Mother Jones

Mother Jones


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Born on August 1, 1837, to past generations of freedom fighters in Cork, Ireland, Mary Harris Jones was known as the "white-haired `Mother` Jones" of the labor movement, from 1880 through the early 1920s. Jones is best known for her struggles to win decent living and working conditions for the United Mine Workers, and her participation in the Haymarket Day demonstration for the eight-hour day movement in Chicago in 1886.

Richard Harris, Jones` father, came to the United States in 1835, and after receiving citizenship, set about bringing the rest of his family to this country. His work as a laborer on the railway construction crews took him to Toronto, Canada, where Jones was reared.After receiving her teaching certificate in Toronto at age 20, Jones landed a position at a convent in Monroe, Michigan. She taught there for eight months, after which she moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she became a dressmaker.

Jones returned to teaching when she moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where she met and married her husband, George Jones, in 1861. George Jones was an iron moulder and member of the Iron Moulders` Union. During her short marriage, Jones learned about unions and the psychology of laborers, which she later imparted to the wives of laborers. She once said, "The wife must care for what the husband cares for, if he is to remain resolute." The Joneses had four children. Tragedy struck when a yellow fever epidemic broke out in 1867 and everyone in the family but Mary succumbed.

Mary Harris Jones returned to Chicago, where she opened a dressmaking shop. Again, misfortune struck when the great Chicago fire of 1871 destroyed her home, shop and all of her belongings.While working as a dressmaker, Jones developed an interest in improving the conditions of laborers, after witnessing the disparity between the lifestyle of the “aristocrats of Chicago” and that of the jobless poor walking the streets.

"By 1880," she said in The Autobigraphy of Mother Jones,

"I became wholly engrossed in the labor movement. In all the great industrial centers the working class was in rebellion. The enormous immigration from Europe crowded the slums, forced down wages and threatened to destroy the standard of living fought for by American working men."

While continuing her dressmaking livelihood for another three years, Jones joined the newly formed Knights of Labor, whose members attended meetings to organize strikes against local factory owners. On the evening of May 4, 1886, Jones participated in the Haymarket Day demonstration. The event was named after a little district in Chicago called Haymarket Square, where workers from the McCormick Harvester Works rallied for the eight-hour workday. Ex-convicts were hired by the Pinkerton Agency to control the crowd. Also in attendence was Chicago mayor Carter Harrison, who spoke to the protestors. During one of the speeches, a bomb was set off in the crowd, which killed a number of police officers. Hundreds of people were arrested. Eight leaders were convicted of murder and of those, Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer, were hanged. Seven years later, Governor John Peter Atgeld pardoned Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab, who had been serving life sentences.

Jones also participated in numerous other labor uprisings during that time, while traveling all over the country. She became active in the struggles of coal miners in 1890 and became an organizer for the United Mine Workers. She attended the first United Mine Workers of America convention in January 1901. In 1898, she assisted in the formation of the Social Democratic Party, along with trade union activists, such as Eugene V. Debs.After resigning as a UMWA organizer in 1904, Jones became a lecturer for the Socialist Party of America, which had been formed in 1901 by Debs and other former members of the Social Democratic Party, until her resignation in 1911. She was also among the founders of what was called "one big industrial union," the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905. Its preamble averred, "There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things in life."Jones received national attention during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike in West Virginia during 1912-1913, due to the publicity of frequent violence there. West Virginia was known for having the highest mine mortality rate in the country between 1890 and 1912. On September 21, 1912, Jones led a march with coal miners` children, and on February 12 she was arrested while protesting the conditions in the strike area. She was arrested and convicted in a military court of conspiring to commit murder, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. She was at least 68 years old and suffered from pneumonia. However, newly elected Governor Henry D. Hatfield pardoned her.The foregoing events led to a U.S. Senate investigation into the conditions at the West Virginia coalfields. On April 14, Hatfield issued settlement terms for the strike, including a nine-hour work day (already in effect elsewhere in the state), the right to shop in stores other than those owned by the company, the right to elect union checkweighmen, and the elimination of discrimination against union miners. He ordered striking miners on April 25 to accept his terms or face deportation from the state. While Paint Creek miners accepted the contract, Cabin Creek miners remained on strike. The settlement did not address the strikers` two primary grievances: the right to organize and the removal of mine guards. After additional violence on Cabin Creek, that strike was settled with the only additional gain of the removal of Baldwin-Felts detectives as mine guards from both Paint and Cabin creeks.Jones later toured the country to speak out against crimes perpetrated on miners and their families during the "Machine Gun Massacre" in a tent colony at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914. Gaining attention at the federal level, members of the House Mines and Mining Committee, as well as President Woodrow Wilson, proposed that the union agree to a truce with the owners and to form a grievance committee at each mine.During the 1920s, Mother Jones, as she came to be known, continued to speak out against labor injustices, and she was a guest of the Mexican government in Mexico City for the 1921 Pan-American Federation of Labor meeting. The following year, Jones left the United Mine Workers union because of a disagreement with labor leader John L. Lewis over whether to set a date for the Kansas coalworkers to strike against the "Industrial Slave Law," which was designed to prevent coalworkers from striking. Jones felt the rank-and-file workers ought to set the strike date, not the attendees of the United Mine Workers` Convention. During that time, she wrote The Autobiography of Mother Jones, which included the struggles of the labor movement in America.

