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Labor Day Special Pt. II: Mother Jones' March of the Mill Children 100 Years Later

StorySeptember 01, 2003
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Actress Betsy Means retraces the steps of Mother Jones’ historic 1903 march from Philadelphia to the Long Island home of President Teddy Roosevelt. The 70-year-old labor organizer was protesting the plight of child laborers. Means performs as Mother Jones in the Democracy Now! studios.

100 years ago this summer, labor organizer Mother Jones marched to the summer home of President Teddy Roosevelt on Long Island. By her side were three young mill workers. She was protesting the plight of child laborers.

Mother Jones march began in early July three weeks earlier in Philadelphia, where she had witnessed 10,000 children working in textile mills for close to no pay.

Well last month, actress Betsy Means chose to commemorate the march of the mill children by retracing the steps of Mother Jones. For three weeks in July she marched, often dressed as Mother Jones, from Philadelphia heading towards Long Island.

Today she arrives at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay. She will be performing as Mother Jones in the town but not at Roosevelt’s former residence. Officials at the home, which is now a museum, brushed Means off very much like Mother Jones was brushed off 100 years ago.

When Mother Jones arrived on July 28, 1903, the president’s secretary told her the president was "unavailable." 100 years later officials at the museum rejected Means offer to perform. A museum spokesperson recently told Newsday , "This is one of those minor footnotes of history."

But neither the march nor the life of Mother Jones can be considered a footnote in American history.

The march brought Mother Jones national attention. Within three years, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York passed the nation’s first child labor laws.

At the time of the march Mother Jones was about 70 years old.

Born in Cork Ireland, the first 50 years of her life were unremarkable except for the fact that she faced tremendous hardship. Her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867. Four years later the Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed her home and store.

It was not until she was about 50 years old when she became a full-time union organizer. She would continue to organize and raise hell until her death in 1930 at the age of 100.

  • Betsy Means, actress who retraces the steps of Mother Jones’ historic 1903 march from Philadelphia to the Long Island home of President Teddy Roosevelt.

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