Eula Hall was born in 1927 near Greasy Creek, Kentucky. Her parents were tenant farmers. She started school at age nine and completed eight grades in five years, but she never attended high school because it was too far away to attend.
Her only time away from Kentucky was during World War II when she worked in a canning factory in New York. She was accused of starting a labor riot over poor working conditions and sent home. She became a domestic servant for boarding homes where miners lived. She would later become a VISTA volunteer in President Johnson’s War on Poverty. This is where she unleashed the activist within her.
At the age of 46, Eula created the Mud Creek Health Clinic to serve the needs of those with no insurance and no funds to cover medical expenses. The clinic began in a trailer. When the initial space became inadequate, Eula moved her family into the trailer and used her home for the clinic.
In just four years, the clinic was seeing patients from Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio, as well as Kentucky. The clinic could no longer accommodate the patient level. Eula decided to merge the clinic with the nonprofit Big Sandy Health Care clinic. This merger allowed the combined clinics to apply for federal support.
In 1982, an arsonist burned down the Mud Creek clinic’s facility. For a while the clinic used a picnic table to see patients. The federal Appalachian Regional Commission agreed to supply funds for a new facility if the clinic could come up with $80,000 in matching funds. In a short period of time, the clinic raised $120,000. What made this even more remarkable was that the community served by the clinic is one of extreme poverty.
The Mud Creek clinic sees over 200,000 patients each year. In addition to medical cases, the clinic also provides help with disability claims, Social Security benefits, food stamp assistance, and other areas of need.
While Eula never got past the 8th grade in school, she has received four honorary doctorate degrees. She passed away in 2021 at the age of 93.
Eula Hall is an example of how one person can be a catalyst for social change. She exemplified the words of Robert Kennedy (himself modifying an earlier quotation from George Bernard Shaw), that some people “see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’.” Eula Hall had limited resources, but she had something that resources can’t provide: a passionate imagination for social justice.
Just imagine how our society would function with more Eula Halls. How might we inspire others to reach out in support of others even when their resources are limited? When it comes to improving society, how might we spark the imagination to ask, Why not? How do we create that spark of caring as a more common human trait?
* * *
“I was always imagining having something like what we’ve got now, like Big Sandy Health Care, where people can go in, and nobody kicks you out because you’ve got no money.”–Eula Hall
This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imagining positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.