3 Stories About Fierce Appalachian Women


Scratch the surface of most any grassroots movement in Appalachia, past or present, and you’ll find women at its heart. Strong women feature prominently throughout Appalachian history, and they continue to push the region forward today.

This week on Inside Appalachia, we’re revisiting a show that originally aired last fall, that prominently features bold mountain women who are making a difference in their communities.

We hear what happens when Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei combine Appalachian and Chinese folk music. We also meet the driving force behind a family-owned Black newspaper that’s been publishing since 1939. Claudia Whitworth began working there for her father in 1945, and three quarters of a century later still takes an active role as publisher of the Roanoke Tribune. And we’ll meet Rosemary Ketchum, a community activist who ran for city council in Wheeling, West Virginia. We’ll learn how she became West Virginia’s first transgender person to be elected to public office.

Appalachia And China

Can you blend Appalachian and Chinese folk music successfully? Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei spoke with Lizzie Peabody, host of the Smithsonian Institution’s podcast Sidedoor, about how they combined their two instruments — the banjo and the guzheng — to produce a sound that’s both timeless and also reflects thousands of years of history from different parts of the world.

Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn – "The Roving Cowboy / Avarguli (阿瓦尔古丽)" [Official Music Video]


When Rosemary Ketchum moves to Wheeling, West Virginia as a child, she remembers being struck by it’s moniker, “The Friendly City.” She saw residents struggling with food security and homelessness and decided to help. Her journey continued when she ran for the Wheeling City Council, becoming the first transgender person in the state to be elected to office.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting Producers Corey Knollinger and Chuck Kleine followed Ketchum to produce a film about her year-long campaign.

Rosemary: Full Program


Roanoke Tribune

Roanoke Tribune publisher Claudia Whitworth and longtime staffer Leslie Terry process newspapers in preparation for mailing.

Mason Adams
For Inside Appalachia
Roanoke Tribune publisher Claudia Whitworth and longtime staffer Leslie Terry process newspapers in preparation for mailing.

Claudia Whitworth has led the Roanoke Tribune, a family-owned, African American newspaper, through segregation, the destruction of its building during urban renewal, and now the pandemic and death of print newspapers.

Yet Whitworth, now in her 90s, has never relented in the weekly newspaper’s mission, which appears in its masthead: “Making and Recording Black History since 1939!”

Whitworth told Inside Appalachia co-host Mason Adams that she believes her newspaper’s secret for success lies in her devotion to telling real stories from her community. Years back, at a gathering of Black publishers from across the country, Whitworth pushed back when a fellow publisher declared that “good news doesn’t sell.” After more than eight decades — and more than 75 years since she went to work there — her paper is still going strong.

Adams had this to say about fierce women of Appalachia:

“Growing up in the mountains, I saw fierce women everywhere I looked. From my great aunt Willie Sue, who served as a medic in World War II, to Ms. McGuire at Sharon Elementary School, who drilled a generation of Allegheny County kids in history and politics. They all show us that we don’t have to be mean or ornery to be fiercer. We can be kind, and listen to others, and reflect back what we see and hear. These women are making a stand for what they believe in — a long and rich tradition here, inside Appalachia.”

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from the Sidedoor podcast, which is produced by the Smithsonian, with support from PRX.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei, Dinosaur Burps and Adrian Niles.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Glynis Board edited this episode. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this week’s show. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

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Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.