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Company Town Doctor, song lyrics

Song: Company Town Doctor (The Dying Doctor)
Lyrics: Woody Guthrie(1)

Music: Woody Guthrie(1)
Year: September 1945
Genre: Folk
Country: USA

Doctor Leo Hayes was our company doctor,
From the big coal companies he got his pay;
For thirty-nine years he tried to cure us,
And now today on his deathbed lay.
He called his five boys and his three daughters,
And at his bed we stood around,
We heard him tell the history of the coal miners,
And he said, "Don't let these people down."
This song was originally posted on
You are all connected with the practice of medicine,
You promise you'll keep true I know,
You will do your best to help these people;
I close my eyes for I must go.
His youngest girl was Doctor Betty(4),
With her face so pretty and her smile so sweet.
She walked the coal towns of Force and Byrnedale;
She saw the sewage waters flowing down the street(4).

She saw the children drink the cankered water,
She saw the chickens fly up on the roof,
She saw the waters overflow the sewers,
And flood their gardens of victory(5).
She went to the big shots of the Shawmut Company(2),
She did not beg and she did not plead,
She stood flatfooted and pounded the table,
Sewer pipes and bathrooms are what we need.
This song was originally posted on
My daddy told me to fight to cure sickness,
But I can't cure sickness with sewage all around,
These germs kill people quicker than I can cure them,
We need a foundation under every house.
We need a bathroom for every family,
Yes, you can set there and blink your eyes,
Three hundred miners are out behind me,
We will clean this town or know the reason why.

I quit my job as the family doctor,
I nailed up my shingle and went on my own,
I carried my pillbag and waded those waters,
I set by a deathbed in many a home.
I saw you catch rainwater in rusty washtubs,
I saw you come home dirty up out of your pits,
Watched you ride with your coffin up to your graveyard,
With not a nickel to pay your burying debt.
This song was originally posted on
On July the fifteenth(4) from the hills around,
Three hundred miners walked down through town,
The state inspector was testing the water,
While he was working you stood around.
One miner asked him to have a drink free,
The inspector looked out toward our pits,
He set his hat back on his head and says,
"I wouldn't drink a drop of that on a bet."

I think of my daddy and brothers and sisters,
When we stood around his dying bed,
When I walk the streets of the company towns(6),
I can hear every word my daddy said.
The Shawmut Company is caught in its own paws,
The people not worth the money they cost,
A hundred have died, three hundred not working,
Thirty thousand tons of coal is lost.


1 - Woody Guthrie biography.

2 - Documents between the Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern Railroad Company, including some with the Shawmut Mining Company.

3 - Shawmut Coal Field in northwestern Pennsylvania.

4 - A news story reporting the July 15, 1945 miner walkout, from The Norwalk Hour, Thursday, August 2, 1945:

Fight Pressed On Mine Filth,
Want Running Water And Sewage System; Water Pumps Condemned

Force, Pa. - Backed by wives who have to wash with murky rain water, while their children play in sewage-filled ditches, this town's 350 miners prepared today "to hold out as long as necessary" for a doctor and better sanitary conditions.

Slim, blond Dr. Elizabeth Hayes started it all when she resigned July 15 as company doctor for the Shawmut Mining Co. because of the "intolerable" sanitary conditions.

The miners walked out because they wouldn't work without medical protection. They liked "Dr. Betty's ideas for bathrooms, running water and a sewage system in a community that had admitted no improvement but electricity for 42 years.

State Health Department authorities in Harrisburg reported that the Shawmut Company would clean up the outdoor toilets, contaminated ground and leaking wells in Force.

Dr. J. Moore Campbell, deputy secretary of health, said a "trouble" shooter from the department got together with company officials on a program to reduce the disease threat.

Motherly Mrs. Jennie Scull, whose 15-year-old daughter is crippled with arthritis and rheumatic fever, declared "long ago I wanted the wives to organize and refuse to pack a lunch or wash a dish until the men demanded better sanitary conditions. Now, maybe we'll get them this way."

The bleak frame company houses, their paint long since disappeared under layers of grime, stand on dirt-filled streets in this northern Pennsylvania town.

Inside, the houses are spotless. The paints are snowy white and the walls are covered with gay attractive papers, paid for by the miners. The people own electric stoves, gleaming refrigerators and washing machines. But the modern cabinet sinks don't have faucets because there is no running water.

Rain water for washing is collected in tubs and barrels. A greyish drinking water, which Dr. Hayes terms "not potable," comes from outside pumps. The state health authority recently condemned five out of seven pumps as being contaminated by toilet sewage which flows from the outhouses into wells, vegetable gardens and streets.

"I see no point in having well baby clinics when you feed these babies `toilet' water," Dr. Hayes declared.

The wind whips up the odors of sewage and rotted garbage draining from the kitchens into the streets.

"We leave the windows closed at night or we get a terrible odor," one miner said.

We'll hold out as long as we have to," the miners agreed, "until the company fixes sanitary conditions so we can get a doctor or gives us a release so we can get out."

5 - Victory garden.

6 - Company towns.