Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Women of the River: Grassroots Organizing and Natural Disaster*

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Women of the River: Grassroots Organizing and Natural Disaster*

Article excerpt


This study, a sub-study of a larger project, the Missouri Mobile Home Estates Project, examines the grassroots efforts of three women in an impoverished Midwestern river community to improve the lives of the children living there. The women's efforts included infrastructure improvements, a summer meal program for the children, a food bank, and a thriftshop. This community was devastated by floods in 1973, 1986, and 1993; at these times, crisis intervention services were provided to the residents. Yet, it appears little assistance was offered to the community between these floods, despite the community's well-publicized crime and poverty. Using a social action framework and interpretive phenomenological analysis, the participants in this study were interviewed to examine the following questions: (1) Are the characteristics of grassroots community organizing evident in the grassroots efforts of the women of the river?; (2) How did residing in Missouri Mobile affect the women long term?; (3) How did residing in Missouri Mobile affect their two children?; and (4) What common themes emerged from the women's and children's interviews?

This study examines the grassroots activities of three women in an isolated rural mobile home community devastated by floods in 1973 and 1986, and finally destroyed by a flood in 1993. Missouri Mobile Home Estates was a small community of approximately 600 people, or 250 mobile home units, situated adjacent to the Missouri River in St. Charles County, Missouri (Steinberg 2000:108). The Missouri Mobile Home Estates community in particular became notorious in the late 1980s and early 1990s for their poverty, crime, and trailer fires (Dummit 1992; Riley 1990).

Despite the poor living conditions, or perhaps because of them, three female residents became involved in grassroots efforts, mobilizing and organizing around issues such as infrastructure problems, community poverty, and child hunger. Their primary goal was to improve the lives of the children living in the community (C. Fox, personal communication, June 3, 2011; S. Shoemake, personal communication, May 27, 2011). These women were not widely assisted in their efforts, although their labors were publicized by the local media (M. Mahan, personal communication June 21, 2012). Crisis intervention occurred after the 1973 and 1986 floods that nearly destroyed the community. Those efforts extended to include relocation assistance after the flood of 1993 destroyed the community and the properties were purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), because of their location within a flood plain (M. Mahan, personal communication June 21, 2012). Despite the work of these women to improve the lives of their disaster-prone community, the area was defined by chronic daily neglect due to the prevalent poverty and crime (Wisner and Gaillard 2009).

These women's grassroots efforts may be defined as coping strategies to deal with the inevitable flooding, as well as the unyielding poverty pressing down on the community (Burton, Kates, and White 1993; Wisner et al. 2004). Burton et al. (1993:121) have called this pattern of behavior "crossing the threshold into action," while Wisner et al. (2004:116) have called such efforts "impact-minimizing strategies," in which inhabitants attempt to minimize costs and facilitate recovery.

We begin this paper with a review of the literature. Within the literature review, we first present the historical context of the mobile home community, and the flooding that affected the lives of its residents and the structure of the community. The idea of natural disasters being socially constructed is also foregrounded here (Enarson 2012; Wisner et al. 2004). The work of Ted Steinberg (2000) is used to situate this historical context. A discussion of the woman-centered model of community organizing is provided within the literature review along with the characteristics of social action, locality development, and empowerment. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.