Unionist William ‘‘Bill’’ Blizzard (September 19, 1892-July 31, 1958) was the son of Timothy Blizzard and activist Sarah Rebecca ‘‘Mother’’ Blizzard. He became one of West Virginia’s most influential and controversial labor leaders of the 20th century. Born in the Cabin Creek district of Kanawha County, Blizzard first became involved with the United Mine Workers of America during the bloody Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912–13. During the next decade, he rose from the rank and file along with Frank Keeney and Fred Mooney.
In 1921, Blizzard played a key role in the Miners’ March on Logan. While District 17 President Keeney and Secretary-treasurer Mooney managed events behind the scenes, Blizzard led the miners in the front lines of the fighting at Blair Mountain. After the Battle of Blair Mountain, Blizzard was tried at Charles Town for treason and murder, defended by T. C. Townsend and Harold Houston, and found not guilty on both charges. However, the District 17 officials had lost favor with UMWA President John L. Lewis, and in 1924 Keeney and Mooney were forced to retire. Blizzard remained in the union but lost much of his influence.
Blizzard returned to prominence in 1931 when he led the UMWA’s struggle against Keeney’s West Virginia Mine Workers Union. Blizzard became a close associate of union leader Van Bittner and together they made the UMWA a powerful political force in West Virginia. In 1945, Blizzard was appointed president of District 17 and served for 10 years. John L. Lewis forced Blizzard to resign after learning of a fistfight between Blizzard and Lewis’s youngest brother, Raymond Lewis. Blizzard died of cancer, reportedly having come to regret his long association with the Lewis forces inside the UMWA.
This Article was written by C. Belmont Keeney
Last Revised on September 26, 2012