Mary Harris Jones

Irish-born American labor and community organizer (1837–1930)

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (August 1, 1837November 30, 1930), born in Cork, Ireland, was a prominent American socialist, labor and community organizer, and a founder of the Industrial Workers of the World.

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


  • Get it straight, I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser.
    • After being introduced as a "great humanitarian", as quoted in Mother Jones : The Most Dangerous Woman in America‎ (2002) by Elliott J. Gorn, p. 3.
  • I don't care about political parties. I went down to the Greenback parties, to the Populist party, in fact I went through them all. I found some of the parties most powerful weapons, but money interest prostitutes them all. Nowhere have you elected a man in this last election that represents you interests. I do not care what political party you put in power because we are of the economical power. We have the power to do and we will do it! They are not going to fool us there. It was not the political party that gained the eight hour day for the railroad man.
    • Speech in Peoria, Illinois. (6 April 1919).
  • Look at this watch of mine. Two hands there, nice looking, but let me take the hands out and it will be no good. It would be useless to, and your two hands are like unto the hands of the watch. You are the tool that move the nation. The Salvation Army, the Y.M.C.A. we build their institutions, pay for them, feed the people and everything. We are going to change that. The page is turned. The world is a moving magnet; a new civilization is coming; the pendulum is swimming as it has never swung before. It behooves to do our duty.
    • Speech in Peoria, Illinois. (6 April 1919).
  • The old condition is passing away. The new dawn of another civilized nation is breaking into the lives of the human race.
    • Speech in Williamson, WV. (20 June 1920)
  • If you ever saw a policeman with a club in his hand, I want to ask you, did you ever see that policeman club a millionaire? But it is "Get out of here, damn you, go on to jail, damn you," if it is a working man.
    • Speech in Princeton, WV. (15 August 1920)

Autobiography of Mother Jones

  • No matter what your fight, don't be ladylike! God almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies.
    • Autobiography of Mother Jones, p. 125
  • If they want to hang me, let them. And on the scaffold I would shout, 'Freedom for the working class!'
    • Autobiography of Mother Jones, p. 146
  • Your organization is not a praying institution. It's a fighting institution. It's an educational institution along industrial lines. Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!
  • [Regarding the military violence and terrorism against the miners of the 1903 Cripple Creek strike] And why were these things done? Because a group of men had demanded an eight hour day, a check weighman and the abolition of the scrip system that kept them in serfdom to the mighty coal barons. That was all. Just that miners had refused to labor under these conditions. Just because miners wanted a better chance for their children, more of the sunlight, more freedom. And for this they suffered one whole year and for this they died.
  • When I get to the otherside, I shall tell God Almighty about West Virginia!
  • I could have settled it in twenty-four hours… I would make the operators listen to the grievances of their workers. I would take the $650,000 spent for the militia during this strike and spend it on schools and playgrounds and libraries that West Virginia might have a more highly developed citizenry, physically and intellectually. You would then have fewer little children in the mines and factories; fewer later in jails and penitentiaries; fewer men and women submitting to conditions that are brutalizing and un-American.
  • I refer to the United States, the union of all the states. I ask then, if in union there is strength for our nation, would there not be for labor! What one state could not get alone, what one miner against a powerful corporation could not achieve, can be achieved by the union. What is a good enough principle for an American citizen ought to be good enough for the working man to follow.
  • The miners lost because they had only the constitution. The other side had bayonets. In the end, bayonets always win.
  • Organized labor should organize its women along industrial lines. Politics is only the servant of industry. The plutocrats have organized their women. They keep them busy with suffrage and prohibition and charity.
  • I knew it was useless to tell the governor about conditions as I found them. I knew he would be neither interested nor would he care. It wasn’t election time.
  • I do not believe that iron bars and brutal treatment have ever been cures for crime. And certainly I feel that in our great enlightened country, there is no reason for going back to middle ages and their form of torture for the criminal.
  • Human flesh, warm and soft and capable of being wounded, went naked up against steel; steel that is cold as old stars, and harder than death and incapable of pain. Bayonets and guns and steel rails and battleships, bombs and bullets are made of steel. And only babies are made of flesh. More babies grow up and work in steel, to hurl themselves against the bayonets, to know the tempered resistance of steel.
  • Christ himself would agitate against them. He would agitate against the plutocrats and hypocrites who tell workers to go down on their knees and get right with God. Christ, the carpenter’s son, would tell them to stand up on their feet and fight for righteousness and justice on earth.
  • In spite of oppressors, in spite of false leaders, in spite of labor’s own lack of understanding of its needs, the cause of the worker continues onward. Slowly his hours are shortened, giving him leisure to read and to think. Slowly, his standard of living rises to include some of the good and beautiful things of the world. Slowly the cause of his children becomes the cause of all. His boy is taken from the breaker, his girl from the mill. Slowly those who create wealth of the world are permitted to share it. The future is in labor’s strong, rough hands.

