Objects as storytellers: Marilyn’s Lunchbox

Toni Pennello, Staff Writer

A lunchbox from the 1970s was the focal point of a lecture given on March 29 in honor of Women’s History Month.

The lunchbox belonged to Marilyn McCusker, who was one of the first female coal miners in the region.

McCusker faced gender discrimination in the process of being employed as a miner in Rushton, Centre County, and she and other women fought and won in court for the high paying job.

In October 1979, McCusker was killed in the mines when there was a fall of slate. This, ironically, made her the first woman to die on the job. Her lunchbox was nearby at the time of her passing, and is an important artifact for this reason.

The lecture was given by Linda Reis, a retired archivist with the Pennsylvania state archives.

Reis explained that artifacts are primary sources, because they “bear dramatic witness” to history and can provide important information that may not be available through records; this is especially true, according to Reis, of women’s history, because women historically have not had much chance of recording their own history.

According to Reis, McCusker’s lunchbox is important in understanding “not only her story, but the broader story of 20th century women.”

Reis feels that the artifact has a poignant way of conveying history.

“This object has the power to move me to tears,” she said in the lecture.

Reis reiterated many times that McCusker was not a radical feminist, but an average woman who wanted a higher paying job in order to support her son.

Reis went on to describe the various ways that women have made progress in society, such as laws being rewritten using gender neutral language. Reis did, however, say that issues of reproductive rights, domestic violence and pay equity will require diligence to be overcome.