Mother Jones

Labor Organizer and Agitator

Mother Jones
Mother Jones. Courtesy Library of Congress

Dates: August 1, 1837? - November 30, 1930

(she claimed May 1, 1830 as her birth date)

Occupation: labor organizer

Known for: radical support of mine workers, radical politics

Also Known as: Mother of All Agitators, the Miner's Angel. Birth name: Mary Harris. Married name: Mary Harris Jones

About Mother Jones:

Born Mary Harris in County Cork, Ireland, young Mary Harris was the daughter of Mary Harris and Robert Harris.  Her father worked as a hired hand and the family lived on the estate where he worked. The family followed Robert Harris to America, where he had fled after taking part in a revolt against the landowners.  The family then moved to Canada, where Mary Harris Jones went to public school.

She became a schoolteacher first in Canada, where, as a Roman Catholic, she could only teach in the parochial schools. She moved to Maine to teach as a private tutor, then to Michigan where she got a teaching job in a convent. She moved to Chicago where she worked as a dressmaker. After two years, she moved to Memphis to teach, and met George Jones in 1861. They married and had four children.  George was an iron moulder and also worked as a union organizer, and during their marriage he began working full time in his union job. George Jones and all four children died in a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee, in September and October of 1867.

Mary Harris Jones then moved to Chicago, where she returned to work as a dressmaker. She lost her home, shop and belongings in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. She connected with the secretive worker's organization, the Knights of Labor, and became active speaking for the group and organizing. She left her dressmaking to take up full-time organizing with the Knights.

By the mid 1880s, Mary Jones had left the Knights of Labor, finding them too conservative. She became involved in more radical organizing by 1890, speaking at the location of strikes around the country, her name often appearing in newspapers as Mother Jones, white-haired radical labor organizer in her signature black dress and plain head covering.

Mother Jones worked mainly, though unofficially, with the United Mine Workers, where, among other activities, she often organized strikers' wives.  Often ordered to stay away from miners, she refused to do so, often challenging the armed guards to shoot her.

In 1903 Mother Jones led a children's march from Kensington, Pennsylvania, to New York to protest child labor to President Roosevelt. In 1905, Mother Jones was among the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, the "Wobblies").

In the 1920s, as rheumatism made it more difficult for her to get around, Mother Jones wrote her . Famed lawyer Clarence Darrow wrote an introduction to the book. Mother Jones became less active as her health failed. She moved to Maryland, and lived with a retired couple. One of her last public appearances was at a birthday celebration on May 1, 1930, when she claimed to be 100. She died on November 30 of that year.

She was buried at the Miners Cemetery at Mount Olive, Illinois, at her request: it was the only cemetery owned by a union.

A 2001 biography by Elliott Gorn has added significantly to the facts known of Mother Jones' life and work.


  • Gorn, Elliott J. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America. New York: 2001.
  • Josephson, Judith P. Mother Jones: Fierce Fighter for Workers' Rights. Lerner Publications, 1997. Age: Young Adult.

More About Mother Jones:

Places: Ireland; Toronto, Canada; Chicago, Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; West Virginia, Colorado; United States

Organizations/Religion: United Mine Workers, IWW - Industrial Workers of the World or Wobblies, Roman Catholic, freethinker