Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930), better known as Mother Jones, was an American labor organizer and one of the founders of the Social Democratic party (1898) and the Industrial Workers of the World (1905). Her August 1912 speech to striking coal miners in Charleston, WV was one in a series of organized activities which were blamed for violence in the state’s coal fields, and led to her conviction of conspiracy to commit murder, which was later commuted. This excerpt is from the last portion of the speech.
Oh, men [speaking of mine owners], have you any hearts? Oh, men, do you feel? Oh, men, do you see the judgment day on the throne above, when you will be asked, “where did you get your gold?”
You stole it from these wretches. You murdered, you assassinated, you starved, you burned them to death, that you and your wives might have palaces, and that your wives might go to the seashore. Oh God, men, when I see the horrible picture, when I see the children with their hands off, when I took an army of babies and walked a hundred and thirty miles with a petition to the President of the United States, to pass a bill in Congress to keep these children from being murdered for profit. He had a secret service then all the way to the palace. And now they want to [re-elect] that man! What is the American Nation coming to?
Manhood, womanhood, can you stand for it? They put reforms in their platforms, but [we] get no reform. [Roosevelt] promised everything to labor. When we had the strike in Colorado he sent 200 guns to blow our brains out. I don’t forget. You do, but I don’t. And our women were kicked out like dogs at the point of the bayonet. That is America. They don’t do it in Russia. Some women get up with $5 worth of paint on their cheeks and have tooth brushes for their dogs and say, “oh, them horrible miners. Oh, that horrible old Mother Jones, that horrible old woman.”
I am horrible! I admit, and I want to be to you blood-sucking pirates!
I want you, my boys, to buckle on your armor. This is a fighting age; this is not the age for cowards; put them out of the way. Take your medicine [Governor], because we are going to get after you, no doubt about it.
I want you to be good. Give the Governor time until to-morrow night, and, if he don’t act then it is up to you. We have all-day Saturday, all-day Sunday, all-day Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday if we need it.
We are used to living on little; we can take a crust of bread in our hands and go.
Boys, stay quiet until tomorrow night. I think it would be a good thing to work tomorrow, because the mine owners will need it. The mine commissioner will get a pain in his skull to-night and his wife will give him some “dope.” The mine owner’s wife is away at the seashore. When she finds no more money coming she will say, “Is there any more money coming?” He will say, “Most of the miners are not working.” She will say, “Take the guards and shoot them back into the mines, those horrible fellows.”
The Governor says, if you don’t go to work, said he, in the mines or on the railroads, I am going to call the militia, and I will shoot you…I said we can get ready too.
What militia can you get to fight us? Those boys on Paint Creek wouldn’t fight us if all the governors in the country wanted you to. I was going yesterday to take dinner with them, but I had something else to do. I am going some day to take dinner with them, and I will convert the whole bunch to my philosophy. I will get them all my way.
Now, be good, boys.
Pass the hat around, some of these poor devils want a glass of beer. Get the hat. The mine owner robs them. Get a hat you fellows of the band…
Another thing I want you to do: I want you to go in regular parade, three or four together. The moving-picture man wants to get your picture to send over the country.
The hat is for miners who came up here broke, and they want to get a glass of beer. And to pay their way back — and to get a glass of beer. I will give you $5. Get a move on, and get something in it…
The National Government will get a record of this meeting. They will say, my friends, this was a peaceful, law-abiding meeting. They will see men of intelligence, that they are not out to destroy but to build. And instead of the horrible homes you have got we will build on their ruins homes for you and your children to live in, and we will build them on the ruins of the dog kennels which they wouldn’t keep their mules in. That will bring forth better ideas than the world has had. The day of oppression will be gone. I will be with you whether true or false. I will be with you at midnight or when the battle rages, when the last bullet ceases, but I will be in my joy, as an old saint said:
O, God, of the mighty clan, God grant that the woman who suffered for you, Suffered not for a coward, but oh, for a man. God grant that the woman who suffered for you, Suffered not for a coward, but oh, for a fighting man.