Mary Harris (Mother) Jones: c. 1837-1930
Who was "Mother Jones"?According to a West Virginia District Attorney named Reese Blizzard, Mother Jones was "the most dangerous woman in America". According to Clarence Darrow, she was "one of the most forceful and picturesque figures of the American labor movement". Sixty-five years after her death, her name is still part of current culture, as the title of a magazine.
While Mary Harris claimed 1830 as her birthdate, researchers suggest that it was more likely 1837, in County Cork, Ireland. Her family emigrated to Toronto, Canada, when she was a child. She trained to be a teacher at Toronto Normal School from 1858-1859, and worked briefly as a teacher and as a dressmaker. In 1861, Mary Harris married George Jones, an iron molder and union organizer, in Memphis, Tennessee. The couple had four children - but all four children, and Mary's husband, died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1867. Mary Jones returned to Chicago, where she worked as a dressmaker until her shop was destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871.
During the next few years, "Mother" Jones became increasingly active in the union movement. Her life is in some ways a history of the labour movement in the United States. A brief sampling of her activities reports her involved in the rail strike of 1877, in Pittsburgh and elsewhere; organizing the coal fields of Pennsylvania in 1899; at the founding convention of the IWW in 1905; visiting rebel Mexico in 1911; being arrested at Homestead in 1919; and working with dressmakers in Chicago in1924.
Mother Jones has a notable place in American history. Her work as a union organizer and orator and her influence on the making of history have had more lasting significance than her writing. However, The Autobiography of Mother Jones which she partly wrote and partly dictated, clearly illustrates the power of both her voice and her convictions. Written in a natural, colloquial style, it paints a forceful picture of the working conditions and people of the mining camps, railroad towns, and textile industry that she worked with. A sense of her voice can also be obtained from a short article which she wrote in 1901. A tributeby Eugene V. Debs gives a view of her life as seen by one of her contemporaries.
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living! - Mother Jones
Mary Harris Jones, known as “Mother” Jones, was a social reformer and leader in the labor movement in the United States from the 1870s until her death in 1930. A native of Ireland, she grew up in Toronto, Canada and Michigan and Illinois, and married an iron worker in Tennessee in 1861. Her husband and four children died of yellow fever in 1867 and she made her way to Chicago, where she worked as a dressmaker until the famous fire of 1871 destroyed her property. After that she spent five decades as an itinerant organizer, agitator and advocate for the rights of workers and their families. A fiery orator with a flair for publicity, “Mother” Jones was nationally famous for bringing to the public’s attention issues such as forced child labor and worker safety. She has since been called “the grandmother of all agitators” — the story goes she was called that in the U.S. Senate (and not in a nice way). As a labor leader she was strongly associated with the United Mine Workers (she spent nearly three months in a West Virginia prison in 1913 for her role in violent demonstrations), the International Workers of the World and the Socialist Party of America.