Teach PA History
The Most Dangerous Woman in America? The Mock Trial of Mary Harris "Mother" Jones
Equipment & Supplies
  • Photo copier Computer with internet access

Day One

1. Preparation: Photocopy Student Handout 1-Mock Trial Case Study on Mother Jones (12-page trial) and all student worksheets for each student. Student handouts can be reused between classes, but student worksheets will be needed for each student in each class.

2. DO NOW: Distribute Student Worksheet 1-Introduction Through Images. This worksheet is comprised of a number of images that are also on Student Handout 1 which students will later read. To pique student interest for the reading allow students to peruse the pictures as an introduction. Ask students to complete the worksheet by writing a description of the images and predicting issues that may be significant to Mother Jones: "Based on the pictures, what concepts do you think are important to Mother Jones and this time period?" You may find the Teacher Guide to Student Worksheet 1-Introduction Through Images helpful for guiding the discussion and assessment.

a) EXHIBIT B image of miner: You could ask "How might one describe the work of a miner? Does it look like an easy job? How can one tell this from the image?"
b) Image of Mother Jones: What words come to mind when one looks at the image of Mother Jones?
c) EXHIBIT C image of Breaker Boys in Pennsylvania: How old do the children look in this picture? What does one predict about schools back in the late 1800s, early 1900s? What might the boys on the staircase be doing in the picture? Would students prefer the lives of these boys or the one they currently have? Why?
d) EXHIBIT E, F images of child workers: Using the pictures, what important images and symbols do students see? Do the students predict that children enjoy working at this time? How do they know? What do child workers want?
e) EXHIBIT G, H, I: three images of Mother Jones and child newsies: The first image on depicts Mother Jones in a protest march. Using all of the pictures on the page, ask your class "What might you predict that she is fighting against?"

3. DIRECTED READING: There are four options offered for the reading. They are given to provide for different levels of reading capability in your class and to be sensitive to time constraints you may have. Choose the option that best fits your class.

Option 1: Disseminate Student Worksheet 2-Reading Comprehension and Student Handout 1-Mock Trial Case Study on Mother Jones. Have students read the mock trial case study which is a fictional trial created from compiling and referencing significant primary and secondary sources: images, newspaper articles, and other published documents. Then have students complete Student Handout 1. For assessment, see Teacher Guide to Student Worksheet 2-Reading Comprehension.

Option 2: The trial refers most often to the Autobiography of Mother Jones. If you have a class with advanced reading skills and you would like to expose them directly to a primary source, you can have students read parts of the Autobiography of Mother Jones. Chapters 1, 2, 7, 10, 12, 24 are referred to most often in the trial. Here is a link to an online version of her biography:'s History-The Autobiography of Mother Jones Note of caution: Mother Jones was not afraid to use words such as "hell" frequently in her language.

Option 3: (for advanced reading level and to promote critical thinking skills) Note: This is a more time consuming activity and can be assigned for homework. Students read Student Handout 1-Mock Trial Case Study on Mother Jones and complete Student Worksheet 2-Reading Comprehension as in Option 1. However, students use a Three Level Guide (in student worksheet) to analyze trial notes. THREE LEVEL GUIDE INSTRUCTIONS adapted from: The three levels of reading are:
Literal-what is directly written
Inferred-what is meant by what is written (or what may be deliberately not written)
Applied-use knowledge of text in different circumstances/contexts

Students read trial notes as a class or for homework; as they read, students decide whether they agree or disagree with the statements in the worksheet by placing a check mark for agree and an "x" mark for disagree. They write three levels of statements onStudent Worksheet 2-Reading Comprehension to back up their answers. They may create the statements in small groups of three and try to reach a group consensus on the statements. They must use evidence (words and phrases) from the trial to support their stance. As the questions require higher order thinking, students will need more time to discuss and reach a consensus. This approach gets students to think critically about the reading rather than "scan" for answers. If students read the document for homework, they may discuss and compare answers in class on the following day using the rubric guide provided in assessment section (print out for students or show electronically).

Here is an example of the Three Level Guide approach using a question from the worksheet:
X - John Mitchell said that the militia was afraid of Mother Jones and the women who mopped up Coaldale.

