Mother Jones Museum is given Mine Wars relics

MINING THE PAST: New museum items include shell casings and scrip.

Mt. Olive, IL ­– Nelson Grman, head of the Mother Jones Museum board, reports that the museum has received donations of relics from the West Virginia Mine Wars, when miners battled coal companies between 1900 and 1920.

Historian R. Dale Hawkins presented Grman with shell casings from the Battle of Blair Mountain. Hawkins also donated miner scrip, an alternative to cash that forced miners in West Virginia to do business with company-owned stores (often at exorbitant prices).

Hawkins received these for the museum from Kevin Kenny, a collector and local historian from Matewan, W.V., who has devoted his life to reviving knowledge of the story.

The Mine Wars included strikes, marches, Congressional investigations and the largest civil insurrection in the U.S. since the Civil War, and it was a strong influence on Mary Harris “Mother” Jones.

“The Mother Jones Museum will tell the story of the connections between miners and Mother Jones, and the extreme conditions they endured,” Grman said. “Mother Jones was a national and a global figure, but it’s the stories of the ordinary people that we are determined to tell as well.”


The Mother Jones Museum Board of Directors has also retained Riccio Exhibit Services to prepare a plan for the exhibit space at the museum.

Riccio Exhibit is based in Lerna, north of Effingham along I-57, and is owned by Rick Riccio, formerly associated with the Illinois State Museum. The company often works with small museums and recently completed an interpretive exhibit at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near Collinsville. The Mother Jones exhibit plan will be made public at a May Day event on April 30.

“We see this as a significant step toward getting our museum up and running, and open to the public,” Grman said. “Riccio has a reputation for doing superior work, and they gave us a very reasonable rate for the scope of work. We look forward to working with them over the next few months.”


The museum, adjacent to City Hall at 215 E. Main in Mt. Olive, is currently open with temporary exhibits. The board is raising the needed funds, estimated at $200 per square foot at least, to fill the museum with interactive and artifact-based exhibits to interpret the legacy of Mother Jones, as well as the larger impact of the labor movement on American history and culture.

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The museum board has also seated two new members, including one from the St. Louis area – Shelly Lemons, a history professor at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.

Also named was Devin Hunter, a history professor at the University of Illinois in Springfield.

Lemons teaches American History, Women’s History and “Invisible Populations” History. Hunter teaches American History and a museums course. Both have a keen interest in labor history.

“Our new board members bring to the board expertise in history and museum development,” said Nelson Grman, board president. “We are excited to have them on board.”


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