'Fannie Never Flinched' tells story of labor activist killed in Brackenridge
When she was growing up, Mary Cronk Farrell says she did not have many women to look up to as role models.
“I was raised Catholic, and they told us about the saints in school, but I didn't aspire to be a saint,” the award-winning children's and young-adult author recalls with a chuckle.
The Spokane, Wash., resident, a former television journalist, has kept that in mind in her five books reflecting her passion for stories about women facing great adversity with courage.
Her latest, “Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman's Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights” (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 44 pages, $19.95) brings her to the Alle-Kiski Valley and Pittsburgh area from Nov. 7 to 12 for her book launch, including appearances at local schools and two free events open to the public.
Cronk Farrell chose Pittsburgh to introduce her book because of the story's strong ties to the region.
The book is about Fannie Sellins, an organizer for the United Mine Workers who was gunned down in Brackenridge on the eve of a nationwide steel strike, Aug. 26, 1919. A historical marker at Union Cemetery, Arnold, honors her and Joseph Starzelski, a miner also killed that day. They were buried in Union Cemetery.
“I'm kind of a history buff and tend to be interested in any kind of local or national history not often heard about,” she says. “It's important to me that girls really gain confidence by reading about people and really develop a belief in their own skills and talents.”
She accomplishes that in her writing, multimedia presentations and workshops across the nation.
The mother of three adult children says confronting grief, adversity and failure in her own life enables her to write stories with an authentic emotional core.
Cronk Farrell relates the life and death of Sellins, who she says helped pave the way for labor reform in the United States. She sees Sellins as an early example of “a very strong woman.”
“She worked full time, like many women do today and many did then too, though history books like to make us think women didn't work. She was very courageous and compassionate,” she says. “She was about to be hired by the United Mine Workers Union. To be hired in that type of position in that day and age was extraordinary.”
“She was a very charismatic speaker, convincing the men they should join the union. She had a gift for inspiring people to believe in themselves and believe they could have better lives,” Cronk Farrell says.
She has found it very gratifying to work on a story of importance like this, which she first began researching 10 years ago, and, though it initially was turned down by publishers, to continue to believe after all these years that it needed to be in a book that young people can read.
“It's a beautifully designed book that required teamwork,” she says.
Cronk Farrell says she tries to write about real life.
“And for most of us, real life doesn't always go along very smoothly, but it comes with bumps in the road,” she says. “Writing about that resonates with readers. Hopefully, my books inspire them to just keep on, to not give up.”
She hopes that the example of “Fannie” inspires readers of all ages to take action for justice.
“We can all take action in our own lives to try to create change and more in culture and society,” she says. “I hope this book inspires them to look around and think, ‘What do I see around me that is unjust and can help change?' ”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.