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Called lots of names

Many years ago—June 8, 2001—Linda took this photograph of me at our last stop on a 24-day-long road trip in search of historic women landmarks—the Mary Harris “Mother” Jones Monument and Burial Site, the Union Miners Cemetery, Mt. Olive, Illinois. (Left image, click to enlarge)

It is a sight to behold! A bas-relief of Mother Jones is in the middle of the 22-foot high, 80-ton, Minnesota pink granite obelisk that is flanked by life-size bronze statues of miners. (The flowers were from a recent Memorial Day celebration.)

The monument was dedicated in 1936, on October 12, the date of a gun battle known as the Battle of Virden, or the Virden Massacre, in 1898 in Virden,

Illinois, between striking coal miners and armed guards. Mine owners had hired the guards to escort a train carrying Black potential strike breakers with their wives and children that mine owners had recruited from Alabama. Both miners and guards were killed or wounded in the battle. The Black men and their families were eventually sent by train to St. Louis and left to fend for themselves without any resources.

When the regular cemetery refused to bury four of the dead miners, whom local miners viewed as “martyrs,” the local mine workers’ union established this cemetery— a "resting place for good Union people." (Right image: Democrat and Chronicle, October 12, 1936, p. 9.)

In 1923, Mother Jones spoke at the yearly commemoration event at the cemetery. In a letter, dated November 12, 1923, she stated her desire to be buried in “the same clay that shelters the miners who gave up their lives on the hills of Virden.”

Seven years later, she died on November 30, 1930, just a year after the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. Despite desperate financial times, people donated money, oftentimes just pennies, to build a monument to Mother Jones. Local miners dug the monument’s site themselves.

(Right image) During our visit, I met two other visitors—an older married couple whose fathers had been miners. They remembered the fund-raising effort. "We emptied our piggy banks," they told me.

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones’s life as a beloved, sharp-tongued, feisty labor organizer and fiery protector of workers of all ages was rooted in tragedy.

In 1867, her four young children and husband died in the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee. She relocated to Chicago, Illinois,

to work as a seamstress but then lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

She found refuge by joining the Knights of Labor, the first major labor organization in the United States that organized skilled and unskilled workers. Then in her mid-40s, Jones traveled throughout the country, organizing and supporting striking workers, including railroad workers during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 in West Virginia. (I wrote about that strike in my book Strike!: The Bitter Struggle o American Workers.) In the Pennsylvania coalfields, she organized a "mop and broom brigade" of miners' wives to drive away non-union workers.

By the 1890s, she had achieved great notoriety and acclaim. “Agitator . . .fanatic . . .the most dangerous woman in America,” declared mine owners and politicians.. “Angel . . . mother . . . a great humanitarian,” proclaimed union leaders and workers. “Get it right,” Jones herself said, “I’m a hell raiser.”

In 1898, she set off from Topeka, Kansas, in a prairie schooner drawn by one white horse TO PREACH SOCIALISM, according to the headline article in The Topeka State Journal, Dec. 1, 1898. “She will journey from county to county, preaching her Utopia gospel to the dissatisfied.”

(Economic hard times had left many workers poverty-stricken and “dissatisfied.” Utopian socialism was a type of socialism based on the belief that owners would peacefully turn over the means of production to the workers. It was rooted in the ideas of mid-19th century reformers such as the French philosopher Charles Fourier. The North American Phalanx, a secular agrarian commune in Colts Neck, New Jersey, was the longest lasting utopian settlement in the United States, 1843-1856. During the 1950s, my parents rented a house at Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, New York. The summer season at Chautauqua was replete with cultural events from operas to lectures. One night the speaker was Norman Thomas, a Presbyterian minister, socialist, pacifist, and six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America. Afterwards my mother brought him back to the house and they talked late into the night. In the morning, my sleepily enthusiastic mother told me and my brothers all about his visit.)

Mother Jones, the first woman field organizer for the United Mine Workers of America, kept up the fight well into her 80s. In 1913, she spent 85 days under house

. arrest during a strike in West Virginia. During the Colorado Coalfield War in 1914, she was deported twice from Trinidad, Colorado, for “rabble rousing” and incarcerated. (Left image: The Ogden Standard, March 23, 1914, p. 1)

(Right image) An illustrated marker, The Mother Jones, Coalfield Organizer, 1837-1930, located near Raymond, Illinois is on my to-visit list. As is the marker in Pratt, West Virginia, that notes: “Labor organizer ‘Mother Jones’ spent her 84th birthday imprisoned here.”

Other landmarks are found in Maryland, Indiana,

Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. (See my 6/17 blog post about Jones and her “March of the Mill Children.”)

(Right image) Another landmark on my to-visit list is In Cork, Ireland, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones’s birthplace. The plaque honoring Mother Jones was dedicated on August 1, 2012. (Left image) This year in Cork, the 12th "Spirit of Mother Jones Festival" honoring "Cork's Rebel Daughter" will be held from July 27-29. The events range from lectures and walks to exhibitions and singing "all related to the festival’s themes of social, labor, and environmental justice and human rights." Maybe next year, I'll go!

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