet.” So he offered her the job of visiting nurses among the employees of his company. In this job Mollie mothers a large family. It is composed of men and women much older than she and of the children of these older children. True to the mother-type anywhere, she makes their individual troubles, their health, their happiness, a very personal matter.
There was the young Spaniard who lay in the hospital after a severe accident. No friends or relatives rallied to his bedside, and the doctors and nurses could not understand him when he moaned out a word or two in his native tongue. Mollie Drake scoured the hills for an interpreter and found one. She also dug up a cousin of the unfortunate boy. Moreover she made the lives of nurses and doctors miserable until the lad was out of danger, sometimes calling at the hospital late at night to see how the boy was getting on. Was not this foreign born lad one of her children?
It was not the Mollie Dingess Drake, ready to face danger along with other brave women of Logan county when armed miners were marching upon their homes, that interested me most, as you may have guessed already. The World War is too recent proof that American women are not afraid to risk their lives for a cause. It is Mollie Drake and the work of her hands when peace broods over her native hills that make her a woman among women.
Mrs. Drake is a mountain woman herself. She knows the desires, the needs and the hopes of the women and children who live in her hills; in a double sense she is working among her own people.
No serious-minded killjoy is Mrs. Drake, but a large motherly woman with a great capacity for fun and for seeing the human side of things.
It is a common statement among traveling salesmen that they live in a Pullman; Mollie Drake might say she lives in a day coach. Her headquarters are in Logan, and much of her time is spent in riding to and from the little mining towns along the branch lines out of Logan.
Her trips are taken to visit the homes of miners, and no place is too remote for her to visit. Her energy in tramping about and the speed with which she walks over the hills is enough to make a younger woman gasp for breath and all but beg for quarter. That from one who knows.
We started out of Logan one morning on the 10 o’clock train.
Before the train started we were part of the social gathering which greets the all-too-few passenger trains that come into Logan. Mollie Dingess knew everybody.
Arrived at the mining center, our first visit was to the schoolhouse, a substantial two-story building, in front of which were all the latest playground devices for amusing the modern child. The teachers were young and efficient in their schoolroom manners. In Logan county the schools have the advantage of extra good teachers because after the school board has voted what it can afford for salaries the coal companies make up the deficit needed to attract the best.
It was then I learned of Mrs. Drake’s unusual high school career.
“You know I have a high school education,” she remarked as we left the school and strode (at least Mrs. Drake strode) along the dirt road.
“As a girl I went to school till I was thirteen. In the teens I took up nursing and later was married. But I always wanted more education. Sometimes it is the persons who are denied education appreciate it most. Well, when my daughter was ready for high school I decided that I would get my high school education too–not by following her studies at home (I knew that wouldn’t do), but by enrolling in high school with her.
“Some of my friends thought it was an absurd idea. They said I could enroll in college for special courses or take correspondence courses. But the idea of my going to school right along with my daughter and the other young people seemed queer to them. I suppose it was unusual. But what I wanted was a regular education. So I enrolled and went through the four years of high school and was graduated in the same class with my daughter.”
“And how did your daughter feel about it?”
“Oh, she had her young friends and took part in school activities just the same.” Again the twinkle behind the glasses. “It may be that she studied harder than she would have.” I had no doubt of that.
“She is in college now,” continued Mrs. Drake. “When her grades aren’t has high as I think they ought to be she sends them to her father, but a man can’t keep such things secret, and I always find out. She knows I haven’t much patience with students who don’t keep up their grades.
“My daughter is going to be a physician. She didn’t make up her mind until after she entered college. I was rather anxious to know what she would choose. After she started studying biology she was so interested that she decided to go on and study medicine.”
It occurred to me that Mollie Drake was a feminist. I wondered if she had ever been a suffrage worker.
“No,” she answered. “I’ve always been a Democrat, though. My husband says I am what is called ‘a mean Democrat.'”
She paused and then laughed. “I made one rule when I was married. You see, Mr. Drake is a Republican. Well, I told him that if I married him he must keep just one rule. I knew our marriage would be a success if he did. And of course I promised to keep it too. The rule was that we should never talk politics. We never have and we’ve been very happy.
“Of course I voted at the last election, and much good it did so far as the Presidency was concerned. But someway I didn’t care so much for the voting. I’m old-fashioned in many ways. I was brought up in a strict way and I don’t like to hear about folks playing cards on Sunday. I suppose it isn’t wicked, but I can’t get over my bringing-up. And I never take a needle in my hand on a Sunday, only when I just have to mend something, that I don’t feel kind of guilty.”
Our conversation had been interspersed with visits to various miners’ homes, mostly where there were babies. Mrs. Drake’s philosophy had been punctuated by advice on babies and friendly comment upon the little interests of the women we visited. If we weren’t inspecting a baby we were talking with some elderly woman over a fence about her latest “misery.”
As we climbed the trails I was tired, but Mrs. Drake seemed as energetic as when the day began.
“I like the work,” she said, “but I want to study more. Last summer I took a course in New York, and I’d like to go back there for a second at the Henry Street Settlement. I want to study languages, too. There are so many things I want to do.”
Some day I have not a doubt she will do these things she wants to do. In the meantime I think of her in connection with the verse: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do.”
Source: “The Florence Nightingale of Blair Mountain,” Logan (WV) Banner, 30 December 1921.
To see Mrs. Drake’s photo and entry at Find-A-Grave, follow this link: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=20145994
Mrs. Drake’s daughter, Alleyne Howell Dye, died of suicide in Ashland, KY, in 1944. For her death record, follow this link: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9YV-H7M5-H
To see Mrs. Dye’s photo and entry at Find-A-Grave, follow this link: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=20146072