Everyone has heard of the power of maternal instincts; a set of behaviors exhibited by mothers especially, but also by nearly all women regardless of whether they are mothers or not; behaviors including nurturing, providing care for and, most prominently, protecting others – especially children. Some refer to it as the “Mother Bear” syndrome. Maternal instincts are stronger in some women than in others. Feats of superhuman strength have been attributed to women trying to save their children, or others, from peril. This is a brief account of one such mother.
Mary Harris Jones was born in County Cork, Ireland in approximately 1837. During the Great Famine of the 1850’s, the
Harris Family left Ireland and emigrated to Toronto, Canada. Mary left Canada in her early twenties and moved by herself to Michigan to become a teacher. After about a year of that, Mary moved to Chicago, and then to Memphis a year later where she met and married George Jones in 1861. This meeting introduced Mary to the labor union movement as her new husband was a member and organizer of what would eventually become the International Molders and Foundry Workers Union of North America.
After beginning to have children, she left her teaching profession and, on the eve of the beginning of the Civil War, opened a dress shop in her home in Memphis, TN. Mary’s good life was shattered by the 1967 Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis during which she lost all four of her children and her husband. After a few years, independent and indominable as usual, Mary left Memphis and returned to Chicago where she started another dress making business. Once again, Mary was struck by tragedy when she lost her home, her shop and all her possessions in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
After this fire, Mary joined other Chicago residents in the efforts to rebuild the city. While doing this work, Mary witnessed the mistreatment of workers and their wives and children at the hands of the owners and managers of the companies they worked for. This motivated Mary to become a union and community organizer. Mary was not in favor of mothers working outside of the home or of children working in the mills. The 1900 Census showed that nearly one in five children under the age of sixteen were employed; many of them in mills. Mary believed that the neglect of motherhood was a primary cause of juvenile delinquency, and that children belonged in school, not in mills or mines.
As a labor organizer for the United Mine Workers Union, Mary Jones was so effective at calling for strikes and organizing marches by the wives and children of those workers that she became known as “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” and the U.S. Senate once denounced her as the “Grandmother of all Agitators”. Marry didn’t mind these labels as she acted like a mother or grandmothers toward the mine workers whom she often referred to as “her boys”. They gave her the nick-name “Mother Jones”, and it fit her. Mary Harris Jones is the “mother” of many of the child labor laws and mine safety reforms we have today. Her tenacity and her commitment to protecting the rights of children and working adults will never be forgotten. She was one tough mother!
© 2017 Curt Savage Media