Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America, and Elliott Gorn, the author the leading biography of Mother Jones were the keynote speakers at the event, attended by over 70 people from as far away as Mississippi, Chicago, and Terre Haute, Indiana, as well as a number from St. Louis. Roberts told stories that connected the past and the present, and applauded the effort to place a marker at an area that might reach people not expecting to encounter this history. Gorn conveyed what a spectacular figure Jones was, winning the hearts and minds of working people. Sean Burns, a descendant of Agnes Burns Wieck, who led the massive women’s march in 1933, was also present. Burns displayed a quilt made for Wieck in 1933 by the women’s auxiliaries’ representative, applauding Wieck’s militancy on issues of social security and social justice. “This was a different kind of women’s movement,” he said, “one that thought that the intersection of class and women’s issues.”
The marker dedication also kicked off a larger project of stories and tours that will be available to visitors to Route 66. The Mother Jones Heritage Project, through funding from the Government of Ireland and the Illinois Humanities, began the launch of labor history stories and tours. These include a digital-platform and free downloadable booklet tour of the Union Miners Cemetery/Mother Jones Monument and a walking tour of the Virden Illinois Mine War conflict of 1898. These will be fully available by December 31, but the apps are available from the markers beginning December 11. Mother Jones decided to be buried in Mt. Olive’s Union Miners Cemetery in recognition of the importance of the Virden conflict for shaping Illinois’ history. Both of these tours will help to bring to life the struggles of coal miners for a living wage, and the drama and violence of this era and make the history understandable through sketches, performance and images.
The marker and indoor exhibit was funded in part by the Government of Ireland, in recognition of that nation’s growing interest in the role of Mother Jones. In addition, support or funding came from United Mine Workers of America, Mother Jones Foundation in Springfield, Illinois Labor History Society, United Staff Union of Illinois, Springfield & Central Illinois Trades & Labor, Southwestern Illinois Building Trades, Northern Illinois University, Illinois State Historical Society. These groups participated in the event on December 11.
Rosemary Feurer, director of the Mother Jones Heritage Project, explained that “the coalfields were an important to shaping all of Illinois’ history. The goal of the marker is to draw people who visit the rest stop into a history that they might not normally associate with the prairie landscape of I-55. In addition, we are proud that we have added a woman to another marker is our state’s history.”
For more information, contact Rosemary Feurer 815-754-4750 or 815-762-0324