The Autobiography of Mother Jones
Lattimer was an eye-sore to the miners. It seemed as if no one could break into it. Twenty-six organizers and union men had been killed in that coal camp in previous strikes. Some of them had been shot in the back. The blood of union men watered the highways. No one dared go in.
I said nothing about it but made up my mind that I was going there some night. After the raid of the women in Coaldale in the Panther Creek, the general manager of Lattimer said that if I came in there I would go out a corpse. I made no reply but I set my plans and I did not consult an undertaker.
From three different camps in the Panther Creek I had a leader bring a group of strikers to a junction of the road that leads into Lattimer. There I met them with my army of women again. As I was leaving the hotel the clerk said, “Mother, the reporters told me to ring their bell if I saw you go out.”
“Well, don’t see me go out. Watch the front door carefully and I will go out the back door.”
We marched through the night, reaching Lattimer just before dawn. The strikers hid themselves in the mines. The women took up their position on the door steps of the miners’ shacks. When a miner stepped out of his house to go to work, the women started mopping the step, shouting, “No work today!”
Everybody came running out into the dirt streets. “God, it is the old mother and her army,” they were all saying.
The Lattimer miners and the mule drivers were afraid to quit work. They had been made cowards. They took the mules, lighted the lamps in their caps and started down the mines, not knowing that I had three thousand miners down below ground waiting for them and the mules.
“Those mules won’t scab today,” I said to the general manager who was cursing everybody. “They know it is going to be a holiday.”
“Take those mules down!!” shouted the general manager.
Mules and drivers and miners disappeared down into the earth. I kept the women singing patriotic songs so as to drown the noise of the men down in the mines.
Directly the mules came up to the surface without a driver, and we women cheered for the mules who were the first to become good Union citizens. They were followed by the miners who began running home. Those that didn’t go up were sent up. Those that insisted on working and thus defeating their brothers were grabbed by the women and carried to their wives.
An old Irish woman had two sons who were scabs. The women threw one of them over the fence to his mother. He lay there still. His mother thought he was dead and she ran into the house for a bottle of holy water and shook it over Mike.
“Oh for God’s sake, come back to life,” she hollered.
“Come back and join the union.” He opened his eyes and saw our women standing around him. “Sure, I’ll go to hell before I’ll scab again,’ says he.
The general manager called the sheriff who asked me to take the women away. I said “Sheriff, no one is going to get hurt, no property is going to be destroyed but there are to be no more killings of innocent men here.”
I told him if he wanted peace he should put up a notice that the mines were closed until the strike was settled.
The day was filled with excitement. The deputies kept inside the office; the general manager also. Our men stayed up at the mines to attend to the scabs and the women did the rest. As a matter of fact the majority of the men those with any spirit left in them after years of cowardice, wanted to strike but had not dared. But when a hand was held out to them, they took hold and marched along with their brothers.
The bosses telephoned to John Mitchell that he should take me and my army of women out of Lattimer. That was the first knowledge that Mitchell had of my being there.
When the manager saw there was no hope and that the battle was won by the miners, he came out and put up a notice that the mines were closed until the strike was settled.
I left Lattimer with my army of women and went up to Hazelton. President Mitchell and his organizers were there. Mr. Mitchell said, “Weren’t you afraid to go in there!”
“No,” I said,
“I am not afraid to face any thing if facing it may bring relief to the class that I belong to.”
The victory of Lattimer gave new life to the whole anthracite district. It gave courage to the organization. Those brave women I shall never forget who caused those stone walls to fall by marching around with tin pans and cat calls.
Soon afterward, a convention was called and the strike was settled. The organizers got up a document asking every miner to subscribe so much to purchase a $10,000 house for John Mitchell. The document happened to come into my hands at the convention which was called to call off the victorious strike. I arose and said:
“If John Mitchell can’t buy a house to suit him for his wife and for his family out of his salary, then I would suggest that he get a job that will give him a salary to buy a $10000 house. Most of you do not own a shingle on the roof that covers you. Every decent man buys a house for his own wife first before he buys a house for another man’s wife.”
I was holding the petition as I spoke and I tore it up and threw the bits on the floor. “‘Tis you men and your women who won the strike,” I said, “with your sacrifice and your patience and your forbearance through all these past weary months. ‘Tis the sacrifice of your brothers in other trades who sent the strike benefits week in and week out that enabled you to make the fight to the end.”
From then on Mitchell was not friendly to me. He took my attitude as one of personal enmity. And he saw that he could not control me. He had tasted power and this finally destroyed him. I believe that no man who holds a leader’s position should ever accept favors from either side. He is then committed to show favors. A leader must stand alone.