Some time back, Ana the Imp posted a blog on MyT entitled ‘Obama and the Deer Hunters’, contrasting ‘un-American’ ‘liberals and socialists’ with the kind of blue-collar individualists who ‘built America’ and are instinctively hostile to the state … epitomized by the steelworker-soldiers of The Deer Hunter.
In a comment, I said ‘It seems that some people, for ideological reasons, would like to tear out whole chapters of the American story … such as the “deer hunter” class fighting not the state as such, but big business that was backed by the forces of the state.’
Around that time I went to an Andy Irvine concert, and he sang a new song he’d written called ‘The Spirit of Mother Jones’. Mother Jones was an interesting character, and personified the struggle of the ‘little person’ for fair play that was a big part of what made America the greatest country in the world.
Mary Harris Jones was born Mary Harris in Co. Cork in 1837, and emigrated to Canada and then the USA with her family in her teens. In 1867 her husband and four young children all died of yellow fever; she moved from Tennessee to Chicago and set up a dress shop, which was destroyed along with her home and possessions in the Great Fire of 1871. One might safely say that Lady Luck had not smiled on Mary Harris Jones.
She joined the labour movement and became a leader of the United Mine Workers –¬ it seems that she was a great orator. In a particularly violent and turbulent time for US industrial relations, she organized strikers’ wives and children to demonstrate on their behalf, and was called ‘the most dangerous woman in America’. She was twice imprisoned.
Jones, who took on the persona of ‘Mother Jones’ by pretending to be older than she really was and dressing in an old-fashioned style, drew national attention to the scandal of child labour in the Pennsylvania silk mills. She played a major role in the 1898 coalminers’ strike at Virden, Illinois, during which seven miners and six security guards were killed in a gun battle. There is a bronze portrait of Jones atop a monument to the strike in Virden.
After the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, when 21 people, including 12 children and two women, died in an attack on striking miners by the Colorado National Guard, Mother Jones had a meeting with John D. Rockefeller which led to reforms in the Colorado mines.
Jones died at (probably) the age of 93, in 1930 (she claimed to be 100 years old). As well as the Virden plinth and the Irvine song, she is immortalized in songs by Woody Guthrie and others, in books and in the title of a magazine.
An American (and Irish) heroine.