Eula Hall: Bootstraps and Compassion
A new biography of legendary Appalachian community health activist Eula Hall examines how her exposure to inequality led to a “steely feminism and resolve to continue to ‘raise holy hell’ at the first sign of injustice.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Eula Hall has been called “an angel, dynamite, a force to be reckoned with and a living legend.” The Eastern Kentucky native is best known as the founder and director of the Mud Creek Clinic, which has brought medical care to an underserved rural area for the past 40 years. In this article adapted from the introduction to his new biography, Mud Creek Medicine, author Kiran Bhatraju describes how connection to place led to Hall’s lifetime of work to eradicate poverty and disease.
While questions of who and what and how and why are no doubt useful and will serve best in understanding the struggles and triumphs Eula endured, four interrogatives are a waste when just one will do. Where—the ultimate identifier and personification of her struggle. For Eula, and the colorful and dynamic characters who went in and out of her life, place shapes and defines them all—from the winding creek beds connecting hollows, to the sloping mountainsides echoing their twang. Place defines her struggle to give power back to the people from the hands of powerful political elites. Place defines her rugged perseverance in the face of severe domestic abuse. Place defines the holocaust survivor, the liberation theologist, the activists, doctors, elected officials, and regular folks who found hope in her mountain struggle. It is place that defines her steely feminism and resolve to continue to “raise holy hell” at the first sign of injustice.
Some might roll their eyes and ask whether the mythmakers are at it again, deifying a region no longer in the public conscience. It is sometimes said that Appalachia was never given a chance, taken advantage of, and remembered if only for its raw American-ness and down-home culture. As in every introspective of Appalachia, fashionable social theorists, almost always on the outside looking in, quickly place blame on the people for degeneration and environmental recklessness. They claim that cultures of poverty provide causation for neediness and underdevelopment. They claim people here yearn for dependence. And they claim that Appalachia may well be hopeless.
[imgcontainer left][img:14-Eula+and+Patient.jpg"/>A patient greets Hall at the clinic in Grethel, Kentucky. The facility was renamed the Eula Hall Health Center in 2012.
Whether it is the trailblazing, family feuds, coal miners’ strife, moonshinin’, or just folksy charm, the personal stories of individuals found in the hills of Appalachia often do rise to the heights of drama and intrigue, and reach to the depths of the American experience. Eula Hall’s life is no exception. Eula, like so many quiet civic heroes, didn’t do it for fame because, in her words, “Fame ain’t worth a damn”; didn’t do it for accolades because “We need action, not awards”; and didn’t do it for money because she’s “been rich without money since birth.” She fought on, and risked her life at times, as the sign outside the clinic reads: “For the People.”