Mother Jones died seven months after her final public address on her 93rd birthday (she called it her 100th) on November 30, 1930. She was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, where a monument was erected as a memorial to coal miners who had lost their lives during riots associated with strikes. Jones had requested she be buried near those who had sacrificed their lives, and believed that Illinois was "the best organized state in America." A Mary Harris "Mother" Jones historical marker indicates her place of death at Burgess Farm, on Powder Mill and Riggs Road in Adelphi, Maryland, where she spent the last two years of her life. On the marker, Mother Jones is called the "Grand Old Champion of Labor."


For more famous women, see Important and Famous Women in America.


Legendary Mother Jones Came to Help Striking Utah Coal Miners

Mary Jones was the notorious “Mother Jones,” a leader in the labor movement, who came to Carbon County during the 1903-04 coal miner’s strike.

Wherever American workers struggled to improve their conditions of labor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mary Harris Jones was likely to be there. A tireless champion of workers’ rights, Mother Jones, as she was called, was involved in the great railroad strike of 1877, the Haymarket riot of 1896, and the steel strike of 1919. In April 1904 she came to Carbon County, Utah, to assist coal miners in their strike against the Utah Fuel Company.

The Castle Gate coal mine employed so many Italian immigrants that it was known as the “Italian mine.” The miners went out on strike in 1903, seeking better wages and hours and recognition of the United Mine Workers union. Mother Jones came to Utah at the behest of the UMW immediately after she was ordered out of the striking mining districts of Colorado by the governor.

Already well-known when she arrived in Helper, Mother Jones quickly garnered attention when she promised to “agitate, educate and aggravate” on behalf of the miners. She told reporters that “…Mormonism is about as good as any of the rest of the religions, as all the churches and preachers are in league with the big thieves and join hands with corporations in oppressing the poor laboring man.” The Deseret News sought to discredit her, claiming that she had been a Denver brothel keeper and “an erstwhile fast friend of Kate Flint, one of the pioneer scarlet women of Salt Lake.”

Both fearless and compassionate, she endeared herself to ordinary working men and women with her forthright manner and lack of pretension. When, for example, after serving Jones her dinner at a Helper hotel the waitress brought a finger bowl to the table, the labor advocate, speaking so everyone in the dining room could hear, said: “Take it away my girl….such things are not for me, they only give some poor overworked girl extra work at washing dishes.” The story quickly spread throughout the town.

Jones, called by the press a “well-preserved woman of about 60 years of age” (actually 74), soon met with labor organizer William Price, who was confined with reportedly the worst case of smallpox that the local health officer, Dr. Holmquist, had ever seen. The doctor quarantined Jones, and she was forbidden to address strikers at an open-air meeting in Helper. The quarantine shack was burned down, however (apparently by strikers), forcing her to seek shelter at a lodging house. She later claimed that a company detective tried to rob her there at gunpoint, mistakenly believing that she was the guardian of the strike fund.

Mother Jones broke quarantine a number of times in the next few days, once addressing evicted miners in their tent colony. The local papers reported that she was about to lead a force of strikers–with women and children at its head and backed up by at least 150 armed men–who planned to march on Castle Gate and retake their company housing. The Deseret News claimed that “Castle Gate Italians, until goaded by this Amazon, had kept themselves within the law and very few arrests were made….[Jones] has become a ranting vixen seeking to lead a mob of destructionists into the execution of some diabolical plot….” Alarmed local citizens called for the state militia, but Sheriff Hyrum Wilcox formed a posse instead and arrested about 120 miners. The mass arrests broke the strike, which ended shortly thereafter.

Mother Jones later wrote that she had been held captive under the pretext of quarantine for 26 days, although research indicates it was probably less. She left Carbon County for Salt Lake City near the end of April and then continued west to San Francisco, where more strikers awaited her encouragement. Viewed as a compassionate Joan of Arc by many American workers, Mother Jones lived to age 100, fighting for labor most of her life.

See Dale Fetherling, Mother Jones, the Miners’ Advocate Eastern Utah Advocate,Salt Lake Tribune, and Deseret News for April and May 1904 and Allan Kent Powell “The ‘Foreign Element’ and the 1903𔃂 Carbon County Coal Miners’ Strike,” Utah Historical Quarterly 43 (1975).


Mother Jones - History

The most famous female labor activist of the nineteenth century, Mary Harris Jones — aka “Mother Jones” — was a self-proclaimed “hell-raiser” in the cause of economic justice. She was so strident that a US attorney once labeled her “the most dangerous woman in America.”

Born circa August 1, 1837 in County Cork, Ireland, Jones immigrated to Toronto, Canada, with her family at age five—prior to the potato famine with its waves of Irish immigrants.

She first worked as a teacher in a Michigan Catholic school, then as a seamstress in Chicago. She moved to Memphis for another teaching job, and in 1861 married George Jones, a member of the Iron Molders Union. They had four children in six years. In 1867, tragedy struck when her entire family died in a yellow fever epidemic she dressed in black for the rest of her life.

Returning to Chicago, Jones resumed sewing but lost everything she owned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. She found solace at Knights of Labor meetings, and in 1877, took up the cause of working people. Jones focused on the rising number of working poor during industrialization, especially as wages shrunk, hours increased, and workers had no insurance for unemployment, healthcare or old age.

