ELK COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — A special tribute was held this Labor Day in Elk County for a woman who stood up to save the lives of many in her community.
On Monday, Sept. 4, a section of Route 255 was renamed in honor of Elizabeth Hayes, who is better known as Dr. Betty Hayes. Historically, coal mining is one of Pennsylvania’s most critical and dangerous industries. However, conditions improved drastically in 1945 thanks to Dr. Betty Hayes after she took a stand to protect miners.
Dr. Elizabeth Hayes, born in 1912, was a public health advocate who fought for coal miners and their families in the 1940s. Committed to continuing her dad’s legacy as the physician for Shawmut Mining Co., “Dr. Betty” inherited his role working with coal miners in Force, Pennsylvania, in 1943, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Blog.
“The working conditions were not the best for miners,” Mike Armanini (R-Clearfield/Elk) said. “My family and most of the families in this area are descendants from the miners. She was an advocate for them. She was the voice against the mine owners, making, you know, life better for the workers and our family.”
Dr. Betty became the area’s only physician. She was appalled at the unsanitary conditions in the company-owned mining town. Sewage overflowed into yards and the street, the drinking water was contaminated and the homes were dilapidated.
She told Shawmut executives that conditions needed to improve. In response, the executives complained that it was too expensive to make changes or clean up the area.
However, Dr. Hayes voice was strong and President Truman listened.
“Got somebody who came up at a time when finding a woman doctor was unusual,” Senator Cris Dush (R-25). “She had all the gumption that she needed to become a physician and then become an advocate for the lives and livelihoods of the people in this area.”
In July of 1945, none of the 350 miners at the Shawmut Mine went to work. Dr. Betty and the miners launched a work stoppage and a publicity campaign for better treatment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Blog.
The miners sent a telegram to President Truman after their negotiations with Shawmut stalled. The telegram was provided to the Department of Justice and a federal hearing was scheduled to investigate Shawmut Mining Co.’s operations. Shortly after, President Truman commissioned a survey that examined life in coal towns that also helped bring attention to health issues in coal mining communities.
Bennet’s Valley celebrated her memory and what she did to help so many others, including her patients.
“Who knows, without what she did,” Armanini said. “We don’t know what tragedies were avoided in all our families in this area. So I’m very pleased to bring this dedication for this wonderful lady who was such an instrumental force with the people of Bennetts Valley.”
Now her legacy lives on in a long stretch of road, celebrating her own milestone and the message she made clear so long ago.
“You don’t don’t discount people. That’s the message for this road dedication,” Dush said. “It’s about people who have made an impact, and it’s a chance for these kids to learn.”
The Dr. Betty Hayes Memorial Highway can be found along Route 255 from Hemlock Avenue to Garnder Hill Road in Elk County.