Quotes about Mother Jones

  • The Greatest woman agitator of our time was Mother Jones. Arrested, deported, held in custody by the militia, hunted and threatened by police and gunmen-she carried on fearlessly for 60 years. I first saw her in the summer of 1908, speaking at a Bronx open-air meeting. She was giving the "city folks" hell. Why weren't we helping the miners of the West? Why weren't we backing up the Mexican people against Diaz? We were "white-livered rabbits who never put our feet on Mother Earth," she said. Her description of the bullpen, where the miners were herded by federal troops during a Western miners' strike, and of the bloodshed and suffering was so vivid that, being slightly dizzy from standing so long, I fainted. She stopped in the middle of a fiery appeal. "Get the poor child some water!" she said, and went on with her speech. I was terribly embarrassed.
  • The next winter I saw Mother Jones again in Chicago at a meeting in Hull House of the Rudewitz Committee, to which I was a delegate from Local 85, IWW. I heard her hot angry defiant words against the deportation of a young Jewish worker on the vile pretext of "ritual murder." (Jane Addams and others saved him from certain death by their spirited defense). Mother Jones was dressed in an old-fashioned black silk basque, with lace around her neck, a long full skirt and a little bonnet, trimmed with flowers. She never changed her style of dress throughout her lifetime. She may sound like Whistler's Mother but this old lady was neither calm nor still, breathing fearless agitation wherever she went... She was put out of hotels. Families who housed her in company towns were dispossessed. She spoke in open fields when halls were closed. She waded through Kelly Creek, West Virginia, to organize miners on the other side. Tried for violating an injunction, she called the judge a "scab" and proved it to him. She organized "women's armies" to chase scabs-with mops, brooms and dishpans. "God! It's the old mother with her wild women!" the bosses would groan. In Greensburg, Pennsylvania, when a group of women pickets with babies were arrested and sentenced to 30 days, she advised them: "Sing to the babies all night long!" The women sang their way out of jail in a few days to the relief of the sleepless town. She was asked at Congressional hearing: "Where is your home?" and she answered: "Sometimes I'm in Washington, then in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Colorado, Minnesota. My address is like my shoes. It travels with me. I abide where there is a fight against wrong. In 1903 she led a group of child workers from the textile mills in the Kensington district of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Oyster Bay, Long Island, to confront President Theodore Roosevelt with proof of child labor. In Colorado, after the Ludlow massacre in 1914, she led a protest parade up to the governor's office. In West Virginia, time after time, she led delegations to see various governors and "gave them hell," as she said...When she was a very old lady, she warned the rank and file against leaders who put their own interests ahead of labor. Until her death she stoutly affirmed her one great faith: "The future is in labor's strong, rough hands!"... She inspired me a great deal when I first heard her in New York and Chicago in those early days, though I confess I was afraid of her sharp tongue. But when I reminded her of the meeting in the Bronx and told her I had lost my baby, she was very sympathetic and kind. Her harshness was for bosses, scabs and crooked labor leaders.
  • The UMWA had a number of big personalities and tough-talking bruisers at its disposal, but one of its most effective agitators was an old Irish woman in a black dress who prowled the picket lines and struck fear into the hearts of the corporate elite. This "John Brown (abolitionist) in petticoats" was a militant socialist who breathed class war like a dragon and doted on her members as if they were her own children. The woman who would become Mother Jones lived an entire life's worth of pain, struggle, and tragedy before she found her calling: organizing the working class, lifting up the unheard, and unseating those who would gladly earn their money by grinding the poor's bones to dust. A dressmaker by trade, left widowed with four deceased children in the 1871 yellow fever epidemic, Jones reinvented herself as a labor organizer and self-proclaimed hell-raiser...She grew famous for her signature billowing black dress, replete with lace collar, a severe white bun, and a pair of tiny eyeglasses perched on her fierce countenance. A century before Johnny Cash donned his all-black getup to symbolize his allegiance with the poor and