Mary Harris was born in Cork, Ireland in the 1830’s. As a teenager her family emigrated to Canada. She was a teacher in a convent when she married George E Jones, a member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Moulders in Memphis, Tennessee in 1861. She lost her husband and 4 children to Yellow Fever in Memphis and when she moved to Chicago to start a dress-making business she lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. This changed her life and she became a labor activist, joining the Knight of Labor. As labor became more radicalized over the years, Mary Jones kept pace and joined in on strikes and led women and children in support. The was active with United Mine Workers and the Socialist Party of America. She became one of America’s best union organizers. In 1902 West Virginia district attorney Reese Blizzard, in 1902, at her trial for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners, said “There sits the most dangerous woman in America. She crooks her finger, 20,000 contented men lay down.”
Jones is against Woman Suffrage. She feeels that the neglect of motherhood is a primary cause of juvenile delinquency. “You don’t need the vote to raise hell!” She assumed the persona of Mother Jones by claiming to be older than she actually was, wearing outdated black dresses and referring to the male workers that she supported as ‘her boys’.In April 1912 in Kanawha County, West Virginia two streams, Paint Creek and Cabin Creek contain 96 coal mines employing 7500 miners. 41 of the mines were unionized with the UMW but the owners were not allowing workers at other mines to follow. The hired the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency to break the strike with more than 300 mine armed guards. In May 1912. Jones arrived in June 1912 as mine owners began evicting workers from their rented houses and brought in replacement workers. Beatings, sniper attacks, and sabotage were daily occurrences. Jones would agitate a crowd with storytelling and liven her rhetoric with real and folk-tale characters, encourage participation from audience members, flavor it with passion, and include humor-ridden methods such as profanity, name-calling, and wit. In July 1912 an incident left 12 strikers and 4 guards dead.
In the first week of September 1912 a force of over 5,000 miners joined the strikers’ tent city. West Virginia Governor Glasscock establish martial law and 1,200 state troops confiscated arms and ammunition from both sides. Strikers were forbidden to congregate and were subject to fast, unfair trials in military court.
On September 6, 1912 Mother Jones made an appeal and led 3,000 miners to march through the streets of Charleston, West Virginia to demonstrate against martial law and it’s restrictions.
“Oh, men [speaking of mine owners], have you any hearts? Oh, men, do you feel? Oh, men, do you see the judgment day on the throne above, when you will be asked, “where did you get your gold? You stole it from these wretches. You murdered, you assassinated, you starved, you burned them to death, that you and your wives might have palaces, and that your wives might go to the seashore.”
Mother Jones’ speech from Charleston, West Virginia – September 6, 1912 from Appalachian History :http://www.appalachianhistory.net/2010/02/you-murdered-that-you-and-your-wives.html
Meanwhile 16 miners have been tried and found guilty by the military courts.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones with the families of striking miners
Charleston, West Virginia