Mother Jones’ rest-stop display adds new exhibits

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By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Springfield, IL – A rest stop on Interstate 55 south of Springfield is the latest location to honor the iconic Labor organizer Mother Jones, who is buried in nearby Mt. Olive and the subject of the Mother Jones Museum in that town.

The new exhibit was dedicated Dec. 11 at the northbound lanes’ Coalfield Rest Area at mile marker 64, about 25 miles south of Springfield and north of Mt. Olive. United Mine Workers International President Cecil Roberts attended the event, as did Mother Jones biographer Elliott Gorn.

The project includes a four-by-four-foot historical marker outside, an indoor exhibit and digital story tours. The Illinois Department of Transportation cooperated in the installation at the rest area, which is estimated to have more than a million visitors a year.

LIFE FOR LABOR

Mary G. Harris (Mother Jones) was an Irish-born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent labor and community organizer. After her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867 in Memphis, she moved to Chicago and opened a dress shop that was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. She became an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union and was called “the most dangerous woman in America” for her success in organizing mine workers and their families against the mine owners.

“She transformed herself into Mother Jones,” the marker states, “a symbol of resistance, and helped to shape a new style of unionism. No one more successfully moved workingmen and women to fight for better wages and conditions.”

The exhibits were developed by the Mother Jones Heritage Project with funding from the Government of Ireland and the Illinois Humanities Council. Support came from the Mine Workers, Mother Jones Foundation, Illinois Labor History Society, United Council Staff Union of Illinois, Springfield and Central Illinois Trades & Labor Council, Southwestern Illinois Building Trades Council, Northern Illinois University and Illinois State Historical Society. Iron Workers Local 46 donated labor to erect the outdoor monument.

The Mother Jones Museum is located in the Mt. Olive City Hall along at 215 E. Main St., just east of Interstate 55.

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