During her lifetime, Mother Jones inspired a great number of poems, ballads and folksongs. The most well-known is the folk-song, “She’ll be comin’ Round the Mountain.” It was Carl Sandburg in American Songbag who suggested that this song was about Mother Jones. Some have doubted its connection to Mother Jones, but we think there is enough evidence, (as yet unpublished) to declare it here as authentically hers.
Here we feature a selection of songs about her.
“The Most Dangerous Woman” by Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco
“The Spirit of Mother Jones ” by Andy Irvine
This was first written as a poem to Mother Jones during the 1913-1914 Colorado strike. Mother Jones was being held incommunicado, without habeas corpus rights, in order to silence her and to break the strike. Henry M. Tichenor of the National Ripsaw wrote this poem dramatizing the circumstances of her imprisonment. It was turned into a song by Mark Ross in 1984. Utah Phillips and Rosalie Sorrells performed it for The Long Memory.
“Mother Jones’ Will”
Nimrod Workman’s original composition, originally released on Rounder Records. In 1920-1921 he worked alongside Mother Jones in West Virginia, and this song derives from that experience.
Lyrics & More on Nimrod Workman
Lyrics to Mother Jones' Will
Well, I’m going to that Hart’s Creek Mountain
Going back to old Blair Mountain Hill.
I’m a-gonna fight for the Union
‘Cause I know it’s Mother Jones’ will
And I know it’s Mother Jones’ will.
Well, our children were laying in the tents
They were laying upon the quilts
While the thugs were a-rambling through their tents
Pouring kerosene in their milk
Pouring kerosene in their milk.
Repeat verse one
More About Nimrod Workman
From Workman’s oral history: That was back in the time of old Woodrow Wilson’s War. [World War 1] I had been exempted because I was taking care of my dad and family, but I was ready to go up in the next call. Well, I was working in the cornfield one day with my daddy when I heard all the whistles a-blowing up at the mines, and on all these freight trains running up and down the river. And the people out on their farms over on the Kentucky side started ringing on their plows. “There’s peace,” they said. “We’ve run old King Kaiser in the vault.” And that was the last I ever heard about him.
It was just about that time that Mother Jones came around. Me and my Uncle George were working at Ajax, up on this side of Lenore, when a feller by the name of York came in the mines and called us out. “We’re on strike and taking applications for union members. If you want to take the risk of being a scab … why, that’s up to you.” So my uncle and I stacked our tools and came out. I got a five dollar check a month from Mother Jones, and a single man, who wasn’t looking after nobody, got three dollars.
Yeah, I was right up into the Mother Jones’ time. I used to roll out these big old buggies for her to get up on, to make her speeches. She’d talk to us men just like a sergeant in the army. She’d tell us all to be careful and that if anytime a yellow dog was shooting into a bunch of us, we should try to get his eyeball. “Try your best to get his eyeball,” she’d say. Buddy, she was a tough woman. Before she’d went to leading, she went into the mines and drove mules. Her husband was a union man from somewheres, and when he died she hauled coal, so that she could be called a union member. She told a bunch of gun thugs once, “I’ve sat on a bumper inhaling mule farts and it smelled better than you son of a bitches, a-carrying guns and shooting people.” Brother, she didn’t care what she’d say. Her hair hung way down, just as grey as it could be, with those big high cheekbones – there wasn’t a man any tougher than she. She didn’t worry about the thugs and the guns. She used to tell them, “You won’t shoot me. I won’t turn my back to you and let you shoot me in no back of the head.”
There were a lot of people killed back then. They’d bar a union man from going to the store, and a lot of times we wouldn’t have anything to eat. The thugs killed one union man, tied his neck to the back of a truck and drug him up and down Tug River. One time when the men were out fighting in the hills, the thugs came into the miners’s tents and slapped all the women around and poured kerosene in the milk for the babies. Those poor little babies, just crying out for hunger. That’s why I put that in my song aboutMother Jones.
I was over in the Blair Mountain Strike when they killed the High Sheriff, John Gore. I sat up in a tower on the top of the gap, looking and a-watching and that day I left my initials in it, cut out with an old barrow knife. Another time they were having it out at Matewan and my cousin and I were on the top of a point in Hatfield Hollow on the Kentucky side. I told him, “Daniel, sit down, because the scabs are down in there and they’re liable to spy out and get you.” But he climbed up on top of that rock anyway, and pretty soon I heard a high powered rifle crack and he pitched off that rock cliff and rolled down the hill. Someone wrote up a report telling that he was out hunting and fell off the cliff by accident.
