Fighting for Employee Rights

            Mary (Harris) Jones was born in Ireland around 1877, but she and family immigrated to America during the great potato famine. They settled first in Canada and eventually the U.S. Mary and her family faced considerable discrimination due to being Irish Catholics. She was able to qualify as a teacher, but didn’t like teaching.

            Mary ended up in Nashville and married George Jones when she was 24. Her husband was a union organizer and Mary became a fulltime homemaker. That changed when she lost her husband and her four children due to a yellow fever epidemic. Just imagine how many of us would have responded to such a tragedy.

            Mary moved to Chicago and began making dresses for the elite of Chicago. Again, tragedy struck. She lost her home and everything in the Great Chicago Fire.

            Just imagine how any of us would have responded to such a tragedy. She joined with others in the rebuilding of Chicago. She became active in union activities in what became the largest union in America. The union efforts in Chicago eventually collapsed, but for Mary her union involvement had just begun.

            What followed was involvement with the United Mine Workers. She led the efforts to bring together wives and children in demonstrations. She was a charismatic orator who could inspire union members to persist in their efforts for fair wages and improved working conditions.

            Mary was also active in promoting child labor laws. She organized a children’s crusade which ended up at the home of President Theodore Roosevelt. When the President refused to meet with the children, the crusade became even more prominent.

            As the union movement grew in success, business owner began to enlist the military and government officials to curtail the labor movement. Mary was imprisoned. This generated more outrage and led to more support for the labor movement.

            As Mary grew older, she became known as Mother Jones, one of the most famous leaders for employee rights. In spite of her career as a labor activist, she still believed in women’s role as homemakers. Mother Jones remained active until her death at age 93.

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“I hope to live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators.” – Mother Jones (in response to criticism on the floor of the U.S. Senate for being the grandmother of all agitators)

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