Fierce Women Of Appalachia In Story And Song


This week’s episode of Inside Appalachia is about fierce women — something we have no shortage of here in Appalachia.

We’ll hear about the folk music collaboration between Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn. Their new album combines the tones of Appalachia with the melodies of China. We’ll also hear a story about the first transgender person elected to political office in West Virginia, and a 90-year-old newspaper publisher who is still hard at work each week.

Appalachia And China

What happens when Appalachian and Chinese folk music come together? 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.


Rosemary Ketchum just became the first transgender person in West Virginia to be elected to office. She’s now a city council member in Wheeling, West Virginia, where she assists in efforts to clean up the city and helps residents who are struggling with food insecurity and homelessness.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting Producers Corey Knollinger and Chuck Kleine followed Ketchum to document her campaign. Check out the half-hour documentary here. The film will also air on PBS stations this month.


Leslie Terry (center) and the rest of the Roanoke Tribune team prepare the week’s newspapers to be mailed to readers.

Mason Adams
Leslie Terry (center) and the rest of the Roanoke Tribune team prepare the week’s newspapers to be mailed to readers.";

Roanoke Tribune

The Roanoke Tribune is a family-owned, African American newspaper, led by Claudia Whitworth. Her newspaper’s mission remains: “Making and Recording Black History since 1939!”

The paper survived Jim Crow laws, the destruction of its building during urban renewal. Now it is surviving the pandemic and the death of print publications.

Guest host Mason Adams spent some time talking with three generations of the paper’s staff. Including the woman who leads the paper, Whitworth, who is now in her 90s. He discovered that 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, 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.

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

You can also send us an email to

Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.