Jones first displayed her oratorical and organizing abilities in Pittsburgh during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. She took part in and led hundreds of strikes, including those that led to the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886. She paused briefly to publish The New Right in 1899 and a two-volume Letter of Love and Labor in 1900 and 1901. A beloved leader, the workers she organized nicknamed her “Mother Jones.”

Beginning in 1900, Jones focused on miners, organizing in the coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. For a few years, she was employed by the United Mine Workers, but left when the national leadership disavowed a wildcat strike in Colorado. After a decade in the West, Jones returned to West Virginia, where, after a violent strike in 1912-1913, she was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Public appeals on her behalf convinced the governor to commute her twenty-year sentence. Afterward she returned to Colorado and made a national crusade out of the tragic events during the Ludlow Massacre, even lobbying President Woodrow Wilson. Later, she participated in several industrial strikes on the East Coast between 1915 and 1919 and continued to organize miners well into her nineties.

Despite her radicalism, Jones did not support women’s suffrage, arguing that “you don’t need a vote to raise hell.” She pointed out that the women of Colorado had the vote and failed to use it to prevent the appalling conditions that led to labor violence. She also considered suffragists unwitting dupes of class warfare. Jones argued that suffragists were naïve women who unwittingly acted as duplicitous agents of class warfare.

Although Jones organized working class women, she held them in auxiliaries, maintaining that—except when the union called—a woman’s place was in the home. A reflection of her Catholic heritage, she believed that men should be paid well enough so that women could devote themselves to motherhood.

In 1925, she published her Autobiography of Mother Jones. She is buried near miners in Virden, Illinois.


A Brief History of America’s Private Prison Industry

Madison Pauly

Read Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer&rsquos firsthand account of his four months spent working as a guard at a corporate-run prison in Louisiana.

In the early 1980s, the Corrections Corporation of America pioneered the idea of running prisons for a profit. “You just sell it like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers,” one of its founders told Inc. magazine. Today, corporate-run prisons hold eight percent of America’s inmates. Here’s how the private prison industry took off:

Thomas Beasley, Doctor R. Crants, and T. Don Hutto start Corrections Corporation of America, the world’s first private prison company.

CCA begins operating a county jail and a juvenile detention center in Tennessee. It also opens its first privately owned facility in Houston, a motel hastily remodeled to hold immigration detainees.

A federal judge orders Tennessee to stop admitting inmates to its overcrowded prisons. CCA offers, unsuccessfully, to pay $250 million for a 99-year lease on the state’s entire prison system.

CCA goes public, saying its facility design and use of electronic surveillance mean it can operate larger prisons “with less staff than the public sector would have needed.”

Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, later known as the GEO Group, gets its first contract to run a federal immigration detention center.

Among the “model” bills ?to emerge from the American Legislative Exchange Council‘s criminal justice task force, which CCA later co-chairs, are truth-in-sentencing and three-strikes legislation that help fuel the 󈨞s prison boom. (CCA says it did not vote on or comment on any proposed ALEC legislation.)*

Arguing that it’s in the property business, CCA becomes a real estate investment trust for tax purposes. A new affiliate, Prison Realty Trust, raises $447 million for a prison-buying spree.

Private And Public Prison Populations 1990-2014

The Justice Department investigates a CCA prison in Youngstown, Ohio, following a spate of escapes, stabbings, and killings. In addition to finding inexperienced and poorly trained guards, the probe reveals that CCA took on maximum-security inmates at a facility designed for a medium-security population.

As prison occupancy rates drop, Prison Realty Trust nearly goes bankrupt. CCA stock, once nearly $150 a share, falls to 19 cents. The company drops the trust and restructures.

CCA Stock Price, 1997-2016

A Justice Department report finds a “disturbing degree” of physical abuse by staff and underreporting of violence among inmates at a Baltimore juvenile facility run by the private prison operator Correctional Services Corporation. CSC is later acquired by GEO.

Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) introduces the Private Prison Information Act, which would require private prisons holding federal inmates to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests. It died, as have at least seven similar bills opposed by CCA and GEO.

CCA’s and GEO’s stock prices jump as both companies jockey to run the federal government’s expanding immigration detention centers. Meanwhile, the ACLU settles a case against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for conditions in the CCA-managed T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas, where about half the detainees are kids. Under the agreement, children no longer wear prison uniforms and may move more freely.

The New York Times investigates the deaths of immigration detainees, such as a Guinean man at a CCA-run facility who fractured his skull and was placed in solitary confinement before being taken to a hospital. He died after four months in a coma.

A CCA representative attends a meeting where ALEC members draft the legislation that will eventually become Arizona’s notorious anti-immigration law. CCA denies having a hand in writing the bill. It cuts ties with ALEC the following year.

An ACLU suit alleges rampant violence at a CCA-run Idaho prison known as “gladiator school.” The lawsuit claims the prison is understaffed and fosters an environment that “relies on the degradation, humiliation, and subjugation of prisoners.” The FBI investigates but doesn’t pursue charges. In Kentucky, the governor orders all female inmates removed from a CCA prison after more than a dozen cases of alleged sexual abuse by guards.

