Today’s Talk Topic: Our Labor Day Heroine—Mother Jones


Mary Harris, 1837.

Mary Harris Jones (1837–1930)—what a dame! A U.S. Attorney once called this widow, a former dressmaker, “the most dangerous woman in America.” She was a radical labor organizer so audacious that “she made herself up to look way older than she was so that when she got beat down by Pinkerton agents, she’d gain public sympathy.” (This according to Mother Jones, the progressive magazine that named itself after her.)

Her cause, back in the first two decades of the 20th century, was exploited American workers. The AFL-CIO website paints her picture:

Typically clad in a black dress, her face framed by a lace collar and black hat, the barely five-foot tall Mother Jones was a fearless orator . . . . Her voice had great carrying power. Her energy and passion inspired men half her age into action and compelled their wives and daughters to join in the struggle. If that didn’t work, she would embarrass men to action. “I have been in jail more than once and I expect to go again. If you are too cowardly to fight, I will fight,” she told them.

She organized strikes and demonstrations all over the country on behalf of miners, railroad workers, the unemployed, textile workers, streetcar operators, steelworkers—and led the famous Children’s March: 100 children followed her “from the textile mills of Philadelphia to New York City ‘to show the New York millionaires our grievances.’ She led the children all the way to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Long Island home.”

Have you met Mrs. Jones? If you haven’t, turn to the AFL­-CIO site above for a great dose of inspiration about female empowerment—as well as to Elliot J. Gorn’s bio on the Mother Jones site, which laments “Some might recognize her name, know something about her activism on behalf of working people, or even recall her famous war cry: ‘Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.’ But few remember much about Mother Jones, who battled corporate presidents and politicians, who went to jail repeatedly for organizing workers, and who converted tens of thousands of Americans to the labor movement and the left.”

Read more of her story:



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