They killed the sheriff, Sid Hatfield, for siding with the union. The company brought charges against him and told him to come unarmed to Welch, West Virginia; they didn’t want to try him in his hometown of Williamson. Well, they had it all cut and dried: those thugs were planted around that courthouse when Sid came up there unarmed. Sid’s wife fell on one of the thugs and jabbed big holes in his arm with the staves of her parasol, just trying to keep him from shooting at Sid. But they got him anyway. Boy, that teared it; we started sending them scabs down the road, Buddy, just as fast as they’d gather. We were cleaning them out. At Merrimac, there wasn’t a sound glass in the son of a bitch; the window glasses were all knocked out.
But the coal companies got ahold of the federal government someway and Uncle Sam sent the soldiers down here. They marched up the river and ordered a ceasefire. The miners didn’t know that they’d take sides like they did. Finally, Mother Jones said, “We’ve got to surrender.” The companies were paying all these scabs about thirty dollars a day, when the miners used to get a buck and a half. So Mother Jones told the bosses, “We’ll be back – the union’ll come back. And when she comes back, you’ll send for it.”
“The Death of Mother Jones” sung by Gene Autry, 1931
Since the inauguration of the Cork Mother Jones Festival in 2012 we have seen a few new songs about Mother Jones:
“The Children of Mother Jones” by Cork Musician Pete Duffy
“Richard T Cooke of the Festival committee has also written a new tribute song which was also performed for the first time at the Firkin Crane concert in 2013. Teresa McCarthaigh in 2012 also penned the Ballad of Mother Jones which she delivered with extraordinary effect at the concert. Dozens of other musicians have performed songs of Mother Jones in Canada, Mexico and America. Songwriter Danny Slevin has also added to the growing list of songs inspired by Mother Jones with his ballad “Mary’ Mother Jones”.
“The Ballad of Mother Jones” by Teresa Ni Cha’rthaigh
Written for the magical inaugural Cork Mother Jones Festival 2012
Lyrics to The Ballad of Mother Jones
In the northside of Cork city, in Blarney Lane was Mary bred,
Of humble folk, who e’er perchance could have foretold or said,
That a workers revolution in America would be
Led by Mary Ellen Harris from the north side of the Lee.
‘Twas in the North Cathedral Mary Harris was baptized,
Two brothers and two sisters, the dread famine they survived.
Survived the coffin ships to Canada as they fled from Ireland’s strife.
Toronto was their destination, where they hoped for a new life.
Mary first trained as a teacher, but a seamstress too was she,
Wed George Jones in 1860, down in Memphis Tennessee,
Catherine, Lizbeth, Terence, Mary, were the children that she bore,
Just two years old the youngest, when from Mary they were torn.
Yellow fever struck in Memphis, her husband died, her children too,
So she set up as a seamstress, there was nothing else to do.
But in the great fire of Chicago Mary’s little shop burned down,
Once again cruel fate had lent a hand, and her destiny laid down.
She set out to change the miners’ lives, so piteous and forlorn,
And thus it was the legend true of Mother Jones was born.
Wherever strife and conflict was, there Mother Jones would be;
First to face the foe, the last to leave the battle field was she.
She said that she was a hell-raiser, no humanitarian she;
But that was not true, for the miners knew, she shared their misery.
Lived among them, ministered to them, gave them all she had to give,
But the greatest gift she gave them was to fight that they might live.
The history she made is not a history approved;
I will tell you of a President whose heart would not be moved
By the children of the mines and mills, she led to Roosevelt’s home.
Those little slaves he would not see in his fine grand summer home.
Why should he hear their grievances and Mother Jones’ tirade,
When it was well known his family’s wealth from mines and mills was made.
And the State’s Militia was the private army of this breed,
Whose brutal ways were meant to bring the starving workers to their knees.
The coal-field war in Colorado, where the workers were all thrown
From their mine-owned houses, had to live in a tent city forlorn;
ON the 20th of April in the year nineteen and four,
The Miliitia did attack those tents, and the workers down were mown.
Two women and nine children perished in a trench that day,
In a fire the Miliita made, to make the workers pay.
But this, the Ludlow massacre, set the nation in a rage,
And a truce was made, and the workers rights began on history’s page.
And “Rise up and strike ‘til the last of you
Shall drop into your graves.”
These were the words that Mother Jones repeatedly had said.
“We are going to stand together, ‘no surrender’ you must sing,
For if you don’t have a union, boys,
You ain’t got a damn thing.”
Glory, glory,, Mother Jones,
Freedom lies there with her bones;
She fought to give the workers hope and the Unions liberty
Mother Jones, born Mary Harris,
From the northside of the Lee
Teresa Ni Cha’rthaigh (May be sung to the air of “She Lived beside the Anner”; the last verse is sung to the air of “The Ballad
Hymn of the Republic”