Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Mother Jones Deserves Her Own Stamp


A fiction writer would be hard pressed to invent a character whose life was more tragic and sorrowful, yet more inspiring and socially relevant than that of Mary Harris Jones, better known as “Mother Jones.”

Born in 1837, in Cork, Ireland, the teenage Mary Harris and her family emigrated first to Toronto, Canada, then to the U.S., with stops in Monroe, Michigan and Chicago, before settling in Memphis, Tennessee, where Mary met and married George E. Jones, an ironworker and organizer for the National Union of Iron Moulders.

Mary opened a dressmaking shop in Memphis, in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, fulfilling her dream of becoming a wife, mother and businesswoman.  Then tragedy struck.  Mary’s husband and four children (all of whom were under the age of five), died during a virulent yellow fever epidemic that swept through Memphis, leaving her a childless widow.

Following their deaths, and looking for a fresh start in a friendly environment, Mary returned to Chicago, where she set up another dressmaking business.  Then, incredibly, four years later, disaster struck again.  Mary’s dress shop, her home and her personal possessions were all lost in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

It was in the wake of these personal tragedies that Mary Harris Jones became heavily involved in the labor movement, initially as an organizer for the Knights of Labor, and then, with the Knights of Labor’s dissolution, as an organizer and spokeswoman for the United Mine Workers (UMW).  In truth, she was considerably more than a UMW organizer; she became the coal miners’ patron saint.

By all accounts Mary was a brilliant, charismatic speaker, and a fearless, dedicated champion of social justice.  The authorities (politicians, mine owners, business groups) were terrified of her.  In 1897, at the age of 60, she began using the name “Mother Jones,” and in 1902, a West Virginia District Attorney with the improbable name of Reese Blizzard, famously referred to her as “the most dangerous woman in America,” sealing her reputation.

One of Mary’s chief concerns was child welfare.  Not only was she an early and outspoken opponent of child labor, she took the maternal view that men’s wages should be generous enough to allow their wives to stay home and raise their children.  A brave and independent thinker—and unquestionably affected by the deaths of her four young ones—Mary shied away from many of the feminist issues of the day, including women’s suffrage, believing that a mother raising her children trumped everything else.

Although the word “iconic” tends to be overused these days, the term certainly applied to Mother Jones.  For roughly 60 years she was the working man’s spiritual leader and benefactor—part Madonna, part mediator, part rabble-rouser—a labor icon in every sense of the word.  This brief summary of her career doesn’t do her justice.  Suffice to say that in an era of colorful, larger-than-life male figures, Mother Jones more than held her own.  She died in 1930, at the age of ninety-three.

A couple of labor activists and historians, Steve Fesenmaier (in West Virginia) and Sanford Berman (in Minnesota), have spearheaded a drive to have Mother Jones honored by a commemorative stamp.  I’ve spoken with both men by telephone and was impressed not only with their staggering knowledge of labor history, but with their perseverance.  They’ve been committed to this project for seven years.

What does it take for the USPS (United States Postal Service) to put you on a commemorative stamp?  Several things, actually.  You don’t have to be an American, and you don’t have to be an intellectual or moralist (Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and Elvis have been on stamps), but you do have to be dead for a minimum of five years (although exceptions can be made for ex-presidents).

Commemorative stamps have been around since 1893.  Interestingly, you can’t  get on a stamp if you’re a religious figure.  The USPS has a policy of not issuing stamps for people who were known primarily for their religious beliefs, which means Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are not eligible.

When atheists protested Mother Teresa getting her stamp, in 2010, the USPS was able to sidestep that potentially incendiary issue by claiming that the second-most famous Roman Catholic in the world (behind the Pope) was being honored for humanitarian rather than religious reasons.

The point that Messrs. Fesenmaier and Berman wish to emphasize is that the public can influence these selections.  There’s a group called the Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee, composed of approximately 15 people, that makes recommendations to the USPS.  People can write to this committee and suggest candidates.  If Duke Wayne and Elvis can get stamps, why not labor’s legendary benefactor, Mother Jones?

The mailing address:

Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee:  Stamp Development

U.S. Postal Service

1735 North Lynn Street (Room 5013)

Arlington, VA 22209-6432

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at


David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future