The National Mining Museum in Leadville, Colorado, inducted Mary Harris “Mother” Jones into its Mining Hall of Fame on September 14. Mother Jones, born in Cork, was one of the most famous labor activists who ever lived. Her battle cry, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” truly said it all. Her powerful speeches and knack for theatrics encouraged many to form unions and strike for fair wages and safe working conditions. Known as the “Miner’s Angel” for her advocacy on their behalf, Mother Jones’s activism set the stage for the labor and safety laws we all benefit from today. A champion of the working class, she organized numerous miners’ strikes against low pay, 12-hour days, 7-day work weeks, extreme mortality rates, and child labor, and railed against the servitude of company stores and company housing. When she began organizing for the United Mine Workers Union in the 1890s, it had 10,000 members; within a few years, 300,000 men had joined. Jones had force, she had wit, and above all, she had the fire of indignation.
Mary Harris immigrated with her family to Canada as a child, fleeing the Great Hunger. Educated as a schoolteacher and dressmaker, she moved to the United States as a young adult. In 1861, she married Iron Molders Union member George Jones in Memphis, TN, and had four children. When yellow fever struck the city in 1867, Mary lost her husband and all four children; she was grief-stricken and resentful of “the rich and the well-to-do,” who fled to escape the disease. Mary was devastated yet again when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 claimed her shop. Destitute, she turned to the Knights of Labor for help.
In the ensuing years, her dedication to the labor movement flourished as she aligned with a number of efforts
focused on the working poor. Mary spoke out against low pay, 12-hour days, and detestable working conditions. By raising hell, she raised consciousness, setting the stage for the labor laws we all value today, changing not only the mining industry, but all industry, forever.
Jones was nominated to the Hall of Fame by Elliot Gorn, the author of The Most Dangerous Woman in America: Mother Jones.
Professor James Walsh of the University of Colorado Denver, accepted the Mother Jones citation. Walsh has done much study around the topic of Irish
immigration to the U.S. Rocky Mountain region, particularly in the Denver and Leadville areas, and is raising funds to erect a memorial in Leadville’s Evergreen ♦