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Mother Jones

Study & Essay

Her Last Years 1920–1930

Review Test

Study Questions

What were the working and living conditions like for late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century miners in America?

Living and working conditions for miners were deplorable. Companies paid their workers very low wages, and sometimes even cheated when delivering these small sums. Furthermore, the policy of making workers live in company towns exerted social and political control over workers. Miners who were not allowed to organize unions, lived in shacks, and were forced to buy more expensive food and equipment from the company store.

What were some of the child labor abuses in the early twentieth century, and what did Mother Jones do about this issue?

In the early twentieth century, child labor was a pervasive phenomenon, and some modern studies estimate that between one fifth and one sixth of all children were employed on a full-time basis. Indeed, child labor was an important economic factor. Because their parents were so poorly paid, children were forced to go to work at young ages to contribute to their family's overall earnings. Instead of going to school, working-class children worked as many as sixty hours per week in unsafe factories and coalmines. Few child labor laws protected the children from the environmental hazards of their workplace, or from the exploitation of the factory owners. The situation was especially unfortunate and appalling in the textile mills, where children worked with powerful machinery, which required careful attention to avoid injury. Frequently, the fingers of the tired children would slip, and be severed. Many children became maimed as a result of the workplace hazards that they had to confront.

What, exactly, occurred in Chicago in 1886?

In the late nineteenth-century, people were increasingly receptive to the political ideologies of socialism and anarchism. In Chicago, the anarchist movement was particularly strong, with a strong following among the city's immigrant populations. Labor organizations, including the anarchists, came together in 1886 to plan a massive strike to obtain an eight-hour workday. The walkout itself was peaceful, but during the days that followed, violence erupted at Haymarket square, where an anarchist meeting had been taking place peacefully. One of the people assembled threw a bomb at approaching policemen, and the police shot back at the crowd, killing an undetermined number of people. Eight anarchist leaders were convicted in the Haymarket Tragedy for their militant rhetoric, and some of them sentenced to hang. Although there was no real proof of their involvement, four were hanged.

Essay Topics

What were some reasons why conservative unions, like the AFL and the Knights of Labor, did not appeal to workers?

What were some of Mother Jones's activities during strikes, other than unionizing workers?

Why were miners in West Virginia so hard to organize?

What were the challenges faced by striking workers after World War I?

What were some of the challenges involved in organizing the steel workers in 1919?

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