downtrodden, Jones reached for widow's weeds to illustrate her status as the grandmother of a movement. She cultivated a matriarchal, sometimes impish image, fondly referring to grizzled miners and favored politicians alike as "my boys" and crusading against child labor. Only some of that came naturally; the rest was a theatrical flourish, cooked up to emphasize Harris's age and gravitas and add to her stature as the one and only Mother Jones, the bane of the coal bosses and a fighter to the core...Unlike many labor figures of her day, Jones did not discriminate against women or Black workers (though her single-minded focus on building working-class power at all costs left some of her views shortsighted at best, in particular her silence as the American labor movement went on the offensive against Chinese immigrant workers). During labor clashes, her greatest weapon was the womenfolk. She was known for actively encouraging women and families to get involved in strikes and organizing wives into "mop and bucket" battalions to fight alongside their husbands on the picket lines and hold down the home front.
  • At the time [1903], 18 percent of American workers were under the age of sixteen, and as Jones herself once said, "The American people were born in strikes, and now in the closing days of the nineteenth century, even the children must strike for justice."
  • hailed in labor circles as "the miner's angel"
  • I do not love you the way I love Mother Jones
  • In these tours of the Ohio minefields I often met Mother Jones. Our paths had crossed many times before, especially in the early 1900's in the Pennsylvania mining fields, and we were good friends. Mother Jones became interested in the labor movement after the death of her husband, who had been a soldier in the Civil War. She herself was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1830. She was an instinctive fighter against the capitalist class and spent her time organizing the miners into the U.M.W.A...In later years Mother Jones came under the wrong influences, and was sometimes made use of to play a reactionary role. She always retained great prestige among the miners, who would do almost anything she asked. I can remember time after time when a caucus in the A. F. of L. prepared to make a demonstration of strength against Gompers, she would come in at the last moment and say, "Stick to your old Sammy, boys, stick to your old Sammy!" and they would vote for him again. But just the same Mother Jones was an historical figure, a fine woman and a fine courageous fighter. I met this remarkable woman many more times, since a great deal of my work in the Socialist Party was spent among the miners, and we often held meetings together. Mother Jones died in December, 1930, at the age of 100. The last major strike in which she participated was the great steel strike of 1919, but she was in touch with things and spoke at meetings until 1923, when she was in her nineties. After that she went to stay with a Socialist family who took care of her until the end.
  • Mother Jones came to Washington and told a Congressional committee about the terror in the West Virginia coal regions. I pictured her, and wrote that it was not easy to portray that "benign and yet so belligerent" face. When she was held captive by the West Virginia authorities she said to them: "You can stand me up against that wall and riddle me with bullets, but you can't make me surrender."
  • Mother Jones had a delightfully extensive profane vocabulary and did not hesitate to use it in conversation...Whenever Mother Jones came to New York she would let me know. She was moving toward the century mark, but she still had fire in her eye. For hours at a time I would talk with her in her room in the old Union Square Hotel. With a pail of beer on the table, she liked to tell me all about "my boys" (the miners), her experiences in jails, and what happened during strikes.
  • In her seventies (and I guess this was one of the reasons she was called Mother, because she was old enough to be the mother of almost everybody who was working), she was organizing miners in West Virginia, and then Colorado. She was so colorful and so dramatic, and she looked like a schoolteacher, wearing her bonnet over her white hair. She was a fiery speaker. She did very dramatic things, like bringing the children of striking miners in Pennsylvania on a march to New York, to Theodore Roosevelt's house, to demand an end to child labor. They were carrying signs saying WE WANT TIME TO PLAY…She was jailed many times. Nothing daunted her. She was brought into courts and she would defy the judge. She inspired miners and other workers all over the country.
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