The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Women's History Month "J": "Mother" Jones, Women and Justice


Mother Jones, American labor activist.

Mary Harris was born in Cork City, Ireland, in either 1837 or 1830 (she claimed 1830, though documents suggest she was actually born in 1837).  Her father emigrated to the US, and after he gained US citizenship, he sent for his family to help them escape from the Irish famine.  His work took them to Toronto, Canada, where Mary Harris spent her formative years.  After completing her education at a Catholic school, she moved to Monroe, Michigan, and became a teacher in a convent there.  She moved Memphis, Tennessee, where she married George Jones in 1861.  Jones was a union activist and iron worker, and Mary opened a dressmaking shop.  In 1967, an outbreak of yellow fever killed her four young children, and then her husband.  After her family passed away, Mary moved to Chicago, where she opened another dressmaker's shop.  In 1871 the Great Fire of Chicago destroyed everything she owned, including her shop and her home.

Seeing the destruction of her home and way of life, the loss of her family, and the dichotomy between the wealthy and the poor led Mary Jones to become a part of the growing labor movement.  Traveling around the country, she supported the rights of workers, helped to organize strikes, and fought for the unemployed.  In 1897, she began to be called “Mother” Jones by men at a railway union convention, and the nickname stayed with her.  Mother Jones travelled around the country, signing men up for unions, and in 1903, she organized a children's march from Pennsylvania to President Theodore Roosevelt's home in New York.  The “Children's Crusade” served to bring attention to the plight of children working in mines and and textile mills, and child labor is something Mother Jones fought against her entire life.  Because of her actions on behalf of unions, she was called “the grandmother of all agitators” on the floor of the US Senate.  She replied “I hope to live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators.”  Her legacy includes the bi-monthly publication Mother Jones, a liberal magazine known for it's investigative reporting.


Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.
~”Mother” Mary Jones,  Union Activist and Community Organizer

In morals what begins in fear usually ends in wickedness; in religion what begins in fear usually ends in fanaticism. Fear, either as a principle or a motive, is the beginning of all evil.
~Anna Jameson, British Writer

Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't.
~Erica Jong, American Author and Teacher

"We the people" -- it is a very eloquent beginning. But when the Constitution of the United States was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We the people." I felt for many years that somehow George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We the People."
~Barbara Jordan, American Politician, first Southern black woman elected to the US House of Representatives

Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations...If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out ... You can hear other people's wisdom, but you've got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.
~Mae Jemison, First African American Female Astronaut 


Over the last 25 years, the number of women in the US criminal justice system has exploded.  Many of those women have been incarcerated due to stricter drug-sentencing laws.  The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that there are over 200,000 women in prison, and over 1 million on probation or parole.  In 2009, approximately 25% of arrests were women, and about 17% of those arrests were of girls under the age of 18, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting.  And according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, although the crimes committed by girls are generally less serious (such as running away from home or truancy) than those committed by boys, they may be masking other problems, such as victimization and abuse by adults, and can eventually lead to more serious behaviors like drug use.

Female criminal behavior can be influenced by a variety of factors, including drug use and domestic violence.  Previous victimization is a significant factor in criminal behavior.  Over one third of women prisoners revealed sexual abuse in their past, and a study of girls in the California juvenile system revealed that 92% of those girls had been abused emotionally, physically, or sexually.

  • Women account for 7% of the population in state and federal prisons.
  • The number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate of men since 1985.
  • Women in state prisons in 2003 were more likely than men to be incarcerated for a drug offense or property offense and less likely than men to be incarcerated for a violent offense.
  • Nearly half (44%) of women in state prisons in 1998 had not completed high school.
  • Women in state prison in 1998 were more likely to report using drugs at the time of their offense than men, and nearly one-third reported that they had committed their offense to obtain money to buy drugs.
  • More than half (57%) of women incarcerated under state jurisdiction reported that they had experienced either sexual or physical abuse before their admission to prison. Nearly three-quarters of women in state prison in 2005 had a mental health problem, compared to 55% of men in prison.

For a further look at women in the criminal justice system, please visit ACLU's Women and the Criminal Justice SystemThe National Criminal Justice Reference Service, and the Women's Prison Association.

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