We’ll look forward to adding a collection of novels about Mother Jones, miners, etc.

Short Introductions

Short Introductions to Mother Jones

Feurer, Rosemary. Mother Jones: A Global History of Struggle and Remembrance: From Cork, Ireland to Illinois Illinois Heritage May 2013

Brief photo essay introductions to her life and context:

Feurer, Rosemary, “Mother Jones, Workers Resistance, and the Origins of Rank-and-File Unionism, UE News March 2013

Relevant to union activists.

Lily Eskelen, Rabble Rousers – Agitadores  Illustrated by Mexican artist Alberto García

Great introduction written at the 7th grade level.  First chapter in a collection of essays on agitators in history us a short piece on Mother Jones. You can view the chapter on-line at this site, but it is the perfect gift for your favorite teacher. Buy the book if you can– 100% of the proceeds of the sale of the book will be contributed to United We Dream and other social justice advocates.

Full Length Biographies

Full Length Biographies of Mother Jones

Elliott J. Gorn, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America. Hill and Wang, 2002. Short excerpt from Gorn’s book

The leading biography of Mother Jones. Gorn argues that Mother Jones created the persona of “mother” and then flipped it to contest gender norms and make it useful for labor upheavals. He situates her in the context of the violent response of corporate and state authorities to the miners’ search for just living conditions and free speech.

Simon Cordery, Mother Jones: Raising Cain and Consciousness. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010.

This one is a briefer treatment than Gorn’s. It has a deeper understanding of the Irish context than Gorn’s biography and of the context of Jones’ religious life, and some new points of information. It takes the same approach on the issue of gender politics as Gorn. It is a critical but appreciative look at her in historical context.

Wake, Dorothy L. Mother Jones, Revolutionary Leader of Labor & Social Reform (2001)

A great short introduction, recommended. Addresses Mother Jones connections to traditions of revolutionary syndicalism, thereby also allowing us to understand her as a feminist. Along the lines of Philip Foner, Mother Jones Speaks (below), she revises the sometimes condescending version of other authors who depict her as an anti-feminist folksy figure.

Featherling, Dale.  Mother Jones–The Miner’s Angel (1974)

This is the first book on Mother Jones published by a scholarly press, Southern Illinois University. It is not one that we recommend. It seriously misjudges Mother Jones’ life, depicting her as someone without much of a philosophy, which is a preposterous notion in light of later research. It would be great to use to use in conjunction with primary sources and other biographies to isolate distinctions in interpretation and to show how historians disagree in interpreting the past, and how Mother Jones’ life has been subject to misinterpretation.

J Mikael, “Mother Mary Jones: The Labor Movement’s Impious Joan of Arc,” 1965 dissertation, available here.

You can see how others have drawn on this, but amended it. An older interpretation, and since we have it in PDF, offering it here. Take care with errors that are here.


Autobiography of Mother Jones (with Mary Parton)

Mary Harris Jones, Autobiography of Mother Jones (Charles Kerr, 1999). On-Line edition

Mother Jones’ life as dictated to Clarence Darrow’s secretary, who expanded on an essay originally written in 1915. A very engaging depiction of her motivations, influence and perspectives. She is funny, too. A great introduction to conflicts of the era. Most people find this a terrifically engaging autobiography.

Gorn has interrogated it and cast new light on much of it by. Gorn suggests Jones puts herself at the center of things and is bragging about her influence, that it is more metaphor than accurate. So students should be cautioned about the issues of biography and memory. This provides a nice opportunity for students to explore the issue of memory and gender analysis of sources too. Do biographers cast doubt on the power of women to shape events for example? For example, some further exploration with new sources might lead students to discover that Gorn doubts Jones power too much.

Some of this involves some collapsing of memory which is common in oral histories.  Beyond that, Jones and her assistant took much of this from earlier interviews Jones gave to newspapers, and it is clear that the reporter misunderstood the references so the biography does too.

Finally, it is also true that Jones did not like the autobiography, and complained about it when she read it.


Anthologies of Mother Jones’ Writings and Speeches

Leslie F. Orear, ed. Mother Jones and the Union Miners Cemetery: Mt. Olive, Illinois (1991)

A compilation of articles, available from the Illinois Labor History Society

Foner_Mother_Jones Speaks

Mother Jones Speaks by Philip S. Foner

Philip S. Foner, Mother Jones Speaks: Speeches and Writings of a Working-Class Fighter Pathfinder Press (NY), 1995).

