The Autobiography of Mother Jones
In June of 1902 I was holding a meeting of the bituminous miners of Clarksburg, West Virginia. I was talking on the strike question, for what else among miners should one be talking of? Nine organizers sat under a tree near by. A United States marshal notified them to tell me that I was under arrest. One of them came up to the platform.
“Mother,” said he, “you’re under arrest. They’ve got an injunction against your speaking.”
I looked over at the United States marshal and I said, “I will be right with you. Wait till I run down.” I went on speaking till I had finished. Then I said, “Goodbye, boys; I’m under arrest. I may have to go to jail. I may not see you for a long time. Keep up this fight! Don’t surrender! Pay no attention to the injunction machine at Parkersburg. The Federal judge is a scab anyhow. While you starve he plays golf. While you serve humanity, he serves injunctions for the money powers.”
That night several of the organizers and myself were taken to Parkersburg, a distance of eighty-four miles. Five deputy marshals went with the men, and a nephew of the United States marshal, a nice lad, took charge of me. On the train I got the lad very sympathetic to the cause of the miners. When we got off the train, the boys and the five marshals started off in one direction and we in the other.
“My boy,” I said to my guard, “look, we a going in the wrong direction.”
“No, mother,” he said.
“Then they are going in the wrong direction lad.”
“No, mother. You are going to a hotel. They are going to jail.”
“Lad,” said I, stopping where we were, “Am I under arrest!” “You are, mother.” “Then l am going to jail with my boys.” I turned square around. “Did you ever hear Mother Jones going to a hotel while her boys were in jail!” I quickly followed the boys and went to jail with them. But the jailer and his wife would not put me in a regular cell.
“Mother,” they said, “you’re our guest.”
And they treated me as a member of the family, getting out the best of everything and “plumping me” as they called feeding me. I got a real good rest while I was with them.
We were taken to the Federal court for trial. We had violated something they called an injunction. Whatever the bosses did not want the miners to do they got out an injunction against doing it. The company put a woman on the stand. She testified that I had told the miners to go into the mines and throw out the scabs. She was a poor skinny woman with scared eyes and she wore her best dress, as if she were in church. I looked at the miserable slave of the coal company and I felt sorry for her: sorry that there was a creature so low who would perjure herself for a handful of coppers.
I was put on the stand and the judge asked me if I gave that advice to the miners, told them to use violence.
“You know, sir,” said I, “that it would be suicidal for me to make such a statement in public. I am more careful than that. You’ve been on the bench forty years, have you not, judge?”
“Yes, I have that,” said he.
“And in forty years you learn to discern between a lie and the truth, judge?”
The prosecuting attorney jumped to his feet and shaking his finger at me, he said
“Your honor – there is the most dangerous woman in the Country today. She called your honor a scab. But I will recommend mercy of the court – if she will consent to leave the state and never return.”
“I didn’t come into the court asking mercy,” I said, “but I came here looking for justice. And I will not leave this state so long as there is a single little child that asks me to stay and fight his battle for bread.”
The judge said, “Did you call me a scab!”
“I certainly did, judge.”
He said, “How came you to call me a scab?”
“When you had me arrested I was only talking about the constitution, speaking to a lot of men about life and liberty and a chance for happiness; to men who had been robbed for years by their masters, who had been made industrial slaves. I was thinking of the immortal Lincoln. And it occurred to me that I had read in the papers that when Lincoln made the appointment of Federal judge to this bench, he did not designate senior or junior. You and your father bore the same initials. Your father was away when the appointment came. You took the appointment. Wasn’t that scabbing on your father, judge?”
“I never heard that before,” said he.
A chap came tiptoeing up to me and whispered, “Madam, don’t say ‘judge’ or ‘sir’ to the court. Say ‘Your Honor.’”
“Who is the court?” I whispered back.
“His honor, on the bench,” he said, looking shocked.
“Are you referring to the old chap behind the justice counter? Well, I can’t call him ‘your honor’ until I know how honorable he is. You know I took an oath to tell the truth when I took the witness stand.”
When the court session closed I was told that the judge wished to see me in his chambers. When I entered the room, the judge reached out his hand and took hold of mine, and he said, “I wish to give you proof that I am not a scab; that I didn’t scab on my father.”
He handed me documents which proved that the reports were wrong and had been circulated by his enemies. “Judge,” I said, “I apologize. And I am glad to be tried by so human a judge who resents being called a scab. And who would not want to be one. You probably understand how we working people feel about it.”
He did not sentence me, just let me go, but he gave the men who were arrested with me sixty and ninety days in jail.
I was going to leave Parkersburg the next night for Clarksburg. Mr. Murphy, a citizen of Parkersburg, came to express his regrets that I was going away. He said he was glad the judge did not sentence me. I said to him, “If the injunction was violated I was the only one who violated it. The boys did not speak at all. I regret that they had to go to jail for me and that I should go free. But I am not trying to break into jails. It really does not matter much; they are young and strong and have a long time to carry on. I am old and have much yet to do. Only Barney Rice has a bad heart and a frail, nervous wife. When she hears of his imprisonment, she may have a collapse and perhaps leave her little children without a mother’s care.”
Mr. Murphy said to me, “Mother Jones, I believe that if you went up and explained Rice’s condition to the judge he would pardon him.” I went to the judge’s house. He invited me to dinner.
“No, Judge,” I said, “I just came to see you about Barney Rice.”
“What about him!” “He has heart disease and a nervous wife.”
“Heart disease, has he!”
“Yes, he has it bad and he might die in your jail. I know you don’t want that.”
“No,” replied the judge, “I do not.” He called the jailer and asked him to bring Rice to the phone. The judge said, “How is your heart, Barney!”
“Me heart’s all right, all right,” said Barney. “It’s that damn old judge that put me in jail for sixty days that’s got something wrong with his heart. I was just trailing around with Mother Jones.”
“Nothing wrong with your heart, eh!”
“No, there ain’t a damn thing wrong wid me heart! Who are you anyhow that’s talking!”
“Never mind, I want to know what is the matter with your heart!”
“Hell, me heart’s all right, I’m telling you.” The judge turned to me and said, “Do you hear his language!”
I told him I did not hear and he repeated to me Barney’s answers. “He swears every other word,” said the judge.
“Judge,” said I, “that is the way we ignorant working people pray.”
“Do you pray that way!”
“Yes, judge, when I want an answer quick.”
“But Barney says there is nothing the matter with his heart.”
“Judge, that fellow doesn’t know the difference between his heart and his liver. I have been out to meetings with him and walking home down the roads or on the railroad tracks, lie has had to sit down to get his breath.”
The judge called the jail doctor and told him to go and examine Barney’s heart in the morning. Meantime I asked my friend, Mr. Murphy, to see the jail doctor. Well, the next day Barney was let out of jail.