Mountain Mama Kind of Somethin': Huntington Women Reflect on Community

Huntington is West Virginia’s second largest city; as of the 2014 census, its population is only about 2,000 people fewer than Charleston, the largest city and capital. In April 2017, it won the title of “America’s Best Community” and was awarded a $3 million dollar prize toward its Innovation Project. However, Huntington has also been the subject of an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-award winning documentary, Heroin(e), which is focused on the national attention received by the “opioid epidemic” in recent years. It is easy to see how this small city is the embodiment of contradictions that are often the case of Appalachian cities of any size.

In this paper, I will present qualitative data from an on-going digital ethnography project of interviews of approximately 40 Huntington women. Some of these women are lifelong residents, others are “boomerangs” who left as young adults (often for college) but returned later in adulthood, and still others are newcomers to the area, usually for careers at the local university. Additionally, these women represent a wide variety of professional identities, such small business owners, working artists, non-profit directors, academics, and clergy. Yet one thing remains constant in their discussion of work: the importance of Huntington as a city with a particularly strong sense of community with regard to their successes, especially in recent years since it has gone through a revitalization of sorts, despite its many troubles.