CCA becomes the first private prison company to purchase a state facility, buying Ohio’s Lake Erie Correctional Institution as part of a privatization plan proposed by Gov. John Kasich and supported by his corrections chief, former CCA Director Gary Mohr.

CCA offers to buy prisons in 48 states in exchange for 20-year management contracts. The same year, a GEO-operated youth facility in Mississippi where staff sexually abused minors is described by a judge as a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.” At another Mississippi facility, a 24-year-old CCA employee is killed during a riot over prisoners’ complaints about poor food, inadequate medical care, and disrespectful guards.

CCA converts back to a real estate investment trust, as does GEO. Mother Jones reports that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $2.2 million in GEO.

As it did during at least the previous five years, CCA’s annual report flags criminal justice reform&mdashincluding drug decriminalization and the reduction of mandatory minimum sentences&mdashas a “risk factor” for its business.* Chris Epps, Mississippi’s prison commissioner and the president of the American Correctional Association, is charged with taking kickbacks from a private prison contractor.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) co-sponsors the Justice is Not for Sale Act, which would ban all government contracts with private prison companies. After Hillary Clinton is criticized for using campaign bundlers who’d worked as lobbyists for CCA and GEO, she promises to no longer take their money and says, “We should end private prisons and private detention centers.”


Mother Jones, the Miners' Angel

"Mother" Jones was American Labor's best known "agitator" in the turn of the century era. She was especially close to the coal miners whom she referred to as her "boys," but she went anywhere when called on for help.

written by Mara Lou Hawse

The elderly woman smoothed her black dress and touched the lace at her throat and wrists. Her snow-white hair was gathered into a knot at the nape of her neck, and a black hat, trimmed with lavender ribbons to lend a touch of color, shaded her finely wrinkled face. She was about five feet tall, but she exuded energy and enthusiasm. As she waited to speak, her bright blue eyes scanned the people grouped beyond the platform. Her kindly expression never altered as her voice broke over the audience: "I'm not a humanitarian," she exclaimed. "I'm a hell-raiser."

And she was. She was Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, and her size and grandmotherly appearance belied her fiery nature. When she stepped on a stage, she became a dynamic speaker. She projected wide variations in emotion, sometimes striding about the stage in "a towering rage." She could bring her audience to the verge of tears or have them clapping and "bursting with laughter." She was a good story teller, and "she excelled in invective, pathos, and humor ranging from irony to ridicule."

Mother Jones's low, pleasant voice had great carrying power. It was unusual because it "did not become shrill when she became excited but, rather, dropped in pitch so that 'the intensity of it became something you could almost feel physically.' When she rose to speak, Mother Jones 'seemed to explode in all directions' . . . and suddenly everyone sat up alert and listened. No matter what impossible ideas she brought up, she made the miners think she and they together could do anything."

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a nationally known labor organizer, called Jones "the greatest woman agitator of our times." She was denounced in the U.S. Senate as the grandmother of all agitators. Mother Jones was proud of that title and said she hoped to live to be the great grandmother of agitators.

Mother Jones, born in Cork, Ireland, on May 1, 1830, came from a long line of agitators. When she was a child, she watched British soldiers march through the streets, the heads of Irishmen stuck on their bayonets. Her father's father, an Irish freedom fighter, was hanged her father was forced to flee to America with his family in 1835.

Jones grew up in Toronto, Ontario, where she attended the public schools and graduated from normal school at age seventeen. She seemed to be, according to all accounts, ambitious and adventuresome. She taught in a convent school in Michigan for eight months, then moved to Chicago, where she worked as a dressmaker. "I preferred sewing to bossing little children," she said. She moved to Memphis, Tennessee, again to teach school. And there, in 1861, she met and married George E. Jones, an ironmolder who was "a staunch member" of the Iron Molders' Union.

Jones's biographer Dale Fetherling claims that Mother Jones learned a great deal about unions and about the psychology of workingmen from her husband. And later, when much of her work was with women, she tried to pass on to them what she had learned: "That is, the wife must care for what the husband cares for if he is to remain resolute."

Life was relatively good for Mary Harris Jones until 1867. That year, when she was 37 years old, within one week her husband and their four small children died in a yellow fever epidemic. After the epidemic had run its course, she returned to Chicago where, once again, she began to work as a dressmaker.

But tragedy followed Mother Jones. Four years later, in 1871, she lost everything she owned in the great Chicago fire. That event also changed her life drastically, and she discovered a new path to follow. She became involved in the labor movement and began to attend meetings of the newly formed Knights of Labor "in an old, tumbled down, fire scorched building."

One biographer believes that Mother Jones's interest in the labor movement really began when she sewed for wealthy Chicago families and observed the blatant economic and social inequities that existed. According to Fetherling, she said: "Often while sewing for the lords and barons who lived in magnificent houses on the Lake Shore Drive, I would look out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches, jobless and hungry, walking alongside the frozen lake front. The contrast of their condition with that of the tropical comfort of the people for whom I sewed was painful to me. My employers seemed neither to notice nor to care."

The early Knights of Labor, with their ideals and their sense of fraternity, fulfilled some need within Mother Jones and fitted well with what she had learned from her husband. According to Fetherling, "Coming, as it did, on top of successive personal tragedies, the experience [with the Knights of Labor] forged an amalgam of compassion and fervor which would serve her well in industrial wars over the next half a century." Wherever there were labor troubles, there was Mother Jones--the "Miners' Angel."

