On the eve of the Labor Day Weekend, I would like to introduce you to Mary Harris Jones, more commonly referred to as Mother Jones. Mother Jones was a fearless union organizer. At one time she was called the most dangerous woman in America. It is thought that the American Classic song,”She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” was written to honor her and to this day there is a magazine that investigates and reports injustice titled Mother Jones.
Mary Harris Jones, or “Mother Jones”, was born to a tenant farmer in Cork, Ireland, in 1837. Her family fled the potato famine when she was just 10, resettling in Toronto. She trained to be a teacher and took a job in Memphis, where on the eve of the Civil War she married a union foundry worker and started a family. But in 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city, taking the lives of her husband and all four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business – only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Jones then threw herself into the city’s bustling labor movement, where she worked in obscurity for the next 20 years. By the turn of the century, she emerged as a charismatic speaker and one of the country’s leading labor organizers, co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
She traveled the country to wherever there was labor struggle, sometimes evading company security by wading the riverbed into town, earning her the nickname “The Miner’s Angel.” She used storytelling, the Bible, humor, and even coarse language to reach a crowd. She said: “I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I said if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator.” Jones also had little patience for hesitation, volunteering to lead a strike “if there were no men present.” A passionate critic of child labor, she organized a children’s march from Philadelphia to the home of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay, New York with banners reading, “We want to go to school and not the mines!” At the age of 88, she published a first-person account of her time in the labor movement called The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925). She died at the age of 93 and is buried at a miners’ cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois.
She said: “Whatever the fight, don’t be ladylike.”
MARY HARRIS JONES YOU ROCK!
The information in this post first appeared in the The Writer’s Almanac.
I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman.
In celebration of Labor Day I would like to introduce you to Linda Chavez-Thompson. Linda was executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2007.
Linda’s place of birth is unclear. Although she has been described by some sources as an “illegal immigrant”, other references contend that she was born in Lorenzo in Crosby County in West Texas and reared in Lubbock. Her father was a sharecropper, and she was one of seven children. At the age of 10, she took a job hoeing cotton in the fields in Lorenzo for the summer. It was a job she worked at for the next nine years. She also picked cotton for several years. She dropped out of high school at age 16 to help support her family, and married at the age of 20.
In 1967, Linda became a secretary on the staff of the Construction Laborer’s Local 1253 in Lubbock. When a tornado struck the Lubbock area that year, she volunteered to coordinate the Texas AFL-CIO’s relief efforts. She enjoyed the job so much, she became a staff organizer for the North Texas Laborers District Council. Her first organizing campaign was to help city workers in Lubbock form a union. They were successful.
Linda worked her way up the ladder of union leadership and eventually became the Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO. During her tenure as executive vice-president, Linda provided leadership in a number of areas. She spent most of 1996 on the road, acting as the public face of the AFL-CIO. She helped with the AFL-CIO’s electoral efforts in the 1996 federal elections, and helped with the federation’s 1996 push to increase the minimum wage (a program called “America Needs a Raise”).
Beginning in 1996, Chavez-Thompson headed up the AFL-CIO’s policy-making group on immigration reform. She was instrumental in the federation’s push for reform in 1996 and 1997, and helped forge a new majority on the AFL-CIO Executive Council which later adopted a radical change in the federation’s immigrant policy in 2000.
In 2003, President Sweeney appointed her to an AFL-CIO task force on organizing. She also was active in the AFL-CIO’s federal electoral efforts in 2004.
Linda Chavez-Thompson is an inspiration to women everywhere.