Mary Harris, aka "Mother Jones", was born 01 May 1830 in County Cork, Ireland, the child of Richard Harris. Richard was married to his first wife Margaret Swiney on 17 Feb 1828 in the Roman Catholic Church at Inchigeelagh Parish, County Cork,Ireland. The couple had a daughter, Mary Harris, who was christened in the church there on 29 Feb 1829. As Mary herself, in her autobiography states she was born in 1830, the evidence supports her being this daughter of Richard and his first wife, Margaret. Mary further states:
My father, Richard Harris, came to America in 1835, and as soon as he had become an American citizen he sent for his family. His work as a laborer with railway construction crews took him to Toronto, Canada. Here I was brought up but always as the child of an American citizen. Of that citizenship I have ever been proud.
Richard leaving Ireland for America in 1835 then sending for his family means it is impossible for a child born in 1837 in Ireland to have been his, therefore we must assume the online pages giving a birth much later than that Mary states for herself cannot be correct.
Mary Harris Jones was driven from her native Ireland by the potato famine when she was a teenager, then watched her husband and four children die during a yellow fever epidemic just after the Civil War. She lost her dressmaking business in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In her life time, she would become known to the American Government as the "grandmother of agitators", the "most dangerous woman in America" with a reputation as a fearless fighter for workers rights.
Her family left Ireland for the United States, then went to Canada. She returned to the states to teach school in Monroe, Michigan. In 1861 she married George E. Jones, who was born in 1835 and died of yellow fever in Memphis, Tennessee on 13 Oct 1967. He was a moulder by trade Of this time in her life she says-
I went back to teaching again, this time in Memphis, Tennessee. Here I was married in 1861. My husband was an iron moulder and a member of the Iron Moulders' Union.
In 1867, a fever epidemic swept Memphis. Its victims were mainly among the poor and the workers. The rich and the well-to-do fled the city. Schools and churches were closed. People were not permitted to enter the house of a yellow fever victim without permits. The poor could not afford nurses. Across the street from me, ten persons lay dead from the plague. The dead surrounded us. They were buried at night quickly and without ceremony. All about my house I could hear weeping and the cries of delirium. One by one, my four little children sickened and died. I washed their little bodies and got them ready for burial. My husband caught the fever and died. I sat alone through nights of grief. No one came to me. No one could. Other homes were as stricken as was mine. All day long, all night long, I heard the grating of the wheels of the death cart.
It was Mother Jones' decision to visit the West Virginia Coal Mines to talk about miner's rights that led to Frank Keeney's working with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to organize West Virginia Coal Miners. She traveled to Matewan, West Virginia at the height of the mine workers turmoil there and spoke with miners personally in June of 1920.
Mother Jones was the last of her family about whom anything is known, writes The Evening Star at the time of her death. Her last relative, a brother, a prominent Catholic priest and educator in Canada, died March 5, 1923.
Mother Jones died quietly at 11:55pm at a farmhouse near Silver Spring, Maryland on 30 Nov 1930. Services were held at St. Gabriel's Catholic Church on December 4th and she was buried in Union Miners' Cemetery in Mount Olive, Macoupin County, Illinois.
Mother Jones was often accused of being an “unladylike.” Her response was, A lady is the last thing on earth I want to be. Capitalists sidetrack the women into clubs and make ladies of them.
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.
I have no home except where there is struggle.
My address is like my shoes. It travels with me. I abide where there is a fight against wrong.
No matter what the fight, don’t be ladylike! God almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies.
I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.
The employment of children is doing more to fill prisons, insane asylums, almshouses, reformatories, slums, and gin shops than all the efforts of reformers are doing to improve society.
↑ Source Citation:
Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925. A bio- critical sourcebook. Edited by Karlyn Kohrs Campbell. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993. (WomPubS 1800)