Literal Statement: No. The militia was not afraid of the women. The handout said the militia laughed when they saw the women. "When [the militia] saw the army of women in kitchen aprons, with dishpans and mops, they laughed and let [the women] pass."

Inferred Statement: I infer from this that the militia thought they looked silly and that they did not pose a threat.

Applied Statement: From this incident, perhaps one way to be effective in confrontation is not to look threatening initially.

Option 4: (Option for time constraints) JIGSAW READING OPTION: If time is limited you could have students take parts of the trial notes and present events in scripted format to praise or condemn Mother Jones. Instead of a trial on Day 2, students could act out statements praising or condemning Mother Jones.
JIGSAW 1: Reads Terence V. Powderly and J.P. Boyle to praise Mother Jones
JIGSAW 2: Reads U.S. Marshall or Reese Blizzard to condemn Mother Jones
JIGSAW 3: Reads John Mitchell to praise Mother Jones
JIGSAW 4: Reads William Bauchop Wilson to praise Mother Jones
JIGSAW 5: Reads Mother Jones
JIGSAW 6: Reads President Theodore Roosevelt, the journalist, and Eugene G. Grace to condemn Mother Jones
If you choose this jigsaw option, student presentations would allow students to decide if Mother Jones was a danger to society or an angel to workers.
Day Two
1. MOCK TRIAL SIMULATION: There are three main parts to the trial: (1) choosing roles; (2)witness statements and cross-examinations; (3) closing arguments

MATERIALS: You will need to provide copies of Student Handout 2-Trial Procedure, Student Worksheet 3-What's My Role?, and optional Student Handout 3-Questions for Lawyers at this time. You may also want to print assessment rubrics for your own grading purposes during the trial and/or share these grading expectations with students.

a) Have students complete Student Worksheet 3-What's My Role? to define and identify roles. There are 11 witnesses: Terence V. Powderly, U.S. Marshal, Reese Blizzard, J.P. Boyle, John Mitchell, William B. Wilson, Mother Jones, President Theodore Roosevelt, news journalist, a second Mother Jones (as she will be recalled to the stand), and Eugene G. Grace. The witnesses are responsible for the content of their character. Their participation grade is based on the accuracy and confidence with which they speak on the stand. While witnesses are permitted to use trial notes on the stand, it is more convincing if they can speak confidently without notes.

b) There can be anywhere from 2-4 lawyers per side. If students are unsure how to create questions and arguments, students can be provided with questions to assist - see Student Handout 3-Questions for Lawyers. It is the responsibility of the lawyers to question, cross-examine, and make closing arguments for their respective side. Arguments should be concise and coherent.

c) If there are students who choose to be lawyers, the remaining members of the class can be reporters/jurors (unlimited). The reporters/jurors constructively comment on the performance of witnesses and the outcome of the case. If time permits, the teacher can allow jurors to come to a unanimous decision or 2/3 majority vote.

d) A student can volunteer as the judge and call up witnesses as they are listed in the Student Handout 2-Trial Procedure. Each lawyer examines their own witness first and then the opposing side cross-examines. The judge monitors this sequence and limits questions per witness to 5-7 questions depending on time. The teacher may need to step in if students get off track or have a difficult time with limiting questions, but the right student can also address this issue as judge.

3. ROLE PLAY: To begin the trial say "ALL RISE for the HONORABLE JUDGE _________________" and then judge can take the stand. It is helpful if the class is divided into teams of prosecution and defense and jurors/reporters. You can explain role expectations by showing assessment rubrics for each role.
4. CLOSING ARGUMENTS: Once lawyers make closing arguments (prosecution first), students discuss the jury's decision and come to their own conclusion on the efforts of Mother Jones: Is she the most dangerous woman in America? Or is she an angel?

5. Homework or extension activities: Have students write a letter about Mother Jones from a specific perspective. They can choose to write from the perspective of a MINER, LABOR LEADER, BOSS, GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL, or CHILD WORKER and include at least three events mentioned in the trial. SeeStudent Worksheet 4-Letter About Mother Jones. Along with the letters, students can draw a symbol of Mother Jones as she should be remembered in history on Student Worksheet 5-Drawing Mother Jones. How would a miner or child depict Mother Jones? What about a lawyer or steel mill owner? Should Mother Jones be remembered as an "angel" or as a "dangerous woman?" See assessment rubrics for grading guidelines.
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