Mary Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones (1837-1930), was born in Cork, Ireland, and came to the United States. She became an American labor union and community organizer, and was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.
1921 was a tumultuous year for the United States as President Warren Harding tried to guide the nation after the Panic of 1921 created problems for industrial leaders and the labor force. Strikes also highlighted the events of the year with the West Virginia coal fields as a major battleground. The leaders of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) District No. 17 realized that to continue organizing the state's coal miners they had to gain the support of Logan and Mingo counties. Mother Jones and Bill Blizzard played major roles in pushing unionization.
Mother Jones viewed the episode as a major battle in the ongoing struggle for labor. She asserted that the outcome of the conflict would determine the future of coal miners and their families and communities. More broadly, the nation's future hinged on who would triumph. To create a good society, which she sought, required that workers prepare themselves with education to produce a just and free society.
She complimented John Brophy, President of the UMWA District 2, on his efforts to promote labor education. These initiatives would continue and grow as District 2 hosted speakers, published a newspaper and conducted a Labor Chautauqua. “Mother” Jones indicated that she had other invitations to be a Labor Day speaker, including requests from West Virginia miners. However, her first preference was to be in District 2 for the occasion. Her motivation included her admiration for Brophy, her respect for William Wilson, a former District 2 leader and U.S. Secretary of Labor and her remembrance of Arnot where she helped to turn defeat into victory in the memorable Arnot Coal Strike of 1899.
Thus, it was a memorable occasion for the people of Indiana County, Pennsylvania, especially for numerous coal miners, when Mother Jones came to the area in 1921 to deliver a Labor Day address in the same year that she would travel to Mexico City to participate in a Pan American Labor Convention.
Mother Jones remained a union organizer for the UMWA into the 1920s, and continued to speak on union affairs almost until her death in 1930. In later years, she lived with friends in Hyattsville, Maryland. She died at the age 93 on November 30, 1930. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, alongside miners who died in the Virden Riot of 1898. She called miners killed in strike-related violence "her boys."
Correspondence from Mother Jones to John Brophy, UMWA President of District 2, relating to her visit to Indiana County, Pennsylvania, are available in the Special Collections and University Archives at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The letters and telegrams are available below:
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