By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – The incredible story of Mary Harris “Mother Jones” continues to build strength in this region 88 years after her death, and now she has become a major feature of the Labor museum here.
The Belleville Labor and Industry Museum has for years been an important repository for genuine artifacts and information about the Labor Movement in southwestern Illinois, and its growth has been steady and impressive.
But adding Mother Jones to its topics gives it an important new dimension. For now, 12 professionally produced informational boards prepared by the Mother Jones Heritage Center have been added to the tool shed section of the museum, including two that highlight the great Labor leader’s activities in Belleville and southwestern Illinois. The others tell her life story.
The new display can be seen during the museum’s regular hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday, or by calling 618-222-9430 to arrange a tour.
MOTHER JONES’ STORY
Mother Jones’ lived many hard years before beginning her world-changing efforts on behalf of the Labor Movement. She came to the U.S. from Ireland at an early age to survive the Great Famine. She married and had four children, only to see her young family die in the yellow fever epidemic of 1867. She went into the clothes-making business in Chicago only to see her shop destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
After that, she turned her attention to improving the sad lot of working people by organizing coal miners, speaking up for the right to strike, fighting to enforce child labor laws and seeking equal pay for women. For another 50 years, she traveled the country supporting workers and unsettling their bosses, richly earning the now-honored title, “Most Dangerous Woman in America.”
When she died in 1930, she was buried as she requested – at Union Miners Cemetery in Mt. Olive, 48 miles north of St. Louis along I-55, next to miners who were killed in a gun battle with guards for strikebreakers in nearby Virden IL in 1898. It is the only union-owned cemetery, established when the local cemetery would not provide plots for the unionists.
Eventually, her burial there gave rise to the majestic monument over her grave, the many events held to remember her message and methods, and the small museum nearby in City Hall.
Some of the Belleville references in the display include:
- An etching of Mother Jones speaking at Huff’s Hall, a favorite meeting place for the miners as they organized their early unions.
- Stories of Adolph Germer, who started as a local miner and organizer. They include how he convinced her to ask to be buried in Mt. Olive.
- A funeral card distributed at Mother Jones’ funeral, written by a Belleville union organizer, Edward Carbine.
- Profiles of Agnes Burns Weick, of Belleville, who became a prominent Labor organizer after Mother Jones’ death and was sometimes called “the new Mother Jones.”