Remembering Mary "Mother Jones" Harris
Mary G. Harris was born on the north side of the city of Cork, Ireland, the daughter of tenant farmers Richard Harris and Ellen (née Cotter) Harris.
Mary's DOB is unknown but we do know she was baptized on August 1st 1837. Mary was still a teenager when her family were forced to emigrate to Canada to escape the Great Hunger.
Life was tough for Irish immigrants in Canada at the time but Mary was educated in Toronto Normal School which was tuition free and even paid a stipend to each student of one dollar per week for every semester completed.
Mary moved to the United States when she was 23, she became a teacher in a convent in Monroe, Michigan, on August 31st 1859. She was paid eight dollars per month, but the school was described as a "depressing place".
Mary left her job and moved to Chicago and then to Memphis, wherein 1861 she married George E. Jones, a member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Moulders, which represented workers who specialized in building and repairing steam engines, mills, and other manufactured goods.
Mary had now decided to leave the teaching profession for good and opened a dress shop in Memphis on the eve of the Civil War, but tragedy would soon hit her life.
In 1867, during a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis Mary lost her husband and their four children to the fever. After that tragedy, she returned to Chicago to begin another dressmaking business. Then, four years later, she lost her home, shop, and possessions in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
After this latest loss, Mother Jones began her work as a labor activist. She worked with the Knights of Labor, often giving speeches to inspire the workers during strikes. Around this time, she travelled to numerous strike sites, helping coal miners in Pennsylvania in 1873 and railroad workers in 1877. The way she cared for the workers inspired them to nickname her "Mother."
Known as the miner's angel, Mother Jones became an active campaigner for the United Mine Workers Union. A political progressive, she was a founder of the Social Democratic Party in 1898. Jones also helped establish the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905.
For all of her social reform and labor activities, she was considered by the authorities to be one of the most dangerous women in America and was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate as the "grandmother of all agitators", Mary replied, "I hope to live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators."
At the age of 82, she was arrested for her part in a West Virginia strike that turned violent and was sentenced to 20 years. But her supporters rallied and convinced the governor to grant her a pardon. Jones, undeterred, returned to organizing workers.
By 1924, Jones was in court again, this time facing charges of libel, slander, and sedition. In 1925, Charles A. Albert, publisher of the fledgeling Chicago Times, won a $350,000 judgment against Jones. Jones remained a union organizer for the UMW into the 1920s and continued to speak on union affairs almost until she died.
Mary released her own account of her experiences in the labor movement as The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925). During her later years, Jones lived with her friends Walter and Lillie May Burgess on their farm in what is now Adelphi, Maryland.
Mary Harris Jones died in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the age of 93 years on 30 November 1930. There was a funeral Mass at St. Gabriel's in Washington, D.C. She is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, alongside miners who died in the 1898 Battle of Virden, She called these miners, killed in strike-related violence, "her boys.
On October 11th 1936, also known as Miners' Day, an estimated 50,000 people arrived at Mother Jones's grave to see the new gravestone and memorial. Since then, October 11th is not only known as Miners' Day but is also referred to and celebrated in Mount Olive as "Mother Jones's Day."
"Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living." - Mary Harris