Mother Mary Jones

Mother Mary Jones

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Mother Mary Jones: Hell-raiser Extraordinaire

The Mother Jones Magazine website suggests that perhaps Mother Jones’ “greatest achievement may have been creating the persona of Mother Jones” (Gorn). The image and character of Mary Harris Jones greatly influenced the early labor movement. “Mother” Jones as she became called, presented herself as a stately, older woman wearing only black dresses in public and perhaps even “exaggerated” her date of birth and age to appear older than she was (Gorn). According to Mother Jones, she was born in Cork, Ireland in 1830 (Jones); however some historians believe that she may have been born around 1837 and perhaps as late as 1844 (Musil). Known for her fiery temperament and outspokenness, Mary Jones picked up the mantle of union fighter after her dressmaking business burned during the Great Chicago fire of 1871 (Gorn).
Mary Jones’ strong will and aggressive personality was born out of her own family history. Her grandfather was hung in Ireland for being an Irish freedom fighter (Hawse). Her father, a laborer, moved to the United States to pave a better way for his family (Jones). As a young woman, Mary Jones studied to become a teacher, but also learned her preferred trade of dressmaking (Jones). In 1861, she married a member of the Iron Moulder’s Union (Jones), a hard working laborer like her father. Unfortunately, in 1867 she was displaced as a mother and wife, when yellow fever swept through Memphis, killing her husband and children (Jones). Not knowing what to do in the aftermath of the fever epidemic, she moved to Chicago and opened a dressmaking business (Jones).
Her early life and her experiences as a dress maker for the well-to-do might have ignited Mary Jones’ interest in the labor rights movement (Women). In her autobiography, Mary Jones states “I would look out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches, jobless and hungry, walking along the frozen lake front. The contrast of their condition with that of the tropical comfort of the people for whom I sewed was painful to me. My employers seemed neither to notice nor to care. (Jones)”
Mother Mary Jones, while very focused on the rights of male workers, also picked up the cause for child and women laborers. She might have created the first “poster child” of sorts by organizing a march of child laborers on Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1903 (Jones).

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The most significant part of the march must have been when Mother Jones held up little children who had been maimed while working, having lost fingers and hands, yet still showed signs of hunger and poverty (Jones). This began the media attention that Mother Jones learned to manipulate to her advantage time and again (Hawse). Seizing the moment, Mother Jones then organized a children’s march from Philadelphia to Fourth Ave in New York City, and then on to Oyster Bay to meet with President Roosevelt, who refused them an audience (Jones).
Mother Jones’ activism did not come without a cost. She was imprisoned several times. While sometimes the conditions were good, other times the conditions were horrifying. Each time Mother Jones got out, she returned to her activism. Her last public address was in 1923, with her auto-biography following in 1925 (Musil). While Mother Jones passed away in 1930 (Musil), her trailblazing spirit lives on. When she was alive, people had tried to declare Mother Jones as a great humanitarian, but she had only replied, “I’m not a humanitarian! I’m a hell-raiser (Hawse)!” This is her legacy to future union workers.

Works Cited

Gorn, Elliot J. “Mother Jones: The Woman.” Mother Jones May/June 2001

Hawse, Mara Lou. “Mother Jones: The Miner’s Angel.”

Jones, Mary Harris. “The Auto-Biography of Mother Jones.” Chapter 1 and Chapter X Edited by Mary Field Parton. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1925.

Musil, Emily. “Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1830-1930).”

Women in History. "Mother" Mary Harris Jones biography. 04/19/2006 20:53:10. Lakewood Public Library. Wednesday, October 10, 2007.
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