- Albert Einstein
Mary Harris Jones (Mother Jones) (1830- 1930)
An army of little toilers is marching from Kensington, Philadelphia towards President Theodore Roosevelt’s home in the Oyster Bay, New York to draw his attention about the crimes of child labour in the United States of America. They are carrying banners with the slogans, “We want more schools and less hospitals”, “We want time to play”, “Prosperity is here. Where is ours?”. One of them is beating on a drum and another is fifing. Along the line workers and farmers are bringing them fruits and vegetables, their wives bathing these marching children in the rivers and streams. The railway workers stopping and giving them free rides. People hail them and chant the song:
“She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes”
“Oh, we’ll all go out to meet her when she comes”.
They are little boys and girls, mostly less than ten years of age, “Some of them hands off, some with thumbs missing. Some, their fingers off at the knuckle, stooped things, round shouldered and skinny, deformed, dwarfed in body and soul.”* They became old at an early age. Some of their fathers had been killed or maimed at the mines, and they have to take care of themselves and their families too.
These children are representing at least ten thousand little toilers working in the mills and mines, around Philadelphia, currently at strike with their working fathers and neighbours. The army is marshalled by a good man named Sweeny and accompanied by few men and women representing their parents.
It is 1903, and the organizer is 73 years old Mary Harris Jones. Workers call her “Mother Jones”. Miners call her “Miners’ Angel”. And the capitalists call her “The most dangerous woman in America.”
So, president Roosevelt refused to see them and even did not answer the Mother Jones letters. But due to the public clamour and in spite of strong capitalists’ objection, the Pennsylvania legislator eventually passed a child labour law that send thousands of children home from the mills, and kept thousands of others from entering the factories until they were fourteen years of age. There was some success.
Mary Harris Jones, the prominent socialist, community and labour organizer, the great orator and political educator was born in the County Cork, Ireland. Their family fled to Canada because of the British Government persecution. She was raised in Toronto where she studied and trained to be a teacher and dressmaker. In 1861, Mary married George Jones, a worker and staunch member of the Iron Moulders Union in Memphis Tennessee. She learned a lot about unions and working condition in the U.S. from her husband.
In 1867, a mosquito-borne viral infection, Yellow Fever outbreak, swept Memphis. In a week she lost her four children and her husband to this plague. She wrote, “… Its victims were mainly among the poor and the workers. The rich and the well-to-do fled the city. ... The poor can not afford nurses.”
That was a horrible event. After a while she left Memphis to Chicago, where she worked as a dressmaker until her shop was destroyed in the fire of 1871.
In Chicago she observed the lavish life-style of the wealthy families when she sewed for them, and the blatant economic and social inequities that existed there.
Mother Jones became increasingly active in the union movements. She worked for the workers and with the workers. Wherever there was a labour trouble, Mother Jones was there. She became a part of labour movement’s history of America.
In the 1898, Mother Jones helped to found the Social Democratic Party of America, then the Socialist Party of America in 1904. She was one of the co-founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905.
In 1911, when there was a revolution in Mexico, Mother Jones was there to help. Back in the U.S., she was raising funds for the defence of the Mexican revolutionaries who were arrested or deported.
On September 21st, 1912, she again led a march of children miners’, this time in West Virginia. A while later she was arrested and convicted at the age of 83, by a military court of conspiring to commit murder and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. This trial and conviction was so ridiculous and the public was so outraged that she was set free after a few months. In 1919, at the age of 89, she was being arrested again for helping workers to get decent life conditions.
The last public appearance of this extra-ordinary woman was on May 1st, 1930, in her 100th birthday party, which was held in Silver Spring, Maryland. After thanking the different organizations for their congratulatory messages, she made a fiery speech against the cruel system of capitalism and hailed its alternative, socialism.
Eugene V. Debs wrote about Mother Jones, “During the great strike in the anthracite coal district she marched at the head of the miners; was first to meet the sheriff and the soldiers; and last to leave the field of battle. …Again and again prodded by the bayonets of soldiers, locked-up in jail and threatened with assassination.”
Not only did Mother Jones struggle like hell against capitalist exploitation, but she was at odds with opportunistic stands of the union leaders and left wing political leaders and parties. As she wrote in her autobiography, “Provision should be made in all union constitutions for the recall of leaders. Big salaries should not be paid. Career hunters should be driven out, as well as leaders who use labour for political ends. These types are menaces to the advancement of labour.” She again wrote, “Too long has labour been subservient to the old betrayers, politicians and crooked labour leaders.”
Mother Jones died in the Silver Spring, Maryland on November 30th, 1930, and buried in the Union Miners Cemetery at Mount Olive, Illinois.