Mount Olive, Illinois is about fifty miles south of Springfield. It is where you will find the Union Mine Cemetery. There you will see a large stone monument flanked by the statues of miners holding a pickaxe and a sledgehammer. The monument is for Mary G. Harris Jones also known as “Mother Jones.”
Mary was born sometime in the 1830s in Ireland. Her exact birth date has been lost to history. Because of the Great Potato Famine she emigrated to Canada when she was a teenager and studied to become a teacher. In 1861 she moved to Memphis, Tennessee and married George E. Jones, a member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Moulders. Six years later, her husband and their four children all died of yellow fever.
Distraught from the death of her family she moved to Chicago and opened a dressmaking shop. A few years later the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed her shop and home. It was during the rebuilding of Chicago that Mary Jones became active in the labor movement and helped in organizing strikes for fair wages. She believed a man should make enough money that his wife could stay home and raise their children. I know that statement is sexist in today’s standards, but it was a big leap back forward back then.
She became a member of the United Mine Workers and helped organize strikes across the nation. She was arrested several times and in one court case in West Virginia an attorney representing a mining company claimed she was “the most dangerous woman in America”. At the age of 60 she took on the persona of Mother Jones and fought for the rights of poor working Americans. In 1903, Jones organized children who were working in mills and mines to participate in her famous “March of the Mill Children ” where they marched from Pennsylvania to President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home on Long Island.
Mother Jones was a prolific and influential speaker and worked with the unions into her 90s. She died on November 30, 1930 at her friend’s home in Silver Springs, Maryland. She was laid to rest in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive near the miners who died in the 1898 Battle of Virden, a riot that occurred as part of a union strike.
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