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    • Marty Walsh, the Department of Labor Nominee, and Mother Jones

      Marty Walsh, the Mayor of Boston, has been nominated by President-elect Biden for Secretary of Labor. Marty Walsh is a fan of Mother Jones. He is one of a small number since William B. Wilson, the mineworker who was appointed to that office by Woodrow Wilson, who was from the working class. His letter in support of our sister-project in Cork, Ireland, (below) is a testament to that. In late 2013, Ger O'Mahony of the Cork Spirit of Mother Festival asked me for ideas for speakers to bring to the festival. They didn't have much available funding, so I knew I had to find someone with a strong commitment to public history. That was James Green. James Green's work on mine workers and Mother Jones went back to his first major book, Grass-Roots Socialism: Radical Movements in the Southwest, 1895--1943. It extended to his work his then not yet published The Devil is Here in these Hills: West Virginia Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, which was later turned into the two-hour documentary The Mine Wars. Jim jumped at the opportunity, and even offered to do it at no cost to the festival, if necessary. He reminded me that since his days in Warwick, England studying with the late great E. P. Thompson, (Making of the English Working Class) he had a deep commitment to the History Workshop style connections between past and present. That was exactly what Cork was trying to do. Jim came to the festival in the summer of 2014, and gave one of the keynote talks. It was fabulous, but before he began, he presented this letter on behalf of Marty Walsh: Above: James Green at Shandon during the 2014 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in Cork. Photo from Green had a long relationship with Walsh, because of his labor history trade union education programs at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. At the time Green urged me to write something about the 2014 festival, saying it was a great representation of the kind of commitments he and I shared to public history of labor. I never did, because at the time I was so busy trying to get the Mother Jones Museum going. Jim told me that what Cork was doing was a model for all of us, and better than anything the History Workshop radicals had done in the 1960s and 1970s. Then Jim Green died in 2015; it was a tragic loss to our labor history community. I thought of Jim Green today, and know how excited he would have been at Walsh's nomination. He would be wondering if the spirit of Mother Jones and labor history in general might have a small role in a future Department of Labor agenda. This led me to remember that in 1935, Frances Perkins brought in a bust of Mother Jones to the newly erected Department of Labor building. Amidst discussions of the possibility of new labor law (the Wagner Act) the sculpture, which had been finished in 1923 to great fanfare (I'll do a future story on it) by the famous sculptor, Jo Davidson, was brought to the august entry-ways of the halls of power by Perkins. Frances Perkins had been signally affected by the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, and was among the most progressive appointments ever made by Roosevelt, who we must remember, was not very progressive on issues of labor. FDR had threatened to veto the Wagner Act before it was clear that mass unrest and the most progressive Congress in the history of the US would be able to override the veto. Above: Department of Labor staffer Agnes Johnson proudly poses with a bust of Mother Jones. Photograph from our collections. During the administration of Ronald Reagan, the bust went missing. Maybe it was a sign of the times. I tried to track down the bust, and discovered a little of what had happened to it, especially with our board member Saul Schniderman's help. It remains in storage. With the Wagner Act and workers power through the law at an all-time low, we have, through our collective project with Cork, struggled to remember the past and its resonance with the present. We hope Marty Walsh will remember that, too.

    • 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.)

    • #StrikeforOurLivesUIC: Mother Jones on the Line with SEIU 73 & Illinois Nurses Association

      "Pray for the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living" was never more appropriate than for these care workers. They are fighting for the health of their patients and their fellow health-care workers at University of Illinois-Chicago hospital. Mother Jones spurs them on! They are also on strike at other hospitals in Illinois along with members of the Illinois Nurses Association, who called us up to work out bringing Mother Jones. Join them if you can. UIC is bringing strikebreakers from Texas, Tennessee, Nevada and Mississippi, all of which are on the City of Chicago's COVID ban, meaning they risk patients' lives. Diane Palmer, President of Local 73, said, "we are not only fighting for their livelihoods, but for their lives, the safety of their families and the communities being served." #SafetyInNumbers #FightForOurLives Doris Carroll, President of INA, with nurses pictured above, channelled Mother Jones when she proclaimed, "We're not heroes, WE'RE Warriors!"

