Born in Clay County in 1880, Aunt Molly Jackson (Mary Magdalene Garland) spent most of her life in the coal camps on southeastern Kentucky, serving both as a midwife and union organizer, as well as the daughter, sister and wife of coal miners. Through it all, Aunt Molly wrote songs — “Hard Times in Coleman’s Mines,” “I Am a Union Woman,” “Poor Miner’s Farewell,” as well as many others. In late 1931, when Theodore Dreiser and his committee of writers visited Bell and Harlan counties to gather information on the conditions in the coalfields, she sang her song “Hungry Ragged Blues” for them. Impressed with hr eloquence and knowledge of the lives of miners and their families, Dreiser arranged for Aunt Molly to come to New York to help raise funds for striking miners.
She spent much of the 1930s performing in New York and around the country as part of a group of political singer-songwriters that included Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Josh white Sr., Charles Seeger and his young son Pete. The coal miner’s wife from Kentucky became well known among New York City newspaper reporters, folklorists, musicologists, radicals and intellectuals. Just as quickly, however, her fame subsided. She died in Sacramento, California, in 1960, and is buried there in an unmarked grave.
Aunt Molly Jackson is portrayed by Anne Shelby, a native and resident of southeastern Kentucky. She received an M.A. in English from the University of Kentucky, and a B.A. in English from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. Shelby has written a plethora of works, including poetry, plays, and essays. Aside from writing, Shelby has also taught classes in creative writing at several prestigious institutions in Kentucky. She is a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council’s Speaker Bureau.