Remembering Mother Jones on Labor Day — Since Labor Day always falls on a Monday, I have written about Labor Day in several of my Monday Missives over the years. While contemplating the focus for this week’s Monday Missive, I gave some thought to writing about another labor novel. I wrote about John Steinbeck’s labor novel titled In Dubious Battle in the Monday Missive that I wrote on Labor Day in 2016, so I thought it might be time to pick another labor novel to highlight, but which one? I decided to enter the phrase labor novels in Google and see what titles showed up most often. Lists of famous labor novels popped up just as I expected, but to my surprise, I also came across lists of novels that deal with childbirth and motherhood. Well, this surprise prompted me to think about famous mothers associated with the labor movement, and Mother Jones immediately came to mind.
Nowadays many people associate the name Mother Jones with the magazine that goes by this name, but there really was a labor leader named Mother Jones. Her official name was Mary Harris Jones, but for much of her adult life, everybody called her Mother Jones. She was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1837. At the age of ten, she moved to Canada with her family. After attending school in Toronto, she moved to the United States where she worked first as a teacher and then as a dressmaker. In 1861 she married George Jones, who was a member of the National Union of Iron Moulders, and he introduced her to America’s fledgling labor movement. They settled in Memphis and had four children, but her children and her husband all died in 1867 when a yellow fever epidemic swept through Memphis. Following this personal tragedy, Mother Jones moved to Chicago where she became increasingly involved in union activities.
Throughout her many years as a labor organizer, Mother Jones worked on behalf of exploited children. She fought to end child labor and improve the living conditions of children from mining communities and textile factory towns. In 1903, she organized a massive event billed as a “Children’s Crusade” in which children who worked in mines and textile mills marched and carried signs demanding an end to child labor. Mother Jones’s dedication to helping children, workers, and immigrants is reflected in her most famous quotation: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
As we celebrate this Labor Day, I think we should take a moment to remember Mother Jones. For those who want to know more about her eventful life, I recommend The Autobiography of Mother Jones. This book came out in 1925, just five years before her death in 1930. I read her autobiography when I was a college student, but I still remember being impressed with her life story and her unwavering commitment to helping the most vulnerable members of our society. She died nearly ninety years ago, but the story of her life still resonates today.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Greg Wickliff recently presented at paper titled “Communicating Mathematics and Science” at the 15th International Conference of The Mathematics Education for the Future Project at Maynooth University in Kildare, Ireland.
Quirky Quiz Question — Mother Jones was one of the founders of a union whose members were often called Wobblies. What is the name of this union?
Last week’s answer: The Little House
In addition to writing Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel and Katy and the Big Snow, Virginia Lee Burton wrote a famous picture book about an anthropomorphic building. This picture book won the Caldecott Medal. What is the title of this book?