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    • History Museum | Mother Jones Museum

      Learn More Who was Mother Jones? When Mother Jones was mocked as the “grandmother of all agitators,” in the U.S. Senate, she replied that she would someday like to be called “the great-grandmother of all agitators.” Born Mary Harris in Cork Ireland in 1837, she was an immigrant refugee who lost her entire family in a pandemic, then lost everything in the Chicago Fire of 1871. ​ ​ She became a rebel for justice, and became known simply as "Mother Jones," the mother of the working class. An icon of labor history, she organized against child labor, for workers rights, and helped to shape a spirit of civil disobedience in the cause of justice. Mother Jones believed that a workers movement would replace “this moneyed civilization with a higher and grander civilization for the ages to come.” To learn more, including a short documentary about her, see : Who was Mother Jones? Chicago Mother Jones Statue Campaign Statue Campaign Recent Blogs Mother Jones Died 90 years ago 213 Write a comment #StrikeforOurLivesUIC: Mother Jones on the Line with SEIU 73 & Illinois Nurses Association 262 Write a comment Lindsay Hand's Art Brings Fannie Sellins Spirit to Life 110 Write a comment Our Chicago Sun-Times OP-ED for Mother Jones Statue 7 Write a comment Our Chicago Tribune Op-Ed on Statue Campaign 67 Write a comment May Day We Shall Rise Celebration 2020 23 Write a comment

    • About Us | MotherJonesMuseum

      About Us Who We Are Get to Know Us Who We Are Our Board, Statue Committee, Contributors Load More Mother Jones Museum is the website of the Mother Jones Heritage Project, a 501-c-3 non-profit. We are guided by the philosophy & model of Mother Jones, whose base was in Chicago, but who went across the US to organize and fight for justice. So while we have traditional museum exhibits, we take Mother Jones on the road, create ways for people to experience her continuing relevance and the weight of the past on the present. We are currently sponsoring a campaign to put her on a statue in Chicago. There is no statue of Mother Jones in the United States, the founding mother of the U.S. labor movement. ​ Our project originated in 2014, inspired by the Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. This website originated in 2008, as a project to revive Mother Jones and the early history of the activist labor and immigrant movement. We are proud to work with partners across the U.S. and the globe.

