Friday, November 2, 2007

The Miners' Angel

This is Mother Jones. Mary Harris Jones to be exact. She was born in Cork, Ireland, and raised in Canada. While living in Ireland as a child, she witnessed the British soldiers marching through the streets with the heads of Irishmen stuck on their bayonets. Her paternal grandfather was hung for being an Irish freedom fighter, and her father was forced to flee for the same activities. She taught for a while in Michigan, and decided she liked sewing better than bossing children around, so she became a dressmaker. Then she moved to Memphis Tennessee, and began to teach again. While there, she met George, an iron molder, who was a member of the Iron Molders' Union. They married, and had four children. then within one week, her husband, and all her children died in a Yellow Fever Epidemic. After this, she went back to Chicago, and dressmaking.
Fate wasn't done with her yet, however. Four years later, in the great Chicago fire, she lost everything.
After this, she started to become involved in the labor movement, wanting to pass on what she'd learned from her husband all those years ago.She also had worked, sewing, for many wealthy Chicago families, and witnessed firsthand the social inequality, and troubles it lead to.
She became involved in the Knights of Labor, and in between working as a seamstress would travel back and forth across the country, to different industrial areas, citing her home as "wherever there is a fight". In 1877, she was at the Pittsburgh railway strike, in the 1880's, she was organizing and running educational meetings, in 1898 she helped to found the Social Democratic Party, and in 1905 she was present when the Industrial Workers of the World was founded.
She was also heavily involved with the struggles of the coal miners, helping to organize the United Mine Workers. She stayed involved with them heavily through the years, and often, when there was a strike, would involve the wives and children of the miners to dramatize the situation. In 1912, she actually lead a march of the miners children through the streets of Charleston, W. Va. and in 1913, she was arrested at a strike, and charged and convicted by a military court of conspiring to commit murder. They sentenced her to 60 years in prison. She was 83 years old. However, the governor set her free. Then she went to Colorado to fight for the miners there. She was arrested and imprisoned twice, during that time.
She stayed active, protesting for and taking care of the miners until she died, just seven months after her 100th birthday. She was once denounced by the US Senate as "the grandmother of all agitators" and was proud of that title. She was also known to say "I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hellraiser."
So, today is for Mother Jones, the mother of all the mine workers, and then some.

*I think it's worth stating the obvious here that I barely scratch the surface of these wonderful women I've been posting about each Friday. There is so much more to them, but to blog it all, it would be a book, not a blog.*


David in DC said...

Pish, posh. Ya done good.

Mother Jones is one of my favorite American heroes and characters.

Thank you for this wonderful post.

sybil law said...

If my kid(s) died, I'd shrivel up and die, I'd think.

julie said...

Mother Jones rocked.

CamiKaos said...

lady kicked some ass

DaddyKaos said...

Mother Jones magazine, named after Mary, began publication in the mid 70's. To this date they continue to address the type of issues she tackeled during her life. It's a great mag and can be found on-line at

mielikki said...

I noticed that mag, and took a glimpse at it after I wrote this post. It is great, especially for her legacy to continue.

Bubblewench said...

I used to read that mag all the time... great post. Great lady.

Mimi said...

I still read that magazine, every issue cover to cover.

I didn't know much about her, thanks!