Reformer Mary Behner (May 14, 1906-March 15, 1988) was born in in Xenia, Ohio. After graduating in 1928 from Wooster College, Behner, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, hoped to become a foreign missionary. Instead, she accepted a position with the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and began a home mission in West Virginia’s northern coalfields.
From 1928 until 1937, Behner worked in the coal camps along Scotts Run, a few miles from Morgantown, where once prosperous mining operations had fallen victim to the depressed coal market of the late 1920s. Thousands of families, including numerous immigrants and African-Americans, were stranded by changing economic tides.
Behner was shocked by the poverty she encountered, but she was not easily daunted. Armed with an iron will and abiding faith, Behner comforted mothers whose babies had died for want of milk, castigated coal operators for ignoring their workers’ needs, and created educational and social outlets for young people. Her most visible contribution to Scotts Run was ‘‘The Shack,’’ a former company store that Behner converted into a community center. Behner continued to support social justice and service projects after her 1937 marriage to David Christopher. Chief among her interests were programs that assisted children in need and those that fostered an appreciation for different cultures. Mary Behner Christopher died in Morgantown.
This Article was written by Christine M. Kreiser
Last Revised on March 11, 2015
Burger, Bettijane. Mary Elizabeth Behner Christopher. Missing Chapters II: West Virginia Women in History. Charleston: West Virginia Women's Commission, 1986.
Kreiser, Christine M., ed. 'I Wonder Whom God Will Hold Responsible': Mary Behner and Scotts Run. West Virginia History, 1994.
Cite This Article
Kreiser, Christine M. "Mary Behner." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 11 March 2015. Web. 27 March 2017.