“America’s Most Dangerous Woman” is buried in Macoupin County, Illinois

MT. OLIVE, Ill.—The Miners’ Union Cemetery is not very big. Located in Mt. Olive, Illinois and surrounded by farmland about halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, you wouldn’t notice the cemetery from Interstate 55.

It’s a short drive from the freeway to the cemetery; a little over a mile. The roadway is flanked by overgrown weeds and wild grass. A small corn field borders the cemetery, the stalks of which are higher than the head. A rather unfavorable place for a person once decried as the “grandmother of all agitators” and “America’s most dangerous woman”. But the grave of Mary “Mother” Jones is literally a memorial to a labor rights advocate and woman dubbed the “Miner’s Angel.”

“Mother” Jones was born Mary Harris in Cork, Ireland. Although an exact date of birth cannot be verified, historians do know that she was baptized on August 1, 1837, meaning she was very likely born in the same year. In later years, Jones would claim to have been born on May 1, 1830, probably in solidarity with the founding of International Labor Day.

Her family immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada in the middle of the United States Great Famine. The Harrises later moved south to Michigan to find better opportunities.

As a young woman, Mary moved to Chicago and then to Memphis, where she met and married trade unionist George E. Jones in 1861. The couple had four children: Catherine, Terence, Elizabeth and Mary. In 1867, the yellow fever epidemic claimed the lives of George and her children. At 30, a bereft Mary Jones moved back to Chicago and became a seamstress. Jones lost her home and shop in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

In the years that followed, Jones witnessed the Great rail strike from 1877 and the Haymarket Affair in May 1886. These events radicalized her and further fueled her interest in organizing and rallying for workers and the working class.

Jones was involved with the United Mine Workers (UMW) and the Socialist Party of America. She made her way across the nation, standing up for workers demanding fair wages and treatment and calling for the abolition of child labor. She adopted the nickname “Mother” Jones by carrying on and dressing like she was older and by referring to the miners she championed as “her boys”.

Their decades-long campaign to support striking workers has taken them to Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Colorado and West Virginia. It was in West Virginia that she earned her infamous nickname.

At the turn of the 20th century, Jones spent time in West Virginia organizing miners. In June 1902 the United Mine Workers called a strike. Coal companies and local law enforcement began arresting the organizers, and judges issued injunctions against such pro-worker activities.

Jones wanted none of this and urged the authorities to arrest her. A federal marshal arrested her in Clarksburg on June 20 while she was giving a speech. After being released from prison, Jones took to the streets to describe the plight of West Virginia miners and the dishonest behavior of coal companies, urging politicians to ignore this injustice.

She returned to West Virginia the following month to face charges. contact the court, US District Attorney Reese Blizzard said about Jones“There sits the most dangerous woman in America. She comes to a state of peace and prosperity, crooks her finger (and) 20,000 contented men put down their tools and go out.”

Although all other defendants would be convicted and sentenced to 60 days in prison, the judge refused to sentence Jones lest he martyr her for the work.

Jones would find himself in court again a decade later in West Virginia. This time she was charged with conspiracy to commit murder during the Paint Creek mine war of 1912. During the conflict, she is said to have organized 3,000 armed miners to march to the state capital.

Eventually, martial law was declared in the region and Jones was arrested again. Jones appeared before a military court in February 1913. Always outraged, she openly refused to recognize the legality of the process. Jones was sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, she was released after 85 days during a US Senate investigation into the coal mines.

Jones died in Maryland on November 30, 1930 at the age of 93. Her funeral was held on December 2nd at St. Gabriel’s in Washington, DC. After the fair, a special railroad car took Jones’ body to St. Louis and then to Mt. Olive, where it would lie stateside until December 7th 1898 Battle of VirdenIllinois.

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By 1936, the Progressive Mine Workers of America, a splinter group of the UMW, went to court to have an appropriate marker placed on her grave. The group raised $16,000 to purchase 80 tons of Minnesota pink granite. Unionists donated their own time and energy to erect a 22-foot memorial flanked by bronze statues of miners.

More than 50,000 people came to Mt. Olive for the official dedication ceremony on October 11, 1936.

https://fox2now.com/news/illinois/most-dangerous-woman-in-america-is-buried-in-macoupin-county-illinois/ “America’s Most Dangerous Woman” is buried in Macoupin County, Illinois

Sarah Y. Kim

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