Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

Indeed, for literally millions of oppressed workers, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones was the remedy. Thousands journeyed miles, often in inclement weather and always under threat of severe repercussions, just to hear her tell them that their suffering was shared by others like themselves. With her help, many became convinced of their inherent worth and their collective might. This awareness stirred in them the will to continue a long and painful fight. Eventually, other voices would join the workers' cries for change, and labor would achieve the power to define itself.


CONCLUSION

Few, if any, rhetors have faced more formidable rhetorical problems or have overcome them as effectively as did Mary Harris "Mother" Jones. The obstacles facing turn-of-the-century woman speakers and labor union agitators were compounded because she was both. Her mission was intensely controversial, even life-threatening, and her audiences were divided, defeated, and all-male. Yet through her dramatic style, she successfully addressed the intense needs of her oppressed audiences while resolving the tension between the expectations of "womanhood" and the militant demands of labor agitation. Her most significant strategies, using her roles as "mother" and "prophet," empowered her and her working-class audiences. Tapping the inherent and universal power of the mother-child relationship and the cultural force of Judeo-Christian traditions afforded her the authority to speak publicly and to protest grim human conditions. For oppressed audiences, the nurturing and protective role of mother was ideally suited to their intense physiological and psychological needs. As one who actually lived among them, she cared for them in tangible ways: giving them food, tending to the everyday needs of their wives and children, and dressing their wounds. Rhetorically, her intimate tone, conversational style, storytelling mode, and use of "family" and "motherhood" as cultural ideals cultivated a sense of self- worth and respect, fostered a sense of belonging to the group and social responsibility, and encouraged individual thought and action. And as a prophet, she was able to supplant the workers' despair with hope, the most crucial element of all.


SOURCES

The public papers of Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (MHJP), Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., contain letters and newspaper clippings but few complete speech texts. They contain Pan American Federation of Labor, Proceedings of Third Congress, Mexico City, January 10-18, 1921, pp. 72-76, and United Mine Workers of America, Proceedings of Special Convention Called to Consider the Strike in the Anthracite Field, Indianapolis, July 17-19, 1902, pp. 81-91.

The public papers of George Wallace, West Virginia Collection, University of West Virginia, Morgantown, contain six important speeches made in West Virginia on August

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