Mary Harris was baptised at Shandon’s North Cathedral in 1837, and the Harris family emigrated to Toronto, Canada, during the famine. Mary eventually worked as a schoolteacher before marrying George Jones, who was an organiser of the National Union of Iron Moulders. Mary and George settled in Memphis, Tennessee, to rear 4 children until a Yellow Fever epidemic claimed the lives of her husband and children. She subsequently moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she ran a dressmaking business that was consumed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
As Mary helped rebuild her adoptive community and began working for labour rights, primarily with the United Mine Works Union. Mary soon gained a reputation for fearlessness and was eventually dubbed the ‘Most Dangerous Woman in America’ by those opposed to organised labour. She was characterised as a fiery orator who never lost her Irish brogue and was no stranger to imprisonment for her activism.
It is difficult to determine when the persona of Mother Jones emerged, but she was a survivor who likely transformed her suffering into action. As Mother Jones, she organised the March of the Mill Children to raise awareness of the exploitation of children who were forced into factory work, many of whom suffered work-related disabilities, and most were denied access to education. The March of the Mill Children proceeded from Pennsylvania to President Theodore Roosevelt’s estate on Long Island, New York. Child labour soon became a national issue and led to legislation protecting the rights of children. Mother Jones left this earth on 30 November 1930 at 93 years of age and is buried with ‘her boys’ at the United Mine Workers Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois.
Author: John Barimo