A collection of classic Mother Jones speeches and other materials. Careful readers will see a somewhat different interpretation of Jones in the introduction to the sources.

Edward M. Steel, The Correspondence of Mother Jones (Univ of Pittsburgh Pr (Txt), 1985).

The introduction is a wonderful resource for those who don’t have the time to read either her biography or Gorn’s biography. A way to give a short introduction for research to high school students.

Edward M. Steel, ed. The Speeches and Writings of Mother Jones (Univ of Pittsburgh Pr 1988).

More comprehensive than Foner’s speeches, a terrific compilation. The introduction of this book is a wonderful resource for those who don’t have the time to read either her biography or Gorn’s biography.

Edward M. Steel, The Court-Martial of Mother Jones In March 1913

Mother Jones and dozens of miners and agitators were charged with murder and conspiracy and tried in military court in West Virginia. Mother Jones had been trying to organize workers there in West Virginia since 1900 and had faced repression as a result. The entire court transcript is here, along with a stellar introduction to the conflict. Her imprisonment in 1913 focused national attention on the repression and led Congress to investigate.

Primary Sources

More reflections on Jones’ Life and Legacy

Saul Schneiderman Mother Jones Final Sojourn: My Search for the House Where the ‘Miners Angel’ Died”

Saul Schneiderman’s story of Mother Jones at the end of her life, and the woman  who cared for Mother Jones in her last months. This is a story that involved “digging where you stand” and local research. Wonderful.

Bonnie Stepenoff, Their Fathers’ Daughters: Silk Mill Workers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1880-1960 , Susquehanna University Press, 1999.

Also articles by Bonnie Stepenoff, “Keeping it in the family: Mother Jones and the Pennsylvania Silk Strike of 1900-1901,” Labor History , Fall, 1997; “I’m a Johnny Mitchell Man: Gender and Labor Protest in the Pennsylvania Hard Coal Uprising, 1900-1902,” in Mining Women: Gender, Labor, Capital, and Community in a Global Perspective , edited by Laurie Mercier and Jaclyn Gier Viskavotoff, Palgrave/Macmillan, 2006, pp. 181-194.

Stepenoff offers a very unfavorable view of Mother Jones’ gendered views of protest and child labor. Stepenoff argues that Mother Jones reinforced gender roles, reinforced the patriarchy of the male breadwinner.  “The solution became, not a better deal for the female workers, but a better deal for the fathers, who, in Jones’s view, should support them.” But read alongside Dorothy Wake, Mother Jones, Revolutionary Leader of Labor & Social (2001) for 2 contrasting perspectives of Mother Jones and feminism. I do not think the broader record sustains Stepenoff’s argument at all, but it is part of a strain of research that portrays Mother Jones as part of the past rather than part of a vigorous modern thinker.

Labor Repression in the Long Gilded Age

Labor Violence in the Long Gilded Age

(Note: The Gilded Age was the label that Mark Twain used for the late nineteenth century age of inequality. Gilded referred to something that looked like gold but was just a painted on surface that appeared to be gold but was cheap painted metal. Similarly, the new riches hid the repression and political corruption that was the root of the era. For years historians considered the 19th century to have been replaced by the Progressive Era of reform. But some historians such as Steven Fraser have called for a reconsideration of that designation, and consider the period from 1880-1930 as the Long Gilded Age

Stephen H. Norwood. Strikebreaking and Intimidation: Mercenaries and Masculinity in Twentieth-Century America (The University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

This book is an excellent introduction to the history of the use of private and public police forces in American labor disputes. It is excellent companion to the movie Matewan by John Sayles. It discusses the use of Baldwin Felts agents as well as national guard, two issues that arise in the Mother Jones film and are covered in her autobiography and biographies

Patricia Cayo Sexton. The War on Labor and the Left. (Westview Press, 1992).

This is a terrific source that places the repression of the U.S. labor movement in comparative context. For those who assume that the U.S. must have a better record on free speech and freedom of assembly for workers, this book is a definite eyeopener

Robert Michael Smith. From Blackjacks to Briefcases: A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States (2003).

As the book’s title suggests, this is a book that connects the use of agents such as Baldwin-Felts with a longer history of the use of private mercenaries that suppressed free speech. The main problem with the book is that it doesn’t connect the private use of these with the public use. The key issue in Ludlow was the overlap between private and public use of police forces to suppress work.

