It was the spring of 1903 and Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was traveling to Pennsylvania to support 75,000 striking textile workers, 10,000 of which she estimated were children.
Pennsylvania law prohibited children working before the age of 12, Jones, in her autobiography, recounted how “the law was poorly enforced and the mothers of these children often swore falsely as to their children’s age.”
For many mothers, Jones recounted, it was a question of “starvation or perjury.” Many of the fathers had been killed or maimed working in the coal mines leaving little source of income for a family, meaning everyone had to contribute even with the dangerous conditions. Of course, the mills presented their own dangers, especially for children.
It was around this time the Liberty Bell was traveling around the country and crowds were gathering everywhere to see it, so Mother Jones had an idea.
“These little children were striking for some of the freedom that childhood ought to have, and I decided that the children and I would go on tour,” Jones wrote in her autobiography.