She was called “the most dangerous woman in America” at one time, but nothing seemed to stop Mary Harris Jones in her tireless drive to improve working conditions for American workers. In July 1915, “Mother Jones” arrived in Atlanta for her first visit.
True to form, she held nothing back and, at age 78, the grandmotherly Mrs. Jones demanded an end to the no-torious use of children in southern textile mills. Statistics showed that 25 percent of southern textile workers were age 15 or younger, with half of those under age 12. Many started work full time [six days a week] at age 9. Mother Jones stated to the local press, stop sending “your women and children into the mills – the sweatshops of the south – to work their frail lives away.”
Jones was born in 1837 and had lived in Memphis, Tennessee before the Civil War. In 1867, she lost her husband and all four children to yellow fever. Moving to Chicago, her dressmaking business was wiped out in the Great Fire of 1871. From then on, she devoted her life to union organizing, including the Knights of Labor, International Workers of the World, United Mine Workers, and many others.
By 1915, she was also working for restrictive child labor laws. In Atlanta, she said, “If Christ were here today, he would take those women and little tots out of the mills and give them what they need.” If families couldn’t provide, she added that it was up to the state and churches to help. Jones had led a chil-dren’s march to the private home of President Teddy Roosevelt more than ten years previously and had thus helped to inaugurate widespread reform agitation for national Child Labor Laws restricting the use of children as laborers.
In Atlanta, she met with Jerome Jones, editor of the Southern Labor Journal and conducted interviews. It was her first visit but had little effect on labor legislation or practices. Although she was well known for meeting ma-jor business leaders, including John D. Rockefeller, Jr. on behalf of workers, there were no meetings with local textile magnates. It wasn’t until the 1930s, several years after her death at 93 in 1930, that a National Child Labor Law was passed.