Emma F. Langdon, Mother Jones and the Colorado Labor Wars
“THE state of Colorado ceased under the administration of James H. Peabody, to be republican in its form of government, and became a military oligarchy. The expressed will of the people was ignored by their chosen representatives; thus bringing upon the state a series of calamities, the magnitude of which may now readily be seen.”
The above is taken from the introduction to Emma's book “The Cripple Creek Strike, A History of Industrial Wars in Colorado 1903-04”. Regardless of your belief in who was right or wrong during this tumultuous time, this book is considered the definitive work on the region and events of the time and area. That it was written by Emma F. Langdon makes it even more amazing.
|Photo from her book "The Industrial Wars in Colorado"|
Emma was born September 29, 1875 in Tennessee. Charles Langdon, whom she married in 1896 was born June 9, 1870. In 1903 Emma and Charles moved to Victor, Colorado where they both worked at the Victor Daily Record.
In 1903 the tensions between miners and mine owners were on the increase in the Cripple Creek Mining District. Although the miners had one a victory of $3.25 for an eight hour day, the miners union supported the smelter workers who were working longer hours for less pay.
The situation became so volatile that the mine owners censored and arrested anyone who opposed their story. As a result the workers at the pro-union Victor Daily Record were rounded up to stop the release of the next issue. When Emma was told of the 'arrest' she went to the paper and that night barricaded herself in, set type and put out the paper on schedule. When she delivered the issue to the men who had been taken to the 'bullpen' (and outdoor holding area) the laughter of the captors (jailers) changed while those incarcerated rejoiced.
When the strike ended in 1904 those who had supported the union were requested to leave. Emma moved to Denver Colorado, continuing her work on behalf of the union, until her death on November 30, 1937.
Of Mary Harris (Mother) Jones, born around 1930 or 37 in County Cork Ireland, was according to Reese Blizzard, a West Virginia DA, “The most dangerous woman in America” Clarence Darrow reportedly said she was “one of the most forceful and picturesque figures in the American Labor movement.”
|Mary Harris (Mother) Jones taken in 1902|
Her family moved to Canada when she was a child, and she studied to be a teacher at the Toronto Normal School. She in fact worked briefly as a teacher and dressmaker. She married George Jones an iron worker and union organizer in 1861. They had four children, but she lost them and her husband to a yellow fever outbreak. After their deaths she moved to Chicago where she worked as a dressmaker, but lost everything in the Chicago fire of 1871. From that point on she became involved in the labor movement. Her history in Colorado involves the Ludlow Massacre that occurred on April 20, 1914.
A sample of her writing on the labor movement comes from an article in the “International Socialist Review” published in 1901. In part it reads, “I visited the factory in Tuscaloosa, Ala., at 10 o’clock at night. The superintendent, not knowing my mission, gave me the entire freedom of the factory, and I made good use of it. Standing by a siding that contained 155 spindles were two little girls. I asked a man standing near if they were his, and he replied they were. How old are they?” I asked. “This one is 9, the other 10,” he replied. “How many hours do they work?” “Twelve,” was the answer. “How much do they get a night?” “We all three together get 60 cents. They get 10 cents each and I 40.”
I watched them as they left their slave-pen in the morning and saw them gaher their rags around their frail forms to hid them from the wintry blast. Half-fed, half-clothed, half-housed, they toil on, while the poodle dogs of their masters are petted and coddled and sleep on pillows of down, and the capitalistic judges jail the agitators that would dare to help these helpless ones to better their conditions.”
The story of the Labor Wars in Colorado are full of people from both sides that made their mark on the history of the region. From 1893-1914, Colorado was a hotbed of conflict between the haves and have-nots with errors in judgment on both sides. Not an easy read, but a fascinating one, and these two women were in the center of and writing about it.
I love writing about strong, independent women who have much to give the world and those they love. The following is an excerpt from the story 'The Homestead' from the anthology "The Untamed West".
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"It's amazing how love will lead you to the loneliest places," she told the blowing wind. Wind that told of the coming storm.
Sighing, Ruth turned back to the pile of wood she'd dragged in. Again, she picked up the newly sharpened axe, intending to finish before the storm arrived.
"Mother, Mother," Ruth heard excitement and fear in her five-year-old son Samuel's voice.
Heart pounding, Ruth moved away from the wood she was chopping. She turned to see Samuel standing some twenty feet away. He was standing statue still, not moving.
Chances were her son had seen a snake, and she hoped it wasn't a rattler. She'd taught him to stay in place and call for her. She'd emphasized how important he remain still, realizing a rambunctious five-year-old would likely run. To move could be fatal. In that respect, he was like his father Joseph who was always out for adventure.
Thinking of Joseph, the man who'd left her and their child alone out here, brought up the rage she tried hard to suppress. Now a snake might take away all that was precious to her.
Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet