Historical Markers
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones [Labor] Historical Marker
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Mary Harris Mother Jones [Labor]

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
Route 209 and 1st Street, Coaldale

Dedication Date:
October 25, 2002

Behind the Marker

Oil on canvas painting, head and shoulders of Mother Jones, inscription on painting reads: "Goodbye, boys; I'm under arrest. I may have to go to jail. I may not see you for a long time. Keep up the fight! Don't surrender! Pay no attention to the injunction machine at Parkersburg. The Federal judge is a scab anyhow. While you starve he plays golf. While you serve humanity, he serves injunctions for the money powers."
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Mary Harris ‘Mother" Jones, by Robert Shetterly, 2003.
Mary Harris was at first an unlikely figure to march at the head of many Pennsylvania labor battles. She was born in 1837 into a tenant farming family in Ireland and was always very small in stature. When her family moved to America she aspired to become a school teacher, which she achieved in 1857. But when Mary moved to Memphis in 1862, she met and married George Jones, who was a member of an Iron Workers' Union.

Tragic events soon afflicted Mary Harris Jones. In 1867 her husband and four children, all under the age of five, died in a yellow fever epidemic in Tennessee. In an effort to remake herself, as many American women were forced to do in these hardscrabble years, Mary moved to Chicago to become a dressmaker, only to lose her home, dress shop, and savings in the 1871 Great Fire. In desperation, she joined the Knights of Labor and looked for support in its growing numbers of militant members.
A group of children holding placards.
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Child workers on strike in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1903.

Within a few years, Mary adopted the name "Mother Jones," given to her by grateful miners and factory workers in acknowledgement of her tireless organizing. Mother Jones became a strike leader, too, especially in the heady days of the United Mine Workers' efforts to organize and improve working conditions in many mid-western and eastern states. She was part of themarker labor riots in Pittsburgh in 1877, and the Chicago Haymarket demonstrations in 1886. In Pennsylvania's anthracite coal fields she marched with miners' wives "who routed strikebreakers with brooms and mops" from McAdoo to Coaldale. Mother Jones also gained prominence leading the wives and children of striking workers in demonstrations, and formulating demands for working families' relief and better standard of living.
Mary Jones urging on steel workers during the 1919 Steel Strike.
"Mother" Mary Harris Jones urging on steel workers during the 1919 Steel Strike.

By the early 1900s, conservative business leaders considered Mother Jones to be "the most dangerous woman in America," a phrase coined by a West Virginia District Attorney Reese Blizzard in 1902, at her trial for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners. "There sits the most dangerous woman in America," announced Blizzard. "She crooks her finger-twenty thousand contented men lay down."
Mother Jones, later in life, speaking with President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.
Mother Jones meeting with President Calvin Coolidge, September 16, 1924.

Mother Jones shrugged off the scorn of courts and lawmakers. In 1902, she participated in themarker anthracite coal strike that crippled the nation. In 1903, she organized children working in mills and mines in themarker "Children's Crusade," a march that started in Kensington, now an integral part of Philadelphia, and ended at the door of President Teddy Roosevelt's home in Oyster Bay, New York. Roosevelt refused to meet with the marchers, but the incident brought the issue of child labor to the forefront of the public agenda, and by 1906 the Supreme Court would favor far more limited use of children in dangerous work places.

In the years that followed, Mother Jones returned to Pennsylvania frequently to organize coal miners and steel workers in towns throughout the state, and she travelled extensively to Colorado and West Virginia to support violent protracted struggles there as well. Mother Jones was present at the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado and the crusading marches in the Standard Oil fields before World War I, and she participated in themarker Great Steel Strike of 1919.

Mother Jones remained a union organizer for the United Mine Workers into the 1920s, and continued to speak on union affairs almost until her death in 1930. During her lifetime, Mother Jones was known to working folk as "The Miners' Angel." Persevering in her efforts despite the many tragic events she witnessed, her fierce determination was vividly expressed in her famous declaration, "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living." When she was denounced on the Senate floor as the "grandmother of all agitators," she replied in typical fashion, "I hope to live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators."

Writing her autobiography in her nineties, her powerful voice expressed the hearts and minds of mining families from Illinois to Pennsylvania:

The story of coal is always the same. It is a dark story. For a second's more sunlight, men must fight like tigers. For the privilege of seeing the color of their children's eyes by the light of the sun, fathers must fight like beasts in the jungle. That life may have something of decency, something of beauty - a picture, a new dress, a bit of cheap lace fluttering in the window - for this, men who work down in the mines must struggle and lose, struggle and win.

To learn more about Mother Jones and the Steel Strike of 1919, marker click here
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