• Rosemary Feurer

Mother Jones Died 90 years ago

Ninety years ago, Mother Jones died at the little farmhouse in Maryland where she had been cared for by Lillian Burgess. Newspapers across the U.S. and the globe carried articles about her. The one below is from Milwaukee Leader. Almost all of them credited her Irish background as part of explanation for the flame of her life and spirit.


In Chicago, the President of the Chicago Federation of Labor, John Fitzpatrick, was executor of her will, and set about making plans for what would become one of the largest funerals in Illinois history up to that time. Ed Nockels, the secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, was designated as Chicago's leader to oversee the arrangements for the funeral in Washington, D..C., where leaders of the labor movement and even President Hoover's Secretary of Labor and other government officials paid homage at St. Gabriel's Church. John Walker, her old friend who had organized with her in West Virginia in 1901, now leader of the Illinois mine workers, was in charge of arranging the second funeral for her in Mt. Olive, the small mining town. Jones had stayed with Walker in Springfield many many times whenever she travelled through Illinois in the period from 1905-1925. Nockels, Fitzpatrick, and Walker were the lead for the entourage that brought Jones' casket from Washington, D.C. to Illinois. They arranged for 4 rank-and-file miners from Illinois to accompany the body: Mark Mason of Tovey (near Springfield), William M. Burton of Herrin (southern Illinois), Charles Leveque of Springfield, and Hans Hanson of Mt. Olive.


On the trip from Washington DC to Illinois, the train stopped at locations where people rushed forward to pay their respects. When the Baltimore & Ohio train pulled into St. Louis' Union station late in the day of December 4, hundreds of people greeted and piled onto the train to touch the casket, remarking how much she had affected their lives. For four more days afterward, thousands of people came to Mt. Olive to pay their respects.


It had been Adolph Germer, a Socialist Party official and UMWA militant at the time who persuaded Jones, over a glass of beer in Belleville, Illinois to be buried in Mt. Olive with the rank-and-file miners. Jones had gotten to know Germer in the Colorado Coalfield War, which he helped to lead as a militant leader of the Illinois UMWA. Germer had played a major role in organizing the regular commemorations at Union Miners Cemetery, but he lived in Belleville after 1906. East St. Louis and Belleville was on a main railroad line from St. Louis, and she regularly stayed with him, and stopped in on the East St. Louis offices of the UMWA on her travels across the nation.


Together with Germer and other labor officials, Jones went to the cemetery and selected her resting place across from the rank-and-file miners who had died at the hands of hired mercenaries in the Illinois mine wars. As Mt. Olive became a center of opposition to John L. Lewis' authoritarian leadership, which she feared would destroy the chance of the union being a force for social transformation, she came to Mt. Olive in 1923 to speak at the October 12 commemorations of the rank-and-file miners who died in the Virden Massacre, (the only time I have found that she actually stopped there, though the miners were thrilled with her visit). Later in Chicago, she wrote her formal request and had it legally added to her arrangements with John Fitzpatrick. (See letter below, which describes Virden as hilly, another clear indication that she had never been to that flat prairie town.)




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