Her rallying cry was famous: "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living." Mother Jones (1837-1930) was a celebrated organizer and agitator, the very soul of protest movements in the early twentieth century. At coal strikes, steel strikes, railroad, textile, and brewery strikes, Mother Jones was always there, stirring the workers to action and enraging the powerful.
When Mother Jones began her career as a "hell-raiser," as she put it, she was as obscure as an American could be—poor, female, elderly, Irish, and widowed. She had survived the Irish potato famine, the death of her husband and children of yellow fever, and the great Chicago fire, and was facing the hard life of a seamstress growing old alone. Then she recreated herself as Mother Jones, and became one of the most famous women in America. Men and women, young and old, rallied around Mother Jones, fighting with her for the rights of workers in an age when families lived on a dollar a day and bosses told them to be thankful for it. With flaming speeches and sensational street theater, Mother Jones exposed disturbing truths about child labor, the poverty of working families, and the destruction of American freedoms—and legends of her bravery before gun-toting thugs and frequent imprisonments grew almost overnight.
Here, Elliott Gorn provides the first comprehensive biography of this remarkable American, the woman whom the poet Carl Sandburg called "a wonder." Gorn's energetic prose and dramatic storytelling make clear why, in the words of Eugene V. Debs, Mother Jones "has won her way into the hearts of the nation's toilers, and . . . will be lovingly remembered by their children and their children's children forever."