Friday, September 30, 2011

Mary Harris Jones (a.k.a. “Mother Jones”)

After reading Mother Jones magazine for the first time, I became interest in its namesake and did a little research. I learned that “Mother Jones” (the woman) had a fascinating perspective, which in many ways is actually quite apropos to the focus of this blog.

Mary Harris Jones lived a long life from 1837 until 1930.

Mary Harris was originally from Cork County, Ireland. Her family were Catholics. They were tenant farmers in Ireland. She immigrated to North America with her family as a teenager.

Miss Harris received a Catholic education in Toronto, Canada. She later worked as a teacher in a convent. Eventually, she moved south to the United States and married George E. Jones of Memphis, Tennessee. He was active in an iron molders’ union.
Early in her adult life, Mrs. Jones tragically lost her husband and all her children in a yellow fever outbreak. She had had four children. They were all under the age of five when they died. What an unimaginable loss for someone to bear.

However, Mrs. Jones apparently did not wallow in her grief. Instead, she turned her sorrow into productive outlets by pouring her considerable energies into labor organizing. “Mother Jones,” as she became known, was active in helping to form unions and was affiliated with the Socialist Party of America. She is particularly remembered for her leadership in fighting against the exploitation of child labor.

Mother Jones was apparently an effective labor leader in part because she was such a gifted orator. She was famous for using humor and spirited rhetoric to inspire audiences. Some of her more famous quotes include:

“I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser.”

“If they want to hang me, let them. And on the scaffold I will shout ‘Freedom for the working class!’”

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

“Some day the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit!”

“Injustice boils in men's hearts as does steel in its cauldron, ready to pour forth, white hot, in the fullness of time”

“Often while sewing for the lords and barons who lived in magnificent houses on the Lake Shore Drive, I would look out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches, jobless and hungry, walking alongside the frozen lake front. The contrast of their condition with that of the tropical comfort of the people for whom I sewed was painful to me.”

Interesting quotes.

Mother Jones is remembered as a passionate fighter for workers’ rights. Many modern people think of her as a godless communist. However, in reality, she had pretty traditional beliefs. Indeed, in many respects one might say she was a “conservative.” For example, Mother Jones was outspoken against female suffrage. She was famous for having said:

“working men deserved a wage that would allow women to stay home to care for their kids.”

I also read that Mother Jones blamed neglectful mothering as the root cause of juvenile delinquency.

As I understand her biography, if she was a radical leftist, it was simply due to class-based, economic concerns. She was not consistently left-wing on all issues. Other famous Mother Jones quotes include:

“I have never had a vote, and I have raised hell all over this country. You don't need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!”

“I preferred sewing to bossing little children.”

“That is, the wife must care for what the husband cares for if he is to remain resolute.”

In light of all this, Mary Harris Jones seems like a rather curious inspiration for the modern magazine bearing her nickname.

Deuteronomy 8:17

If you start thinking to yourselves, "I did all this. And all by myself. I'm rich. It's all mine!"—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today.

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