Mother Jones in 2008

This is a guest posting from Saul Schniderman, president of AFSCME Local 2910 at the Library of Congress and the secretary of the Labor Heritage Foundation

If you ever visited Adelphi, Maryland you probably have noticed the historic marker on Powder Mill Rd. in front of the Hillandale Baptist Church, near the intersection with Riggs Rd. The marker was erected in December, 2000 by the Maryland Historic Trust and it reads as follows: "Mary Harris 'Mother" Jones', the legendary labor organizer, spent a lifetime fighting for unions and the rights of workers. She died at the Burgess Farm near here on November 30, 1930, aged 100 years."

Irish-born Mother Jones was one of the most well-known women of the 20th century. She was called "the Joan of Arc of the Labor Movement," "the Miners' Angel," "the Most Dangerous Woman in America" and, in her later years, the "Grand Old Champion of Labor." Throughout her long life she spread the gospel of unionism, organizing workers throughout the country, often sleeping in union halls or on the floor of a coal miner's home. She once told a congressional committee, "my address is like my shoes, it travels with me. I abide where there is fight against slavery."

In her later years, from 1928-1930, she stayed at the home of Walter and Lillian Burgess who lived on a small truck farm at the site of what is now the Hillandale Baptist Church in Adelphi, Maryland. The Burgesses loved Mother Jones. Lillian befriended her and became her caregiver during the last years of her life.

May 1, 1930 was a banner day for Mother Jones -- her 100th birthday party. This was a big event in the area as newspaper reporters, union leaders and well-wishers crowded onto the Burgess Farm. Over a thousand people attended Mother Jones' birthday party and countless others wired telegrams, including her long-time foe, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Mother Jones died on November 30, 1930 and two years later Lillian Burgess, now a widow, decided to give up the farm and turn her house into a convalescent home for area residents. From 1932 until the late 1940s Mrs. Burgess operated the Mother Jones Rest Home and seniors I have spoken with remember driving down Powder Mill Rd. seeing the old folks rocking in their chairs on the front porch.

On May 16, 2003 the Prince George's County Board of Education dedicated the newly-built Mary Harris "Mother" Jones Elementary School. Most of the school children there are recently-arrived immigrants from Latin America. Mother Jones, herself an immigrant from Ireland in the 1840s, is adorned in an exhibit case, in the school library and in the hearts of the students and their parents who know about "Madre Jones."

November 30, 2005 marked the 75th anniversary of Mother Jones' death. Marat Moore, a former organizer of coal mining women and now a writer living in Greenbelt, Maryland laid commemorative wreaths at the Mother Jones Elementary School, at the historic marker and at the nearby National Labor College in Silver Spring. At the elementary school a student honor guard was present for the occasion.

In 1910 Mother Jones said, "Some day we will have the courage to rise up and strike back against these great ‘giants' of industry, and then we will see that they weren't giants at all -- they only seemed so because we were on our knees and they towered over us." If she were alive today, Mother Jones would challenge us to protest against today's corporate giants who exploit us at work, pollute our environment and teach our children that the most important thing in life is what you look like and how much money you own.

If she were alive today, Mother Jones would urge us to speak out, to organize and to "raise some hell."

Let's not disappoint her.