In the 19th and early 20th centuries, coal mines were often located in isolated low-income rural areas. Working in the coal mine was often the only local source of any sort of decent living.
It was not unusual for the mine owners to build company towns near the mines. The coal company owned everything in these company towns. Houses of varying quality (none very large) were rented to the coal miners with the rent being deducted from wages.
Often the only retailer in these mining towns was a general store owned by the coal company – “The Company Store.” Coal miners and their families could shop at the company store on credit, with the amount due to the Company Store deducted from wages.
Since it was the only store in town, whatever the Company Store charged for food and other necessities was what the miners and their wives bought. (Coal mining was dirty. Most work involved long hours of heavy physical labor in the mine where it was pitch-dark and the miners worked by lantern light and a small headlamp that consumed lantern oil. All the miners were men.
Women were also involved in heavy physical labor, including hand-washing clothing that was filthy from mine dust, caring for children who often had no established place to play, and stretching basic ingredients to feed a family until the next paycheck.
For the many mines located in Appalachia, unions would not be an option only much, much later, if ever.