Mother Jones apparently stayed in Chicago, working as a seamstress, for two or three years after the fire. She had no fixed home, but she made Chicago her base as she traveled back and forth across the country, from industrial area to industrial area. When asked where she lived, she replied: "Well, wherever there is a fight." She lived with the workers, in tent colonies or in shantytowns, near the mills or in the shadow of the tipples. As Fetherling pointed out, "In lieu of a family, she would adopt America's toilers, and they would call her 'Mother.'"

During the time she was most active in the labor movement, the country was changing dramatically, from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. Small enterprises were replaced by large ones.

"The nature of work and of workers was altered. Waves of immigrants and displaced farmers dug the nation's coal and forged its steel. All too often, they received in return only starvation wages and nightmarish conditions. Within these men smoldered the sparks of class conflict which Mother Jones would fan for 50 years. To these workers, she would become an anchor to the past and an arrow toward a better future."

She always worked either for or with the working people, and often she was at odds with union leaders. "Her skill was the invaluable but incalculable one of tending to men's spirits, of buoying them, of goading them to fight even though the battle seemed hopeless."

When there was a strike, Mother Jones organized and helped the workers at other times, she held educational meetings. In 1877, she helped in the Pittsburgh railway strike during the 1880s she organized and ran educational meetings in 1898 she helped found the Social Democratic Party and in 1905 she was present at the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World.

After 1890 she became involved in the struggles of coal miners and became an organizer for the United Mine Workers, attending her first UMWA convention on January 25, 1901. She had been on the union payroll for the past year. Her earlier work in miners' strikes and organizing had been as a volunteer, not as an employee.

She resigned as a UMWA organizer in 1904 and became a lecturer for the Socialist Party of America for several years, traveling throughout the southwest. Although sometimes she participated in strikes and organized drives for various unions, her main interest was in raising funds for the defense of Mexican revolutionists in the United States who were being arrested or deported.

Mother Jones was one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In 1905, she was the only woman among 27 persons who signed the manifesto that called for a convention to organize all industrial workers. She later left the organization, but she remained friendly with many of its leaders.

Mother Jones left the Socialist Party in 1911 to return to the payroll of the United Mine Workers, as an organizer. The new president, John P. White, was an old friend who agreed that she would set her own agenda. She expected that her talents "would have full scope." In 1923, when she was 93 years old, she was still working among striking coal miners in West Virginia.

She came to national attention in 1912-13, during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike in West Virginia, because of the publicity resulting from frequent violence. Mother Jones remembered the lessons learned from her late husband, and she often involved the wives and children of miners to dramatize a situation. On September 21, 1912, she led a march of miners' children through the streets of Charleston, West Virginia on February 12, 1913, she led a protest about conditions in the strike area and was arrested.

She was convicted by a military court of conspiring to commit murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Her trial, conviction, and imprisonment created such a furor that the U.S. Senate ordered a committee to investigate conditions in the West Virginia coalfields. However, on May 8, 1913, before the investigation got underway, newly elected governor Hatfield set Mother Jones free. She was 83 years old. Later in 1913 Mother Jones traveled to Colorado to participate in the yearlong strike by miners there. She was evicted from mine company property several times, but returned each time. She was arrested and imprisoned twice: "first for more than two months in relative comfort in Mt. San Rafael hospital, and again for twenty-three days in the Huerfano County jail in Walsenburg, where the conditions of her semibasement cell were appalling."

Mother Jones was especially touched by the "machine-gun massacre" of miners and their families in a tent colony at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914, when 20 people were killed. She traveled across the country, telling the story. Members of the House Mines and Mining Committee and President Wilson responded by proposing that the union and the owners agree to a truce and create a grievance committee at each mine.

Mother Jones was notable for attracting publicity and attention from the government for the cause of workers. One of her best-known activities was leading a march of miners' wives "who routed strikebreakers with brooms and mops in the Pennsylvania coalfields in 1902." Another was leading the "children's crusade," a caravan of striking children from the textile mills of Kensington, Pennsylvania, to President Theodore Roosevelt's home in Long Island, New York, in 1903, to dramatize the case for abolishing child labor.

Mother Jones went on to participate in 1915 and 1916 in the strikes of garment workers and streetcar workers in New York, and in the strike of steel workers in Pittsburgh in 1919. In January 1921, at the age of 91, as a guest of the Mexican government, she traveled to Mexico to attend the Pan-American Federation of Labor meeting. According to one writer, "It was the high point of recognition in her role in the labor movement."

In 1922 Mother Jones left the United Mine Workers. She disagreed with the policies of John L. Lewis, and Lewis did not reappoint her as an international organizer. Although she was hospitalized several times, she continued to speak when her health permitted. Her last known public address was in Alliance, Ohio, in 1926, when she was the guest of honor at a Labor Day celebration. Her last public appearance was at her 100th birthday party, May 1, 1930, at a reception in Silver Spring, Maryland. She read congratulatory messages and "made a fiery speech for the motion-picture camera."

