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.
In the midst of the Great Depression, miners locals and the women's auxiliaries organized to build this 80 ton granite Mother Jones Monument. In 1936, 50,000 people came to the dedication ceremony, which created a memorial not only to her but to the people who had lost their lives in the mine wars rebellion of the 1930s. Since that time, people have left special messages to Mother Jones there. It is a shrine not only to Jones but to the sacrifices that connected human rights and labor rights, a place where people wonder when and why labor failed to keep the flame of struggle bequeathed by Mother Jones alive. Its location on famous Route 66 gives a different meaning to that stretch of the “Mother Road.”
Mother Jones claimed she was born on May Day. She was actually born August 1837. She changed her age and birthday, probably for a variety of reasons. In those days, people could reinvent themselves and it wasn't that uncommon. Claiming May Day was a way of identifying with the workers 8 hour day movement, and with the dreams of radical transformation that might empower workers and the labor movement.
Originally the top area of the monument was conceived as a speakers' platform, as shown in the photo below. The hope that people by the thousands would come to the cemetery was not originally unrealistic. Certainly thousands came for a few years.
But the factional warfare of the miners limited the meaning of Mother Jones and the monument was limited to the cause of the losing side in the 1930s. See more about that at the Ozanic monument stop. The Progressives for instance blocked any representation of the new labor federation, the CIO, because of the warfare with John L. Lewis. By the time the monument was erected, the Progressive Miners had bolted from the UMWA after a fierce contest with the union president, John L. Lewis, who they felt had robbed them of a voice on voting for their contract. They called to the Virden story to enforce their rights to voice and democratic decision-making by the rank-and-file.
The mine war turned out to be more bloody than Virden, with dozens of people killed. The Progressive martyrs joined the Virden martyrs but as it turned out, their story and their use of Mother Jones' memory would help Mother Jones to be forgotten.
Below is a little more detail on the PMA martyrs listed above, who were killed during the 1930s mine war. By the time that the monument was built in 1936, it was a tribute to "clean unionism" and the radical visions were replaced with loss and a determination to use it to counter John L. Lewis. To learn more about that, visit Joe Ozanic gravesite.
To learn more about the mine wars of the 1930s, which produced a militant women's auxiliary, listen to the documentary below. You can also visit the http://www.minewar.org/ site to learn more and see a timeline. The women sought to gain power by marching in the Illinois and Mother Jones' tradition, but they were forced to be subordinate to the men. As it turned out, the Progressives sought to purge the radicals to gain acceptance by the powers in Washington.
Listen to a selection of speeches and readings by Vivian Nesbitt, performing as Mother Jones.
This is a speech compiled by Rosemary Feurer from various Jones' speeches in the early 20th century. Most of these excerpts are new, and have not been printed previously.
The early years of the labor movement, in Chicago and on Haymarket, excerpted from Mother Jones' autobiography:
Mother Jones on coal miners from her autobiography:
Mother Jones on how the women sang themselves out of jail in Pennsylvania, from her autobiography