Notable Citizens: Elizabeth Beranek

Elizabeth Beranek, about 1942. Photo courtesy the Beranek Family.

Mrs. Beranek could be described as a hardy soul. Mother of 17 children, Elizabeth Beranek (1884-1956) was a shining example of self-sufficiency reflected in early Lafayette households. She was a staunch supporter of workers’ rights, and risked her life to ensure that area coal miners received fair wages.

Elizabeth’s husband, Joe, was a coal miner who worked at the Standard and Columbine mines. During the summers, Joe, Mrs. Beranek and the family worked the beet fields, topping and harvesting sugar beets. The two were married in their home region of Bohemia and settled in Lafayette in 1907.

In 1927, union miners at the Columbine mine, located in Serene, went on strike. Miners and their families picketed the Serene coal camp daily, having driven from Lafayette and surrounding communities. The protesters would march about a 1/2 mile, from the coal camp’s northern gate to the camp post office. Mine owners eventually barred the group from company property, which escalated tensions.

Many women paraded and picketed at the side of their striking husbands, and two or three women were always leading the charge at Serene. Mrs. Beranek was a small woman, but camp guards and militia said that she always took a spot in the front line of the picketers, vigorously waving the American flag.

On Nov. 21, 1927, a group of 500 picketers challenged camp guards and police at the north gate, and proceeded to climb over. A small number, including Mrs. Beranek, made it several hundred yards into the camp, where they were met by a hail of gunfire from state militia. Six striking miners were killed in the encounter, and Mrs. Beranek, with flag in hand, shielded injured miner Adam Bell. She was beaten by police and severely bruised.

You can read more about the Columbine Mine Massacre here.