Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Most Dangerous Woman In America

Mother Jones

I recently found two articles about Mother Jones in West Virginia: Labor's Blue-Eyed Angel Part I and Part II by Claude A. Frazier, M.D. and F. K. Brown. West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly, 11:3(August 1997): 2-5.

Sometimes I think our society is headed back to the days of the Robber Barons, and I like to consider Mother Jones a relevant role model. Also, it pleases me to remember that her labor organizing activities were begun late in life. She was at least 60, and perhaps 67, when she first came to West Virginia in support of striking coal miners. An excerpt from the Frazier and Brown article:

Even though most of the strikes failed to bring workers immediate relief, the kind of publicity Mother Jones engendered, both good and bad, served to bring the desperate circumstances and terrible conditions in mines and mills to the attention of both the public and government. This was especially true in the coal fields of West Virginia where a feudal state kept miners and their families in practical serfdom. Mother Jones first turned up in this state of rugged mountains and deep valleys in 1897. She found her assignment of organizing the miners there a particularly tough nut to crack since most of the mines were situated in remote areas with few roads connecting them to larger settlements. This remoteness brought about the coal camp where mine owners built houses for their miners and provided a company store and a company doctor. Since they owned the camp as well as the mine, they were in fact the community's only government. They set prices in the company store, checked off rent and medical care from the miner's paychecks, evicted miners and their families at will, censored newspapers and magazines that were brought into camp, and kept labor organizers off their property, which often consisted of thousands of acres.

However, none of this daunted Mother Jones. Even though the 1897 strike failed, she was back in the West Virginia hills during the 1902-03 strike, organizing along the beautiful New River where the mines were especially remote and hard to reach. She wrote that the strike was vicious, for the owners had brought in armed Baldwin-Felts guards who beat and shot striking miners and literally threw their families from company houses. "Meetings had to be held in the woods at night, in abandoned mines, in barns."

Here are some other Mary Harris (Mother) Jones Web resources.

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