The “hell-raiser”, “the most dangerous woman in America”, the “miner’s angel” and the “mother”, crowned by different people for different reasons, she was the most famous female activist and a radical of the 19th century. Officially called Mary Harris Jones, she was born in 1st August 1830 in the “Rebel County” officially called County Cork, Ireland. The great Irish Potato Feminine forced her family to flee from her motherland and travelled to Toronto, Canada where she attended school and studied to become a teacher. Due to the hard-hitting poverty, she left school without achieving her degree and went on to take a teaching position in a Michigan Catholic School. She would later quit teaching and become a seamstress in Chicago and later moved to Memphis for another teaching job. In 1861, she got married to George Jones but her family happiness ended in 1867 when they got hit by the yellow fever epidemic that to the death of her husband and four children died. The loss of her family made her dress in black for the rest of her life days.
This marked the beginning of her new life as the miners and children “mother”. She moved back to Chicago and started a life as a dressmaker. She was hard hit by the Chicago fire of 1871 that led her to losing everything she had. This is when she started a new page of work in her life. She turned to Knights of Labor and dedicated her life to improving the life of workers. As she become more active with her labor movement, agrarian revolution and economy was being replaced by industrialization.
She took it upon herself to focus on rising number of poor workers who were subjected to negative rights like increased working hours, reducing wages, poor working conditions, ignorance of the employer to care for their health and lack of insurance for workers. Her desire for the labor movement, as some would say, could have been inspired by the economic and social inequalities she witnessed as she worked for the wealthy families. In these years as she lived in Chicago, she preferred to live with the workers in their tents and shantytowns as she was a frequent traveler to different work places of people. At one time, she was asked where she lived and here response was, “well, wherever there is a fight”.
She helped the mine workers who were great opposers of the industrialists effectively. She helped them coordinate strikes and delivered motivating speeches to them. Her caring character led them to calling her, “Mother Jones” and the “Miners Angel”. The mine workers frequently sent her to negotiate for them with their union and employers. She pushed for the improvement of the harsh working camps. She turned up for nearly all other workers like textile workers who were fighting for the formation of a union, or improved conditions working conditions.
Her biggest encounter was in 1877 when she mobilized and coordinated workers towards the great railroad strike in Pittsburgh. The striking workers were refusing to accept the third wage cut in a year. They closed the railways and denied passage to trains claiming that they would not back off until their wage was revoked. The strike ended later with arrests and deaths of some and children people.
Mother jones also showed concern and played the mother role to child workers since she was against child labor. She got the information from the 1900 census that most children below 16years were working in textile mills. She even noticed the injuries and disabilities in these children and requested the journalists to post in their newspapers. However, this could not happen because owners of the mills had great influence on what was published. She decided to choose another method that would make it known to the society the ill behaviors of mine owners. The motherly Mother Jones, in 1903, organized the young children and led them to a march from the mines to New York. She later led the harassed young ones to the President’s home but he refused to meet them. The march had some impact on child labor laws since it made the Child Labor Committee was formed for further action. She insisted on child labor all her living years.
By 1904, Mother Jones had moved to Colorado to mobilize a strike in the mine fields but she received opposition from the miners’ union President who was against the strike. The union’s President wanted the miners to sign up the contract but Mother Jones opposed it. Despite them being friends for long, they split up. This weakened the strike and it ended in it ended in October the same year. She lived to blame the United Mine Workers of America for not supporting her and the for the fall of the strike.
She joined the Socialist Party from Illinois and worked with the party moving all around the southwestern part of America as a lecturer. Mother Mary travelled with them giving speeches and organizing rallies but did not give up on her motherly care the laborers. She continued to spread out her radical ideas, organizing and mobilizing people for strikes and even went on to participate largely in the formation of a radical group called Industrial Workers of the World (WWI) who liked to call themselves “The Wobblies”. She is known for avoiding debates that most socialists indulged in. She converted the theoretical socialism to a real activity. It is during these days that she campaigned for Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM), a radical movement from Mexico that opposed the Diaz government. They had fled to the USA from Mexico after consequently being targeted by the government. Her campaign was to raise money for PLM leaders to defend themselves in court.1911, she later left the socialist party due to several disagreements on matters that dictated the party’s lane.
She was again hired by the miners’ union in West Virginia in 1911. She found that the miners working conditions were still bad and went on to organize the miners for a strike. The mine operators opposed the strike and refused to negotiate with the union. They chose to take in violence to keep maintain their mines. They brought in their militia who even had machine guns and the violence involved the “shoot to kill” policy. The Governor of the state attempted to bring peace by taking away the guns of strikers but didn’t take the mine owners guns. Violence went on and her supporters demonstrated claiming that only union strikers were being arrested and not the mine owners’ militia. Mother jones was arrested, charged with conspiracy and jailed for three months. The state called for negotiations and the workers and the miner owners agreed on a nine-hours working day and other factors, this showed that Mother Jones had acquired victory and even upon her release, she continued to address on the workers issues.
After her release, she went on to organize the miners towards the iron and fuel company strike the but the strike, which was called the “Colorado Coalfield War”, was contained by the government. She got banned from going to Trinidad, Colorado and her successful sneak in led to her house arrest for nine weeks. After her release, she attempted to return but was arrested for 26days. At this period, National Guards opened fire to a miner tent city and killed twenty people. This event was called the Ludlow Massacre. Before this, she had been arrested, accused of secretly planning to commit murder, found guilt and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment. governor Hatfield set her free because of the fury that her arrest had brought.
She went on to organize and participate in strikes despite how many negativities the government and the employers of her followers saw in her. In 1921, at the age of 91, she was invited to Mexico as guest in the Pan-American Federation of Labor conference. This was a clear display of her recognition by the world as a strong and great lady in her fight for the laborers’ rights. In 1922, she left the United Miners Union after disagreeing with the President, John L. Lewis since she was not reappointed as their organizer.
Her health continued to decline, but she still made efforts to appear in more strikes. Her last public appearances were in 1926 in Alliance, Ohio, where she had been invited as a guest at a Labor Day celebration and her 100th birthday party on 1st May 1930 at Silver Spring, Maryland.
Just about seven months after her birthday celebration on the 30th day of November, she passed away and was laid to rest in the Miners Union Cemetery in Mt Olive, Illinois, as she had requested. It was where miners killed in a fight with mine guards were buried. Her desire to be buried with the miners showed that she had great love for the miners. She is greatly remembered for her ability to attract publicity and government attention, strong devotion to her labor followers and the ever-spirited radical movements. These are some of the principles that made one attorney to crown her as the dangerous woman in America. A surprising thing about the strong woman is that she never appeared like a good supporter of gender fellows. She claimed that these women had the “vote” but refused to use to prevent the conditions that led to labor violence. She also claimed that these women were deceitful actors who just seemed as if they had much concern on the laborers’ welfare but had none. In spite of such arguments she could be noted saying that men needed better salaries so that women could fully dedicate themselves to motherhood.