The Artifacts in Our Lives: Sadie Underwood

Jean Shirkie’s Desk

Sadie Underwood, EMC Staff Writer

There are multiple significant artifacts in my life however, one that rises above all is my great great great great grandmother’s desk. Her name was Jean Shirkie, an immigrant from Ayshire, Scotland who traveled by sea to Ellis Island in hopes of a better life in America. She was truly a “power woman” and her optimistic ideas originated at her little brown desk. This desk would travel with her all the way from Scotland to New York and eventually to Indiana, where she became the first woman coal mine operator in the world. As an operator, she was responsible for using the machinery to drill holes and excavate the coal, assisting in moving and clearing the excavated material, and maintaining and repairing the machines. Her genius ideas and role left such a significant impact on western Indiana and women across the globe that the village she lived in was ultimately named Shirkieville. 

This desk is 150 years old, but hasn’t aged one bit! In honor of her aspiration to inspire women across the globe, her desk and legacy have been passed down to every woman in my family. We take great pride in keeping it in the best shape possible by cleaning it regularly and leaving all notes, just as they originally were, inside. The desk holds letters from business partners, images of Jean herself, and news articles regarding her accomplishments. It has become the center of attention and discussion at every family reunion held by my grandmother, and one of the first stories told to us granddaughters as young children. Since my grandmother is the eldest woman on my dad’s side, it is kept at her house until it will eventually be passed down to my sister. It has reserved a special spot in her living room and showcases all other artifacts passed down by women from each generation. Thus, with each generation, the desk’s journey continued. It traveled all over the U.S. to places like Atlanta, Georgia where my great grandmother lived, Kansas, Connecticut, and now Tampa, Florida. Jean’s wish to travel, inspire others, and build from the bottom-up lives endlessly within the deep brown polished wood of her desk.