View Full Version : Mother Jones

01-08-2012, 01:55 AM
Today in history: 1 August 1837

Mary Harris was born on the northside of Cork, the daughter of a Catholic tenant farmer, Richard Harris, and his wife, Ellen Cotter. Some recent materials list her birthday as August 1, 1837, although she claimed her birthdate to be May 1, 1830.

Jones emigrated with her family to Canada when she was roughly fourteen years old. The young Mary acquired a Catholic education in Toronto before her family moved to the United States. She became a teacher in a convent in Monroe, Michigan. After becoming tired of her assumed profession, she moved first to Chicago and later to Memphis, where she married George E. Jones, a member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Molders, later the International Molders and Foundry Workers Union of North America, in 1861. She eventually opened a dress shop in Memphis on the eve of the Civil War.

There were two turning points in her life. The first, and most tragic one, was the loss of her husband George and their four children (all under the age of five) during a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee. After her entire family succumbed to the disease, she returned to Chicago to begin another dressmaking business. Then, four years later, she lost her hard-earned home, shop and possessions in the Great Chicago Fire. This second loss catalyzed an even more fundamental transformation: she turned to the nascent labor movement and joined the Knights of Labor, a predecessor to the Industrial Workers of the World.

From 1897 (when she was 60) she was known as Mother Jones and in 1902 she was called "the most dangerous woman in America" for her success in organizing mine workers and their families against the mine owners. In 1903, upset about the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a Children's March from Philadelphia to the home of then president Theodore Roosevelt in New York.

Mother Jones remained a union organizer for the UMW into the 1920s and continued to speak on union affairs almost until her death. She released her own account of her experiences in the labor movement as The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925).

Amidst the tragic, and sometimes fatal, violence directed at early trade unionists, Mother Jones uttered words still invoked by union supporters more than a century later: "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

Mother Jones Speaks - YouTube