Mother Jones Monument
Union Miners Cemetery, Mt. Olive
Mother Jones’ decision to be buried in Mt. Olive, Illinois' Union Miners Cemetery was due to the battles that were rooted not only in the 1890s but in the 1920s and 1930s. Jones valued the voice of the ordinary miner, and she felt that President John L. Lewis, the head of the United Mine Workers, was eliminating that rank-and-file voice. One month after she spoke at the commemoration event on October 12, 1923, she formally announced the site as her burial place. In 1930 she died and was initially buried there next to the Virden "martyrs" .
Soon, a fundraising effort was underway by the miners to build a fitting monument to Mother Jones. In the heart of the depression, when miners around the country were often penniless, they donated in mostly small amounts to build a tremendous 80-ton Minnesota pink granite, 22 feet high, flanked by two bronze statues of miners. They dug the site themselves. The site itself evokes what Mother Jones meant to a generation of trade unionists.
The Union Miners Cemetery is in Mt. Olive, a small mining-town that was once the center of a rebellious group of miners who helped to secure Illinois as the solid rock for the United Mine Workers Union. Today thousands of visitors come each year to pay their respects to the memory to Mother Jones and the spirit that guided her and the founders of the labor movement in the United States. They reflect about the connections between the past and the present.
The cemetery was established in 1899, when commemorations of the miners killed in the 1898 “Virden riot” became controversial in the Mt. Olive cemetery where they were originally buried.
The bodies of the Virden “martyrs” were re-interred in a cemetery established as the Union Miners Cemetery by the Mt. Olive United Mine Workers local. Commemorations of these events in the following years contributed to a generation of activism in the Illinois coal fields.
They did this by claiming the kind of memorial space that was denied in other places, such as Haymarket, where police often disrupted commemorations. This built a sense of connection between past and present in the area, and made it clear that ordinary workers had changed the course of history. The role of the ordinary worker came into focus. Mt. Olive was one of the few places in the country where labor history was taught before the 1970s.
This is a unique place in the history of the labor movement; it was the only union-owned cemetery in the country. This is a place with a monument to Mother Jones, but it also evokes the power and potential of the labor movement. It is a place of reflection and remembering, of thinking of the labor movement’s roots. It is a shrine not only to Jones but to the sacrifices that connected human rights and labor rights, a place where people wonder when and why labor lost power.
Learn about this site and the controversies that surrounded it. See dozens of photos, songs, poems, performance by actress Vivian Nesbitt. about the tremendous struggle and effort that brought Mother Jones to this site.
Copyright Rosemary Feurer & Mother Jones Heritage Project. Funded by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.