In the 1930s, the Great Depression and a slump in the demand for coal left thousands of miners unemployed and their families hungry and desperate. President Herbert Hoover turned again to AFSC to establish a feeding program—as he had after World War I—this time in the United States. AFSC’s work in the coal-mining areas of Appalachia moved the organization toward a greater focus on domestic issues and economic justice.

Across parts of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, we provided relief while seeking a longer-term solution to the region’s reliance on coal mining. The Service Committee encouraged involvement in local crafts and handwork—especially furniture making—and helped start the Mountaineer Craftsmen’s Cooperative Association. 

AFSC also created the Penn-Craft project in western Pennsylvania, a model community where residents participated in a shared economy based on agriculture and traditional crafts. Penn-Craft demonstrated the Service Committee’s commitment to fundamental economic changes beyond providing relief.


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  • Two coal miners standing next to a train car carrying coal
    Coal mining isolated workers in closed, company-operated economies and eroded the skills needed for other types of employment when layoffs came.
  • First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing beside a woman holding a baby and a young girl reading a book
    First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became personally involved in the situation of miners and traveled with AFSC’s Clarence Pickett to meet workers and families.
  • Group of 14 children and one dog standing next to house, two young men without shirts
    AFSC collected and shipped donated clothing to Appalachian families.
  • Group of 19 children standing outside a building with a front porch.
    Child nutrition has always been a top priority of AFSC programs.
  • Two adult women and one child stand outside homes, holding clothing
    Wage cuts, job losses, and changing technology often pitted whites against Blacks in mining communities.
  • Two men in a workshop do woodworking
    A local woodworker agreed to train unemployed miners to build furniture using his family’s traditional patterns.
  • A family of 6 and a dog stand next to a well outside a house, with three wooden chairs
    Chairs made by the Mountaineer Craftsmen’s Cooperative grew in demand and are still in use at AFSC’s Philadelphia headquarters.
  • Car filled with chairs and other furniture
    The remarkable Edith Maul became a traveling salesperson for the cooperative, driving over 100,000 miles and selling $43,000 in furniture from 1933 to 1936 (about $738,000 in today’s dollars).
  • Women of different ages in a sunny workshop with a quilt covering the window
    Many women produced traditional weaving and needlecraft products for the cooperative to sell.
  • Women sitting on a porch helping each other make baskets
    Basketry was another traditional craft that women could use to generate income for their families.
  • Three people work on the construction of a building
    Families selected for the Penn-Craft intentional community in Pennsylvania helped build their own houses.