The Lumber Heritage Region (LHR) is excited to announce the completion of a new Diversity Research Study about the history of life in the Forest Products Industry. The research for this study was conducted by Hilary Folwell Jebitsch, Historical Researcher, over an 11-month period in the LHR’s 15-counties: Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Indiana, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, and Warren. “I am truly thankful for the opportunity to be part of the Lumber Heritage Region Research Diversity Study. Researching during a pandemic was a challenge and I am grateful to all of the individuals and historical societies who were willing to meet with me. ” Jebitsch shares.
Holly Komonczi, Executive Director of the LHR states, “We’ve always known there was a diverse population of people that lived and worked in the forests during the lumber boom. Historic photos revealed women, young and old alike, as well as a small number of black men pictured in the lumber camps, but information about who they were and what their role was proved elusive. Now, thanks to Hilary’s research, we can identify them and begin to tell their stories.”
This report is packed with stories of women working in remote lumber camps as “cookees” and “flunkies”, common terms used to describe their jobs. There are also stories of women making the treacherous journey down the river on logging rafts to deliver the lumber to market, a job often so dangerous most women were not allowed to participate. In later years, research shows women taking over the work in factories producing lumber related products during WWII due to the shortage of men. These stories challenge the idea that the forest industry was exclusively male dominated.
Although harder to uncover, the study documents instances of Blacks working in lumber camps along with women and white men. Williamsport had the most reports of African Americans working there, likely because it was a larger city, but possibly because of the connection to the Underground Railroad that helped blacks escape slavery in the south. When the Civilian Conservation Corp was created, black men worked throughout the region on various projects that included forest industry jobs.
Hilary is quick to point out, “As is the case in all research, it is never final.” Now that these stories have been uncovered, the opportunity exists to expand on what’s been discovered, enabling the LHR and its partners to offer a much more inclusive story. Holly goes on to say, “We are so excited to be a part of this project. There has been a lot of interest shown across the lumber region and the entire state. People are very curious to learn more about this topic and LHR plans to expand on the research done so far in order to preserve the long-forgotten history of diversity in the lumber industry.”
Live and virtual presentations of the Diversity Study in the Forest Products industry will be available throughout the year. The first in-person presentation will be June 8, 2021 at 7pm at the Forest County Historical Society in Tionesta, PA. Check the Lumber Heritage Region website (www.lumberheritage.org) and social media for more information.
This project was funded in part by the LHR in conjunction with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).