Mother Jones and the coalfields of Illinois

I-55 Waggoner

Coalfield Rest Area, Southbound I-55/Mother Jones and the coalfields of Illinois
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.

Marker text: Beneath this ground lies one of the richest coal seams in the nation. Coal beds cover two-thirds of Illinois, and helped to make this state an industrial and economic powerhouse—it drove the machinery, heated the homes, smelted the steel, powered the railroads. Coal was a source of energy that transformed the landscape, but the workers who mined it transformed society and politics. Coal companies recruited immigrants speaking many languages from across the globe to mostly rural communities. These miners and their families demanded respect and dignity for their vital work, and they did so by shaping a union movement. In 1897, a march for a living wage started in Mt. Olive Illinois, a small immigrant town 20 miles south of here. This march spread through the bituminous mining areas of the Midwest and threatened to shut down the entire industry. This march and strike gave life to the United Mine Workers of America, which became the largest union in the nation. Continuing efforts to bring unionism to the coalfields resulted in bloody battles that took hundreds of lives in the coming decades. Through these struggles they won the eight-hour workday, the end to child labor, and safer working conditions. One of the most successful organizers for the UMWA was an Irish immigrant, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. Organizing not only miners, but also women and children of the coalfields, she was the most famous labor figure of the era and inspired a generation of activists. She chose to be buried in Mt. Olive in memory of the ordinary people who built the labor movement.

Ireland's consult general for the Midwest, Brian O'Brien helped us dedicate this marker and monument in 2017. He quipped that it would become the Mother Jones "DO NOT REST!" area! Since 2012, with the inaugural Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, there is a growing interest in the legacy of Mother Jones in Cork and in Ireland.

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Coalfield Rest Area, Southbound I-55

Mother Jones and the coalfields of Illinois

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