By late August of 1913, authorities in Calumet were facing a problem that was “becoming more perplexing each day.” Women were mixing it up with strikebreakers, scabs, deputies and national guardsmen. “This development is perplexing,” read an article dated August 28th, “as the men are timid in resisting such attacks.” The women were “spitting in the faces of deputies and hurling curses and slurs upon the civil guards”; they “pummeled workmen returning to their homes from the mines,” and when one workman fought back, “this angered the dozen or more women in the crowd and a free-for-all melee followed.”
Brawling, spitting, cursing women — female furies loosed in the streets — came to stand for the social disorder that swept over Calumet in 1913. Local storyteller Jack Foster could think of no better way to communicate how bad things had gotten than to tell us, during the last interview we did with him, that in 1913 “you had women running around with brooms, dipped in the outhouses, slashing at you if you went to work. You can’t imagine what we went through here.” In Jack’s account, and in many popular accounts of the time, these women were something that ordinarily would be unimaginable.
But these were extraordinary times. The word often chosen to describe the problem these women in Calumet represented — perplexing — suggests a difficult entanglement of social logic. Things had gotten all mixed up, confounded. The women fighting in the streets were defying authority in all senses of the word: not just the deputized and enlisted forces of law and order, but also the social forces that ordinarily kept women in their place, or at least prevented them from roving in bands and taking over the streets.