The Autobiography of Mother Jones, "About Mother Jones"

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County Cork, Ireland

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

     The woman who would one day be known as "Mother Jones" began life in County Cork, Ireland. This is one of the few indisputable facts about her background, as her life prior to becoming part of the United Mine Workers of America has become a strange mixture of fact and fable, due more than a little to her own exaggerations. In The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925), presented here, Jones put into print the claim she had made for many years that she had been born in 1830 (in some accounts, she also claimed to be born May 1, or May Day, which was acknowledged as her date of birth when she celebrated her “100th birthday” in 1930). This has since been disputed, most convincingly by biographer and historian Elliott J. Gorn, whose research showed that a Mary Harris, daughter of Richard and Ellen Cotter Harris, was baptized in Cork on August 1, 1837.


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Portion of "The Autobiography of Mother Jones"

There are several things that are undisputed about Mother Jones’ early life. Her father came to the U.S. in the late 1840s, settling in Vermont before work took him to Toronto. Young Mary Harris and the rest of the family would come to Toronto in the early 1850s. "Here I was brought up but always as the child of an American citizen," she wrote in her Autobiography. "Of that citizenship I have ever been proud." While learning the skill of dressmaking, she also took some classes in education at the Toronto Normal School, but did not graduate. She took a job as a teacher at what was most likely St. Mary Convent School in Monroe, Michigan, in 1859 but left after less than a year to pursue a career in dressmaking in Chicago. She moved again in late 1860 to Memphis, Tennessee, where she met and married iron molder George Jones. Gorn speculates that her husband’s active participation in early labor organizations in Memphis sparked Jones’ interest in the movement. The couple had four children, but Jones lost her husband and children to a yellow fever epidemic in 1867. Soon after, a 30-year-old Jones moved back to Chicago to resume her dressmaking business.


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"About 'Mother Jones'"


As you read these documents, reflect on the following questions:

1. What reason(s) might Jones have had for devoting such little space to her personal life?

2. What differences can be found in Jones’ description of her early life and that of the Wilkes-Barre Record?