Mother Jones lived in an incredible era. As biographer Dale Fetherling points out, she "was born . . . less than 50 years after the end of the American Revolution. Yet, she died on the eve of the New Deal. She was alive when Andrew Jackson was president, and she sometimes quoted from speeches she heard Lincoln make. As an adult she knew the Civil War, the Spanish- American War, and World War I. She rode in automobiles, and she saw the railroads link the oceans. She saw and was seen in films and came to know the everyday use of the telephone, the electric light, and the radio. She watched unions grow from secret groups of hunted men to what she feared was a complacent part of the established order. It may have been a good time to live in America. But it also was a time in which one needed to fight very hard to survive. That she did."

Mary Harris Jones died in Silver Spring on November 30, 1930, seven months after her one-hundredth birthday. She was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery at Mount Olive, Illinois, in the coalfields of southern Illinois. Her grave is near those of the victims of the Virden, Illinois, mine riot of 1898.


Mother Jones, Coalfield Organizer, 1837-1930

Mary Harris was born in Cork, Ireland in 1837. Her family fled to Toronto during the famine. She moved to Memphis in 1860, married George Jones, an iron molder and proud union man. They had four children together.

Mary Jones moved to Chicago, worked as a seamstress, but lost everything in the 1871 fire. She was an obscure working-class immigrant, a poor widow. But by the 1890s, she joined a growing movement for worker rights. She transformed herself into Mother Jones, a symbol of resistance, and helped to shape a new style of unionism. She organized for the United Mine Workers and the Socialist Party.

No one more successfully moved workingmen and women to fight for better wages and conditions. The novelist Upton Sinclair wrote, "she had the fire of indignation - she was the walking wrath of God." Author Meridel LeSueur thought of her as the true mother of workers, "the emboldened and blazing defender of all her sons and daughters."

Mother Jones was especially beloved among the half-million men who mined coal in states like Illinois. They fought bloody wars here, and in Colorado and West Virginia, and changed the course of history.

Before she died, Mother Jones asked to be buried with her "brave boys" slain in the 1898 Virden Massacre. She is buried in Mount Olive's Union Miners Cemetery in the

heart of Illinois Coal Country.

"Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!"
-Mother Jones

Mother Jones encouraged solidarity in order to overcome divisions based on race and immigrant status.

Erected 2018 by Mother Jones Heritage Project, Illinois Labor History Society, United Mine Workers of America, Illinois Humanities, Government of Ireland, Illinois State Historical Society, and Northern Illinois University.

Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Disasters &bull Industry & Commerce &bull Labor Unions &bull Women. In addition, it is included in the Illinois State Historical Society series list.

Location. 39° 20.787′ N, 89° 38.466′ W. Marker is near Raymond, Illinois, in Montgomery County. Marker can be reached from Interstate 55 at milepost 65. Marker is located in front of the Coalfield Rest Area, which is off of northbound Interstate 55. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Raymond IL 62560, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 12 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Coalfields of Illinois (approx. 0.4 miles away) Shrine of Our Lady of the Highways (approx. one mile away) Endless Nights (approx. 11.2 miles Paid Advertisement


Mother Jones

About that time she connected with the secretive worker's organization, the Knights of Labor, and became active in speaking for the group and organizing. By the mid-1880's she left the Knights of Labor because she felt they were too conservative. By 1890, she was involved in more radical organizing speaking at strike locations around the country. It was then she appeared in newspapers as Mother Jones, the white-haired radical labor organizer who wore her signature black-dress and plain head covering.


Mother Jones and the Fight Against Child Labor in Kensington’s Textile Mills

“During the Philadelphia textile workers’ strike in 1903,” wrote reformer John Spargo in his 1916 book, The Bitter Cry of the Children, “I saw at least a score of children ranging from eight to ten years of who had been working in the mills prior to the strike. One little girl of nine I saw in the Kensington Labor Lyceum. She has been working for almost a year before the strike began, she said, and careful inquiry proved her story to be true.”

Spargo was trying to do something about the fact that, in the second half of the 19 th century, urban industrialization had turned cities into giant child labor pools. American textile companies employed more than 80,000 children and Pennsylvania was among the worst offenders. As historian Walter Licht explains in Getting Work in Philadelphia, between 1860 and the end of the century the percentage of 14 year olds at work jumped from eight percent to more than 40 percent. In Philadelphia, the mills of Kensington were ground zero for child labor.

It hardly mattered that the employment of children less than twelve years of age had been illegal since the 1840s. State officials, mill owners, and parents all figured that 50,000 working children was simply an economic necessity. Even if it meant there’d be no education. Even if it meant the very lives of children were in danger. “Children who work in the dye rooms and print-shops of textile factories, and the color rooms of factories,” wrote Spargo, “are subject to contact with poisonous dyes, and the results are often terrible.”

“Progressive era reformers quickly singled out Pennsylvania as the worst offender,” writes historian Joseph M. Speakman. As early as 1890, Florence Kelley noted that child labor in Pennsylvania, flourished “almost unchecked.” And Jane Addams pointed to Pennsylvania in 1905, noting “there were more children employed in manufacturing industries in the state than in all of the cotton states of the South.”

