175th Birthday of Mother Jones

A labor organizer about whom relatively little was known even at the height of her considerable fame, Mary Harris Jones is thought to have been born on roughly this day 175 years ago in Cork, Ireland. The town of Cork is honoring her this week with the first-ever Cork Mother Jones Festival, a three-day event featuring concerts, a mass at the cathedral where she was baptized, a commemorative plaque, and a day-long bus tour of her childhood stomping grounds. At the age of 10, Jones and her family of tenant farmers fled Ireland to escape the potato famine, relocating to Toronto, Canada and, in Jones' case, later the United States.

As Jones' biographer Elliott J. Gorn wrote in this magazine, her image as a badass grandma has roots in personal tragedy. An 1867 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee killed Jones' husband and her four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business—only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. She went on to toil in obscurity for two decades until suddenly inventing the persona of Mother Jones. "Or, to put it more precisely," Gorn writes, "she began to play a role that she and her followers made up as they went along. By 1900, no one called her Mary, but always Mother; she wore antique black dresses in public, and she began exaggerating her age.

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To learn more about the Annual International Social Uprising Resistance and Grassroots Encouragement (S.U.R.G.E.!) Film Festival please visit: www.WeSurge.org