Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 19: Students


Student, 1934-1940 (May 1936 Graduate)
Member, PMSS Octet, 1930s

PMSS Octet members, 1937 - (l-r) Georgia Dodd, Lucille Christian, Nan Milan, (seated) Fern Hall, Joan Ayers, Ruth Christian, Lela Christian, Ruby Ayers [pmss_octet0002a_mod]

PMSS Octet members, 1937 – (l-r) Georgia Dodd, Lucille Christian, Nan Milan, (seated) Fern Hall, Joan Ayers, Ruth Christian, Lela Christian, Ruby Ayers [pmss_octet0002a_mod]

Lela Christian (Meador) was a student at Pine Mountain Settlement School from 1934 to 1940. Her story follows that of many students who came to Pine Mountain during its boarding school years.

Often the biographies on the Pine Mountain Settlement School website are derived from gathered sources.  While it is not rare to have autobiographies written by students and staff at the School, it is rare to have one written in the 92nd year of life.  Lela has left us one of those rare autobiographical memoirs. At the age of 92 1/2 Lela put together the following unique and reflective memoir that describes her early life and that of her family in a Harlan County, Kentucky coal camp; her early education at the Grace Nettleton Home for Girls in Harrogate, Tennessee; her arrival, further schooling and her graduation in 1936 from Pine Mountain Settlement School; and her amazing life accomplishments. 

** The memoir has been edited for clarity. Some memories have noticeably been conflated and embellished … part of what many of us prefer to call  “accidental memory” brought on by the “winds of time.” They are, however, Lela’s memories to be treasured by all who knew her. [hw]


The winds of time started for me, Lela Christian, at 4:02 AM on the morning of 1917 in Bell County, Kentucky. Now the winds are softly bringing the leaves to the ground far from that birth place. The scenery and place are not the same as the coal camp of birth in Arjay, [Harlan County] Kentucky. But, the heart is the same and remains so until my ashes are scattered and forever become a part of those winds, earth sky and time.

To me the most fascinating thought is that all humans after death become a vast nation of all who have gone before, not lost but invisible to those who are left to be a part of us on “roads less traveled,” said Robert Frost. [The full quote from Frost is below].

Two roads diverged in a wood and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Please travel with me. The nature of the winds will vary so step lively and keep up.


Lucille Christian [McKinney], Lela Christian [Meador], and Ruth Christian {?] [burkh_017.jpg]

My father died when I was 5 years old and my mother was left with 4 girls ages 6 months to 8 years [Ruby, Lucille, Ruth, and  Lela] . We lived in Arjay in the Kentucky King Coal Company camp, owned by U.S. Steel. It was one of the very best of companies which [following my father’s death] let my mother keep boarders who were looking for work, by adding a bathhouse and an extra bedroom. Later, when they realized I was her water carrier from the nearest pump, they had a water pipe [run] to the house and [installed] water in the kitchen. This allowed me more time to give my mother help inside the house.

From this environment, I learned laughter, happiness and most of all kindness to everyone. Many times in those early years I learned the word “integrity” and even today it has the place at the top of all words to me.


Source: “The Mountain Advocate.” (Barbourville, KY). July 7, 1922. [pmss_archives_article_loc]

Let us begin with my father’s death.

My father was a deputy for Kentucky King Coal Company and was in Wallins to serve a [warrant for arrest] to bring in a man who had shot up the ice house and grocery store. I have always thought that the man just meant to scare my father rather than [kill him] with the bullet that hit his spine.

The sunshine told a brilliant tale on this July 4, 1922, [day] as the man stepped off the train, wearing a dark hat and carried a 38 Smith & [Wesson] pistol. The hellos and how are you were plentiful as he walked down the street to where Albert Simpson, the sheriff of Wallins Creek waited.

As the two men stood swapping yarns a shot rang out, fired by a man concealed behind a counter and [my father, Neal] Christian fell to the ground; a man, at one time called a friend, had shot him in the back. He told my mother that he meant to fire over my father’s head.

The hillside was black. The snow was cold, but Spring would come and the white of the [arbutus] would bloom.

The morning was dark, the pump was frozen. I was six. I was a girl. My father dead, my mother a living dead, my grandmother was an in-between.

A coal train was stopped to carry my father to the Pineville Hospital. I was allowed to stay with my mother [at the hospital] and I sang to my father and held his hand most of the next two days.

We hear of Coal Miner’s daughters, but can one understand the dark, dank that caves in? Whistles blowing in the early morning hours, middle of the night, dusk or dawn. Men buried under tons of rock and coal. Children starving, widows weeping, flash mountain floods…

My father, Neal Christian, was one of eight children. He was the son of Amanda Vaughn and William Christian. His daughters Ruby, Ruth, Lela and Lucille joined Linda [Lida] Maftin, (Lydia Martin Christian?], his wife, and his brothers Allen, Henderson, Colvin, Albert, Johnny and sister Sally [in grief].

