Mary Harris Jones - Children's Crusade

Children's Crusade

In 1901, the workers who were employed in the Pennsylvania silk mills went on strike, many of them being young female workers who were demanding they be paid adult wages. John Mitchell, the president of the UMWA, brought Mother Jones to north-east Pennsylvania in the months of February and September to encourage unity among the striking workers. To do so, she encouraged the wives of the workers to organize into a militia, who in turn would wield brooms, beat on tin pans and shout “Join the union!” Jones believed that these wives had an important role to play as the nurturers and motivators of the striking men, but not as fellow workers. She made claim that the young girls working in the mills were being robbed and demoralized. To enforce worker solidarity, she travelled to the silk mills in New Jersey and returned to Pennsylvania to report that the conditions she observed were far superior. She stated that “the child labor law is better enforced for one thing and there are more men at work than seen in the mills here.” In response to the strike, mill owners also divulged their side of the story. They claimed that if the workers still insisted on a wage scale, they would not be able to do business while paying adult wages and would be forced to close down. Even Jones herself encouraged the workers to accept a settlement. Although she agreed upon a settlement which sent the young girls back to the mills, she continued to fight child labor for the remainder of her life.

In 1903 Jones organized children, who were working in mills and mines at the time, to participate in the "Children's Crusade", a march from Kensington, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Oyster Bay, New York, the home of President Theodore Roosevelt, with banners demanding "We want to go to School and not the mines!" As Mother Jones noted that many of the children at union headquarters had missing fingers and other disabilities, she attempted to get newspaper publicity about the conditions in Pennsylvania regarding child labor. However, the mill owners held stock in essentially all of the newspapers. When the newspaper men informed her that they could not advertise the facts about child labor because of this, she remarked “Well, I’ve got stock in these little children and I’ll arrange a little publicity.” Permission to see President Roosevelt was denied by his secretary and it was suggested that Jones address a letter to the president requesting a visit with him. Even though Mother Jones wrote a letter for such permission, she never received an answer. Though the President refused to meet with the marchers, the incident brought the issue of child labor to the forefront of the public agenda. Mother Jones's Children's Crusade was described in detail in the 2003 non-fiction book, Kids on Strike!.

In the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912 in West Virginia, Jones arrived in June 1912, speaking and organizing through a shooting war between United Mine Workers members and the private army of the mine owners. Martial law in the area was declared and rescinded twice before Jones was arrested on February 13, 1913, brought before a military court. Accused to conspiring to commit murder among other charges, she refused to recognize the legitimacy of her court martial. She was sentenced to twenty years in the state penitentiary. During house arrest at Mrs. Carney's Boarding House, she acquired a dangerous case of pneumonia. After 85 days of confinement, her release coincided with Indiana Senator John Worth Kern initiating a Senate investigation into the conditions in the local coal mines. Mary Lee Settle paints an accurate and compelling portrait of Jones at this time in her novel The Scapegoat (1978).

A few months later Jones was in Colorado, helping to organize the coal miners there. Once again she was arrested, served some time in prison and was escorted from the state in the months leading up to the Ludlow Massacre. After the massacre she was invited to Standard Oil's headquarters at 26 Broadway to meet face-to-face with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a meeting that prompted Rockefeller to visit the Colorado mines and introduce long-sought reforms.

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