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R EGULARS

VISIONARIES • ANITA RODDICK

I AM OFTEN ASKED, “ W h o inspires y o u ? ” I t ’s this w om an . The sto ry o f M a r y H a r r i s ’ s l i f e l e a v e s m e stunn ed and in sp ire d . Oh, to be h a l f o f this w om an ! H ow can yo u lose all yo u r ch ild ren and yo u r husband in one w e ek and still fin d the fire w ith in y o u to dedicate yo u r life to action?

She worked w ith m in ers and took an early interest in the labour m ovement in America. Her radical politics led her to activism and she was, by all accounts, a superb orator. This minute w om an w ou ld stride about the stage in a tow erin g rage, or bring the audience to la u gh te r o r tears. H a r r is w a s the greatest w om an agitator o f her time.

W h en it com e s to passion, ded ica tion , and fo cus to a s in g le cause, few w om e n in h is to r y can r iv a l H arris. She w a s not s im p ly a leader o f a revolu t ion a ry lab our m ovem ent in Am e r ica, bu t a s e l f -m a d e s ym b o l o f that m ovem ent. She in tentionally cast h e r s e l f as a m atronly o ld w om an w ith a trad em ark b la ck hat and l ie d about h e r a g e . ( S h e r o u t i n e l y a d d e d a decade o r tw o to enhance her m o th e r ly im age.) Initially, she w a s d is re g a r d e d b y th e e s t a b l i s h m e n t as harm le ss, but she w as trusted by coalm in e rs and textile-factory lab ourers as a m o th e r figu re.

P o s i t io n e d in th is w a y , M o t h e r Jo n e s , as she becam e better kn ow n , w a s able to defeat v io len t and unfair bosses and re fo rm exploitative labour law s in the Am e r ican East befo re the p o w e r s - th a t -b e k n ew w h a t h a d h it them. The m ovem ent she led eventua l ly gave Am e r ic an s th e f o r t y -h o u r w o r k in g w e ek , the m in im um w a ge and w o r k p la c e s a fe ty law s . Yet her nam e has practically d isappeared from h is to ry books and p op u la r m em ory, e x c e p t as the title o f a p ro g re s s iv e m agazine in America.

What drove Mother Jo n e s w a s her Catholic faith , w h ic h she v iew ed as a m andate to stand up against in ju stice. I f n o th in g else, she w a s a su rvivo r, and she d iscovered in h e r se l f a g i ft for le a d in g o th e r s th ro u g h the darkest times. B o rn M ary H arris in 1 8 3 0 , she w a s ra ised in poverty in Cork, Ireland, in a strict Catholic family. As y o u n g as ten years o f age, she w itn e s se d the h o r ro r s o f the potato fam in e , w h ic h drove h e r fam ily from their hom e land to C an ada, w h e r e sh e tr a in e d as a teacher. She w anted to travel, and in h e r e a r ly a d u l th o o d sh e ta u g h t in

M O T H E R

J O N E S Shewas once “the most dangerous woman in

America”.

Mother Jones, painting by Robert Shetterly COURTESY: < www.americanswhotellthetruth.org>

many cities around Am e r ica — until she m et and m a r r ie d G eo rg e Jo n e s , a skilled fo u n d ry w o rk e r and a m em b e r o f the In te rn a t io n a l Ir o n M o u ld e r s Union. They had fou r ch ild ren .

The first three decades o f M a ry ’s life w e re a d e sp e ra te p e r so n a l s t r u g g le marked by tragedy. In 1 8 6 7 , a ye llo w fever epidem ic struck M em phis, killin g her husband and their fou r children. Left a w id o w w h ile still in her thirties, Jon es w en t to Chicago and set up a sm all d re ssm akin g shop, w h ic h was b u r n e d d o w n in the G re a t F i re o f Chicago in 1 8 7 1 . Luckily, she escaped. A lone, and w i th every reason to be angry w ith her god, she searched for a purpose above her ow n trials.

By the turn o f the cen tu ry she had found a n ew voice. Strengthened and educated by her ow n tr ibu la tion s , she fash ioned h e r se l f as the m atriarch o f the w o rk in g class in America. N o -on e called her M ary any m ore, but a lw ays “ M o t h e r ” . S h e e m e r g e d f r o m now here in her antique black dresses and massive silk hats to lead the p oo r and exploited .

Th is n e w ro le f re ed M a ry Jon es. M ost Am e r ic an w om e n at that tim e d evo ted th e ir l iv e s to th e ir fam ilie s and th e ir h om e s ; they w e r e n ’t su p posed to have op in io n s and certainly s h o u l d n ’ t h a v e b e e n s p e a k in g ou t publicly.

M o th er Jo n e s took to the road and r o a m e d A m e r i c a f o r t w e n t y - f i v e years; she had no h om e but said, “ M y ad d ress is l ik e m y sh o e s ; it travels w ith m e w h e rev e r I go .” She helped w o r k e r s in th e g a rm e n t , s tee l and m in in g in dustries fig h t fo r better pay, b e t t e r w o r k i n g c o n d i t i o n s a n d tw e lv e -h o u r days and spoke ou t fo r labour activists im p r iso n ed in C a lifo rn ia and Arizona.

One o f her b e s t-kn ow n actions was lead in g a 1 2 5 -m i l e m arch (know n as the M a rch o f the M ill Child ren ) o f ch ild w o rkers f rom Pennsylvania textile m ills to President Theodore R o o sevelt’s vacation h om e on Long Island to p u b l i c i s e th e c r u e l t y o f c h i ld labour. For those tw o m onths, Mother J o n e s a n d h e r s t r e e t t h e a t r e an d speeches m ade fron t-p age news.

M o th e r J o n e s w a s n ’ t k n o w n fo r subtlety, but ra th e r fo r h e r ro u s in g speeches and a g i ft fo r w h a t today w e c a l l th e ‘ s o u n d - b i t e ’ : “ I ’ m n o t a hum an ita rian . I ’m a h e l l- ra is e r !” Her w e a p o n s w e r e h e r s t o r ie s and h er experien ce s o f strikes she had led, the p r is o n s and convict cam p s she had visited , h er encounters w ith govern m en t o f f ic ia ls and presidents.

S h e b e c a m e o n e o f th e m o s t fam ous w om e n in Am e r ica, frequently appearing in m agazines and n ew s papers. She w a s an ic o n and a legend in w o rk in g - c la s s Am e r ic a . A district attorney in West V irg in ia once called her “ the m ost dangerous w om an in A m e r ic a ” . She to ok it as a c om p l i ment.

M other Jo n e s d ied in 1 9 3 0 , shortly after celebratin g her 10 0 t h birthday. H e r fu n e r a l w a s a tten ded b y m o re than 2 0 ,0 0 0 people. For m e, her life o f f e r s a v i v i d r e m i n d e r o f w h a t r e m a i n s a m o n g th e m o s t u n d e r acknow led ged issues o f ou r day: that w e have b ecom e a c la ss-d r iven society — and not ju st in America. The rich are gettin g r ic h e r and the p o o r are g e t t in g p o o r e r . She e m b o d i e s th e activist spirit. She once said, “ Pray for the dead, and f ig h t like hell fo r the liv in g .” •

5 0 R e su rg ence No. 2 3 4 J an u a r y /F e b r u a ry 2 0 0 6

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