It must be hell to wash all the dirty miner’s clothes, [sister] Sally did and [so did] her mother. Neal Christian, [gone] who thought all men should live free and die free. Such was the time of my father. Such was the span of time in the county called “Bloody Harlan.”

The time for remembering is when we remember or choose to forget.

The hospital room smelled of death — my mother grieving. Mother of four small girls. No way to make a living. No equality, No women’s lib. No Catch-22. My mother must have been in mortal fear and fiery pain with her burden to carry into her future, but the Kentucky King Coal Company stepped right in to help. How?

They added the wash house for miners after they left the mines and added a room to our house so the men who left their families to work the coal [would have a place to stay]. These men were treated as well, if not better than the men who lived in the big boarding house. My mother made them feel it was their home as well as ours, and never gave their place [room] away if they were too sick to work or went to see family.

My mother was and still is the guiding light of my life. She was also a first-rate wonder with food and the coal company helped her and built a room on our house, near the Wash House. They ran water to our house so I could help her with the chores. She was soon given the big boarding house to run. Then she was too busy to properly care for 4 young girls and my grandmother and my father’s two brothers took us in for two years until we were old enough to go to Grace Nettleton Home in Harrogate, Tennessee, which is where my book learning started. What a find!

The Home was built as a hotel, with indoor bath facilities. The commodes had a water box near the ceiling with a long chain to pull to flush. No more lime for the outhouse!

The hotel [Home] had been built as a place for wayfarers, on the old Daniel Boone Trail from Tennessee at Cumberland Gap past the hotel at the foot of the Pinnacles into Kentucky and Virginia. The small railroad tunnel at the foot of the Grace Nettleton property is now part of the highway going South. Lincoln Memorial University is across the valley.

The four girls were sent to my father’s mother and to her two brother’s home to live . As for me, I learned every job that life needed and accepted them all — dirty, clean or scrubbed. This meant learning to milk at age 6 1/2, cleaning and bringing free lye from the store [for the garden], learning to cook and all that went with primitive living.

When mother was given the big boarding house, we, the girls, were soon sent to a home for orphans at Harrogate, Tenn. The Grace Nettleton Home to which we were sent was built as a hotel and what a beauty. The man who built it was building a hotel at the foot of the Pinnacles, the old Daniel Boone Trail to Virginia and Kentucky. After he died he donated it to be a school called Grace Nettleton Home for mothers who had lost their husbands in coal.

Later, the school was to be affiliated with Lincoln Memorial University, across the valley. College privileges were part of the contract. I was offered entry by the president when I reached that far in my learning. If one travels north to south on highway US #75, it still has the huge concrete letters LMU just before one passes through the old railroad tunnel into Kentucky.

One of my mother’s ancestors was with Boone when the breaking of the trail went forth. That was long before my presence but if it is wrong I must take simple credit. I believe his name was Gatliff and he is buried in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and care for his grave is by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) caring for it.

In the Grace Nettleton School we learned to sew by getting a cotton dress a size too large and altering it for Easter morning egg hunting at the college. Eggs everywhere! Lincoln Memorial University is or was open for enrollment to all of the [children on contract] if they qualify. I qualified and you will find out how I handled [this] after high school.

In Jr. High I was taught by one of the best teachers named John Ivy, who was getting his Doctoric [sic] PhD. in theology. From him I learned my first hard math and I was encouraged in my sports education as well. The sports education followed me for the rest of my 92 years until today. John Ivy also baptized me at 12 years of age.

I had another great teacher [at Grace Nettleosn], Frank Simon, of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, who had great interest in my becoming an outstanding trumpet player, He had been a [cornet] soloist for John Philip Sousa, who wrote our great marches. He and his wife did their very best to see I got in touch with top classical music. I have [had] among the best of everything I needed in life, Reach out —- Give back to others where needed.

[Apparently, Lela took great joy in giving her music to others. It is unclear where the visits took place.]  The visit by myself and with my good friend, Arlene Leach, who set about letting me go into nursing homes to entertain the residents and be entertained by them. I went later by myself and with Bluegrass bands. The best, cleanest and most co-operative [nursing homes] welcomed us.

[Lela’s excelled at sports and she records these milestones throughout her long life.] Running (Best – 10 K), basketball, pole vaulting, broad jump (now called long jump); later I asked for and received permission to organize a basketball squad (not exactly according to rules but exercise to relieve homesickness in Navy boot camp, located in the Bronx at Hunter College during WWII). We had sore knees & fun you bet, along with the cold wind by the water when [conducting] drilling [exercises].


