Elliot J. Corn: Mother Jones, Grandmother of Unionism and Soul of American Socialism

Roundup: Talking About History

Elliot J. Corn is Professor of History at Brown University and author of Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America, Hill and Wang, New York, 2001.

"A torrent of applause broke out and turned into an uproar when a little woman walked to the podium. Her face, marked by age, could be anyone's grandmother, but it was the grandmother of hundreds of thousands of miners ... Listening to her speak, her influence on these polyglot hordes is understood. She had the strength, spirit and above all, the flame of indignation. It was divine wrath incarnate."

This is how the writer Upton Sinclair, famous for his novel about the slaughterhouses of Chicago (The Jungle), describes Mother Jones. He adds: "She told endless stories of adventures, the strikes led by her, of her speeches, meetings with presidents, governors, heads of industry and prison camps.

She had traveled around the whole country where the fire of protest was propagated in the hearts of men. Her story is an odyssey of revolt "(1).

Sinclair's words are extremely accurate. For 25 years, this lady had no fixed abode. Once, before Congress, she said: "Like my shoes, my address follows me wherever I go."

Between the ages of 60 and 80 years, Mother Jones gave up friends, family and her assets to live on the road with the people, and follow the path that her struggles would define. This unwavering commitment to the workers forged a sense of identity among the workers, as well as trade union activists and socialist political activists. She was considered the "mother" of exploited Americans....

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