Mother Jones Heritage Project
Written By Mother Jones Heritage Project

Mother Jones fearlessly questioned corporate rule and earned the title “the grandmother of all agitators.” She is a figure who lives on because the issues she raised are still of concern to us, still relevant in the twenty-first century.

You can find more information and other materials at Sites and Stories from the front page of There are performances, poems, songs, over 50 photos, and art on this tour. These were brought together by Rosemary Feurer through a project funded by Illinois Humanities and Government of Ireland. Please contact us for any questions about these, or request to use this material, which is copyrighted. Contributions to the project by Kate Klimut and Bill Yund and Vivian Nesbitt and Greg Boozell.

Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930) was an Irish immigrant who endured terrible tragedies, but through organizing in the labor and socialist movement, became a beloved folk heroine.

Mother Jones was a legend in her own time--a tiny steel-blue-eyed woman who conjured courage in working-class people to take on the corporate “pirates.”

There was truth to this legend. Jones faced down bayonets, stared fearlessly into the eyes of the coal operators’ hired guns, and defied troops sent to subdue the immigrant working class and their quest for justice. She became a legend by organizing entire communities to rise up and resist. She inspired people to fight, to resist, to refuse.

Jones chose Union Miners Cemetery as her final resting place because of the symbolism associated with it. This small town and activists like General Bradley (see his gravesite here) had helped to create a rebellion against terrible conditions in the mining industry of the Midwest of the 1890s.

When four Mt. Olive miners died in a battle with hired guards in the Virden mine war of 1898, the miners union here sought to honor them with a historical marker. (see Virden Martyrs monument) Local prominent men refused permission for this kind of commemoration a year later. So in September 1899 the union purchased their own land and started this cemetery, the only union-owned cemetery in the U.S. at the time. The commemorations built the idea that history is changed from the bottom up, and that the unsung miners and their families could be the authors of their own lives. Mother Jones was organizing on that basis.

Listen to Vivian Nesbitt to get a great sense of Mother Jones, from her own words.

Below we present Vivian Nesbit performing Mother Jones' composite speech, including material not previously published. Mother Jones' ability to stir a crowd was legion. We invite you to think of her speaking to you from this monument.

"When she started to speak, she could carry an audience of miners with her every time. Her voice was low and pleasant, with great carrying power. She didn't become shrill when she got excited; instead her voice dropped in pitch and the intensity of it became something you could almost feel physically." --John Brophy, miner "Mother Jones had a tremendous voice. She had a sing-song intonation, which immediately got her hearers into the same enthusiasm which she breathed. She appealed to the emotions." --Faye Lewis, Rockford, Illinois

Vivian Nesbitt performing a speech by Mother Jones. This is compiled by Rosemary Feurerfrom several newly discovered excerpts of speeches.

Vivian Nesbitt reading from Mother Jones' autobiography, about the early labor movement and the Haymarket riot.

Vivian Nesbitt reading a letter from Mother Jones to Mrs. Potter Palmer, on the class warfare of her era.

Mother Jones autobiography segment on organizing, getting arrested, and seeking solidarity in the coalfields, from her autobiography.

Mother Jones exposed child labor and its abuses beginning in 1896. This selection is a reading from her autobiography.

Mother Jones organizing whole communities and urged women to be a part of the struggle for justice.

Mother Jones Monument/Union Miners Cemetery


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