Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Picture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Harris_Jones

From Cork to America’s most dangerous woman.
If one was to ask an American who had any interest in 19th and  20th century American history who “Mother Jones” was they would probably be able to tell you without hesitation.

After being told about her story briefly I decided to look into the history of Mary here in Cork and in the U.S.A. Mary certainly has a more than interesting history which includes tragedy. bravery and much respect.

Mary was baptized  on the 1st August 1837 at St. Mary & St Anne’s  Cathedral (North Cathedral) Cork City. 

Mary’s parents were Richard Harris and Ellen Cotter and her siblings were  Richard who was born in Inchigeelagh, Catherine who was baptized 29th March 1840 St Mary’s & St Anne’s, Ellen c1845 and William baptized 28th Feb. 1847 also at St Mary’s & St Anne’s Cathedral.

Mary’s Mother Ellen Cotter was from Inchigeelagh, Co Cork and it was here that she married Mary’s father Richard on the 9th Feb 1834. Richard was from Cork City though it certainly appears that he had family in Inchigeelagh. I  found a baptism from St Mary’s & St Anne’s Cathedral dated 9th July 1802 for Richard Harris son of William Harris & Mary White….the age fits perfectly as I will explain later.

There is little else known of the family’s time in Cork other than during the time of the famine Richard, Ellen and family left for North America.

Mary and her family settled in  Toronto, Canada and in the 1861 census of Canada  Richard and Ellen with Mary’s siblings Richard, Ellen and Catherine were living in York County , Ontario.

Mary (recorded as Marie) and William are recorded as absent……. Absent usually meant away that night but  Mary was probably at this stage in the U.S.A.

Census of Canada 1861

York County


Richard Harris Labourer 58 born Ireland  Catholic.

Ellen Harris 48

Catherine Harris 19

Ellen Harris 16

Richard Harris 27

William Harris 13 absent

Marie Harris 23 absent

 Richard was recorded as being 58 years of age ……note the baptism for  Richard in 1802 previously.
 Mary’s brother William Harris became a R.C. priest and was a very well known R.C teacher and writer in the province of Onatrio.

Mary left Toronto and became a teacher in Monroe, Michigan. She eventually settled in Memphis Tennessee (via Chicago) and it was in Memphis that she married George Jones and the couple went on to have 4 children in quick succession. Unfortunately tragedy soon hit the family and in the yellow fever epidemic that swept across Tennessee George all four children succumbed to yellow fever and all five died. All four children were aged under 5.

Mary returned to Chicago and she set up a dressmaking business in the city. The poverty of the people that she saw  left a profound mark on her. .  Tragedy wasn’t too far away in Mary’s life and in October 1871 the Great fire of Chicago claimed hundreds of lives and an area of around 4 sq. miles were  destroyed including Mary’s business.

It was from this time that Mary’s life changed. She joined the “Kinghts of Labor” and when they disbanded she campaigned for the Union of Mine Workers and the Socialist party of America.

Mary organized miners in picketing and also involved the wives and children in campaigns too.

Women’s suffrage was not at the top of her priority list as she stated that women should be at home looking after the children . Mary stated she believed the mother being at work led to juvenile delinquency. One has to remember that this was well over 100 years and she certainly concentrated on conditions and fair pay.

In 1902 Mary was described as “America’s most dangerous woman.”  Many strikes broke out over the years  and these disputes led to many lives being lost. The following year she organized a children’s march from Philadelphia to New York (home of President Theodore Roosevelt) demanding education and no to working in the mines.

Mary died on the 30th November 1930 in  Maryland, she (or others) had claimed she was born on May 1st and was a hundred years old but that appears to be symbolic. (May 1st being labour day) Her burial took place at the Union Miners cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois.

Mary Harris “Mother “ Jones elementary school in Maryland is named after her and  in the 1970’s a magazine named after her “Mother Jones” was published and still is. In 1989-90 a coal strike broke out in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky and the wives and daughters of the striking miners called themselves  “the daughters of Mother Jones.”
There is a lot more to Mary Harris’s work and legacy than what is recorded here. It’s a brief description of her political and social reform campaign and of course a brief look at her Cork ancestry which  the people of Cork City and County can be proud of.

To see an image of Mary's parents marriage entry from 1834 click here.

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