Our thanks to Catherine Courtney for forwarding this video compilation from the 2013 Spirit of Mother Jones Concert in the Firkin Crane theatre, Shandon.
A new exhibition which has just opened at the Irish Consulate in New York, throws interesting new light on Irish socialist leader James Connolly’s years in the United States between 1903 and 1910.
The exhibition follows Connolly through a series of newspaper clippings, posters, pamphlets, photos and his own writings in the Harp, newspaper of the Irish Socialist Federation.
This story is featured in today’s (28th September) Irish Times – you can read the full story here.
“Songs of Freedom – the James Conolly Songbook”, edited by Mat Callahan with a preface by writer and poet Theo Dorgan and a Foreword by Connolly’s grandson James Connolly Heron will be launched on Wednesday, 2nd October at 6.30pm at Cork City Library. The launch will be followed with a Concert at the Pavilion, Carey’s Lane (off Patrick Street) (Admission €10).
This is a not to be missed occasion for socialists, music aficionados and historians. See attached poster for full details.
Our thanks to Professor Simon Cordery who has forwarded to us the text of his address to the Spirit of Mother Jones festival 2013.
“Mother Jones: Sinner and Saint”
Presentation to the Mother Jones Festival
1 August 2013, Shandon
Department of History
Western Illinois University
Macomb, Illinois, USA
Let me begin with the Children’s Crusade of 1903
Began 7 July 1903 from Kensington, Pennsylvania
Striking Textile Workers and their children
On the first day Mother Jones led a colorful column of marchers out of the city, numbering about 400 people
On the third day she was down to about 280 people and by the fifth day there were only about 40 continuing for the full 140 km
Their objective was New York City, where they hoped to raise funds for the strikers and their families
The march to New York City lasted for two weeks
Somewhere along the route Mother Jones decided to take the children to Sagamore Hill, the summer home of Theodore Roosevelt, on Long Island
This brought her intensive coverage in the media: she was moving from being a labor leader to a national celebrity
As she put it at the time, “Sometimes it takes extra-ordinary means to attract ordinary interest”
WHY CHILD LABOR?
Sometime during the 1890s Mary Harris “Mother” Jones worked in rope and textile factories in the states of Alabama and South Carolina
Of this experience she writes in her Autobiography, “I was given work in the factory, and there I saw the children, the little children, the most heart-rending spectacle in all life.”
Mother Jones saw many “heart-rending spectacles” growing up.
She was born here, in Cork, in 1837
She was baptized in Shandon’s North Cathedral on 1 August 1837
But she grew up at a time of intense misery, during the Great Hunger
Her father and eldest brother left Ireland in 1847 and moved to Canada
Mary, her mother, and three other siblings followed later, when the family could be established in Toronto
Mary Harris moved to a quite hostile environment
She was a Catholic in a Protestant Country
She was educated as a teacher in public school
She left home at age 22, in 1859, moving to Monroe Michigan in the USA
She lived in Monroe for one year, then in Chicago, before setting in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1861
She married George Jones, a skilled iron molder, with whom she had four children
But in 1867 all five—her husband and their children—died in a yellow fever epidemic
She returned, bereft and alone, to Chicago
She opened a dress making business
But in 1871 it was destroyed in the Chicago Fire and she entered a personal Wilderness
She would later tell tales of what she did during that period of her life
These were perhaps not entirely in keeping with th efacts
She claimed ot have been active in the local Knights of Labor, to have helped organize strikers in the great 1877 railroad strike, and to have listened to and rejected the preachings of Anarchists
In 1894 Mary Harris returned from the margins of history
She participated in Coxey’s Army in Kansas City
She visited the communitarian experiment at Ruskin, Tennessee
This is when she worked in those rope and textile factories in the South
She met and befriended Eugene DEBS
She read and learned from the Appeal to Reason
Reading newspapers like the Appeal to Reason she forged her ideology around the labor theory of value:
“We are fighting for the time when there will be no master and no slave. …When the fight of the workers to own the tools with which they toil is won, for the first time in human history man will be free.”
