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Mother Jones or “The Miners’ Angel” was a fearless fighter for workers’ rights

Goran Blazeski

Mary Harris Jones, also known as “Mother Jones” was born in 1830 in County Cork, Ireland. Her parents, Richard and Ellen Harris, were Roman Catholic tenant farmers.

In her young years, Mary and her family were victims of the Great Famine in Ireland and one of the over million families that emigrated to North America.

They first went to Toronto, Canada, where her father worked on a railroad and Mary received her education at the Toronto Normal School.

Mother Jones, American labor activist
Mother Jones, American labor activist

After grade school, she learned dressmaking and trained to be a teacher. She began her career as a teacher in Michigan and then moved first Chicago and later to Memphis.

In 1861, she married George Jones, an iron worker and a strong union supporter. They had 4 children but an outbreak of yellow fever killed her husband and children in 1867. At first, she stayed in Memphis and volunteered as a nurse until the epidemic was over.

She returned to Chicago and opened a dress shop that was very successful. Working for the aristocrats, she had the opportunity to observe the luxury and extravagance of the rich. Unfortunately, in 1871 she lost her home in the great Chicago fire and was plunged into poverty again.

Jones was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate as the "grandmother of all agitators."
Jones was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate as the “grandmother of all agitators.”


Nevertheless, she stayed in Chicago and began her work as a labor activist. She worked with the Knights of Labor, one of the earliest national labor organizations in America, often giving speeches which inspired the workers during strikes. The workers became her family and even began calling her Mother Jones.

She knew that workers lived and worked under horrible conditions, so she decided it was time for them to band together and demand change. She traveled around the country to various industrial areas helping workers organize.

Mother Jones' burial site at the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois. Photo Credit
Mother Jones’ burial site at the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois. Photo Credit

Mother Jones became an active campaigner for the United Mine Workers Union and involved into fights for better wages and working conditions for mine workers. She was known as “the miner’s angel”.

In 1903, she organized “The March of the Mill Children” from Pennsylvania to President Roosevelt’s home on Long Island. President Roosevelt refused to meet the protesters but they managed to draw the attention of the nation to the crime of child labor. Soon, many states passed new child labor laws.

After the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike in West Virginia in 1912-13, Mother Jones was arrested and sentenced to 20 years of prison by a military judge. But her supporters rallied and convinced the governor to grant her a pardon.

United States Department of Labor poster, 2010
United States Department of Labor poster, 2010

In 1930, she made a last public appearance at her 100th birthday party in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her birthday was celebrated across the country with special labor events.

She died on November 30th, 1930. She required to be buried in the Miners Cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois.

Here is another one from us about fascinating woman: Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States

6 years after her death, 50,000 people attended at the dedication of the 80-ton granite monument above her grave.

Goran Blazeski

Goran Blazeski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News