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    • #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!"

    • Lindsay Hand's Art Brings Fannie Sellins Spirit to Life

      We are thrilled to reveal the new painting of Fannie Mooney Sellins, created by Lindsay Hand. We commissioned this with funding from the Government of Ireland. Fannie was gunned down and bludgeoned in 1919 by the Coal and Iron Police in a coal mining area near Pittsburgh, Alle-kiska, known as the Black Valley for its association with coal. The coal company officials in the area hated Fannie Sellins, and the miners felt she was taken out because of her effectiveness in organizing. She was known for her commitment to crossing the boundaries of race and ethnic division. “Kill the B____!” the gunmen reportedly shouted as Fannie came to the aid of Joseph Strzelecki, an old miner, who the gunmen were beating with their pistols. Her body was dragged by her heels to a touring car used by the mine guard deputies which toured the region in a menacing fashion, then according to a witness, dumped on the floor of the morgue alongside Strzelecki's. The dominant image of Fannie that crossed the years was that of her grisly death, such as the one here published in a pro-union Butte Montana newspaper. After they bludgeoned her, according to one report, the deputies took her hat and danced with it, mocking, “I’m Mrs. Sellins now!” This image was later also used in the 1936-1937 organizing by the Steel Workers union to show what the steel trust (who controlled the coal) would do to prevent unionism and to inspire solidarity. In 1920 the United Mine Workers erected a monument to her at her gravesite. John Walker, the head of the Illinois United Mine Workers, was the main speaker, giving a hint of her connection to Illinois miners. None of the men who killed her were brought to justice. In a time when the red scare was igniting, she was called the base of foreign influence, accused of instigating a riot, who deserved her fate. There are just a few other images of Sellins that indicate her living spirit, and that’s why we commissioned Lindsay Hand to bring her full spirit to life. She’s done it! Lindsay commented, “ I had not painted a more classic styled portrait in several years and the decision to return to this approach came while researching and ruminating on how to approach this piece. I’ve often seen the portrait of Elsie Palmer by John Singer Sargent in the Colorado Arts Center and stood in awe of it. I considered the time it was painted and the contrast of the “elite” at the turn of the century who were hiring Sargent to do their portraits and the factory and mine workers toiling away from dawn to dusk just to put food on the table and wake up the next day to do it again. I decided to take the portrait photos of Sellins, overlap the two of contrasting ages and take a more traditional approach. I imagined holding her in as high of esteem as any rich daughter or wife at the time who never had to work a day in their life. I believed she deserved as much consideration of beauty and representation as those women.” At the end of this blog you can see my conversation with Lindsay in separate segments, and some images that connect her to this vibrant history, which should not be forgotten. We also remind folks of the two previous major works that Lindsay has done for us. Fannie was often compared to Mother Jones in her lifetime, and was inspired by Jones. Like Mother Jones, she organized the miners’ wives and children, braved the company thugs, and organized across the color line that so divided the working class in this era. Fannie had started with the United Mine Workers in West Virginia and was arrested for defying an injunction against going near the mining camps in order to support strikers in Colliers West Virginia coal strike. The judge admonished her “not to emulate Mother Jones.” After her death, Mother Jones commented that every time she remembered Fannie, she thought about how that bludgeoned body might have been hers, too. But Lindsay’s art recalls Fannie’s spirit where she began her journey as a union organizer, in St. Louis. She has been mostly forgotten there, and our project will bring her back to attention and put her at the center of a story that recreates the fight for a living wage for the women of the garment industry there. A thoroughly Irish woman from the Kerry Patch area of St. Louis, she was a widow at a young age with four children, working at Marx and Haas, where the men were organized in the United Garment Workers local. That was a union mostly attentive to the skilled male workers, but beginning in 1906, women sought to make it over into a union for them as well. They were taking on not just a garment sweatshops, but the center of power base of anti-unionism in St. Louis. Marx and Haas was at the leader of the Citizens Industrial Association, the anti-union employers association that used the law of injunction and the police as their tools. Marx and Haas decided to become the base of confronting the union movement. Workers in the garment industry were burdened with tuberculosis and many had to go to work even when they were deathly ill. Fannie took the leadership role of the women after another Irish-American woman, Hannah Hennessey, died from tuberculosis. Workers took direct action in 1909 against the company’s refusal to allow a man with tuberculosis the use of an elevator, and forced him to walk six flights of stairs. They demanded use of the elevators for all workers. Marx and Haas locked the union out and declared it would remain and open shop (refuse to recognize the union as the bargaining agent). Fannie sought to unite men and women, and the many ethnic groups--11 nationalities--and their meetings were conducted in five languages. Fannie was served with an injunction that banned her and the unionists from coming near Marx & Haas for 99 years; the police were used as a strikebreaking agency. Fannie appealed to Illinois unionists first, going with Socialist Party members to Livingston, Illinois where she succeeded in getting the United Mine Workers local there to assess every member in order to sustain the Marx & Haas strike. This started her off on a tour through Illinois, then Iowa, and eventually across the country to ask for boycott support and assistance. She and fellow garment worker Kate Hurley were dubbed “fiery” speakers who convinced many trade unionists to stop buying the work cloths Marx and Haas produced. They won a contract after a 25 month lockout. It was a roaring success to bring down the leader of the CIA. Fannie joined the Socialist Party, and that association affected her views of the connection between unionism and the possibilities that workers could transform all of society. This was also the path that Mother Jones has taken, where her trade union organizing was connected to radical visions. It was this experience in St. Louis that brought her into the United Mine Workers orbit, and sometime in 1913 when she was traveling in the Pittsburgh area to promote support for another strike against the garment industry in St. Louis, she visited a mining family on strike in nearby Colliers, West Virginia, and was so compelled by the awful conditions, that she started organizing. We are working to produce an exhibit at the St. Louis Public Library, a historical marker at 13th & Washington in St. Louis, (which is a National Historic Landmark) and a mural. (More on the mural in a future post). COVID-19 has delayed the rollout for this, but we wanted to debut Lindsay’s art as a way of introducing the project. And we need to ask you to consider a contribution. While the Government of Ireland funded Lindsay’s art, we need to raise over $3000 to cover other costs not funded. Donate Page The images above include some newspaper articles and an image of Fannie Sellins in prison in West Virginia. She was in prison there while Mother Jones was imprisoned in Colorado , in 1914. Others show how industrialists charged that investigation of Sellins' murder was part of a red menace influenced by foreign ideas. They suggested that the murder was justified because she was rioting.. Research assistance for the project was provided by Northern Illinois University student Emma Barton-Norris, who was funded through an NIU Engaged Learning opportunity. Here are segments of a conversation with Lindsay Hall, talking about the art. We are proud to work with her as a collaborator for our project. And below, I give a little bit of Sellins background. Please note that I meant Alle-kiska, not Alliquippa as the area where she was killed. This is the third major piece that Lindsay has commissioned for us. This magnificent piece is in the Irish American Heritage Center's permanent exhibit The first piece she created, below, was commissioned for the Mother Jones Museum in Mt. Olive, but was relocated to St. Louis after our exhibits were removed from Mt. Olive's museum. We will be placing this in the St. Louis Library Exhibit soon.

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    • 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.)

    • 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

    • Stories | MotherJonesMuseum

      Stories Stories from the Past Culture of Mother Jones Spirit of Mother Jones Stories from the Past Culture of Mother Jones Spirit of Mother Jones

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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.