Around 1900 she began organizing coal miners
She worked for John Mitchell of the United Mine Workers of America
He sent her into the most notorious mining districts 1899-1903
She entered Pennsylvania and West Virginia
Her work in those states earned for Mary Harris Jones the nickname the “Miners Angel” but by then she was calling herself Mother Jones
She told the miners, “You pity yourselves, but you do not pity your brothers, or you would stand together to help one another.”
she became disillusioned with the Mine Workers and with Mitchell, which is why she was busy organizing children in 1903
but by 1913 she was back with the union
sent to help in the bloody strike of 1913-1914, she found herself arrested, deported from the strike district, threatened, imprisoned
on 19 APRIL 1914 hired mine guards shoot into Miners’ camp at Ludlow 20 people dead, most of them women and children
a brutal reminder of the viciousness of the mining companies, and of the callousness of Robber Barons like John D. Rockefeller, who controlled one of the largest companies in the strike region
After Ludlow she was constantly travelling
But she was slowing down and wearing out
Her last public appearance was in 1926
until 1 May 1930 she was filmed as part of the celebration of her “Centenary”
Mother Jones is very difficult to “place” in American labor history
She was very much both sinner and saint
and your stance depends on your own position, then as now
Mother Jones exploded the gender conventions of her day
She is credited with creating the catchphrase
“PRAY FOR THE DEAD AND FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR THE LIVING”
one contemporary called her “a Chicago virago urging disorder in language that made the women hysterical and got the men to marching”
She also ignored contemporary conventions regarding age
She began her career with the United Mine Workers at the age of 62, at a time in life when most people were winding down
She travelled relentlessly and created the persona of a white haired grandmother in her unfashionable frilly black dresses
She looked like a grandma but acted like a firebrand
A journalist who met her at the height of her powers in 1902 wrote “Mother Jones was attired in a black gown, her gray hair was neatly dressed, and she looked more like a dignified matron of Colonial days than the woman who has roughed it in the mines with what she terms in a slight brogue ‘me boys’”
She was apolitical sinner, as well, and delighted in the shock she could cause
Mother Jones was a socialist, on the fringe of an American political scene dominated by Republican and Democrats
She could be deliberately provocative
At the height of the red Scare in 1919 she would delight in telling crowds “I am a Bolshevik!”
And she would justify her choice: “When I was in Washington, I heard the Bolsheviki and I wondered what I meant, so I went to the library and found out and I found that Bolsheviki stood for the majority taking over the industry.”
But to the working people she helped she was something close to a saviour
She appeared before them as Mother
A Mother coming to save them
She told them, “You are doing God’s holy work and I can see victory in the heavens for you. I can see the hand above you guiding and inspiring you to move onward and upward. We must redeem the world.”
But she did not mince her words if she thought they were acting like cowards: “You get down on your knees like a lot of Yahoos when you want something. At the same time you haven’t sense enough to take peaceable what belongs to you through the ballot. You are chasing a will-o-the-wisp, you measly things…”
She was an Organizer
Mother Jones brought wives, sisters, and daughters into strikes when she created “Mop and Broom” brigades to get women active and help the men
she urged women to join the fight, complaining:
“You are too sentimental, you spend your time staying at home thinking of dress and trinkets when you ought to be out raising hell. This is the fighting age!”
She was a Socialist
and not just a Firebrand
She told the workers that the fighting, the striking, the shooting, was only one part of the struggle:
“the fight can be won, and will be won, but the struggle will be long and education, agitation, and class solidarity all must play a part.”
and she trusted working people to do the vital thinking that would reorder the world:
“industrial despotism will have to die and you my boys must use your brains, you must study and think. The sword will have to disappear and the pen will have to take its place.”
ASSESSING MOTHER JONES
What does all of this mean?
To begin to appreciate and assess Mother Jones, let’s return to 1903, the year of the Children’s Crusade
In November of that year, after her summer walk to Sagamore, she was in Colorado, where coal miners in two sections of the state were involved in two separate but simultaneous strikes
The United Mine Workers wanted to end the strike in northern Colorado after mine owners offered to negotiate
but Mother Jones and other organizers in the southern half of the state feared if the northern miner ended their strike the owners would suppress the strike in the South
she travelled the roughly 300 kilometres to the strike meeting
she spoke, giving a short but powerful speech warning them not to betray their brothers in the South and convinced mines to refuse settlement
The miners voted to stay on strike but John Mitchell, the UMWA leader, feared the cost of the two strikes would bankrupt the union
He told the leaders in the North to hold another vote to end the strike
This vote went in favor of ending the strike
This was just two days after Mother Jones had left the strike zone!
And it raises questions about the Mother Jones effect
She was charismatic, but her influence could fade after she had gone away
Without films or television or the internet to keep her perpetually before the public the Mother Jones effect could prove frustratingly short-lived
As events in northern Colorado proved in 1903
And after her death
Mother Jones experienced three deaths:
Physically, she died on 30 November 1930
The second death occurred in the obituaries
Her image was sweetened and softened as they mostly neglected her socialism, her calls for violence, her demands for justice, and her championing of the labor theory of value
She became a harmless, faintly risible grandmotherly figure, a character from a quaint but long-dead recent past
The third death of Mother Jones was the one she most feared: she vanished from sight, at least for a generation until radicals in the 1960s rediscovered her and found fuel for their fires in her words
But she was easily forgotten because she created no organizations, she edited no newspapers, and she died an ordinary death in old age, not the glorious martyrdom she craved
Yet today, here in Cork and elsewhere, perhaps everywhere, in our globalized world what she said and what she stood for have once again become relevant and found an audience
She demanded a decent standard of living for ALL people
She fought for safe places to work
She wanted children to attend school, and not have to work
And she should have the last word, from the 1903 Children’s’ Crusade:
“I ask, Mr. President, what kind of citizen will be the child who toils twelve hours a day in an unsanitary atmosphere, stunted mentally and physically? Denied education, he cannot assume the duties of true citizenship. Enfeebled physically he falls a ready victim to the perverting influences our present economic conditions have created.”
Here’s a video of the official opening of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2013 which was performed by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Catherine Clancy on Tuesday, 30th July at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon, Cork. Our thanks to Catherine Courtney for the video. Music performed by Richard T. Cooke.
Meanwhile news of next year’s festival:-
Professor Elliot Gorn, author of Mother Jones, the Most Dangerous Woman in America, who was a guest at the inaugural Cork Mother Jones Festival in 2012 is to deliver this year’s Ernie O’Malley Lecture at Glucksman Ireland House, New York University on Thursday, 17th October at 7.00pm. Prof. Gorn will be introduced by Professor Joe Lee.
Prof. Gorn will discuss the life of the labour leader Mary Harris, better known as Mother Jones, “the most dangerous woman in America” and the “grandmother of all agitators”, focussing on her Irish origins and influences, as well as how she has been remembered in Cork and the United States. This is the fifteenth annual Ernie O’Malley Lecture in Irish American History. The Ernie O’Malley Lecture series is endowed by Cormac K.H. O’Malley in honor of his father, Irish independence fighter and author.
Elliott Gorn is Professor of American Civilisation and History at Brown University. He specializes in the social and cultural history of the United States in the 19th and 20th century and has written numerous books on related subjects.
Joe Lee held the position of Chair of Modern Irish History at University College Cork (NUI Cork) for many years until 2002. He is currently Professor of History and Glucksman Professor of Irish Studies and Director of Glucksman Ireland House at New York University. He is also a former member of Seanad Éireann, the Irish Senate.
There will be free admission to the lecture for members of Glucksman Ireland House and to all students / faculty with a valid NYU I.D. Card. For non-members $10 donation at the door for general event series. In order to ensure a seat at events please RSVP to (New York Uni) +212-998-3950 (option 3) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
American Women Miners Celebrate New Name—“Daughters of Mother Jones”
by Marat Moore (US)
Mother Jones had a very busy week on both sides of the Atlantic! Buoyed by your festival in Cork, her spirit sprinted over to aptly-named Jonesborough, Tennessee, to a reunion of 60 women miners and supporters on Aug. 2-4.
Women miners traveled from across the United States, England and Canada to east Tennessee for their first gathering in 14 years—and celebrated their rebirth as the “Daughters of Mother Jones.” The women miners, mostly retired, renewed strong bonds and the commitment to organize in the labor movement in the tradition of Mother Jones. They held a special memorial to women miners who have died, including nine killed on the job.
The group held broad discussions of organizing more broadly and the need to preserve their history in the USA, held in the large archive of the Coal Employment Project at East Tennessee State University. Women miners were active for 20 years in CEP, their national support, education, and advocacy group as well as being very active members of the United Mine Workers of America. CEP held national conferences for 20 years from which drew hundreds of activists, union officials and union brothers along with women coal miners. This year is the first time women miners have reunited since CEP closed its doors in 1999. They brought memorabilia of their mining years—suitcases full of political t-shirts, photographs, audiotapes, media clips and personal archives.
Jody Hogge, a local UMWA president from Illinois, dressed as Mother Jones and gave a fiery update on the union’s fight against coal giants Peabody and Arch Coal to preserve retiree health benefits and pensions for 23,000 families l, which sold off their “legacy obligations” to a company that is in bankruptcy.
Many coal areas and states were represented: Alberta, Canada; and Arizona’s Navajo Nation, Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Ohio, and Tennessee, , along with participants from Georgia and North Carolina. Special guests included CEP friends Anne Scargill and Betty Cook from the Women Against Pit Closures in Barnesley, England, which has fought for justice alongside the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) since the mid-1980s. Other special guests included nine members of the family of Patsy Fraley, a woman miner from eastern Kentucky who traveled from three states to honor her memory.
On Saturday night musician and social activist Sue Massek performed a new play by Si Kahn, “Precious Memories” based on the life and music of Sarah Ogan Gunning, a miner’s wife in eastern Kentucky in the 1930s. Gunning wrote songs about union organizing and miner’s struggles that were deeply admired by folksinger and fellow activist Woodie Guthrie. Women sang along and clapped to the familiar songs.
The “Daughters of Mother Jones” originally grew from the women miners’ movement, when two CEP members worked to organize miners’ wives and families in the UMWA Pittston strike in 1988-89. Women staged the first nonviolent act of civil disobedience of the strike, occupying the corporate headquarters, and the CEP members suggested the name, which the women adopted.
Now the tradition has expanded to encompass the still-active and amazing group of women coal miners, and next year we have been invited to the Durham Gala to mark the 30-year anniversary of the national strike in England in mid-July. We hope to travel from Durham to your next festival in 2014 and help build the spirit of Mother Jones!
A songbook, edited by James Connolly in 1907, is to be republished for the first time in over a century and will be launched separately in a number of locations. The Cork launch will take place on Wednesday, 2nd October 2013 at Cork City Library with a concert from 9.00pm at the Pavilion, Carey’s Lane (off Patrick Street). Full details on the advert below.
There was a sizeable turnout on Tuesday night (30 July) for the opening session of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2013. After the opening of the Mother Jones exhibition at the Maldron Hotel by Cork’s Lord Mayor Catherine Clancy, the attendance moved to the Firkin Crane theatre up the street for the main session.
Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough Family Support Group gave a passionate speech to the crowd which included both veteran Liverpool supporters and people from all walks of life. She told the gathering about how officialdom had conspired against the families of the 96 victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and outlined long struggle of the families for the truth, a campaign which continues to this day. Accompanied by another Hillsborough relative, Sue Rogers, Margaret impressed the audience with her honesty and no-nonsense manner. The Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2013 was presented to Margaret and the session ended with a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone sung by Jim Williamson.
A fascinating piece of history has come to light thanks to an Irish Times reader who forwarded a copy of a unique document to Frank McNally after his article on the Mother Jones festival in the newspaper last week which referred to the story of Alderman Tadhg Barry who was shot dead at Ballykinlar Internment Camp, County Down in November 1921.
Owen Smyth from Monaghan forwarded the following document which has never before been published. It is a letter in the Irish language in which a presentation and note of thanks is made to the camp chaplain at Ballykinlar (Fr. Sean McLeister). Hand drawn and written in old Gaelic you will find the signature of Tadhg Barry (Tadhg de Barra) on the sheet, fourth from the top. Our sincere thanks to Owen for sharing this and to Frank McNally for forwarding to us. The documentary and discussion on Tadhg Barry will be held at the Firkin Crane theatre, Shandon, Cork on Wednesday, 31st July at 12.00 Noon as part of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. All welcome and admission is free.