It snowed all day and night on Sunday. By dawn, three feet of snow covered the Mesabi Iron Range. Lois Jenson warmed her delicate hands on her coffee mug as she looked out the window of her small house in Virginia, Minnesota. She glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall: 6:15. She drank the last of her coffee and set the mug in the sink. It was Monday, March 25, 1975, Lois's first day of work at Eveleth Mines. If she didn't want to be late, she had better give herself some extra time. The day shift started at 7:00 a.m. In this weather, it would not be a twenty-minute trip.
Luckily, her turquoise Ford Maverick rode high over the road, and though she had to inch along on Highway 37, she could clear most of the snow on the two-lane road, which cut a straight line through the austere landscape of aspen, birch, and jack pine. In the distance she could make out the three twenty-story stacks of the mine's Forbes Fairlane Plant, each mounting a tall white column of smoke in the bitter northern Minnesota sky.
At the town of Forbes she turned onto the long drive leading to the plant. Up ahead, a man flagged her down. She saw his pickup buried in a snow drift and when she discovered that he, too, was on his way to the plant, she gave him a ride. His name was Clarence Mattson. He told Lois he was an electrician and that he'd worked at Eveleth for ten years. He seemed like a decent guy, and he mentioned that the men were bellyaching about how, starting today, they had to behave themselves and clean up their language. He showed her where to park in the employee lot and where she should enter the enormous plant. The truth was, she felt relieved to be arriving at this place accompanied. The closer she got, the more it looked to her like a steel monster with tentacles jutting out from all sides. But, she thought, as she stepped out of the Maverick and into her new life as an iron miner, "If everyone's this friendly, I'm going to like this job."
As Lois and Mattson walked the fifty yards uphill to the main building, they were quickly joined by dozens of men. Most of them were streaming out of the building, dirty and tired after working the midnight shift; the rest were arriving to punch in for the day. Lois noticed that these guys were staring at her. She was twenty-seven years old, with shoulder-length wavy blond hair, blue eyes, and pale, clear skin--a Scandinavian beauty with a slender waist and an elegant long neck. She was used to feeling men's eyes upon her, but this time it was different. It felt as if the men had never seen a woman before.
Lois hurried into the trailer Mattson said was serving as the women's changing room while the mine built its four new female miners a permanent "dry"--a term left over from the days when miners worked deep underground, often in several feet of water. The "dry house" was where they changed into their clean clothes at the end of a shift. Because of the snow, Lois's three female colleagues hadn't made it to their first day of work, so she found herself alone in the small, barely heated room. The starkness of the quarters startled her: twelve steel lockers, a table, four chairs, and a shower, sink, and toilet stall, none of which worked on account of the cold. Waiting for her in the locker room was a white hard hat with a blue stripe and the name Jenson printed on the brim in block letters, a pair of men's size six Red Wing work boots, and clunky plastic protective glasses. In the unheated room, she changed into thermal underwear, a sweatshirt, a down vest, gray-and-blue striped coveralls she had bought the day before, the boots, plastic protective glasses, and hard hat. She stood in front of the mirror over the sink and burst out laughing--the person in the mirror looked like an auto mechanic, not a mother. Lois held her breath for a few seconds and walked out into the plant, where her first task was to go on a tour.
Excerpted from Class Action by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler. Copyright 2002 by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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