May 1, 1930: Labor Leader Mother Jones Celebrates 100th Birthday

May 1, 2017

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (1837-1930).
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

On May 1, 1930, labor leader “Mother” Jones celebrated her 100th birthday at a party in Maryland. The firebrand did what she did best: ruffle feathers. On this occasion, she denounced the nation’s prohibition on alcohol, saying it violated her right as an American to drink beer instead of water.

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was beloved by the working class and reviled by the powerful for her colorful and often profane condemnations of coal operators and politicians. She visited West Virginia many times, describing conditions as being worse than in “Czarist Russia.” Jones was jailed in Parkersburg in 1902 for violating a court injunction. During the bloody Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike, she was held under house arrest in Kanawha County.

But her stock fell with miners in 1921. At Marmet, “Mother” Jones tried to stop the armed march on Logan County before it started. The miners felt betrayed when she held up an apparently fake telegram from President Warren Harding. Despite this setback, she kept fighting for the underdog, becoming an ardent critic of child labor in the 1920s. She died seven months after celebrating her 100th birthday.