“The high point of publicity on the issue,” writes Licht, came in late 1906, when “more than 25,000 Philadelphians crowded into the city’s Horticultural Hall,” (on Broad Street adjacent to the Academy of Music) to see “’An Industrial Exhibit,’ which dramatized with shocking photographs the use and state of child labor in Philadelphia Industry.” Advocacy organizations were embarrassing Philadelphia, the city promoting itself as the “Workshop of the World,” with the equally well-earned and dubious title: “The Greatest Child Employing City.”

“Juvenile Textile Workers on Strike in Philadelphia,” in 1903. From John Spargo, The Bitter Cry of the Children, 1916 (Google Books).

But it took a special effort to move the issue child labor to the forefront, ahead of the other pressing concerns. In April 1903, wrote Philip Scranton, “all the unions in the textile industries of Philadelphia met in convention at the Kensington Labor Lyceum” and agreed that they would strike for better pay and a reduction from a 60-hour to a 55-hour workweek. Within a few months, more than 90,000 textile workers had walked off the job. Twenty-five percent of this striking workforce was less than 15 years of age.

Enter Mary Harris, aka Mother Jones, who once claimed: “I’m not a humanitarian. I’m a hell-raiser.”

Knowing full well that at least ten thousand of the textile strikers were children, Jones imagined the power of a spectacle: an army of children in protest. She quickly organized one in the center of Philadelphia.

“A great crowd gathered in the public square in front of the city hall,” wrote Mother Jones in her autobiography. “I put the little boys with their fingers off and hands crushed and maimed on a platform. I held up their mutilated hands and showed them to the crowd and made the statement that Philadelphia’s mansions were built on the broken bones, the quivering hearts and drooping heads of these children. That their little lives went out to make wealth for others. That neither state or city officials paid any attention to these wrongs. That they did not care that these children were to be the future citizens of the nation.”

“The officials of the city hall were standing the open windows. I held the little ones of the mills high up above the heads of the crowd and pointed to their puny arms and legs and hollow chests. … I called upon the millionaire manufactures to cease their moral murders, and I cried to the officials in the open windows opposite, “Some day the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit.”

“The officials quickly closed the windows, as they had closed their eyes and hearts.”

On July 7, 1903, Mother Jones and her sign-carrying “children’s army” embarked on a 92-mile March of the Mill Children, departing the physical and spiritual home of organized textile labor in Philadelphia: the Kensington Labor Lyceum at 2 nd and Cambria Streets. Destination: the Long Island, New York vacation home of President Theodore Roosevelt. The trek would become famous, if it’s impact was delayed. Not until 1909 did the state raise the minimum age of employment to 14 and reduce the work week to 58 hours.


Mother Jones - History

"Mother" Jones, known throughout the country and in fact throughout the world as "The Miners' Angel," addressed a motley gathering of about 1,200 persons in Memorial hall last night. The lower hall was packed. The gallery was full to overflowing and some even crowded the steps leading to the building.

It was truly a motley gathering. The society woman, attracted by mere curiosity to see and hear the woman who has won such fame as the guardian spirit of the miners the factory girl, the wealthy man and his less fortunate brothers, the black man and the white man, old and young, sat side by side and each came in for a share of criticism.

"Mother" Jones is an eloquent speaker. There is just enough of the down-east accent to her words to make it attractive and she has the faculty of framing pathetic and beautiful word pictures. Despite her sixty years and hex gray hairs, she is hale and hearty has a voice that reaches to the furthermost corner of almost any hall but it is nevertheless anything but harsh.

"Fellow workers," she began," 'tis well for us to be here. Over a hundred years ago men gathered to discuss the vital questions and later fought together for a principle that won for us our civil liberty. Forty years ago men gathered to discuss a growing evil under the old flag and later fought side by side until chattel slavery was abolished. But, by the wiping out of this black stain upon our country another great crime&mdashwage slavery&mdashwas fastened upon our people. I stand on this platform ashamed of the conditions existing in this country. I refused to go to England and lecture only a few days ago because I was ashamed, first of all, to make the conditions existing here known to the world and second, because my services were needed here. I have just come from a God-cursed country, known as West Virginia from a state which has produced some of our best and brightest statesmen a state where conditions are too awful for your imagination.

"I shall tell you some things tonight that are awful to contemplate but, perhaps, it is best that you to know of them. They may arouse you from your lethargy if there is any manhood, womanhood or love of country left in you. I have just come from a state which has an injunction on every other foot of ground. Some months ago the president of the United Mine Workers [John Mitchell] asked me to take a look into the condition of the men in the mines of West Virginia. I went. I would get a gathering of miners in the darkness of the night up on the mountain side. Here I would listen to their tale of woe here I would try to encourage them. I did not dare to sleep in one of those miner's houses. If I did the poor man would be called to the office in the morning and would be discharged for sheltering old Mother Jones.

"I did my best to drive into the downtrodden men a little spirit, but it was a task. They had been driven so long that they were afraid. I used to sit through the night by a stream of water. I could not go to the miners' hovels so in the morning I would call the ferryman and he would take me across the river to a hotel not owned by the mine operators.

"The men in the anthracite district finally asked for more wages. They were refused. A strike was called. I stayed in West Virginia,' held meetings and one day as I stood talking to some break-boys two injunctions were served upon me. I asked the deputy if he had more. We were arrested but we were freed in the morning. I objected to the food in the jail and to my arrest . When I was called up before the judge I called him a czar and he let me go. The other fellows were afraid and they went to jail. I violated injunction after injunction but I wasn't re-arrested. Why? The courts themselves force you to have no respect for that court.

