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Mother jones seated at a desk facing forward
Mother Jones. Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915.

And She Became Mother Jones

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In the history of the labor movement in the United States, there are many names and places of note. Women’s History Month gives Inside Adams an opportunity to highlight one – Mother Jones.

The story of Mary Harris Jones, otherwise known as Mother Jones, begins in Ireland where she was born. After her family immigrated to Canada she trained as a teacher and eventually secured a position in Monroe, MI. She later moved to Chicago and then to Memphis where she married George E. Jones a member of the National Union of Iron Moulders. After losing her husband and children to a yellow fever epidemic, she returned to Chicago. The Great Chicago fire in 1871 destroyed much of Chicago including her home and dressmaking shop, but during the rebuilding process she joined the Knights of Labor. But the Knights of Labor’s connection to the Haymarket Affair eventually destroyed the organization, and she ended up joining the United Mine Workers where she frequently led the strikers in picketing.

Photo features President Calvin Coolidge and Mother Jones wearing a hat standing next to each other
President Calvin Coolidge and Mother Jones, 1924.

Haymarket wasn’t the last time Mother Jones was witness – or party to – one of those Big Labor Events that are a part of American History.

Over time she became known for organizing the wives and children of striking workers. When the Pennsylvania silk mills went on strike in 1901, she went to north-east Pennsylvania and organized the wives.  It was about this time that West Virginia district attorney, Reese Blizzard deemed her “the most dangerous woman in America.” In 1903, she led a large group in the March of the Mill Children (also known as  Children’s Crusade ) from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s hometown Oyster Bay, NY. Just a few years later in 1905, she became one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Wobblies.

The year 1912 took her to West Virginia and the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike where she continued speaking and organizing despite the shooting between United Mine Workers members and the mine owner’s private army. Martial law was eventually declared and Jones was arrested and brought before a military court accused of conspiring to commit murder. While she was sentenced to twenty years in the state penitentiary, she was released within months – a move that coincided with Indiana Senator John W. Kern introducing the Kern Resolution (passed on May 27, 1913 pp. 1765-1779) authorizing the Senate Committee on Education and Labor to investigate conditions in West Virginia coal mines. On May 19, 1913 Senator Nathaniel Goff had this to say:

“The name of “Mother Jones” has been brought into the controversy. Well, I have no fight with “Mother Jones.” I am sorry that she feels aggrieved. If half the stories they tell about her in West Virginia in reference to this and other strikes there are true, she has certainly been – whatever else she may be; grand and good and a friend of the miners she may be – but she has certainly been inciting riot and urging insurrection. She does not deny it. She is the grandmother of them all; she takes pride in it; she is an expert; she is a good talker; she is effective in speaking to great audiences; naturally, she has influence with them.” (Congressional Record, p. 1643)

From there she went to Colorado to help organize coal miners striking against the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company owned by  Rockefeller – events that became known as the Colorado Coalfield War. The single biggest event was the Ludlow Massacre on April 20, 1914 when Colorado National Guard and company guards attacked a tent colony established in Ludlow by the striking coal miners and their families. More than 20 people were killed, including miners’ wives and children. In the wake of the massacre, she met face-to-face with John D. Rockefeller Jr. and in the end, the long-sought reforms were introduced.

This is a hand drawn map from a newspaper article that features the area around Ludlow, Colorado with an inset showing the camp tent layout
Showing the area around Ludlow. The Ordway New Era. (Ordway, Colo.), 03 July 1914.

Mother Jones continued on with her labor activities until she died not long after celebrating her birthday, in Silver Spring, MD, on November 30, 1930 and was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, IL.

Anyone interested in researching this amazing woman, will find that the Library has a lot to offer. There are of course many images, books, etc.  The Autobiography of Mother Jones was published just a few years before she died. News sources like those in Chronicling America are great for research. This includes a publication called The Day Book known for having a working-class readership that published from September 28, 1911 to July 6, 1917 that published articles and even the occasional poem. To understand her life, you can also research the individual events she witnessed not only in news sources, but also in materials about specific events like those below related to West Virginia and Colorado.

Mr. and Mrs. Pike and child in front of Paint Creek camp tent. The Day Book. 17 June 1913. sn83045487/1913-06-17/ed-1/seq-12/

West Virginia: Paint Creek-Cabin Creek

There is quite a bit written about the events in West Virginia, but there  are also audio recordings including one of an interview by those recounting her time in Paint Creek and another “We had a full-fledged war down here.” Here are a few government reports and articles:

Colorado and the Ludlow Massacre

There is also a lot about Ludlow for those wanting to know more, including a number of images in the aftermath of the massacre that the Library has included at Flickr. Below are a few articles and reports:

Photographs shows the burned ruins of the camp at Ludlow with a barrel in the front and several people walking around
Ruins Ludlow Colony — Trinidad, Colorado. Bain News Service, April 29, 1914.

Note: The original post gave the date for the Congressional Record quote as May 13, 1913, it is May 19, 1913.

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