Jones, Mary Harris (‘Mother Jones’) (1837?–1930), union organiser, was (according to baptismal records) born in July 1837 in Cork city; however, the year is disputed. Many details of her life come from The autobiography of Mother Jones (1925; 1974). She emigrated to North America as a young girl with her father, Richard Harris, a railway labourer, possibly during the famine. She lived in the USA and Canada, where she attended and later taught in a Roman catholic normal school in Toronto. In the US she taught in a convent school in Michigan and worked as a seamstress. In 1861 she married George Jones, an iron-moulder and labour union member in Memphis, Tennessee. After the death of her husband and their four children in a yellow-fever epidemic in 1867, Jones relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where she became involved with an early industrial union, the Knights of Labor. Her seamstress shop was destroyed by the great Chicago fire of 1871.
In the 1890s she became known as ‘Mother’ Jones and began a long association with socialist causes and the United Mine Workers of America. She attended the founding convention of Social Democracy of America, later known as the Cooperative Brotherhood, in 1897 and in the same year organised support and publicity for striking bituminous coal miners in West Virginia, including a children's march and parades of farmers delivering food to the miners' camp. These types of defiant mass action became her trademark. Notable activities included organising women in support of an 1899 anthracite coal strike in eastern Pennsylvania; directing strikes of young women working in textile mills; a 1903 ‘children's crusade’ against child labour, which included a ninety-mile (145km) march from Philadelphia to New York City; participating in 1905 in the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labour union committed to the organisation of unskilled workers; campaigning for the release of Mexican revolutionaries imprisoned in American jails; and testifying in 1915 in congressional hearings against the abuse of corporate power by Rockefeller interests.
Jones reportedly met with James Connolly, Irish socialist and labour organiser, in New York city in 1910. She was arrested for the first time for violating a federal injunction during a miners' strike in West Virginia in 1902; and in 1904, during a Colorado miners' campaign, had to avoid the authorities to escape possible deportation. During a 1914 strike in Ludlow, Colorado, she was imprisoned without trial for nine weeks. In 1919 she was arrested in Pennsylvania during a steelworkers' strike for defending freedom of speech and the right of workers to organise unions. Jones remained active in the labour movement and radical causes into her nineties. She died on 30 November 1930 and was buried in the coal miners' cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois.