Mother Jones, the Walking Wrath of God

 

Prof Elliott J Gorn

Professor Elliot J. Gorn addressing the Cork Mother Jones festival, Firkin crane centre, Cork, 1st August 2012.

 Mother Jones, the Walking Wrath of God

Contribution by Professor Elliot J. Gorn, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA and biographer of Mother Jones, speaking at the inaugural Mother Jones festival, Cork City, Ireland, 1st August 2012.

“There broke out a storm of applause which swelled into a tumult as a little woman came forward on the platform,” wrote the great labor novelist Upton Sinclair.  “She was wrinkled and old, dressed in black, looking like somebody’s grandmother; she was, in truth, the grandmother of hundreds of thousands of miners….”  Sinclair, famous for his classic 1906 novel The Jungle about life and labor in the stockyards, turned his attention now to the coal wars in Colorado:  “Hearing her speak,” he wrote of his old friend Mother Jones, “you discovered the secret of her influence over these polyglot hordes.  She had force, she had wit, above all she had the fire of indignation—she was the walking wrath of God….”

Mother Jones, Sinclair wrote, “would tell endless stories about her adventures, about strikes she had led and speeches she had made; about interviews with presidents and governors and captains of industry; about jails and convict camps….  All over the country she had roamed and wherever she went, the flame of protest had leaped up in the hearts of men; her story was a veritable Odyssey of revolt.”  Sinclair’s words were literally true; for twenty-five years, this elderly woman had no home.  As she explained to a Congressional committee when asked where she lived, “my address is like my shoes; it follows me wherever I go.”

So who was Mother Jones?  With organized labor’s declining fortunes in the twenty-first century, we don’t hear of her so often anymore.  Except for a progressive magazine named in her honor, and her famous battle-cry, “pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living,” she is a faded memory.  Yet she was one of the most famous women in America during the first decades of the twentieth century.

In her 60s, 70s, 80s, Mother Jones renounced friends, family and possessions to live on the road with her people, and out of that commitment grew working families’ powerful sense of identification with her.  Hearing that she had been arrested once again, a worker named T. J. Llewellen from Missouri wrote to the Secretary of Labor, “I have carried a gun three times in the industrial wars in this country, and by the eternal, if any harm comes to the old Mother, I’m not too old nor by the same token too cowardly to carry it again.”  Margaret R. Duvall warned of an aroused working class “more dreadful than this country has ever seen” should any harm come to Mother Jones.  And A. Van Tassel of Ohio begged President Woodrow Wilson to free the Miners’ Angel:  “This beautiful hero of the labor movement has committed no crime, but is being slowly murdered because she insisted on agitating and educating the workers to realize their true status in society.”

Mother Jones’ early life is enveloped in myth, some of it created by herself.  She exaggerated her age to enhance her venerability.  In her autobiography, published in 1925, she claimed May Day, 1930 as her birthday.  Actually, she was born Mary Harris, and baptized in Cork Ireland in August 1837.  She witnessed the Great Hunger, which forced her family to flee to North America.  Her teen years were spent in Toronto, where her father worked as a laborer on the railroads, and where she learned the skills of a seamstress, but she also studied to become a teacher.  As a young adult, she taught in a convent school in Monroe Michigan, worked briefly in Chicago, then migrated to Memphis, Tennessee, where she met and married an iron-moulder, a union man named George Jones.  They had four children, but in 1867, a yellow fever epidemic took all of their lives, save Mary’s.  She returned to Chicago, and for the next twenty years, labored in obscurity as a dressmaker.  She came to know many political activists and union leaders during these years.  Chicago was the most radical city in America, and on its streets, she discovered her gift of oratory.  Before the century ended, Mary Jones was marching with Coxey’s Army demanding a jobs program, and organizing anthracite miners in Pennsylvania.

Her most important act, however, was creating “Mother Jones.”  Mary Harris was a poor Irish famine immigrant, a young schoolteacher and dressmaker, who drifted away from her working class Toronto family to pursue a life in the United States.  Mary Jones was the wife of a working class man and mother of a young family until plague took them all, and left her a middle-aged widow, making ends meet sewing dresses in Chicago.  It was in that booming shock-city—where hundreds of thousands of people from overseas and from America’s hinterlands came to start fresh—that she re-created herself, became somebody new.  By the late 1890s, she was almost as dispossessed as an American could be—poor, working class, Irish, widowed, elderly (she turned sixty years old in 1897).  With precious little left to lose, she invented and inhabited the role of Mother Jones.

The new persona transformed her.  She never called herself Mary again; all of her letters were signed “Mother Jones,” and businessmen, union leaders, even presidents of the United States addressed her that way.  She wore antique black dresses, exaggerated her age, spoke of her impending mortality, and invoked a mother’s claim to moral virtue.  But she merged her saintly image with hellfire oratory and raw physical courage.  She defied police officers, private detectives, and national guardsmen; she flaunted judges’ injunctions, belittled governors, and assailed businessmen; she served several jail terms, declaring she could raise more hell inside prison than out.

Mother Jones organized workers’ wives into boisterous demonstrations, and she cajoled and browbeat union men to stay true to their organizations.  As Mother Jones, she spoke for the family of labor with deep moral authority.  Her speeches rejected the untrammeled rule of the marketplace and upheld instead an ideal of humane communities of working families.  She invoked wrenching images of blood stolen, bodies mangled, and youth exploited to dramatize the injustice of poverty in America.  Above all, she gave working people hope and told them that their collective aspirations were in the best traditions of American freedom.

These were hard times for American workers.  Coal was America’s fuel, and three quarters of a million men mined it.  They were paid roughly $400 a year, often in company scrip, which forced them to live in company towns and buy goods at the company store, while private armed guards routinely abrogated their civil liberties.  Half a million steel workers labored on twelve-hour shifts, six days a week.  Millions of women and children worked in mills and sweatshops for pennies, often with little choice but to work or starve.

Mother Jones was one of many radicals of her era, including socialist party leader Eugene V Debs, anarchist Emma Goldman, champion of black freedom W.E.B. Dubois, communitarian journalist Julius Wayland, Industrial Workers of the World organizer Big Bill Haywood.  All responded to the crushing weight of corporate power by mobilizing Americans with new ideas—with unions, syndicalist organizations, political parties—even to the point of open rebellion.  Mother Jones was at the center of these radical, often violent times.

She worked more for the United Mine Workers than any other organization, especially in the early days when it was the largest industrial union in America.  She organized anthracite miners in Pennsylvania and bituminous workers in the Middle West’s Central Competitive Field, but she broke with the UMW leadership as it turned more conservative early in the twentieth century.  In 1903 she organized a protest against child labor, the “March of the Mill Children,” from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s home on Long Island.  Between 1905 and 1912, she went out on the road organizing for the Socialist Party, and for the radical Western Federation of Miners.  She was the founding mother of the Industrial Workers of the World, and a signer of that group’s original charter.  She organized copper miners in Calumet, brewery workers in Milwaukee, and garment workers in Chicago.  She rejoined the Mine Workers as a paid organizer around 1912, just as it launched two massive efforts that turned violent in West Virginia and Colorado.  “Medieval West Virginia,” Mother Jones said of the Mountain State, “with its tent colonies on the bleak hills!  With its grim men and women!  When I get to the other side, I shall tell God almighty about West Virginia.”

She did not win all of her strikes, but she was the most prominent and successful organizer of the United Mine Workers, which in the early twentieth century was one of America’s largest and most successful unions.

But we miss her larger importance if we focus only on the nuts and bolts of daily organizing.  Mother Jones, above all captured the spirit of the labor movement, and the American left.  She had a gift for words.  When someone once introduced her as a great humanitarian, she snapped, ‘Get it right; I’m a hell raiser, not a humanitarian.”  Thrown into prison once again during the Colorado strike, she told reporters, “I can raise more hell in prison than out.”  When a man in prison told her that he was serving time for stealing a pair of shoes, she replied that he should have stolen a railroad, then he’d be a United States Senator.  Testifying before Congress and asked to state where she lived, she said that her address was like her shoes, traveling with her wherever she went.  Reminded of Jesus’s self-abnegation, Mother Jones declared, “Christ himself…would agitate against the plutocrats and hypocrites who tell the workers to go down on their knees an get right with God.  Christ, the carpenter’s son, would tell them to stand up on their feet and fight for righteousness and justice on the earth.”

And travel she did, thousands and thousands of miles by rail and car, in horse-drawn carriages and on foot, giving hundreds of speeches across America.  In the nineteen teens, she worked with Mexican revolutionaries in the southwest, political prisoners in California, and steel workers in the Midwest.  The 1920s found her back in the coal fields, but now in her mid-80s, her health increasingly broke down, and her great oratorical powers began to flag.  She continued making appearances, and she worked on her autobiography, which appeared in 1925. On May Day, 1930, she and hundreds of well-wishers celebrated her hundredth birthday (she was really 93).  Six months later, she passed away.

They buried Mother Jones in the Union Miners’ Cemetery in Mount Olive Illinois, alongside the “brave boys” who fell in labor’s cause.  Thousands came to hear Father John Maguire’s funeral oration, and tens of thousands more listened on WCFL, Chicago’s radio voice of labor:

Today, in gorgeous mahogany furnished and carefully guarded offices in distant capitals wealthy mine owners and capitalists are breathing sighs of relief.  Today, upon the plains of Illinois, the hillsides and valleys of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, in California, Colorado and British Columbia, strong men and toil worn women are weeping tears of bitter grief.  The reasons are the same….  Mother Jones is dead.

For working men and women, Mother Jones was one of their own.  She organized thousands of workers in a range of trades.  But perhaps her greatest achievement was being heard at all.  Who was more silenced in early twentieth century America than an elderly immigrant widow?  Yet she created a character, Mother Jones, lived that persona until the day she died.  And having found a voice as Mother Jones, she raised it like a prophet in the cause of America’s workers, and they responded to her call.

Photos added to our site

North cathedral visit

Back where it all began – committee members and guests at the original baptismal font in Cork’s North Cathedral, where the infant Mary Harris was baptised on 1st August 1837.

More photos of the Cork Mother Jones festival have been added to our Flickr photo account today and further will be added over the next 24 hours.
To view the photos click on this link:- http://www.flickr.com/photos/motherjonescork/

Marat Moore’s inspiring address to Cork Mother Jones Festival

Marat Moore on Croagh Patrick

Marat Moore at the summit of Croagh Patrick mountain, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Cork’s Gift to American Labor:

Thoughts on the Extraordinary Life of Mary Harris Jones

This is a revised and longer version of the inaugural lecture given by Marat Moore at the Mother Jones festival on August 1, 2012, at the Firkin Crane Center, Shandon, Cork.

 

Go raibh maith agat. Thank you, Ger.  This festival is a landmark event in the history of Mary Harris (“Mother”) Jones—the first time that her life in Ireland and her work in the United States have connected in such a powerful and public way. We owe a debt of gratitude to the organizing committee for bringing her home to Cork.

As a former coal miner, I’m here to talk about how Mother Jones helped build the most powerful union in America in the early 20th century, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). And as a writer working on a novel about her, I will also explore Mary’s childhood in Cork, which in my view was not just the city of her physical birth, but the birthplace of all she came to be. The other story I will share concerns her living legacy and the birth of the Daughters of Mother Jones in the historic Pittston coal strike in the Appalachian coalfields.

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For Mother Jones, coal miners were her “boys” and the United Mine Workers union was her home in the family of labor—the family she regained years after the tragic loss of her own family from yellow fever in Memphis, Tennessee.

She had a lot to say about the plight of coal miners, including this:

“The story of coal is always the same. It is a dark story. For a second’s more sunlight, men must fight like tigers. For the privilege of seeing the color of their children’s eyes by the light of the sun, fathers must fight as beasts in the jungle. That life may have something of decency, something of beauty—a picture, a new dress, a bit of lace fluttering in the window—for this, men who work down in the mines must struggle and lose, struggle and win.”

Let’s look at one moment when she was fighting for coal miners—exactly one hundred years ago today, on August 1, 1912. She had just turned 75—although she told everyone she was in her 80s—and near the peak of her fame. On that day, she lifted her black skirts and climbed in her work boots on the back of a dray wagon beside the Kanawha River near Charleston. She spoke to a crowd of striking miners who doubted they could win against coal operators and the politicians they controlled, and companies’ hired gun thugs. The location was just outside the strike zone, was one of the few places the strikers could safely gather.

But nowhere was really safe. A week earlier, 16 men had died in a battle between mine guards and miners. Because she had been giving speeches in the area, coal operators believed she had incited the violence. So they planted a spy in the crowd to take down her every word in shorthand. She aimed her remarks at the gun thugs and the governor, saying:

 “We are law-abiding citizens, we will destroy no property, we will take no life, but if a fellow comes to my home and outrages my wife, by the Eternal he will pay the penalty. I will send him to his God in the repair shop! The man who doesn’t do it hasn’t got a drop of revolutionary blood in his veins.” 

In the next few months, she faced down machine guns, was arrested and court-martialed under military law on a trumped-up murder charge, and imprisoned.  But she managed to smuggle out a telegram to a U.S. senate committee that turned the tide of the strike, and helped to win it.

Two years later she was in Colorado with more than 1,000 striking miners, mostly immigrants who could not speak English, at the Ludlow tent colony. She was arrested twice during that battle. From a jail where people had died of exposure and disease, in 1914 she smuggled out another blazing message that proved again that she could not be silenced:

“I am being held a prisoner incommunicado in a damp, underground cell in the basement of a military bullpen at Walsenburg, Colorado … I want to say to the public that I am an American citizen, and I claim the right of an American citizen to go where I please so long as I do not violate the law.

To be in prison is no disgrace. In all my strike experiences I have seen no horrors equal to those perpetrated by General Chase and his corps of Baldwin-Felts detectives that are now enlisted in the militia.  My God, when is it to stop? I have only to close my eyes to see the hot tears of the orphans and widows of working men, and hear the mourning of the broken hearts and wailing of the funeral dirge, while the cringing politicians whose sworn duty it is to protect the lives and liberty of the people crawl subserviently before the national burglars of Wall Street who are today plundering and devastating the state of Colorado economically, financially, politically and morally.

Let the nation know that the great United States of America is now holding [me] incommunicado in an underground cell surrounded with sewer rats, tinhorn soldiers and other vermin.”

Signed, Mother Jones.

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

How did Mary Harris, the newborn baptized at the North Cathedral 175 years ago today, become “The Miner’s Angel” and “Labor’s Joan of Arc” in America? How did she find the strength and the courage to become Mother Jones after suffering so much tragedy in her personal life?

We don’t know—in part because she didn’t tell the truth about her past. She must have had her reasons. As a result, we know much more about what she became as Mother Jones than how she got there.

Her story began on these crooked streets of Shandon on the northside of Cork, somewhere near where we gather today. The poet William Blake said the crooked paths are the paths of genius, and that was surely true of Mary Harris Jones.

I believe that Mary got a very strong start in Cork. In fact, her first 10 years here before her father and brother emigrated in 1847, were the most stable decade of her long life. We don’t know the circumstances of the Harris family, and assume it was difficult, but she had the support of an intact family, a home, a parish and a tightly knit community. As a child it is likely she was deeply grounded in the Catholic faith. Never again in her 93 years did she have that solid base of home, family, community and faith for that long a period.

She needed that base. Before she was 35, she endured three personal and social traumas—famine, fever and fire. The famine here in Cork, the yellow fever that killed her family in Tennessee, and the Great Fire of Chicago. And not even making the top three are having babies throughout the Civil War, the race riot in Memphis in 1866.

Research in early childhood development gives a hint about why Mary may have been resilient in later life. Children who are given loving care in their early years—and then endure an adversity that they survive with help and support—are best able to deal with trauma in adulthood. And the largely female Harris family left in Cork through the famine did survive.

Mary, growing into her teens, must have played a major role in caring for the family. In these streets she also witnessed, for the first time, the ravages of economic injustice and heard the grating of the death carts. Living in the highly politicized world of Cork City, she likely understood, even at her young age, the roots of the starvation as she watched butter and meat transported to the docks on the Lee and exported to people who already had enough to eat.

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

There are some tantalizing hints about what she may have learned during her most impressionable years. When Mary was 6 years old, for example, in 1843, Daniel O’Connell staged one of his monster rallies here.

Did she attend the rally with her parents? O’Connell drew hundreds of thousands; everyone went to his rallies. I imagine her at that rally, hoisted on her father’s shoulders, thrilling to the roar of the crowd and O’Connell’s powerful voice and message about Catholic Emancipation. Years later, Mary would hold her own monster rallies, and it was her voice and her message on emancipation of workers that could move coal miners to tears.

Abolition was another theme that surfaced in Cork in the 1840s before the famine. On the day of O’Connell’s Cork rally, a procession moved through the city, led by a float that carried two men, one painted black and one white. According to Thomas Keneally in his book, The Great Shame, the black figure wore a sign that said “Free” and held up his broken chains because England had ended slavery in the West Indies. The white man, representing the Irish, held up his chained fists and wore a sign saying, “Still a Slave!”

Two years later, in 1845, when she was 8, the famous abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass gave four stirring speeches in Cork. Did she hear Douglass speak? Or perhaps hear about Douglass from her parents and neighbors? If she did absorb some of this abolitionist sentiment, it alters the way we see her decision to move to Memphis, Tennessee, on the cusp of the Civil War. She likely was not naïve about the choice of that southern city where she would see American slavery close at hand.

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

Mother Jones has been part of my life for 35 years, since the late 1970s when I worked as an underground miner in Mingo County, West Virginia, near the town of Matewan which was the site of an explosive mine war in 1920. Retired miners in their 80s and 90s told me stories about hearing Mother Jones speak there in 1920. Although she was rather short, one miner said, “She was the biggest woman I ever seen!”

In the mines, you watch out for each other. I remember one day when a buddy and I worked on the coal face when a machine lost its brakes and came barreling down the incline at us with no lights. We couldn’t see it and couldn’t hear it because of the noise at the coal face. A union brother nicknamed Bullhead threw us into the tunnel wall and saved our lives.

Women were first hired as coal miners in the mid-1970s, and by 1979 there were about 5,000 of us nationwide. Women miners were among the union’s most activist members, and we formed a national network that lasted 20 years and built solidarity with workers internationally. Mother Jones inspired us–we held a conference in southern Illinois just so we could make a pilgrimage to her grave.  But women coal miners did much more—they confronted the union on issues of family leave, acid rain pollution caused by coal mining, and sexual harassment in the mines. They become such a force that at our annual conferences, the union president and his staff felt obligated to attend, maybe just to keep an eye on them.

It was the network of women coal miners—known as the Coal Employment Project—that gave birth to the Daughters of Mother Jones in the historic Pittston coal strike in the late 1980s. By that time I was working for the United Mine Workers of America in Washington, DC, but remained active in the women miners’ movement.  My job involved photographing underground in many mines and writing about mine safety, but on the side I organized miners’ wives and children.

In 1988 the Pittston coal company canceled health benefits for pensioners and widows to provoke a strike. Instead the United Mine Workers of America decided to prepare for a strike by building public support and keeping the miners on the job.

Public support meant family support. I proposed organizing a network of family support in southwest Virginia through the Pittston local unions, and union approved the plan and allowed me to hire two laid-off women miners to help. The three of us were the core committee. We hit the ground running and had about a dozen groups formed and they held rallies in their communities and set up a year-long informational picket line at the company headquarters.

The union launched the strike against Pittston in early 1989 and decided that the women should stage a nonviolent occupation as the strike’s first act of civil disobedience. Our committee met secretly with 40 women and they wanted a name. Mother Jones came up immediately, and then someone called out, “We’re the Daughters of Mother Jones.”  The name itself gave us courage. We laughed and shared her history—about earlier strikes when miners’ wives had been jailed with their babies and Mother Jones suggested they sing all night! Finally the jailer freed them because he couldn’t stand the noise!

The women of the Pittston strike were worried about giving their names to media in case the company targeted their husbands for retaliation. So we numbered off: Daughter of Mother Jones #1, Daughter #2, through #40. When CNN brought its cameras into the building for interviews and would ask a woman her name, she’d say, “I’m the Daughter of Mother Jones #14.” CNN had to shut off its cameras and ask, “Who is Mother Jones?” So we had labor history sound bites on Mother Jones in print, and on radio and TV.

Mother Jones said, “An army of mining women makes a spectacular picture.” In the end about 1,000 women and children were actively involved in the Pittston strike. The Daughters engaged in mass arrests and jail vigils and helped run Camp Solidarity, a makeshift camp with bunk beds that drew thousands of supporters from around the country and the world, including a group of Siberian miners.

Then the students walked out of several high schools and marched to the jails where their parents were detained. And the women had their Mother Jones fun. They turned around road signs with route numbers pointing in the wrong direction to confuse the state police and armed guards. Coal operators consider wives no threat and ignore them, a fact that can be used to great advantage.

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

Now a new chapter of Mother Jones history is being written—here, where it all began, in Cork. This is part of a second flowering of interest in her that I have seen. The first was in the 1970s and spawned books, plays, reenactors and Mother Jones magazine. This Mother Jones Rising has also triggered much creative work and her legacy has been linked to the Occupy movement and current economic and union struggles.

What is her message to us today? To organize to confront the current economic and political upheaval, and work for justice. To free ourselves of prejudice and give up our petty differences. She inspired more than half a million coal miners, mostly immigrants, and with thousands of other workers in the United States.  She stayed the course. What inspires me most about Mary Harris Jones is the courage of her soul—which not only predates Mother Jones, but made her possible.

We live in a time as turbulent as hers. Can we carry on her legacy of resistance to powerful corporations who rob the poor and destroy our earth?

Are we up for it? Let us take her brave spirit into our hearts as the sons and daughters of Mother Jones, and fight like hell for the living.

THE END

Mother Jones festival “an outstanding success”

The Cork Mother Jones Festival has been called “an outstanding success” by Jim Nolan of the organizing committee.

“The Mother Jones festival was an outstanding success in every way for Shandon and Cork; it achieved massive local national and international publicity for our community”, he declared.

Mr. Nolan continued,

“Mother Jones is now finally back in her native place and we have made up for the failure to honour this brave and courageous woman who was born in this community 175 year ago”.

The festival, organised by a voluntary committee in association with the Shandon Street Festival, concluded recently after three days of celebrations in and around the ancient historical community of Shandon, taking in the North Chapel, St.Anne’s Church, the Firkin Crane Centre and the Maldron Hotel (the old North Infirmary).

The highlight was the unveiling of a plaque designed by Mick Wilkins to commemorate Mother Jones on John Redmond Street on the evening of Wednesday 1st August. Fortunately glorious sunshine arrived for the unveiling event which was performed by Cllr. Ted Tynan and Jim Nolan of the Shandon Street Festival. Music was provided by the Butter Exchange Band and Norman O’Rourke and the American and Irish National Anthems were played.

Capacity crowds were present for all events. Professor Rosemary Feurer’s film Mother Jones, the Most Dangerous Woman in America was shown three times during the festival to cater for the number of people wishing to see it. The ground-breaking Andy Irvine concert at St.Anne’s Shandon was performed before a sell out crowd of almost 300 people.

The festival was opened by Lord Mayor John Buttimer at the Firkin Crane on Wednesday morning 1st. The Lord Mayor praised the work of the voluntary committee who had constructed a highly interesting series of events, talks, music, concerts and an exhibition on the life of Mother Jones by Jim Fitzpatrick. A concert organized by Richard T Cooke featuring a host of Cork talent attracted a capacity attendance to the Firkin.

The inaugural Mother Jones lectures provided a focus for some stirring debates on the afternoon with Joe O’Flynn, General Secretary of SIPTU, Professor Elliott Gorn of Brown University and Marat Moore, author and founder of the Daughters of Mother Jones. This event also featured a wondeful re-creation of the speeches of Mother Jones performed by internationally renowned actress Kaiulani Lee.

The festival, which attracted huge publicity for Shandon featured on TV3 and most of the national media, also attracted international media attention with even a front page story on the Mount Olive Herald and in the widely read Mother Jones Magazine as well as numerous labour and history websites throughout North America.

A host of Cork artists and musicians appeared at the festival, including Two Time Polka, Hank Wedel, Jim Williamson, Cork Memory Lane Group, Hugh Moynihan, the Cork Singers Club, Richard T Cooke, traditional musicians, while Andy Irvine played at a sell out concert at St.Anne’s Shandon.

Following a recent meeting of the organising committee, it was decided to hold the annual Mother Jones festival in 2013 in Shandon from Tuesday 30th July to Thursday 1st August. Further announcements will be made in relation to the events as they are confirmed.

Mother Jones – A True Cork Rebel

Our sincere thanks to Catherine M. Courtney for this professionally produced short video of the unveiling of the Mother Jones plaque on 1st August 2012.  The opening music is the Cork Butter Exchange Band playing “She’ll be coming round the mountain”, a song believed to be about Mother Jones.  The song which follows is “Mother Jones – A True Cork Rebel”, newly composed and sung by Richard. T. Cooke, member of the Cork Mother Jones Commemorative Committee.

A new Cork Song about Mother Jones

On Tuesday evening 31st July at the “gathering” for the Mother Jones Festival at the Maldron Hotel, the Cork Singers Club were singing songs to honour Mary Harris/Mother Jones.
Among the contributors was Teresa Ní Chárthaigh who sang her own composition which she had worked on for some time after reading about the life of Mother Jones.
Teresa received a standing ovation for this very first performance of “The Ballad of Mother Jones”.
Mother Jones had come home to Cork’s northside!
The first 5 verses may be sung to the air of “She  Lived Beside the Anner”; the last verse is sung to the air of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic (aka Glory Hallelujah”
Here are the words of Teresa’s stirring new song:

The Ballad of Mother Jones

In the northside of Cork city, in Blarney Lane was Mary bred,

Of humble folk, who e’er perchance could have foretold or said,

That a workers revolution in America would be

Led by Mary Ellen Harris from the north side of the Lee.

‘Twas in the North Cathedral Mary Harris was baptized,

Two brothers and two sisters, the dread famine they survived.

Survived the coffin ships to Canada as they fled from Ireland’s strife.

Toronto was their destination, where they hoped for a new life.

Mary first trained as a teacher, but a seamstress too was she,

Wed George Jones in 1860, down in Memphis Tennessee,

Catherine, Lizbeth, Terence, Mary, were the children that she bore,

Just two years old the youngest, when from Mary they were torn.

Yellow fever struck in Memphis, her husband died, her children too,

So she set up as a seamstress, there was nothing else to do.

But in the great fire of Chicago Mary’s little shop burned down,

Once again cruel fate had lent a hand, and her destiny laid down.

She set out to change the miners’ lives, so piteous and forlorn,

And thus it was the legend true of Mother Jones was born.

Wherever strife and conflict was, there Mother Jones would be;

First to face the foe, the last to leave the battle field was she.

She said that she was a hell-raiser, no humanitarian she;

But that was not true, for the miners knew, she shared their misery.

Lived among them, ministered to them, gave them all she had to give,

But the greatest gift she gave them was to fight that they might live.

The history she made is not a history approved;

I will tell you of a President whose heart would not be moved

By the children of the mines and mills, she led to Roosevelt’s home.

Those little slaves he would not see in his fine grand summer home.

Why should he hear their grievances and Mother Jones’ tirade?

When it was well known his family’s wealth from mines and mills was made.

And the State’s Militia was the private army of this breed,

Whose brutal ways were meant to bring the starving workers to their knees.

The coal-field war in Colorado, where the workers were all thrown

From their mine-owned houses, had to live in a tent city forlorn;

ON the 20th of April in the year nineteen and four,

The Miliitia did attack those tents, and the workers down were mown.

Two women and nine children perished in a trench that day,

In a fire the Militia made, to make the workers pay.

But this, the Ludlow massacre, set the nation in a rage,

And a truce was made, and the workers rights began on history’s page.

And “Rise up and strike ‘til the last of you

Shall drop into your graves.”

These were the words that Mother Jones repeatedly had said.

“We are going to stand together, ‘no surrender’ you must sing,

For if you don’t have a union, boys,

You ain’t got a damn thing.”

Glory, glory, Mother Jones,

Freedom lies there with her bones;

She fought to give the workers hope and the Unions liberty

Mother Jones, born Mary Harris,

From the northside of the Lee

 

Teresa Ni Charthaigh

(May be sung to the air of “She Lived beside the Anner”; the last verse is sung to the air of “The Ballad Hymn of the Republic”)

Mother Jones plaque unveiled

The City of Cork, Ireland has finally given recognition to its rebel daughter Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones) with the unveiling of a plaque on the 175th anniversary of her birth / baptism in the historic Shandon area of the city.

The event was the highlight of a three day festival commemorating the Cork woman, once dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America” because of her activities on behalf of workers and the poor and her role in exposing the evils of child labour in the United States and having it declared illegal.

The plaque was unveiled jointly by committee members Councillor Ted Tynan and Jim Nolan on behalf of the committee and in addition to the large attendance were a number of people associated with the histocial and social legacy in the United States.

Mother Jones plaque unveiling in Cork

Mother Jones plaque unveiled in Cork’s historic Shandon area

Rosemary Feurer at Cork Mother Jones plaque unveiling

Prof. Rosemary Feurer, US labor activist,  writer / director and maker of the documentary film “Mother Jones, the Most Dangerous Woman in America”, addresses the crowd after the unveiling of the plaque to Mother Jones. Also in photo (L-R) are committee members Jim Fitzpatrick, Michael Lally (Manager of Maldron Hotel Cork) and Richard Cooke.

A complete set of photos from the event will be uploaded over the next 48 hours and can be viewed on our photo page at Flickr

Big turnout Mother Jones festival opening events

There was a full house at the Maldron Hotel in Cork last night (Tuesday) for the opening events of the Cork Mother Jones Festival.  The meeting room was full to overflowing for the showing of Rosemary Feurer’s film Mother Jones, the Most Dangerous Woman in America, so much so that a second showing had to be held later to ensure that all those who wished to see the film and participate in the discussion could do so.
Mother Jones 1

The festival continues today with a series of events in and around the Shandon area, the highlight will be the unveiling of the commemorative plaque to Mother Jones at John Redmond Street, Cork with events starting at 6.15 this evening. See programme full full details.