Coal Mining Conflicts

The Coal Industry and US Coal Wars

Priscilla Long, Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America’s Bloody Coal Industry (Harcourt, 1989)

This book focuses on the women of the coal mines, thereby capturing a narrative that many others miss. Chapter 12 of the book contains a compelling narrative of the Ludlow the events. Long’s work is one of the best reads available to bring you
into the world of the miners.

Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States.

Link to excerpt. Good on global issues. If you can only read one short piece about Ludlow, Zinn’s still captures the class warfare aspect of Ludlow and Mother Jones better than others. (See also the children’s version of this book in children’s section below.)

Thomas G. Andrews. Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War (2008).

A prize winning account of the Colorado mine wars focusing on workscapes as key to the formation of human identity. Argues that violence in strikes was driven by the mine workscape, that militancy was driven by the violence beneath the earth. While it adds much to the story, it leaves much out, most especially the political context.

Scott Martelle, Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West (2007).

Looks narrowly at the events leading up to Ludlow, starting in summer 1913, and then ends in 1914. The narrative is an attempt to lend “balance” to the questions of the battle and massacre on a day to day basis. Wider context of Ludlow almost completely left out. A cursory inclusion of Mother Jones’ role. In fact, it portrays her as somewhat of a nag and a bother to the events. Women’s roles in general are minimally included.

George S. McGovern and Leona Guttridgerd F., The Great Coalfield War (University Press of Colorado, 1996).

A good narrative history, with maps, etc. Updated by Martelle on some points. Martelle struggles to point out its errors, but it remains the book that allows you to see the story unfolding.

Zeese Papanikolas, Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre (University of Nebraska Press, 1991).

Focuses on the leader of the Greek miners, a powerful story of the ethnic context.

Anthony DeStefanis, “Violence and the Colorado National Guard: Masculinity, Race, Class and Identity in the 1913-1914 Southern Colorado Coal Strike”

p .195-212 of Mining Women: Gender in the Development of a Global Industry, 1870 to 2005 ed. Gier and Mercier. Gives good overview of the defense of the actions taken by the national guard. Read alongside Stein for more context.

West Virginia Organizing and Uprisings

James Green. “The Devil is Here in These Hills”: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom (Grove Atlantic, 2015).

The new narrative on the decades long  campaign to bring justice to the coal fields. The mine workers, their allies, their communities and their unions struggled to figure out how they could build a social movement to contest authoritarian structures backed up by violence and legal rulings that attempted to render them powerless. They found ways to make the precepts of the United Mine Workers union barring discrimination on race into a vital part of their interracial social movement. Their struggles, which are conveyed in dramatic fashion here, were met with severe repression by injunctions, mercenaries, troops, tanks, dum-dum (exploding) bullets, machine guns and other weapons that were only used on a wide basis in wars for empire before World War I. For Green these battles constitute a series of dramatic episodes in a larger war over the meaning of freedom. It is a story full of pathos and amazing characters that seem invented for a a novel or film; they become larger than life in Green’s deft hands. This is the basis for the new PBS documentary, The Mine Wars

William C. Blizzard, When Miners March.

Available from

“The definitive history of the coal miners of West Virginia. William C. Blizzard wrote the text in the early 1950s while his father, miner’s hero Fearless Bill Blizzard, was still alive and able to comment. Political realities kept the book in a box for more than half a century–unavailable to either scholars writing their own accounts of the mine wars or Union families seeking to pass on their own proud heritage.”

David Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922 (University of Illinois Press, 1981).

This work is framed from a social history perspective, one that seeks to emphasize the role of ordinary people as agents of history. Thus you won’t find much about Mother Jones’ role in this otherwise engaging first major attempt to excavate this history.  It has largely been superceded by James Green’s new work.

Matewan. A film directed by John Sayles. 1987.

You might be inclined to think that the film is over the top as far as its portrayal of life in the towns. But read Strikebreaking and Intimidation alongside this movie, and you will see that Mother Jones’ comments about Baldwin Felts and West Virginia medievalism were spot on for these mine towns. Sayles left out Mother Jones from the history, and yet she was a vital part of organizing West Virginia from the beginning of the 20th century. The comments from the key male organizer about the need for interracial organizing were the kind she was likely to make and it’s a great piece to excerpt as a teacher.