"A few days later that awful wholesale murdering in the quiet little mining camp of Stamford took place. I know those people were law-abiding citizens. I had been there. And their shooting by United States deputy marshals was an atrocious and cold-blooded murder. After the crimes had been committed the marshals&mdash the murderers&mdashwere banqueted by the operators in the swellest hotel in Pennsylvania. You. have no idea of the awfulness of that wholesale murder. Before daylight broke in the morning in that quiet little mining camp deputies and special officers went into the homes, shot the men down in their beds, and all because the miners wanted to try to induce 'black-legs' [strike-breakers] to leave the mines.

"I'll tell you how the trouble started. The deputies were bringing these strikebreakers to the mines. The men wanted to talk with them and at last stepped on ground loaded down with an injunction. There were thirty-six or seven in the party of miners. They resisted arrest. They went home finally without being arrested. One of the officials of the miners' unions telegraphed to the men. 'Don't resist. Go to jail. We will bail you out.' A United States marshal. .. sent back word that the operators would not let them use the telephone to send the message to the little mining camp and that he could not get there before hours had passed. The miners' officials secured the names of the men and gave their representatives authority to bail them out of jail the next morning. But when the next morning arrived they were murdered in cold blood.

"These federal judges, who continue granting injunctions, are appointed by men who have their political standing through the votes of you labor union fellows! You get down on your knees like a lot of Yahoos when you want something. At the same time you haven't sense enough to take peaceably what belongs to you through the ballot. You are chasing a will-o-the-wisp, you measly things, and the bullets which should be sent into your own measly, miserable, dirty carcasses, shoot down innocent men. Women are not responsible because they have no vote. You'd all better put on petticoats. If you like those bullets vote to put them into your own bodies. Don't you think it's about time you began to shoot ballots instead of voting for capitalistic bullets.

"I hate your political parties, you Republicans and Democrats. I want you to deny if you can what I am going to say. You want an office and must necessarily get into the ring. You must do what that ring says and if you don't you won't be elected. There you are. Each time you do that you are voting for a capitalistic bullet and you get it. I want you to know that this man [Samuel Milton] Jones who is running for mayor of your beautiful city is no relative of mine no, sir. He belongs to that school of reformers who say capital and labor must join hands. He may be all right. He prays a good deal. But, I wonder if you would shake hands with me if I robbed you. He builds parks to make his workmen contented. But a contented workman is no good. All progress stops in the contented man. I'm for agitation. It's the greater factor for progress[.]"

Here the speaker changed her attention to the society woman. "I see a lot of society women in this audience, attracted here out of a mere curiosity to see that old Mother Jones.' I know you better than you do yourselves. I can walk down the aisle and pick every one of you out. You probably think I am crazy but I know you. And you society dudes&mdashpoor creatures. You wear high collars to support your jaw and keep your befuddled brains from oozing out of your mouths. While this commercial cannibalism is reaching into the cradle pulling girls into the factory to be ruined pulling children into the factory to be destroyed you, who are doing all in the name of Christianity, you are at home nursing your poodle dogs. It's high time you got out and worked for humanity. Christianity will take care of itself. I started in a factory. I have traveled through miles and miles of factories and there is not an inch of ground under that flag that is not stained with the blood of children."


"Civilization in Southern Mills"

In the early years of her involvement in the labor movement, Mother Jones traveled to several parts of the country to champion various labor causes. In addition to coal mining, there were involvements in Jacob Coxey’s “army” for jobs, railroad strikes, and textile mills. On what appear to be two occasions, Jones would find herself in Alabama assisting in strikes and working. The first time was in approximately 1894, when she was attempting to organize a coal strike. The second instance, which is of more relevance here, is her time there circa 1901. In addition to spending time in the mining camps of Birmingham, she would also work among the textile employees in Tuscaloosa during this period. In both instances, Jones would take particular note of the children working in both situations, and wrote her observations in an article that was printed in the International Socialist Review in 1901 entitled “Civilization in Southern Mills.” Jones wrote that she had heard from miners in Birmingham about the children laboring in cotton mills and decided to see for herself if it was true.

"Civilization in Southern Mills"

She took a job in a mill in Cottondale, a small community near Tuscaloosa, and then observed first-hand what she had been told. According to Jones, conditions for children were appalling in the mill. “I found that children of six and seven years of age were dragged out of bed at half-past 4 in the morning when the task-master’s whistle blew …. By 5:30 they are all behind the factory walls, where amid the whir of machinery they grind their young lives out for fourteen long hours each day.” She talked with many children, learning of the paltry wages they received and their sparse living conditions. In the end, she concluded that it was a “picture ….of the most horrible avarice, selfishness and cruelty and is fraught with present horror and promise of future degeneration.” This experience would lay the groundwork for Jones’ Philadelphia march.

As you read this document, reflect on the following questions:

1. Why do you think that Jones calls the mill workers "slaves"?

2. According to this document, what was Jones’ initial reaction to the stories she heard about the textile mills? Did her reaction change when she went to those mills, and if so, how?

3. Who or what did Jones’ blame for the child labor situation? How did she think it could change?


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