In the 1940s, photographer Russell Lee spent two years working for the United States Department of the Interior in Eastern Kentucky. During that time, he took thousands of pictures of coal miners and their families–many of which were centered in Harlan and Bell counties.
Lee’s work contributed to health and safety changes that came about later in the mining industry, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Under the direction of Rear Admiral Joel T. Boone, he made more than 4,000 photographs of living and working conditions among miners, many of which were published in A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry in 1947 and helped to bring about changes in work rules and health requirements in the mining industry.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, all these images are available for viewing and downloading on Wikimedia Commons; here are five interesting ones.
For more pictures–and audio–of more recent life in Southern West Virginia’s coalfields, the Library of Congress has an amazing collection, too.