March 15, 1988: Reformer Mary Behner Christopher Dies at 81

Mar 15, 2018

Credit e-WV Encyclopedia / Bettijane Burger

Reformer Mary Behner Christopher died in Morgantown on March 15, 1988, at age 81. The Ohio native came to West Virginia in the 1920s as a missionary for the Presbyterian church. From 1928 to 1937, she worked in the impoverished coal communities along Scotts Run, outside of Morgantown.

This once-prosperous region had fallen on hard times after the coal market plummeted in the ‘20s. Thousands of families, including numerous immigrants and African-Americans, were stranded by the economic depression.

Mary Behner was shocked by the poverty she encountered, but she was not easily daunted. Armed with an iron will and an abiding faith in God, she comforted mothers whose babies had died due to lack of milk, chastised coal operators for ignoring their workers’ needs, and created educational and social outlets for young people.

Her most visible contribution to Scotts Run was ‘‘The Shack,’’ a former company store that Behner converted into a community center. After her 1937 marriage to David Christopher, she continued to support social justice and service projects, particularly programs that helped children in need and that fostered an appreciation for different cultures.