Recovering a Labor Icon

Since February 2013, I have had the privilege to work as a graduate student assistant at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives at CUA. I have been tasked with researching a creating small websites of primary documents we call the American Catholic History Classroom. While the first part of the year was spent working on a site with the information on hand, this latter half (since about late August) has spent on my own original search for documents related to “Mother” Jones.

Who is Mother Jones, I am sure is the next question out of you mouth.

Mary Harris Jones was an influential labor leader in the early part of the 20th century. Born in Ireland, her family immigrated to Canada in the 1850s. In her 20s, Mary Harris would move to the United States, teaching for a short period in Michigan before moved to Chicago and then Memphis. She met and married George Jones in Memphis and the couple had four children, though she would lose her entire family in a yellow fever outbreak in the alte 1860s. Moving back to Chicago, Jones would become enamored with the burgeoning labor movement, later becoming involved in the first major labor organization in the U.S., the Knights of Labor. Jones made it her life’s work to reach out to working families and encourage labor organization, mainly through her role as an organizer with the United Mine Workers of America. Dubbed “Mother” Jones due to her age at the time of her involvement (she was 63 when she became involved with the UMWA in 1900), Jones criss-crossed the country for more than 20 years to rally support workers. Jones would die in 1930 at the age of 93 (though she claimed to be 100). Her memory was lost for over 30 years before she began to receive recognition again in the 1960s. A progressive magazine would be established in the 1970s and named in her honor, and numerous books were written about her. In 1992, Jones was enshrined in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor.

Due to her Catholic roots and the fact that a small collection of her items is stored at the CUA Archive, our office felt it desirable to include her story in the classroom project. I created 18 sections that included speeches and correspondence from and to her, as well as newspaper articles and other primary sources, in addition to photographs. Each section includes text giving background to the sources listed. There is also a timeline of events in Jones’ life, a list of other sources about her, and a section on why this topic is important to history.

The site is currently being reviewed by the Archive’s Education Archivist, Dr. Maria Mazzenga. Once she gives the final word, it will be made available publicly through the main Archive’s website. I will post when that occurs, and I encourage those interest to check out this site and the other sites we have in the American Catholic History Classroom ( !


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