Losses and Becoming An Activist
There were two turning points in her life. The first, and most tragic one, was the loss of her husband George and their four children (all under the age of five) during a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee. After her entire family succumbed to the disease, she returned to Chicago to begin another dressmaking business. Then, four years later, she lost her hard-earned home, shop and possessions in the Great Chicago Fire. This second loss catalyzed an even more fundamental transformation: she turned to the nascent labor movement and joined the Knights of Labor, a predecessor to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or "Wobblies"). The Haymarket Riot of 1886 and the fear of anarchism and revolution incited by union organizations led to the rapid demise of the Knights of Labor. Once the Knights ceased to exist, Mary Jones became largely affiliated with the United Mine Workers. With the UMW, she frequently led strikers in picketing and encouraged the striking workers to stay on strike when the management brought in strike-breakers and militias. She strongly believed that "working men deserved a wage that would allow women to stay home to care for their kids."
As another source of her transformation into an organizer, biographer Elliott Gorn draws out her early Roman Catholic connection – including bringing to light her relationship to her estranged brother, Father William Richard Harris, Roman Catholic teacher, writer, pastor, and Dean of the Niagara Peninsula (in St Catharine's) in the Diocese of Toronto, who was "among the best-known clerics in Ontario." It is likely that Mary Jones’ political views were also shaped by the 1877 railroad strike, Chicago’s labor movement, and the Haymarket Riot and depression of 1886. Active as an organizer and educator in strikes throughout the country at the time, she was particularly involved with the UMW and the Socialist Party of America. As a union organizer, she gained prominence for organizing the wives and children of striking workers in demonstrations on their behalf. She became known as "the most dangerous woman in America," a phrase coined by a West Virginia district attorney, Reese Blizzard, in 1902, at her trial for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners. "There sits the most dangerous woman in America", announced Blizzard. "She crooks her finger—twenty thousand contented men lay down."
Mary Jones was ideologically separated from many of the other female activists of the pre-Nineteenth Amendment days due to her aversion to female suffrage. She was quoted as saying that “You don’t need the vote to raise hell!” Her opposition to women taking an active role in politics was based on her belief that the neglect of motherhood was a primary cause of juvenile delinquency.
Jones became known as a charismatic and effective speaker throughout her career. She was a storyteller, who would liven her rhetoric with real and folk-tale characters, punctuate with participation from audience members, flavor it with passion, and include humor-ridden methods to rile up the crowd such as profanity, name-calling, and wit. Occasionally she would include props, visual aids, and dramatic stunts for effect. By the age of sixty, she had effectively assumed the persona of Mother Jones by claiming to be older than she actually was, wearing outdated black dresses and referring to the male workers that she supported as ‘her boys’. The first reference to her in print as ‘Mother Jones’ was in 1897.
Read more about this topic: Mary Harris Jones
Famous quotes containing the words losses and/or activist:
“Hold back thy hours, dark Night, till we have done;
The Day will come too soon.
Young maids will curse thee, if thou stealst away
And leavst their losses open to the day.
Stay, stay, and hide
The blushes of the bride.”
—Francis Beaumont (1584-1616)
“If we love-and-serve an ideal we reach backward in time to its inception and forward to its consummation. To grow is sometimes to hurt; but who would return to smallness?”
—Sarah Patton Boyle, U.S. civil rights activist and author. The Desegregated Heart, part 3, ch. 3 (1962)