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Illinois Digital Archives

About this collection

Collection provided by: Mount Olive Public Library

 

"Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living", her words still inspire labor organizers, but who was Mother Jones? Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, known as the Miners' Angel, was once described by West Virginia District Attorney Reese Blizzard as "...the most dangerous woman in the world." She described herself in these words: "I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser." In reality, she was all of these things and more in her role as one of the foremost labor organizers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

She claimed to have been born in Cork, Ireland on May 1, 1830. Although a recent (2001) biography by Elliot Gorn states that she was actually born on August 7, 1837. It is unclear why she changed the date of her birth to make it earlier. In 1867, she lost her husband and children in a yellow fever epidemic and in 1871, she lost everything she owned in the great Chicago Fire. It was at this time that she became involved with the newly-formed Knights of Labor and began traveling around the country working for or with labor.

 

Her growing interest in labor union issues and radical politics led her to become active as a radical labor organizer. Some of the activities in which she was involved include: 1877, helped with the Pittsburgh railway strike; after 1890, became involved in the struggles of coal miners and became an organizer for the United Mine Workers; 1898, helped found the Social Democrat Party; 1899, organized the coalfields of Pennsylvania; 1905, was present at the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World.

 

This small collection includes photographs of mines and mine workers from Mount Olive as well as some Mother Jones memorabilia - including the letter she wrote to the miners of Mount Olive, requesting that "I hope it will be my consolation when I pass away to feel I sleep under the clay with those brave boys." Mother Jones died on November 30, 1930 and is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery at Mount Olive, Illinois. Her grave is near that of "those brave boys" she referred to - the victims of the Virden mine riot of 1898.

 
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