The month of March marks Women’s History Month and provides us with an opportunity to honor the many women who have who have fought for social and economic justice in the workplace.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1837-1930) was a prominent labor activist and cofounder of the Industrial Workers of the World. As a young woman, she worked briefly as a teacher and dressmaker before marrying George Jones, an iron worker and union organizer in Tennessee. The couple had four children, but her husband and children died from the yellow fever epidemic of 1867. After the loss of her family, she moved back to Chicago to work as dressmaker, but tragedy struck again and she lost her shop in the Chicago fire in 1871.
Over the next few years, she became active in the labor movement and traveled to numerous strike sites, including rail strike of 1877 in Pittsburgh and the coal fields of Pennsylvania in 1899. It was during that period that she became known as “Mother Jones.” She was also passionate about children’s rights and led a “children’s crusade” in 1903 to protest the working conditions for children in textile mills. She helped to establish the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905; visited rebel Mexico in 1911; was arrested at the Homestead steel strike in 1919; and worked with dressmakers in Chicago in 1924.
In 1902, a district attorney in West Virginia called Mother Jones “the most dangerous woman in America” for her success in organizing mine workers. Although she has been dead for over 80 years, her name is synonymous with the labor movement. The magazine, Mother Jones, is named for her.