Robert Shogan. The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America’s Largest Labor Uprising.

The story behind Matewan. Discusses Mother Jones and her controversial decision to help stop the march on Blair Mountain in 1920. Discusses first peacetime use of the air force to put down the uprising.

Women, Gender, Mining and Mother Jones

Women and Coal Mining


Women in the Mines by Marat Moore

Marat Moore, Women in the Mines: Stories of Life and Work (Twayne Publishers, 1996).

Stories and profiles of women across the decades, mineworkers and mining women.

Ron E. Roberts and Carol Cook-Roberts. Mother Jones and Her Sisters: A Century of Women Activists in the American Coal Fields. (Kendall, 1998).

A nice collection of stories that connect workplace and community with narrative stories. Also includes women as miners.

Camille Guerin-Gonzales, “From Ludlow to Camp Solidarity: Women, Men, and Cultures of Solidarity in U.S. Coal Communities, 1912-1990,” in Mining Women: Gender in the Development of a Global Industry, 1670 to 2005 ed. Gier and Mercier.

Deutsch, Sara. No Separate Refuge: Culture, Class, and Gender on an Anglo-Hispanic Frontier in the American Southwest, 1880-1940 (Oxford, 1987)

Connects gender and community-based activism in the coal fields and has section on Ludlow as well.

Women and the Labor Movement

Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America.

Alice Kessler-Harris, In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America.

For Young Readers

These books are specifically directed to young readers, but there are books in the other sections of this bibliography that are good for high-school students, in particular her autobiography.

Ages 7-10

Howard Zinn and Rebecca Steffoff, A Young People’s History of the United States : Class Struggle to the War On Terror (Seven Stories Press, 2007)

Has a chapter that deals with Ludlow and also mentions Mother Jones, explains socialism in this era in an understandable way.

Ages 9-12

Penny Colman, Mother Jones and the March of the Mill Children (Millbrook Press, 1994).

Sets the Mother Jones march of 1903 from Pennsylvania to New York in illustrated context.


Trouble at the Mines by Doreen Rappaport

Donna Rappaport. Trouble at the Mines.

A fictionalized version of the Arnot, Pennsylvania struggle of 1899, where Mother Jones became famous for women’s “mop and broom brigade.”

Connie Colwell Miller, Mother Jones: Labor Leader (Capstone Press, 2006).

Betsy Harvey Kraft, Mother Jones: One Woman’s Fight for Labor (Diane Pub Co, 2006).

An updated version of her biography, with interjections of some primary source material.

Rachel A. Koestler-Grack, The Story of Mother Jones (Chelsea Clubhouse, 2004).

Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Growing Up in Coal Country.

128 pages. Pennsylvania. Stunning photographs of child miners and life in the mining camps.


Mother Jones: Labor Leader by Connie Colwell Miller

Russell Freedman, Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor.

Classic photographic material from the Progressive Era muckraker.

Rachel A. Koestler-Grack, The Story of Mother Jones (Chelsea Clubhouse, 2004).

Grades 7-10

Rosemary Laughlin, The Ludlow Massacre of 1913-14 (Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2006).

Kathlyn Gay, Mother Jones (Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2006).

Atkinson, Linda. Mother Jones, The Most Dangerous Woman in America. New York: Crown Publishers, 1978.

Rosemary Laughlin, The Ludlow Massacre of 1913-14 (Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2006).

Kathlyn Gay, Mother Jones (Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2006).

Russell Freedman, Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor.

Classic photographic material from the Progressive Era muckraker.

Young Adult

Judith Pinkerton Josephson, Mother Jones: Fierce Fighter for Workers’ Rights (Lerner Publications, 1996).

Listed as young adult, but probably appropriate for middle school as well.

Atkinson, Linda. Mother Jones, The Most Dangerous Woman in America. New York: Crown Publishers, 1978.

Joan C. Hawxhurst, Mother Jones: Labor Crusader (American Troublemakers series) (Steck-Vaughn, 1993).

Union Miner Cemetery/Virden battle

John  Keiser, Union Miners Cemetery: A Spirit Thread of Labor History

John Keiser was from Mt. Olive and this is the first formal publication about the historical significance of the cemetery

Rosemary Feurer, Remember Virden!: The Coal Mine Wars of 1898-1900

This is part of a high school history curriculum unit, and is an article published in 2005.

Union Miner Cemetery