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Women and Culture in Copper Country

University of Arizona mining historian Anna Ochoa O’Leary speaks on heritage, marriage, and the role women played in mining and settling Arizona.
Labor shortages during World War II drew women into mining operations.
Miners from Mexico worked in mines throughout the Arizona Territory before it was part of the U.S.

One hundred years ago, Arizona was a cultural hodgepodge even greater than it is today. At least 21 American Indian tribes lived on the land, some tracing their history back 12,000 years. Arizona’s harsh climate often defined a tribe’s geographic boundaries and livelihood, but many groups traded with each other. Some traded with the Spanish explorers when they began to appear in the 1500s in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola. For two centuries, the explorers mined, settled towns, and built missions, though many were abandoned during the War of Mexican Independence.

In 1943, 25% of concentrator operators in Morenci were women. This women’s change house opened there in 1944.

By the 1800s, the Arizona territory was a crossroads of tribes, military men, missionaries, American and Mexican prospectors, and travelers. As the claims grew and companies were established, immigrants pouring into America from both coasts found work underground in Arizona. Large populations of Italians, Chinese, Slavs and other Eastern Europeans mingled with Mexicans and some Native Americans to form a patchwork of traditions that are still in evidence today. The videos on this page reveal a little about the life of the men and women who settled Arizona's early mining towns.

Many miners found more than jobs in the dusty hills of the Arizona Territory.