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Mother jones the most famous corkwoman in usa history

Wednesday, 23rd July, 2014 6:53pm


Next week sees the third Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, which remembers the life and times of Cork-born woman Mary Harris, or Mother Jones.

She, according to her autobiography, which can be accessed online as well as some of her speeches and some filmed speeches, was an American schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent labour and community organiser, who helped co-ordinate major strikes and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World.

The Cork Mother Jones Commemorative committee was established in 2012 to mark the 175th anniversary of the birth of Mary Harris/Mother Jones in Cork. After a highly successful festival marking that anniversary, it was decided to make the festival an annual event marking the life and legacy of Mother Jones.

Although famous in other parts of the world, especially in the United States of America where she was once labelled "the most dangerous woman in America", Cork-born Mary Jones (née Harris) - or Mother Jones as she is perhaps more widely known - was virtually unknown and not recognised as yet in her native city.  The festivals and activities of this committee have changed that and now the name of Mother Jones is better known in Cork and beyond.

The Cork Mother Jones Commemorative Committee, in conjunction with Cork City Council, commissioned Cork Sculptor Mike Wilkins to create a limestone plaque to honour Mother Jones in the Shandon area of the city, near her birthplace.   This plaque was erected near the famous Cork Butter Market and was unveiled on 1 August 2012 which is the 175th anniversary of her baptism in the North Cathedral.  

Her parents were Ellen Cotter, a native of Inchigeela, and Richard Harris from Cork city. Few details of her early life in Cork have been uncovered to date, though it is thought by some that she was born on Blarney Street and may have attended the North Presentation Schools nearby.  

She and her family emigrated to Canada soon after the Famine, probably in the early 1850s. Later in the United States, after tragic deaths of her husband George Jones and their four children, she became involved in the struggle for basic rights for workers and children's rights, leading from the front, often in a militant fashion.

Mary is best known for her fiery speeches against the exploitation of miners; she was utterly fearless, travelling all over America to defend workers and their families.

Mother Jones was one of the best and most active union organisers ever seen in America. She became a legend among the coalminers of West Virginia and Pennsylvania; she was fearless and faced down the guns and court threats of the mine bosses.

In 1905, she was the only woman to attend the inaugural meeting of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies). Later, she became an organiser for the Socialist Party and continued her defence of workers in industrial disputes across America.

She was arrested and jailed in West Virginia for her activities during the Paint Creek, Cabin Creek strikes, but later released following large demonstrations of her supporters. Between 1912 and 1914 she was involved in the 'coal wars' of Colorado which led to the infamous Ludlow Massacre, where 19 miners and members of their families were killed. She was imprisoned many times but always released quickly due to huge local support for her activities.

Described as "the most dangerous woman in America," her cry of "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living" still resonates through history!

Her autobiography was published in 1925. She passed away at the age of 93 in 1930 and is buried at Mount Olive Union cemetery in Illinois, where a museum will be erected to her memory shortly. When she died in 1930, she was a legend in her adopted land.   A magazine (Mother Jones) is still published to this day, along with dozens of books and countless references in US labour history.   She certainly can claim to be the most famous Cork woman in the history of the United States of America.

The spirit of Mother Jones Festival continues this year with a number of writers, film producers and people associated with Mother Jones in the United States. There are concerts, public lectures and discussions being held in the Maldron Hotel and the Firkin Crane centre.

One lecture of real contemporary resonance is on Wednesday, 30 July. Claire McGettrick, co-founder of Justice for Magdalenes (now JFM Research) will speak at the Firkin Crane in Shandon   about the story of the Magdalenes.

Claire is an activist, researcher and also co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance. She worked as research assistant on the project Magdalene Institutions: Recording an Archival and Oral History, which collected the oral histories of 79 interviewees, including 35 Magdalene survivors.

The Magdalene Names Project, which is central to Claire's work with JFM Research, makes use of historical archives to develop a partial, repaired narrative of the lives of some of the women who died behind convent walls, with the aim of creating a lasting memorial to these women.

More information on the Spirit of Mother Jones festival can be seen at:


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