Dig Where You Stand: Saul Schniderman & D.C. May Day Event
On May 1, 2015, a wreath laying ceremony will take place at the Mother Jones Historic Marker in Adelphi Maryland, near Washington, D.C., near the place where Mother Jones died. This ceremony is hosted near the historic marker to Mother Jones by a group of trade unionists as part of the D.C. Labor Fest. If you are in the area, we hope you will join. We know that the people who honor labor’s heritage have a deep spirit of struggle.
The marker was the result of efforts initiated by of Saul Schniderman, President of the Library of Congress Professional Guild, AFSCME Local 2910 (Council 26), who is on the board of the Mother Jones Heritage Project and lives in the D.C. area. He’s also on the board of the Labor Heritage Foundation. Saul made it his personal quest to find the location of the home where Jones was cared for at the end of her life, and in doing so discovered a story of the devotion of a farm woman to the “grand old champion of labor” that was also worth preserving.
Mother Jones said that her home was “wherever there was a fight for justice.” But she had friends from struggles across the country, homes where she was welcome at any time. As she grew older, and suffered severe rheumatism, she had to give up participating in crusades for labor rights. She settled in at the home of Terrence and Emma Powderly in D.C. for a while. Through them, Jones met Lillie May and Walter Burgess, who owned a truck farm in a fairly isolated area of Maryland.
As Jones declined further, Lillie May lovingly took care of her full time, at great cost to her own health.
An amazing list of people came to visit the farm, from labor leaders to newspaper reporters. On May 1, 1930, Burgess hosted Jones birthday party, with 1000 people attending. It was front page news in papers across the country. On November 1, 1930, Jones died at the farm house.
Six years later, 50,000 coal miners and others gathered to dedicate the Mother Jones monument in Mt. Olive, in memory of Mother Jones who was buried here in December 1930. Among the speakers at that event was Lillie May Burgess, who had never traveled far from her home before. Burgess spoke of how she had grown to care deeply for the fine woman who had “faced machine guns” in the cause of labor rights.
This week people will come together to remember Jones at the marker near the Burgess farmhouse. The story of how Saul found the Burgess farm and more about the last days of Mother Jones life is in the bibliography section. We also now have a Maryland & D.C. section of our sites and stories. Do you have something to share? Join us in telling these stories.
Saul likes to remind us of the adage from folklore, “dig where you stand.” Not only did he excavate this story, but he has continued to inspire others to keep digging. He publishes a weekly e-mail newsletter, Friday’s Folklore. You can subscribe by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org | with the word subscribe in the subject line.
One of the things our museum and heritage project will accomplish is to connect people across the globe in uncovering more of these stories and reminding us of the heritage of the working class and our connections across time and place. Saul’s way of digging is an inspiration to us all.
Lillie May Burgess, who cared for Mother Jones as she lay dying, speaks at the Mt. Olive Mother Jones Monument, 1936. Ozanic photo.
Update: you can see more about Saul's story of finding the resting place on our Stories Page of this website, including the full page article about Saul's digging.