    • A Memory Passed Down | MotherJonesMuseum

      A Memory Passed Down Sites & Stories / / Stories A Memory Passed Down By John Weber ​October 12, 2020 John Weber is a geologist who wrote to us when he saw that we were working on a Mother Jones statue campaign in Chicago. He tells how family memories led him to take his students to the Union Miners Cemetery. This cemetery has many stories to tell. We are happy to present this story on October 12, the date that Illinois miners took as a holiday in honor of the men who gave their lives for the union in 1898. My Mom grew up in Chicago and is of Slovene and Lithuanian heritage. My Dad, of Swiss, Czech, and German heritage, also grew up downstate in Illinois. Through my great aunt, I learned of how powerful the memories of immigrant struggles and of memories of Mother Jones can be. My Mom and Dad met through our extended family who, on both sides, live in neighboring small coal mining towns (Staunton and Livingston) in downstate Illinois near Mt. Olive, where Mother Jones is buried. My Great Aunt Helen Straub (nee Widmar) was born in 1921, the youngest of 8 siblings. She passed in 2017 at age 96. Aunt Helen told our family about the life of my Great-Grandfather John Andrew Widmar (1879-1959), an immigrant coal miner from the Zasavje region of Slovenia. Above: A small city on a Sava River tributary near where John Widmar's family had combined farming and mining to make a living. Below: a geological map of Slovenia where coal is mined from the Tertiary aged (Terciar) rocks shown in yellow. The Zasavje region centers on the big yellow stripe in the middle of the map. Above: John & Josepha Widmar ca 1907, in Yukon, Pa. With millions of other immigrants, they sought a better life and honored the memory of Mother Jones. Zasavje is a steep, hilly, rich and fertile region of subsistence farming. Coal (brown coal) was historically mined nearby in the Sava River valley at Trbovlje and Hrastnik. The men of John Widmar’s time combined farming and coal mining to survive. Many of our living Slovene relatives still do subsistence farming, traveling down from the Zasavje villages and hills to bigger towns in the region and to the capital city of Ljubljana to work non-farming jobs, attend schools and university, etc. ​ It’s likely that John Andrew Widmar, like many other men of his time and place in Austro-Hungarian central Europe, was recruited to come to the Western Pennsylvania coal area by an immigrant recruiter from an American coal company around 1900. ​ John Andrew Widmar came to Ellis Island, and then to Yukon, PA, USA circa 1905 to work in the western Pennsylvania bituminous coal fields. His wife, Josephine Marie Widmar (nee Povše), followed shortly afterward. ​ Ed: Mother Jones was renowned among immigrant miners in this region, the Irwin Field. They were reported to have pictures of her on their walls. Slovenians were demeaned by many. But Jones thought they would make good unionists, and encouraged the women of the coalfields to take part in their struggles. It’s possible John and Josepha knew of Mother Jones from their time in Pennsylvania. ​ John quickly saved his money in PA & bought a farm in Ladysmith, WI sight-unseen and moved the family there. It was too cold and rocky and difficult to get ahead. They sold that farm and moved to mine coal in Livingston, Illinois, which my grandmother & all her siblings called home. Great Aunt Helen's oldest brother, Jack (the second John Andrew) Widmar, who was born 1907 in Yukon, PA, worked with his Dad in the Livingston and Staunton, IL mines, probably starting at around age 10, before he moved to Chicago. A powerful memory for my Great Aunt Helen was when her father took her to Mother Jones’ funeral in 1930 at the Union Miners Cemetery, Mt. Olive, Illinois. Aunt Helen would have been 9 years old then. This event stuck with her well into her 90s, seeing the many people who made it one of the largest funerals in Illinois history. It must have been quite memorable! Many other immigrant miners and their families also attended the Mother Jones’ funeral to show their love and respect for her and her work. Above: A family photo taken in Springfield, Illinois, in the 1930s. On the left, Helen Widmar is just a young girl. But the memories of attending Mother Jones' funeral would last a lifetime. Above: Two photos show the enormous moment of Mother Jones' funeral in 1930. The top photo is from the American Miner, a dissenting publication of the coal miners lives. The bottom photo shows the thousands of people who lined the main street in Mt. Olive to pay their respects. Helen must certainly have learned first-hand about the working conditions in both the Pennsylvania and Illinois coal mines that Mother Jones fought to change. I believe this is why her attending the 1930 funeral was such a memorable event that she felt compelled to share. Thanks to opportunities that my Slovene coal-mining ancestors helped to create, I am a Geology Professor at a state university in the Midwest. I take many of my classes on annual spring field trips to study the geology of Illinois and Missouri. One of the most impactful stops that we make on these geo-pilgrimages is the Mother Jones monument and Union Miner’s Cemetery in Mt. Olive. Students are blown away that this seemingly mundane place has such a deep history, and that geology drives history and affects human lives and families in such a fundamental way. The Mt. Olive Union Miners Cemetery tombstones tell the history of families like mine, who came from all over Europe: Austro-Hungary (including later Yugoslavia, now Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, etc.), Italy, Germany, etc. to work in these mines. This region must have been a sort of “silicon valley” of its time, and an integral part of America moving itself forward through energy and technology. Above: A immigrant gravestone using the Russian Orthodox cross. Above: A Croatian immigrant gravestone in Union Miners Cemetery, Mt. Olive. Today a Mother Jones monument and gravesite exists together with Union Miners' tombstones at this historically fascinating site. Mother Jones fought hard for miners, children, and families like ours. Her monument honors their memories, hopes, and dreams, as well as her own life and work. (Ed: see more about the cemetery and take a virtual or actual tour here.)

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All text copyright 2007-2020,  Mother Jones Heritage Project , a 501-c-3 non-profit, unless otherwise stated. Our materials come from a variety of sources. Users must contact us, or the rights holders, to use  images or similar media. Contact us with any questions about our projects, questions about Mother Jones, or suggestions. We will get back to you by phone within minutes in most cases. If it is urgent, call 815-754-4750.