The Angel of Happy Hollow
Elizabeth "Toddy" Collins
Southwest Virginia Museum
 

 

The Early Years

Elizabeth "Toddy" Collins was born in England on May 11, 1868. Her father was a prosperous hotel owner and landlord. Toddy's mother, however, died when she was ten. Toddy had two sisters and one brother.

While attending a girl's school in England, Toddy, because of her superior scholarship, was chosen to greet Queen Victoria. The Queen tested Toddy's spelling ability, then patted her on the head and said, "Knowledge and understanding go hand in hand, and I know you will have a life of great usefulness."

Coming to America

In 1880, Toddy, her father, two sisters, one brother and the housekeeper, moved to North Carolina. Toddy's father, a noted amateur horticulturist, was eager for more land on which to grow vegetables for experiments and profit. Toddy grew up in North Carolina enjoying the life of a well-to-do planter's daughter.

Toddy attended a private Episcopal school in Richmond, Virginia and, while there, she became interested in mission work. She was interested in working in Africa, but because she was so frail, she knew no foreign mission board would consider her. Toddy worked for several years among the poor in Richmond. She later enrolled in a specialized course in mission work at Christian and Missionary Alliance at Nyack on the Hudson in New York. It was there she learned, through another student, how the families of miners in the Southern coal fields needed help. This area appealed to her at once. Upon completing her studies in New York, Toddy was sent to Andover, Virginia.

Coming to the Mountains

Toddy arrived in Andover on May 26, 1906. She later came to Roda on October 17. With a great desire in her heart to minister and only thirty-three cents in her pocket, her arrival was less than enthusiastic. At first, the miners did not welcome her and even threatened to run her out of town. They felt that book learning was a form of devilment and that no "outlander" could teach them better ways of living. Toddy, however, was a woman of deep faith and compassion and was not easily discouraged.

Within the first week of her arriving in Roda and Happy Hollow, she organized a sewing class and held the first church service in her living room. Throughout the years, she helped "birth" miner's children, helped the doctors by visiting the sick, became a friend and counselor, was guardian to three homeless children and provided leadership in establishing a church and a school. Toddy's ability to command in emergencies was demonstrated during several epidemics that spread through the mountains. During these times, she singlehandedly directed the distribution of food supplies, administered medicines under overworked doctor's orders, set up central soup kitchens to feed the sick in five mining camps and coordinated volunteer relief efforts to those who were not victims of the epidemics.

Toddy later said of her arrival to the mountains that, "It would take more than a moonshiner with a gun to have kept me out of those hills." Due to Toddy's loving and unselfish ways, she became known as "The Angel of Happy Hollow."

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The Southwest Virginia Museum is a member of the American
Association of Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.


ELIZABETH "TODDY" COLLINS

 

Her Final Days

A short time before her death, Toddy returned to Roda after a two-month stay in the hospital. She was greeted and escorted from the train to her home in Roda by a large group of people and a brass band. To neighbors in her own community, as well as miners from six other communities, the fact that "Toddy" was well and back with them was sufficient reason for temporary shutdowns in eight mines and a whole day of rejoicing at Rhoda's community church.

Toddy had been mother, counselor, preacher, doctor, nurse, and friend to thousands of miners for almost half a century. But a lifetime of dedication was also drawing to a close. On December 13, 1947, she died in peace, and was buried in Glencoe Cemetery in Big Stone Gap.

Looking back, Toddy lived up to the prediction made by Queen Victoria to that young child in England when she said, "Knowledge and understanding go hand in hand, and I know you will have a life of great usefulness."

 

 

Rhoda Today ...

Today, the small community of Roda still exists. You may want to visit the area in which "Toddy" gave so much of her love and time.