When Lela and her sisters, Ruth and Lucille came to Pine Mountain Settlement School in 1934, they were already familiar with boarding school life.  Lela, particularly, brought her Grace Nettleton Home experiences with her.  She also brought her musical talents. She and her sisters became members of the Pine Mountain Settlement School Girl’s Octet, a choral group, formed in the 1936 by Glyn Morris, Lela enjoyed music and was an accomplished musician on the dulcimer as well as other instruments. Her two sisters, Lucille Christian [McKinney} and Ruth Christian [Russell] were also members of the Octet.

Lela’s sister Lucille wrote to Pine Mountain in 2011, just shortly after Lela’s passing at the age of 93. She said of her sister:

Throughout her life, she was a productive and caring person where others were concerned. She never had much money, like most who came from those depression days, but she gave of herself generously and developed her talents fully as she marched through life, where she always found joy for herself and others.

During one of my last visits with her I told her what you all were doing at Pine Mountain these days and she was so happy that it continued to be a vibrant and inspiring place. May God bless all of you.

The following obituary was attached to the correspondence:

Lela Christian Meador, a 1937 (sic) graduate of Pine Mountain Settlement School, died on Wednesday June 30th, [2011] at age 93. She was living with her son, Douglas [N. Meador] and his wife, Candy in Redding, CA, at the time of her death.

Lela was one of four girls who rode horses down to Big Laurel where the school had set up a center for medical and other help to those who lived in the remote areas near Pine Mountain. Lela was one of the members of an octet of singers and dancers who took a tour of the eastern part of the U.S. to raise money and awareness of Pine Mountain. Among others the group sang and danced at the White House before President and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt and later at Dearborn, Michigan, before Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford and their guests. The group also appeared before church and club groups as well as singing over the radio.

When war broke out Lela joined the Navy and spent most of her work as an air controller. She was one of the last women living who had served in WWII. Throughout her life Lela strived to make the world a better place, as she often said, she had been taught at Pine Mountain to do so.

There are scattered accounts of Lela throughout the later Boarding Shool years when she was in attendance.  Many of these accounts may be searched by entereing “Lela” in the search box of the web site.

One notable instance of Lela’s love of the mountains of Kentucky may be found in a brief literary piece in the Pine Cone, the school’s news letter.


1981 Homecoming Minutes, "Lela Christian Meador, Georgia Ayers Dodd, Fern Hall Hayes." [1981_pmss_alum_min_009.jpg]

1981 Homecoming Minutes, “Lela Christian Meador, Georgia Ayers Dodd, Fern Hall Hayes.” [1981_pmss_alum_min_009.jpg]


Lela Christian

Alt. Title

Lela Christian Meador




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Lela Christian Meador ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Lela Christian ; Lela Christian Meador ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; students ; coal camps ; Grace Nettleton Home ; Robert Frost ; Kentucky King Coal Company ; U.S. Steel ; deputy sheriffs ; sheriff ; shootings ; Albert Simpson ; Pineville Hospital ; Neal Christian ; Amanda Vaughn ; William Christian ; Bloody Harlan ; wash houses ; coal miners ; boarding houses ; Daniel Boone Trail ; Cumberland Gap ; Pinnacles ; Lincoln Memorial University ; Daniel Boone ; Gatliff ; Daughters of the American Revolution ; John Ivy ; Frank Simon ; teachers ; Cincinnati Conservatory of Music ; trumpets ; cornets ; John Philip Sousa ; Arlene Leach ; U.S. Navy ; dulcimer ; basketball ; Lucille Christian ; Big Laurel ; White House ; President and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt : Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford ; air controllers ; World War II ; Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Harrogate, TN ; Bell County, KY ; Arjay, KY ; Wallins Creek, KY ; Pineville, KY ; Williamsburg, KY ; Dearborn, MI ; Washington, DC ;

Subject LCSH

Christian (Meador), Lela, — May 14, 1917 – June 30, 2011
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 19: Students




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 19: Students.

Coverage Temporal


Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Harrogate, TN ; Bell County, KY ; Arjay, KY ; Wallins Creek, KY ; Pineville, KY ; Williamsburg, KY ; Dearborn, MI ; Washington, DC ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Lela Christian Meador ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Lela Christian Meador ;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2014-02-11 hhw ; 2015-08-26 aae ; 2017-12-13 hhw; 2018-09-18 hhw;



Boarding School Students 1929-1949. Series 19: Students, Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“Shooting at Wallins Creek. “Chronicling America.” Library of Congress. Mountain advocate. (Barbourville, Ky.) 1904-1935, July 07, 1922, Image 1. Image provided by University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Persistent link (accessed 2015-08-26): http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87060032/1922-07-07/ed-1/seq-1/

“United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K7TW-WVS : accessed 27 August 2015), Lela Christian in household of Lydia Christian, Cumberland City, Magisterial District 3, Harlan, Kentucky, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 48-24, sheet 8A, family 147, NARA digital publication T627 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012), roll 1314.


Jones, William I. The Grace Nettleton Home for Girls: A Contribution to the Womanhood of America. Harrogate (near Cumberland Gap), TN, 1945. Print.

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